More than any other Marvel Disney+ show so far, it’s Loki that truly feels like the first one to live up to Marvel Studios’ scope and scale, mostly in due part to the impeccable production design. Led by Kasra Farahani, the Loki production design team set out to create unique worlds and sets that felt not only distinct but also believably lived-in. The result is a truly awe-inspiring journey across crazy alternate realities and brutalist anachronistic offices. I spoke to Farahani who was kind of enough to share some details regarding the visual philosophy that held this show together.
One thing that was clearly stated from Kate Herron and Kevin Feige was that this was a journey through many different worlds. That was what they wanted to offer fans. Having this base of the TVA but then going along on case studies with TVA analysts and hopping through time and going deeper into the origin of the TVA. It was very clear early on that the TVA was going to be the anchor of the series but that there would be lots of worlds to build to convey a broad spectrum of visuals. Hopping out and seeing a fully realized world even if it’s for one episode makes the universe feel larger.
With so many stylistic choices, pop culture nods, artistic references in their production design, it’s fair to wonder what exactly Loki’s art department had in mind as far as influences go for the series. Turns out, they picked some of the best work to jump off from.
In the original brief, the writers had mentioned two things: Blade Runner and Mad Men, which I thought was a very evocative starting point. Kate and I were immediately drawn to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, another very strong influence as it had the anachronism that was relevant to our show but also depicted the monolithic bureaucracy the TVA was. So brutalist architecture, Eastern European mid-century modernism, West Coast mid-century modernism, and many more all contributed to this look we had in our minds.
The latest episode of Loki saw all the titular variants take refuge in a very unusual place in the middle of the wasteland known as the Void: a bowling alley. Because of its specificity, I had to inquire just why they decided to use such a conceptually mundane but visually striking location.
It was one of those sets that took a long time to figure out. It might have even been the set that took the most thinking. Ultimately, the script just referred to it as a temple. The art department proposed the idea of a bowling alley because in the end, The Void is basically a dumping ground of discarded realities that is overgrown by this damp environment. So if you go below the surface, it stands to reason you’ll see layers and layers of different realities that have been deleted over time and stacked over each other.
What I liked about the bowling alley was that it had these lanes and that I could create a throne room and visually use the lanes of the bowling alley to direct the eyes to the throne. In our own minds, this bowling alley was this not-quite-human bowling alley from Earth that had been deleted. Next to it, there were these alien vines that were growing into the alley from another deleted reality. None of these are in the script. These are the micro-narratives we come up with in the art department to help us flesh out the designs and make them specific to avoid generic designs. We fill in the blanks ourselves.
We had the notion that somewhere in the Void was a mall that the Lokis discovered. In that mall, they see a Santa Claus Christmas chair and bring it to their lair which is why the room has a Christmas look to it. Part of the goal of the set was to demonstrate this idea of eclectic randomness.
One-take sequences or “oners” aren’t new to the MCU as they’ve been around since the first Avengers. And while the idea isn’t novel, Loki has a particularly impressive oner in the Lamentis episode where Sylvie and Loki run through the town of Sheroo as a riot breaks out on the streets while the city gets bombarded by meteors. It’s a great sequence that flexes the technical prowess the production has over the material. Farahani elaborated on the collaborative process they had and what role the production design team had in the sequence.
It was a huge and complex collaboration. It began in the early days with our DP Autumn Durald and Kate. They were heavily inspired by the sequence at the end of Children of Men. Based on that, we were able to back into how long the shot needed to be. So we created a foam model for them to play around with to figure out if this was the duration and so on. And based on that information, we began designing this city, which we built practically on set. Everything up to 16 feet was an actual set.
And then once we got further along, it became a bigger collaboration with Monique Ganderton, our stunt coordinator, and Richard Graves, our first AD. It was many meetings and scouting to fine-tune and tailor the set and location of VFX flourishes like explosions and camera wipes. It was very challenging but very smooth considering all the different parts.
Easily one of the more esoteric locations in the show is the Time Keepers throne room, which we got to see in its eerie glory in Episode 4. It was surprising to learn that a chunk of the set was practically done and that they took inspiration from real-life structures in India.
A lot more is practical than you think. We designed the Time Keepers throne room early in pre-production and it was very much inspired by the stepwells in India. Beautiful fractal ancient art-deco structures. We put the stepwells on its side and imagined they were mirrored into space with different dimensions. From a practical standpoint, we built the entire surface the cast is moving around on from the elevator. The wall behind the Time Keepers was also practical.