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“Django Unchained” production designer J. Michael Riva dead at 63

J. Michael RivaThe name J. Michael Riva is likely not familiar to you, but you have certainly seen the man’s work. Riva was the production designer on dozens of films over the years, from “The Goonies” to “Lethal Weapon” to “Iron Man” to the upcoming “Django Unchained” and “The Amazing Spider-Man”.

While on location for “Django Unchained” in New Orleans, Riva suffered a fatal stroke. He was 63.

Riva, the grandson of actress Marlene Dietrich, won numerous awards throughout his career, including an Oscar for Best Art Direction on Steven Spielberg’s “The Color Purple.” He also won two Emmys for Art Direction of the Oscars telecast itself.

“Michael Riva was a great friend and a tremendous talent, able to tailor the look and mood of a story to the emotion in the script. We are stunned and saddened by his passing,” said Amy Pascal, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which produced “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

“J. Michael Riva was an amazing talent and we were lucky to have him work on “Django Unchained.” His creativity enhanced every frame of the film.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” said Harvey Weinstein.

Production designers rarely get due credit for their important work on films, as they are usually upstaged by the director and cinematographer. But hopefully, in light of this tragic news, moviegoers will take special note of Riva’s rich visual stylings on the soon-to-be-released Marvel and Tarantino films.

Rest in peace.

About Danny Baldwin

Danny Baldwin has been writing about film on the Internet for over a decade, initially for BucketReviews and now for Critic Speak. He holds a Master's degree in Critical Studies from the University of Southern California and in past years served as a member of both the Online Film Critics Society and the San Diego Film Critics Society. Danny's favorite films include “The 400 Blows,” “Imitation of Life" (1959), “My Neighbor Totoro” and “The Silence of the Lambs.” He lives in Los Angeles.