The series adaptation “Snowpiercer” had been a long-gestating project and you could say that Barry Robison helped it get back on track (no pun intended). “I got a call from my agents who said, ‘Listen, there’s this project that just lost their production designer. Would you consider going to Vancouver and taking over the show?’” Robison tells Gold Derby of how he joined the TNT series during our Meet the Experts: TV Production Design panel (watch above).
A fan of the 2013 Bong Joon Ho film, which itself is based on the graphic novel “Le Transperceneige,” Robison met with the producers, who told him they didn’t want it to look like the film at all. “That made me want to do it even more because I could really kind of put my own spin on it,” he says. Set on a train that circles the frozen wasteland that was once Earth, the post-apocalyptic thriller tackles class, and Robison wanted that reflected on the train, which consists of 1,001 cars.
“I got a big, long roll of paper and I figured out how big a car would be and how long 1,001 cars would be. It turned out to be extremely long because it’s over 10 miles,” he recalls. “There had been no real sense of continuity in the design and I really felt like that had to be looked at seriously. I sat with the showrunner and the director/producer, James Hawes, and we conceptualized how many classes there were on the train because it’s a metaphor for society.”
The backend of the train houses the tailies, the lowest class, in dark, grimy, packed cars. As you move up the train, the spaces get nicer and brighter — mid-tones for middle class — until you get to the fanciest of them all, first class. “[First class] was conceptualized as heaven, for lack of a better analogy,” Robin explains. “It was bright with light. The materials are all very fine textures. You really get a sense of the classes on the train.” The cars themselves are not that big — the smallest were 9 feet wide, 40 feet long and 9 feet high — making for “one of the most challenging design challenges I’ve ever had,” Robison says. “But it was really, really cool and a lot of fun.”
Season 2 was filmed before COVID-19 and will premiere in January, but Robison was unable to return for it because he had committed to Amazon’s “The Dark Tower,” which ultimately didn’t get picked up. But if there’s a third season, you can punch his ticket for a return trip. “I would [come back],” he states. “It’s so creative and there’s so much storytelling to be had. But you live by the sword, you die by the sword.”
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