Alex Garland’s limited series “Devs” begins with Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) looking into the mysterious disappearance of her boyfriend (Karl Glusman), who had just begun work on an equally mysterious tech project with their employer Forest (Nick Offerman). By the season finale, the secrets of what Forest is doing, and their larger implications for humanity, come to light for Lily and she confronts the false prophet. The result is a tense-turned-terrifying elevator ride in what is essentially a glass box. Because Stewart (Stephen McKinley Henderson) turns off the electromagnetic field that normally carries the elevator safely, it turns on its side and plummets to the ground, shattering its walls on impact. Lily and Forest manage to survive for a few moments, but ultimately their fate is to live on within Forest’s system, which is a simulation of an afterlife that allows them to pick up before they lost their loved ones.
“In the final act, Alex always asks for something that comes from nowhere — that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the film or the series. [So] there’s two bits of music in the final: one is the hymn that has been thematically linked to the series and the other was incepted; we called it ‘Second Coming.’ You basically hear those two pieces back to back. The hymn that me and Geoff [Barrow] wrote was used three or four times in the series as a whole. You first hear a shortened version of it in Episode 1 when Sergei and Forest walk into Devs; you hear it again when you’re beginning to understand the full power of the computer; and then the full version happens after the elevator hits the floor. As Lily approaches the lift and then gets in the lift, it’s this breathing motif, which is sort of the computer having a life force. I think if you had done that with sound effects, it would have been too on the nose.”
Writer, executive producer, director
“First thing in the morning I will rehearse with the actors. The way we shoot it is always really governed by the actors and what they feel motivated to do. It sounds weird because it’s a big set piece, but this actually functioned the same as if you had two people talking in a room — except here you had a crane, and we knew that some angles were going to be problematic to us from a visual-effects standpoint, and we also wanted to get close to [Sonoya] but also make her look small in the space. So some of the shots were put on a much wider lens than we would typically use while shooting ‘Devs.’”
“The elevator and the Devs cube coding labs are floating in a vacuum. This vacuum is sealed in a large cavity whose wall surfaces are grids of gold undulating concave scoops. They have the appearance of a honeycomb but are not truly that shape — in reality being scooped out segments of a sphere. The science behind it is that the gold and pattern is useful in obstructing light, radio and electromagnetic waves from penetrating through to the Devs’ floating cube labs and disrupting the sensitive computer within. [The elevator’s] size was important, [and] practical movement and its realism was a big consideration in the design process. It needed to be smooth but not perfect. We lined the whole studio with these 4-feet-by-4-feet panels. A master panel was made by computer, carving the scoops from wood and then making a mold before casting multiples in solid foam, sanding down smooth and then manually gluing each panel with 4-inch squares of gold leaf.”
“We had a full CG elevator, digi-double actors and then massive VFX for all of the glass exploding. We did quite a lot of paint-out work to remove light and rigging from the glass. We had silicone glass on-set, and that looks great at the beginning of the day but it loses its sheen, so in some of the shots we would keep what was in the plate but we would enhance the glistening highlights of it. And then in some of the shots, particularly where she’s close to the capsule as she’s crawling away, we added more CG glass because the amount we had on set wasn’t really representative of the actual amount we chucked out when we did the simulation.”
Director of photography
“The space is so photographic, it’s like walking onto a playground. So a sequence like that was storyboarded to the extent where we knew we needed to drop the elevator in a certain place, but then after that it was about us riffing with the actors. Sonoya has danced for years so we knew she was going to offer up something poignant and beautiful physically. There’s a moment at the end where she’s crawled out away from the elevator and we’re down by the side of her and as she turns, the camera turns with her as if we are almost attached to her and then we level out and pull back out. That shot was achieved with an Oculus head; it essentially can get into positions where most other remote heads can’t. What was initially a really cool idea became an extremely difficult shot to execute but what helped exponentially was Sonoya’s consistent movement. I was framing and moving the camera around something that never missed a beat.”