Set Design- The Shining Hotel

I remembered reading a weird article on the Shining and the set design, giving annotations of human like features throughout the hotel. I wanted to explore these- getting a gist of how we should go about our own scene creation.

The Overlook Hotel has one of the biggest indoor sets ever built- bearing the film’s dramatic weight. This is because the Shining had a very simple story to tell.

In the original Stephen King novel- the hotel contained many a rampaging elephant-shaped hedges or infernos of the original book. In Kubrick’s adaptation, however, we are presented with little more than embittered, failed writer, Jack, slowly growing crazy in a remote hotel. His wife Wendy (Duvall) and telepathic son Danny (Danny Lloyd) can do little more than look on in horror. (Den of Geek, 2016). 

The hotel itself is a juxtaposition to normal horror sets- Kubrick envisioning something modern and spacious. The set doesn’t generate tension through the use of claustrophobia and dark spaces but instead high spaces and lonely expanses. This was very much like our own scene- having the feeling of isolation- one house in a vast space- fog blocking out the world around. The characters in the film are dwarfed by gigantic columns or huge windows. Even the carpets accentuate the how small and vulnerable Danny and his mother are; one shot shows the little boy playing on a carpet whose huge geometric patterns surround him like a cage.


As he did in 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick uses violent contrasts of colour to heighten the feeling of unease. There’s a key moment, where Grady (Philip Stone) ushers Jack into a bathroom and urges him, rather unsubtly, to “correct” his family. The acting in this scene is so intense that it’s easy to miss just how striking the actors’ surroundings are; unlike the warm, boozy golds of the ballroom Jack was drinking in seconds before, the bathroom is bathed in stark artificial light. The pure white ceiling and floor merely accentuate the startling crimson of the walls. (Den of Geek, 2016). 

Look at the comparison below of the bathroom and the managers office. The stereotypical 70s setting- with the ugly salmon pink walls and dull furnishings are completely different from the bathroom and even the ballroom settings, featured later in the film.



The hotel design itself was even a hoax to the viewers visual awareness- the layout of the hotel designed to through audiences off spatially. From a plan view, as one might see in an architect’s drawing, the Overlook’s layout doesn’t make any sense; hotel rooms open out straight onto balconies; what should be internal windows appear to have light coming from outside; corridors lead to abrupt dead ends.

Besides, Kubrick makes it obvious from the outset that the hotel’s architecture is vital to his story. His use of Steadicam isn’t merely a gimmicky use of new technology – it allows him to lead us around this weird interior landscape, across horrid carpets, polished floors and rugs, through its sprawling kitchen and storage rooms. He wants us to know how gigantic and dehumanising this place is – before the psychological wargames begin, he shows us the battleground on which they’ll take place.

Kubrick’s use of a Steadicam also assists in adding to the tension, leading us around this weird interior landscape, across horrid carpets, polished floors and rugs, through its sprawling kitchen and storage rooms. Showing us how gigantic and un- human this place can be.

This video below talks more off this spacial awareness. It was discovered more widely when designing the original video game of the Shining- the bottom quote summing up the difficulties in replicating the continuing layers.

A few years ago I was shown a 3D reconstruction of The Overlook Hotel that had been designed as a level for a computer game called Duke Nukem. I was told by an email correspondent that the designer, in constructing the 3D replica, had stumble across spatial impossibilities in the Overlook sets that had made the continuous 3D level impossible. The result is that the Overlook Hotel featured in the game mismatches the wall in the film in order to be continuously playable. (, 2016).

Overall- Kubrick’s set design for the Shining is one of the greatest examples of a set driving a narrative, and is something we will definitely take inspiration on.


Den of Geek. (2016). Iconic set design: The Shining’s Overlook. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2016]. (2016). How Kubrick Played With Our Subconscious in The Shining Set Design – mentorless. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2016].

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