Southern California-Shot ‘Silicon Valley’ Goes for a Bay Area Look

While “Silicon Valley” co-creator Mike Judge and showrunner Alec Berg have been devising the outlandish goings-on and shenanigans on the hit HBO comedy, production designer Richard Toyon and his right-hand woman, art director Oana Bogdan, have been busy making the interiors and exteriors look exactly like those in the actual Silicon Valley.

Although the show is shot in Southern California, “we wanted to keep an aesthetic based on the real Northern California companies we’re emulating,” says Bogdan, who’s nominated for a Creative Arts Emmy for her art direction on the show’s third season (she’s been nominated twice before for her work on FX’s “Justified”).

“Early on, we took a field trip to visit tech companies,” she says. They attended the Bay Area’s Tech Crunch, the annual convention where up-and-coming products and software are presented to would-be investors. The core art team spent three days visiting the likes of GitHub, Dropbox, Yelp, and Facebook. The images they came back with informed the Silicon Valley they created for TV.

They also partnered with vendors through product-placement deals to gather the show’s physical artifacts, such as its height-adjustable Varidesks. And in the most recent season’s opener, the robotic deer that Thomas Middledich’s character hits with his car was crafted by Google’s Boston Dynamics unit.

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Toyon, who has a background in architecture and landscape architecture, took home an Emmy for the show last year. Bogdan got the call to be his second-in-command after the previous person in that role, L.J. Houdyshell, was promoted to the role of production designer on CBS’ “Cold Black.”

Bogdan points out that Toyon has been working with Judge and Berg for three seasons, “so they’ve developed a shorthand where Richard often knows what Mike and Alec will be looking for in each design he conceives.” The communication trickles down to the entire art department, Bogdan adds, “from art director down to production assistants.”

Romania-born Bogdan has worked in film and TV since 1994, and was wrapping up the first season of WGN’s “Underground,” about the Civil War-era Underground Railroad, when she got the call for “Silicon Valley,” which is set in a time period that’s in stark contrast to the antebellum South. She jumped at the chance to add variety to her work.

“[On ‘Underground’] I was creating low-tech, hand-wrought, analog looks,” she says. “Now I get to capture cutting-edge technology and concepts not even on the market yet. I love having a range in the types of projects I’m involved with.”

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