Mr. World... is such a powerful character. The top designers in America probably would have built his lair. So I was looking at designers like Raymond Loewy, Louis Kahn, Frank Lloyd Wright and going from there.
Rory Cheyne, Production Designer, “American Gods”
To find visuals as unique as their scripts, these production designers looked in unusual places for reference images.
By Karen Idelson
“Now Apocalypse” and “American Gods” have some of the most daring visuals on TV. No wonder; their designers and visual artists take their cues from surprising influences.
Both shows are noted for adding visual swagger to their contemporary setting. For “Now Apocalypse,” about millennials in Los Angeles, that translates into an edgy but colorful look, while “American Gods” presents an astonishing sci-fi fantasy landscape adjacent to the world we all see.
For “American Gods,” the conceit is, “What if gods were roaming the earth as regular people?” says Stacey Dodge, show’s visual effects producer. “The visuals sort of speak to that as well. It has hotdog stands and regular things but they have just a twinge of magic in them.”
It fell to the show’s production designer Rory Cheyne to create sets that were both unreal and grounded in the familiar. “There’s no real sense of coming back to something,” says Cheyne. “Every episode was a new creation in the world. So in this season we wanted to create a couple of home bases for the characters. Mr. World, Crispin Glover — he would have had the best of the best because he is such a powerful character. The top designers in America probably would have built his lair. So I was looking at designers like Raymond Loewy, Louis Kahn, Frank Lloyd Wright and going from there.”
Ceilings proved to be the most expensive parts of the set. The show’s sparse environment reflects 1950s modernism, so the ceilings became strong, singular elements.
They included giant donut-shaped pieces on chain motors that could be raised or lowered. When down, they created a feeling of things being contained and enclosed. Cheyne worked with the show’s cinematographer to find interesting shooting angles, using the ceilings to create a sense of grand — godlike — design.
“Rory did a great job of setting up the world and the sets and setting them up to do what we do to them,” says Chris MacLean, “American Gods” VFX supervisor. “Everything in this world is a little too sharp and everything is very methodically polished, but we still have to make things believable.”
“Now Apocalypse” cinematographer Sandra Valde-Hansen says, “Our references mainly came from fashion photographers and street photographers. “We were influenced by people like Hannah Starkey because I think in fashion photography they’re really pushing the limits of style and look.”
Valde-Hansen points to the character Carly Carlson, an aspiring actress and online sex worker. “In her bedroom, we have this kind of really deep blue blending with this beautiful warm orange.”
Todd Fjelsted, production designer for “Now Apocalypse,” believes the distinct visuals are no accident.
“The director Gregg [Araki] is always drawn to things that are over the top, and that’s only increased with this project,” says Fjelsted. “His work has always been about youth culture and sexuality and coming of age. We were merging the influences of ‘Twin Peaks’ and ‘Scooby-Doo.’
Los Angeles is kind of a scary place. So, we’re juxtaposing fun, playful glamorous, low-rent apartment life you’ve made for yourself with, ‘Now you’re in a job interview and no one cares about you.’ ”