‘The Terror’ Designers Batten Down Soundstages for AMC’s New Drama

Blending history with speculative fiction, AMC’s new series “The Terror,” based on Dan Simmons’ novel of the same name, follows a British Royal Navy expedition into the Arctic in the mid-1800s as it searches for the Northwest Passage. The doomed voyage leaves two ships, the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus, trapped in ice — and their sailors tormented by a mysterious and terrifying predator.

“It sounded fascinating and like a real challenge right from the start, knowing that we were obviously going to be studio-based,” says production designer Jonathan McKinstry.

Much of the series was shot on a soundstage at Stern Film Studio near Budapest, where McKinstry constructed a multipurpose vessel. “We didn’t have space, time or money to build both ships, so we built one that we modified to become the Terror or the Erebus by changing the stern, changing the signs, changing the dressing, changing some of the companionway entrances — minor details that you would notice,” the production designer says.

McKinstry made as faithful a replica as he could, with help from Matthew Betts, a Canadian archaeologist who had been working on a model of the Terror for years. “He produced a lot of drawings for his model that he allowed us to have, and we adapted them to make them into our ship,” says McKinstry, who also sourced blueprints from London’s National Maritime Museum.

“The Terror” co-producer and co-showrunner David Kajganich reports that the remains of both of the actual ships have been found in the Arctic in recent years, allowing for even more accurate detail to be shared via the replica. “Walking onto those ships was like entering history,” he says.

The ship built for the series was mounted on a gimbal so that it could be tilted after the Arctic ice engulfs the vessels. “The ice starts pushing and twisting the ships, and they start listing quite severely,” McKinstry says. “We decided that to differentiate between the two ships, they should list in different ways.”

Noting the tilting ship required complicated engineering and lots of problem-solving involving various department heads, series executive producer and co-showrunner Soo Hugh says, “I’ve never worked on a show that had this intricate of a puzzle. Every day, as new questions came up, the team we put together was phenomenal in figuring out those questions.”

While the upper deck of the ship lived on one soundstage in Budapest, McKinstry built the entire lower deck, including the kitchen and captain’s quarters, on a separate soundstage. The lower deck was purposely cramped, but it had to be functional too, McKinstry says, so the intricately designed space consisted of movable parts, including side panels and ceiling panels that could be shifted to accommodate equipment and crew members.

Ultimately, McKinstry’s work on “The Terror” was all about creating uncomfortable spaces that would unnerve actors and audience. “In contrast to this claustrophobic ship where the characters are on top of each other, we have this massive, wide open space outside that’s totally inhospitable,” he says, referring to the Arctic expanse, “with some sort of nasty creature lurking in it.”

More Artisans

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    How 'Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood' Turned the Clock Back for Its Shoot

    Crossing the street took months for the crew that turned back the clock 50 years on Hollywood Boulevard for Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” Production designer Barbara Ling created false fronts for buildings that were constructed off-site and installed by crane just ahead of the shoot. Set decorator Nancy Haigh described [...]

  • Just Roll With It Disney Channel

    Disney Channel's Scripted-Improv Comedy Crew Shares How They 'Just Roll With It'

    The title of the new Disney Channel series “Just Roll With It” appears to be as much a directive for its cast and crew as it is a description of the multi-camera hybrid sitcom, which is part scripted and part improv. The plot revolves around the blended Bennett-Blatt family — strict mom Rachel (Suzi Barrett), [...]

  • "SpongeBob's Big Birthday Blowout" cast

    'SpongeBob' Voice Cast on Acting Together in Live-Action for 20th Anniversary Special

    On a brisk morning in February, the members of the voice cast of Nickelodeon’s flagship animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants” gathered to work on a new episode, like they’ve done most weeks over the past 20 years. But instead of being in a recording booth, this time they’ve assembled at a diner in Castaic, Calif., shooting [...]

  • Motion Picture Editors Guild to Honor

    Motion Picture Editors Guild to Honor Veteran Executive Martin Cohen

    The Motion Picture Editors Guild will honor veteran post-production executive and producer Martin Cohen with its Fellowship and Service Award. Cohen worked at Amblin, DreamWorks and Paramount. He was a co-producer on “The Hunger Games” and supervised the restoration Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” trilogy and “Jaws.” The award recognizes an individual who embodies the values set [...]

  • Game of Thrones Iceland TV Incentives

    Iceland Offers Productions Majestic Landscapes, Stunning Architecture and a 25% Rebate

    Few places on Earth contain the natural majesty of Iceland. The Nordic island, nestled between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean, holds some of the most breathtaking natural wonders on the planet: the fiery pyrotechnics of live volcanoes, steam curling up from natural hot springs, vertiginous drops from oceanside cliffs and waterfalls cascading into [...]

  • Schitt's Creek Wigs

    'Schitt's Creek': Inside Moira Rose's Iconic Wig Collection

    Moira Rose, the family matriarch of cult classic “Schitt’s Creek,” is known for several things: her pronunciation of the word “bebe,” her love for her TV family (and sometimes Alexis) and her countless vibrant wigs. Played by the always delightful Catherine O’Hara, each episode (and wig) is a joy to witness on screen. “I think [...]

  • Kira Kelly Cinematographer Queen Sugar

    'Queen Sugar' DP on How Ava DuVernay Encourages Creativity on the OWN Series

    Cinematographer Kira Kelly, who earned an Emmy nomination for her work on Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” feels that her time spent on nonfiction projects over the past two decades has improved her ability to cope with the demands of shooting narrative fare.  The scaled-down resources — often just Kelly and maybe a focus puller or a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content