You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Production Designers Create Sets for TV That Support the Actors Without Overpowering Them

Among the large ensemble cast assembled for FX’s “American Horror Story’s” sixth season was a rookie – one that would appear in 85% of the finished series: Roanoke House.

The 8,000-sq.-ft. built-from-scratch structure – reflecting gothic, colonial, art nouveau, and Shaker architecture – was production designer Andrew Murdock’s crowning achievement, and a star of the show.

Constructing such a focal point is often a production designer’s most critical job – a task that can be as key as proper casting or solid writing.

But more often a key set is about developing the walking, talking characters around it. In the case of Netflix’s “The OA,” production designer Alex DiGerlando was tasked with creating a different sort of housing structure — glass cubes that would hold five prisoners in an underground cave — that would have a far-reaching influence on the series’ title character, played by show creator Brit Marling.

DiGerlando knew he had to get the cubes right because they “informed so much of the OA’s character,” he says. “There’s so much passage of time spent in there that it’s like this living, breathing, evolving set. It’s where the OA is born; it’s where Prairie becomes who she is ultimately going to be.”

John Paino’s Blues Café in HBO’s “Big Little Lies” is a pier-side coffee shop, made of weather-beaten wood. It was custom-built and featured multiple windows to give it an airy, yet cozy feeling, and was meant to draw together women from both sides of Monterey’s tracks.

“It’s a sanctuary for the gals to let their hair down, like a no-man safe zone,” Paino says. “It was a central meeting place for the story, and we had to make it feel open and inviting, a place where women could walk in any time — and where Jane [Shailene Woodley], not as affluent as the other women, could feel comfortable.”

One of the hallmarks of a great set is that it supports the characters and doesn’t overwhelm them. “The house had to exist on its own terms,” says Murdock. “The story has to come first.”

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • 'The Durrells' TV Show

    Greece Sweetens Production Incentives as Struggling Country's Economy Rebounds

    It’s taken the better part of a decade for Greece to show signs of recovery from the crippling crisis that almost pushed it out of the Eurozone. Now, with the economy slowly on the mend, the government is doubling down on efforts to jump-start the local film industry, giving a dramatic overhaul to the incentive [...]

  • Alita: Battle Angel VFX

    How Previsualization Helps Create Pitches for Projects Like 'Alita: Battle Angel'

    Filmmakers are increasingly using previsualization, a now-standard technique for planning highly technical shots and sequences, as a tool for pitching a project to production companies, investors and studio executives — before a single full scene has actually been shot. More creatives are relying on the technique, dubbed “pitchvis,” to fashion a compelling and engaging presentation [...]

  • A Quiet Place

    Production Growth Stretches Crafts Talent Pool, but Experience Is Still Needed

    The growing number of outlets for movies and television means that demand for qualified artisans is at an all-time high. But while job opportunities have multiplied, the path to success — and potential elite status — is still a difficult one that requires on-the-job training, experience and skill development to deliver top-notch results. Some of [...]

  • Queen and Adam Lambert Live

    How the Queen + Adam Lambert Tour Brought the Opera to Arenas

    Just as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the biopic of late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, wowed moviegoers last year, stage design firm Stufish Entertainment Architects has helped Queen + Adam Lambert’s current U.S. tour deliver a screen spectacular of its own. The tour, which plays New Orleans on Aug. 20 and Atlanta on Aug. 22, touched down at [...]

  • Mark Damon, CEO & Chairman, Foresight

    Mark Damon's DCR Finance Receives $150 Million for Financing Georgia Films (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mark Damon’s DCR Finance Corp., co-headed with financer Adi Cohen, has received a $150 million investment from Go Media Productions for Georgia projects, Variety has learned exclusively. Damon, whose credits include “2 Guns” and “Lone Survivor,” made the announcement Monday with Cohen. The deal calls for Atlanta-based Go Media Productions to join a private placement as [...]

  • The Handmaid's Tale -- "Household" -

    ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Crew on Why the Lincoln Memorial Shoot Was Worth the Effort

    Shooting on location at a national monument may seem glamorous, but it often involves extensive prep to comply with strict regulations, restrictions and crowds — all for a short on-screen moment. For the cast and crew of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the seven months of planning and negotiations required for a one-day shoot at the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content