The time machine at Avengers Headquarters was among the stunning variety of sets created for “Endgame.” Photo courtesy Disney.

Conjuring a Galaxy of Locations

Charles Wood’s production design rooted alien worlds in reality
By Karen Idelson

Photo courtesy Disney

In “Avengers: Endgame,” we span the galaxy to reach desolate, far reaches of space, the exotic planet Vormir and … New York City.

That means production design has to construct all of those locations in a way that’s both fantastic and believable for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Renowned production designer Charles Wood has been with the “Avengers” story over multiple films and developed a way to keep it all believable.

“I think you start with the real world,” says Wood. “We based Vormir on the Atacama Desert in Chile and these beautiful sand dune formations. What we often do is look at something that exists and feels somewhat unearthly, strange or unnatural — but it exists on our own planet. After that, we try to manipulate it so there’s an unexpected twist.

“Although there was the sky and the clouds, we wanted the clouds to perform in a very unnatural way. So it’s a nice way of doing something which was sort of based on reality, but there was something dreamy or slightly nightmarish about it which you couldn’t quite put your finger on.”

And directors Joe and Anthony Russo were interested in seeing Vormir rendered in a particular way.

“I think one of the sets we loved the most was Vormir, which is where the Soul Stone is,” says Joe Russo. “We knew very little about the Soul Stone, its origin, where it was. So it was kind of exciting and fun for us because we were sort of fabricating the story of the Soul Stone and its environment from nothing, from scratch.”

In addition to Chile, Scotland proved a solid fit for the production design team because of its architecture and exteriors. Wood found it was easy to source a lot of locations, which helped visual effects and all the other departments working closely with production design.

“The more we can do in-camera, the better it is for us and the look of the movie as a whole,” says Wood. “When you shoot on set, you get so much information about color, lighting and just the texture of the things you’re looking at through the lens, and all that is what really helps something like ‘Avengers’ because then it feels real and the viewers get the sense that they’re really inside that world with the characters. Though this is a film based on superheroes, what we really want is for you to feel like you’re part of their journey.”

Even with a great team and one of the most beloved comic book series as source material, there is the not so small matter of one of the biggest battle scenes ever imagined.

“The most challenging thing about it all was just keeping it all together,” laughs Wood. “You want each place to have its own feeling and look distinct so that the audience can follow the story and instantly understand where they are. That can be a tall order but we’re lucky to have found wonderful locations.

“And we have a crew that worked so hard to source everything from Chile to Scotland in such a way that most days on set you would be so grateful to be working on a project of this scale and detail.”