Tech Support: 'Django,' 'Amazing Spider-Man' production designer J. Michael Riva has passed

Posted by · 7:24 pm · June 7th, 2012

Your heart has to melt for Quentin Tarantino. The guy is nothing if not protective and supportive of his crews, many key members loyal to him over the years.

Back in 2010, he was dealt a blow when long-time editor Sally Menke tragically died amid hot summer temperatures while hiking in Runyon Canyon, and today, the production designer of his hotly anticipated western “Django Unchained,” J. Michael Riva, has reportedly died at the age of 63, according to Variety.

Tarantino has worked with designer David Wasco for the majority of his career and Riva was a bit of a departure for “Django.” But judging by the look of the film in the trailer, which just hit the net yesterday, the collaboration is a fruitful one. Filming has been taking place at the Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio up in Newhall, California, north of Los Angeles, and is currently on-going in New Orleans.

But it’s not just “Django” that Riva put his name on this year. He was also the production designer of Marc Webb’s reboot “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which hits theaters this summer and is notable for its grittier departure from the high key look of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy (the third of which he himself designed).

No cause of death has been given at this time, though the Variety story reports that Riva died in a hospital.

Riva’s career has been a rich and varied one, the kind I imagine any designer would covet. He never found himself in a stylistic rut. He was Oscar-nominated for Steven Spielberg’s “The Color Purple” in 1985, the same year his work on Richard Donner’s Spielberg-produced “The Goonies” was given an opportunity to shine.

Riva teamed with Donner a number of times over the years, in fact, including stints on “Scrooged” and the “Lethal Weapon” series, among others. Most recently he had waded out into superhero waters, heading up the art departments of Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man” films on the heels of the aforementioned “Spider-Man 3.”

Not to be indelicate and go to such matters, but I think it’s entirely likely Riva was already on his way to awards season recognition for his “Django Unchained” work this year. The film, as noted, appears to be a design showcase that pops, Robert Richardson’s photography capturing a buffet of flourishes. Pity that recognition will be posthumous, but Riva’s work lives on, on the screen.

Riva’s swansongs, “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Django Unchained,” open nationwide on July 3 and December 25 respectively.

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