After getting a degree in architecture, Paull decided the field was “too conservative” for him, and he took his talents to Hollywood. Starting as a draftsman, he moved on to set design, art direction, and production designer. So what’s that? The PD is responsible for the overall look of a film, working with the director, cinematographer, and producer to get “the look” and the mood the director wants. He designed the look of W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings (1975), Romancing the Stone (1984), Harlem Nights (1989), Predator 2 (1990), and Escape From L.A. (1996), among others.
But he’s best known for two specific films: he created the look and feel of both the past and future for the Back to the Future series, and the even more challenging classic Blade Runner (1982), set in the dystopian future Los Angeles of …November 2019 (see video clips below). “I was always struck by his staunch and faithful support of the strange plan for the unique world of ‘Blade Runner’,” said director Ridley Scott of Paull, who was effusive in return: “What he would say, up in the art department: ‘If you build it, I’ll shoot it.’ And who could resist the temptation of that? Because we’ve all suffered, making films with gigantic sets, and beautiful sets, and all that is shown are talking heads. And that was disappointing. But because [Ridley] was an art director [himself], he knew he could hook us with that bait. And he did it — if we built it, he shot it.” Paull was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Art Direction-Set Decoration) for Blade Runner, and won the BAFTA Award for Best Production Design. After retiring from films, Paull wrote two curricula for a Masters of Fine Arts in Production Design: one for the American Film Institute, and another, which he taught, for Chapman University. He died November 10 from heart problems, at 81.