The first hint of “Loki’s” retro future look came from series creator Michael Waldron, who described it as “‘Mad Men’ meets ‘Blade Runner.'” That immediately clicked for production designer Kasra Farahani (“Captain Marvel”), especially when envisioning the Time Variance Authority (TVA), a floating series of modular workstations existing in its own world, tasked with keeping temporal order in the MCU.
However, Farahani had his own personal influence: “Brazil,” which provided a distinctive atmosphere of oppression. “For me, ‘Brazil’ was the perfect reference,” he said, “because of the anachronism, which was an important part of our show, where you’re combining [elements] from different timelines, but also the feeling of bureaucracy: this giant monolithic entity crushing the individual.”
In designing the TVA sets, Farahani combined the clean, angular American mid-century modernism of “Blade Runner” and “Mad Men” with the cold, brutalistic architecture found in Europe and the Soviet Union during the same period. These stoic spaces helped convey the oppressive, institutional atmosphere. “But the cognitive dissonance evoked in the TVA workers came from the warm color palette [of brown, red, and gold] and the whimsical patterns in the carpet,” he said.
The 360-degree sets also contained high ceilings and light fixtures (many with silver-tipped bulbs). These were an essential part of this monolithic look, particularly in the TVA theater, where agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) interrogates Loki (Tom Hiddleston). “There’s a grid of squares that would create these shafts of light and a giant oval of light that would illuminate the bullpen area,” Farahani said. “And it meshed beautifully with the shooting style of [cinematographer] Autumn [Durald Arkapaw], which is super low and looking up so much.”
Additionally, the TVA is seen in the background as a series of floating work environments. This was called “The Expanse,” and that’s where an actual Brazilian influence can be spotted. “The biggest influences were Frank Lloyd Wright sketches of the city planned for downtown LA,” Farahani said. “And also Oscar Niemeyer, the designer of [civic buildings] for Brasilia [which became Brazil’s capital]. So if you look out carefully, they’re not exteriors or interiors but weird, in between work spaces expanding to the horizon.”
Meanwhile, the production designer’s other noteworthy instance of world building was Lamentis-1, the purple moon where Loki and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) find themselves trapped during its cataclysmic destruction. It was conceived as an industrial mining site.
“What I proposed was that it had a black crust with a purple ore reveal underneath,” said Farahani. “From the sky, it looks like a black and purple Swiss cheese. The initial landing scene was shot in a quarry to get the mining feel across. But the town built on a backlot was a stage setting, and we finally end up in Sharoo for the climax of [Episode 3, ‘Lamentis’].”
Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Sharoo comprised the largest practical set of the series: a town in its entirety built up to 16 feet with VFX set extension beyond. The purpose of Sharoo was to do a virtual single-shot action sequence with Loki and Sylvie trying to escape in an ark before a planet crashes into the moon. Farahani called it a dance overseen by director Kate Herron, cinematographer Arkapaw, and the stunt and VFX teams. “There were meteors falling to earth, air mortars blowing up from the sky, stunts, running down narrow alleys, and burying the edits to facilitate the virtual oner,” he said.
The choreography began with crude paper models to figure out the scope, and there were continuous scouts throughout to fine tune the size and shape of each narrow corridor to execute the action. “And, from a design point of view, it was tricky trying to create a new-looking alien town within the MCU,” Farahani said. “What I was thinking of was modular 3D-printed architecture consisting of scaffolding and raw material.”
But, thanks to the ingenuity of Farhani, the sets were painted with both reactive and non-reactive black light, which resulted in strange, glowing patterns on the surfaces of the buildings. “So when you shined a black light on it, everything that’s black light reactive seems to jump out,” he said. “This created a 2D look, almost like a weird cartoon or hologram, but it’s actually 3D space. This added another layer of complexity working with Autumn and the lighting team because we needed to build in black light to illuminate the architecture, but keep it from spilling black light onto the actors and their wardrobes. That was another dance.”
The psychedelic world building caught the attention of Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, who came out to observe the shooting of the sequence for almost its entirety. “He was very complimentary of that set,” Farhani admitted. “He said it was something distinct in his mind for the MCU.”