Loki’s production designer on the modernist inspiration behind the series’ stunning visuals
Fans of modernist design can find much to appreciate in Loki, the TV series starring Tom Hiddleston recently released by Marvel Studios on the Disney + streaming channel. The astonishing production is clearly influenced by Brutalist and neo-futurist architecture, as well as Soviet socialist art and sculpture. Visual references can be seen from the very first episode, in which the magical god of evil is apprehended by an universe-spanning police force known as the Time Variance Authority for “crimes against the sacred timeline” (stay with us).
One of the first scenes, for example, was shot on a custom-built set that bears a striking resemblance to the lobby of the Marcel Breuer building in New York City that once housed the Whitney Museum – and now houses the Frick – while a other was shot on site. in the neo-futuristic Atlanta Marriott Marquis hotel, designed by architect John C. Portman, Jr (with a few later edited monumental statues in the soaring atrium). The arts journal spoke to the show’s production designer, Kasra Farahani, about her inspirations for the show’s look.
The arts journal: Loki director Kate Herron called this series a love letter to science fiction and you see a lot of visual tributes to films like Brazil, a clockwork orange and Blade runner. But there is also a clear influence of Modernist design on the look of the series as a whole. You studied industrial design early in your career. Were there any specific examples of Modernist architecture and design that you were looking at when you first started working on the series?
Kasra Farahani: So, everyone from Frank Lloyd Wright to Breuer, to Mies van der Rohe to Paul Rudolph — you have a picture in the John Portman building — to Oscar Niemeyer. And then a lot of Eastern European modernism and Soviet influence also played a big role in it. I can honestly tell you that my first and foremost inspiration was modernism. Part of the reason is that the Time Variance Authority (TVA) is a bureaucracy and I think, for example, a lot of what we know to be a bureaucracy is this post-war, highly institutional appearance. funded. And there are a lot of different versions of that, whether it’s the Washington, DC version, like the Hoover Building, or if that’s what we had in Los Angeles, where I grew up, where there’s a tremendous amount of post-war architecture built for the population boom. Like elementary school, middle school, and high school I attended were all Mid-Century Modernists.
I also looked a lot at Brutalism and Modernism in the former Soviet states, which are heavily influenced by socialism and Soviet architecture, and where scale is such a big driving force behind the design.
The size of some of the buildings in the show is quite impressive. I know there were some shoots done at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, with that huge atrium booming. You are completely eclipsed by this kind of architecture.
Yes, it’s true. The one we used for the TVA archives because we couldn’t justify building a large set, but once I spotted it I saw we could bring these huge Time-Keeper sculptures to the scale you would usually only see outside which is a fantastic thing. The TVA sets themselves, which were almost entirely 360-degree sets, were conceived as an intentional paradox between the stoic, large-scale form language of brutalism, and the whimsical surface, palette and patterns, which are very inspired by mid-century modern America. These two things create these spaces that feel both super intimidating and then uncomfortably inviting and warm at the same time.
It’s a bit of the irony of a lot of modernism, brutalism in particular, it had these utopian ideals of creating affordable social housing, but a lot of people found it really oppressive to live on.
Yes. Modernism has been that way all the time – it was designed to be very cheap and utilitarian, and it usually ends up being the most expensive type of architecture. Another thing readers may be curious about is the TBA extent, which is basically the view outside of certain windows.
This futuristic cityscape you can see….
Yes. They had some very strange and unique parameters to try to design this. VAT exists outside the physical world, so there is no weather, there are no roofs, there is no difference between inside and outside, there is not even necessarily gravity as we know it. But there are those meandering colonnades that we took a lot of inspiration from in Brasilia – and obviously a lot of great cities that have been drawn in the comics. But there are also some very beautiful Conceptual sketches that Frank Lloyd Wright made from an early 20th century version of Los Angeles that had Roman-style colonnades and plazas and much of that fed into the scope of the TVA.
You mentioned all of the sets you built for Loki, especially for the TVA. There are two that have been used a lot. The Time Theater, where so many of Loki’s personal stories are told, and it looks like it’s straight out of the London Barbican, with those huge color-coded directional numbers on the walls. And then there’s the Miss Minutes waiting room with those circular lights that look almost exactly like the lobby of the Breuer building in New York City, to the point where I contacted the museum to ask if you had filmed there. You even got the right to silver tip bulbs.
We were very inspired by this, but it’s different in a very subtle way, but for me, very important. Firstly, the size of the bulbs is much smaller, they have been manipulated to create eyeballs, basically. Another important difference is that in the Breuer building they have these parabolas suspended in space, while in ours they are negative spaces, there is a solid ceiling. It creates a matrix of eyeballs peering downwards, like the always-on-the-watch Time-Keepers. And maybe the most important difference is that the ceiling is slammed – you know the cheapest apartment you can walk into has an eight foot ceiling, this one is six inches shorter than that, and our actor is about six foot three. The idea was to create a sort of trash compactor feeling in this claustrophobic space with this matrix of eyes, watching it all happen.
The theater of the time was for me very inspired by Pier Luigi Nervi.
I liked that waffle coffered ceiling you have in this room.
Thank you. We were very satisfied with it and it created this sort of forest of luminous columns that helps define the neo-noir and interrogative character of the space. And the super unnecessarily large graphics that you mentioned are very Paul Rudolph, he did that in his building too, and I love that.
For me, it’s very important not to refer to a scenography from other films, that’s why I’m referring to architecture, painting, photography, these other art forms, more than any other thing, because inevitably when working on archetypes, there is a lot of overlap.
And because Loki walks into different times and places, you get a completely different design environment in those places. There is a scene on a train car, which has a very Art Deco look.
This was inspired by the interior of a Fabergé egg, Art Deco meets Alien.
And when you finally meet the Time-Keepers in the most recent episode, it’s like they’re in a pre-Columbian pyramid or a ziggurat.
I was looking at the Indian steps, that almost fractal quality with these descending staircases that follow one another – but we imagined them coming out all over the place, with an Escher quality, as if they were paving endlessly.
I read on twitter that you literally bought a bowling alley in Omaha and brought it to Atlanta to create Loki’s Palace in the Void in the last episode, which is this crazy, surreal, landfill-like amusement park.
We bought the floor for a bowling alley, everything else we built. It was a lot of fun because the script gave us a lot of lead. The proposal was to do this bowling because basically everything in the Void has been thrown out of time, and more things fall into it and pile up and so you end up with these strata. I liked the idea of a bowling alley that crashed into your knee or something. The net effect is that when you first walk in, you have all these track lines pointing to this throne, which was supposed to be stolen from a Santa Mall. And then there are these crazy alien plants growing through it that have taken over the place like a parasite. In many ways, I think it’s a narrative microcosm of the Void itself, which is like a salad bar of these disparate aberrations slammed together. Things like bowling have all of these micro-narratives that we in the art department have come up with to help flush out the design and make it specific. For example, there are portraits on the wall of the Melon of the Month, and they’re not quite human. It’s not in the episode, but these things are important to us in the art department.
At the very end of the most recent episode, we get a glimpse of this town that Loki and Sylvie (played by Sophia Di Martino) enter. Can you tell us what inspired these scenes, what we’re going to see?
You can call me back in a week. All I can say is that the TVA is definitely the visual and narrative anchor of the story, but there are a lot of great worlds to see. And I think what people react to is the extent of the visual variety of the show. And episode six will be no different. It’s really cool, and maybe some of my favorite stuff.