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Oscar winner and recent graduate Patrice Vermette basks in the success of Dune 2

‘It’s a tremendous feeling,’ says the production designer and long-time Denis Villeneuve collaborator
April 17, 2024
By Ian Harrison, BComm 01

A man and a woman pose for a photo. They are dressed up and are each holding an Oscar Award in their hand. Vermette shared an Oscar in 2022 with set decorator Zsuzsanna Sipos for their work on the first Dune film. | Photo: Sipa USA / Alamy Stock Photo

Now that Dune: Part Two is a proven hit with critics and audiences worldwide — released on March 1, it has grossed more than $500 million at the box office — production designer Patrice Vermette, BA 23, can breathe a sigh of relief.

“It’s a tremendous feeling,” admits the three-time Academy Award nominee, who shared the Oscar for Best Production Design for his work on the first Dune film in 2022.

“To see how well it has been received, and how the visual style we created has had an impact, is very gratifying. And it’s all a credit to Denis Villeneuve’s vision — he’s been a fan of these books since childhood.”

From Dune to Sicario and Arrival, the Montreal-born Vermette has enjoyed a long partnership with director and fellow Quebec native Villeneuve.

The collaboration has been incredibly fruitful and yielded a visual aesthetic that has become a bit of a Villeneuve trademark.

“We think similarly, have a lot in common and have developed a kind of shorthand that helps us work very well together,” says Vermette, whose production design on big-budget films like Dune typically begins years before actors like Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya arrive on set.

In a spacious, dimly-lit interior, a man in a black shirt stands confidently with hands in pockets, with striking beams of light and intricate wall engravings forming a dramatic backdrop. Vermette on the set of Dune

Villeneuve and Vallée

Vermette’s career has also been marked by his work with another Québécois filmmaker, the late Jean-Marc Vallée, whose death on Christmas Day 2021 was closely preceded by a talk with Concordia students and alumni.

A scholarship fund for Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema students was soon established in Vallée’s name, with notable support from sons Alex Vallée and Émile Vallée, BFA 20, cinematographer Yves Bélanger, BFA 84, and the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.

Vermette poignantly paid tribute to Vallée after he was presented with his Oscars statuette in 2022.

“Working with Jean-Marc on his short film Les mots magiques [1998] was pivotal for me,” he says.

“It led to being his production designer on C.R.A.Z.Y., which was so well received internationally, and then to The Young Victoria. Jean-Marc had to persuade me to do that one, because I didn’t think I had the chops to do an English period piece!”

Vermette went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for The Young Victoria, and to work with Vallée on subsequent films.

“When we did Café de Flore, which had a relatively low budget, that was when he really honed his signature style as a director,” observes Vermette.

“His loss was huge for Quebec cinema, obviously, and cinema in general. For me personally though, I lost a good friend.”

A selfie of two smiling individuals at a graduation event, with one wearing a graduation gown and the other in casual attire, capturing the convivial atmosphere of the occasion. Vermette and his daughter, Lili Bertrand-Vermette, BA 23, at convocation in 2023.

Father and daughter on campus

Vermette’s own Concordia journey started as a Department of Communication Studies undergraduate in the late 1980s. A couple courses shy of graduation, he began to work on music videos and never looked back.

“But I’m someone who likes to finish what he started,” he notes.

So, as his work on Dune 2 was about to wind down, Vermette returned to campus as a mature student alongside his daughter, Lili Bertrand-Vermette, BA 23.

Father and daughter attended convocation as Department of Communication Studies graduates in 2023.

“We weren’t able to sit together because Lili also shares my wife’s name, Bertrand,” Vermette remarks. “But it was still a very special moment. I was thinking a lot about my dad, who passed away in 2015. He would’ve been proud to see us together that day.”

While he takes some much-deserved time to bask in the success of Dune 2, the production designer has other projects on the horizon. Could one of them be Dune 3?

“It hasn’t officially been announced yet, but I think so,” says Vermette. “But Denis and I share the opinion that it could be interesting to work on another project first. And besides, in Frank Herbert’s novels, 12 years elapse between the events of Dune 2 and what would be the third film.

“So, I think it’s a good idea to let the characters develop and breathe a little before we dive back into that world.”

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