Designing with Eyes Closed
Endureed is helping to bring mythical worlds to life in film.
The very first episode of See begins with a dawn, breaking above a mountain. As the camera angles, the audience is shown trees, stretching high into a clouded blue sky as fog shimmers across the ground.
It’s a world as beautiful as it is terrible, set centuries into the future, in a reality where the surviving humankind population is blind and vision itself is a myth.
Thus, begins the award-winning story from Apple+, a tale unfolding over three seasons to date.
“It’s a show that makes a statement,” Dean O’Dell, supervising art director since the show’s inception and production designer of season three, explains. “It’s a cautionary tale, but it afforded us a creative chance to build a world we’d never built before.”
Creating a believable, authentic world.
The world begins in a rural mountain setting, highlighting the post-apocalyptic life of the Alkenny Tribe led by Jason Momoa’s character, Baba Vass. Though the tribesmen possess an acute sense of smell, hearing and other senses, their lack of sight was a huge consideration when creating the world seen on screen. It was a new challenge for Dean, whose resume includes high-visual media like The Boys (Sony Television and Amazon Studios), The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Studios) and Hemlock Grove (Gaumont, Netflix), to name a few.
“The show is set centuries into the future, in a world that is very different from ours. There is a lot of creative freedom in that, but a big challenge, too, because you have to think about the world differently than how we experience it today. The fun and beauty of that show [See] is that literally everything is built. Every prop, every set dressing, every furniture piece. Add on top of that the challenge that in this world, everything is created by those using only feel and touch rather than sight, and this show quickly became unlike any I’d ever worked on before. A real opportunity to design with eyes closed.”
Dean and his team, a collaboration of independent contractors including architects, industrial designers, interior designers, drafting professionals, model makers, concept artists, graphic artists, art assistants, motion graphics, specialized artists, trainees and a blind consultant on set, took on the challenge with enthusiasm, building a believable, authentic world from the ground up.
Over the span of three seasons, See’s production design team crafted a world in both rural and urban settings, each with their own unique demands.
“We married different styles throughout the show, bringing together materials that humankind had left behind – like parts of cars, for example – with materials that the audience could believe were gathered from nature and rural settings.”
One such material was the thatching Dean’s team used to roof dwellings throughout seasons two and three. For that, Dean turned to Endureed.
“At the time, I was evaluating three options of thatched material to dress the set. What drew me to Endureed’s products was the realism of the material. It offered a solution where my team didn’t have to start from square one, because the raw product was already so authentic.”
The production company Dean was working with, Eye on the Ball Productions, ordered a half a dozen samples from Endureed’s Premium Collection product line, each with their own look and feel. In the end, they placed an order for 22,000 square feet of Somerset, a historic style synthetic thatch with a closely tapered shingle and a slightly weathered coloration.
The product, which already closely resembles that of hand-trimmed thatching, provided a solid foundation for Dean’s team to work with. They achieved final tonality by adding finishes like paint and controlled burning. Plus, Dean noted, the application on set was easy, taking only a fraction of the time to install as what alternative sourcing required.
Building a Set to Last.
Like other professionals in the industry, Dean’s work on See was interrupted by the pandemic throughout production and filming. Throughout filming of the latter seasons, sourcing supplies for design became a real challenge, requiring Dean’s team to put Endureed’s product to the test.
“It [the pandemic] made us turn to repurposing as much as possible,” Dean said. “Fortunately, the product from Endureed was really durable. Factoring in delays in production for COVID, filming schedules, and seasonality between seasons two and three, we were able to repurpose the thatching over a period of three years, with very minimal maintenance on our part. It’s really a testament to the quality of the product that we were able to do that, and in the end, it saved us time and work in the production schedule.”
An authentic world, achieved.
To date, See has periodically ranked as the most watched series on Apple+, and has received a plethora of awards and nominations, including those for Visual Effects Society Awards, Directors Guild of Canada, IGN Summer Movie Awards, Image Awards (NAACP), to name a few. See (season two) even received a nomination for the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards in the category of visual effects and special effects for a fantasy program (2022).
To learn more about the worldbuilding process of See and to view some of Dean’s other works, check out his website and listen to his interview on The Wider Lens, also featuring season one production designer, Caroline Hanania, and supervising location manager, John Rakich.
To experience the world yourself, be sure to watch See on Apple+, where seasons one, two and three are streaming now.