Kasra Farahani and Autumn Durald Arkapaw interview: ‘Loki’
“Loki” production designer Kasra Farahani and cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw joined forces to create one of most eye-popping aesthetics this season, if not in recent memory, and you’d be forgiven if you thought they were longtime friends and collaborators. But it turns out they had never met prior to the Disney+ series. “In a past life we did,” Durald Arkapaw tells Gold Derby in an interview with Farahani (watch above).
“For sure,” Farahani adds. “It seemed like [we had met before]. In terms of our sensibilities, you would think, but no.”
The two do recall their first meeting after “Loki” director Kate Herron hired Durald Arkapaw and introduced her to Farahani. Herron told Durald Arkapaw that she was going to love him and his designs, and she did. “He had all of his drawings and references up on the wall and I just remember thinking the moment I saw that I was like, ‘Yes! It’s gonna be amazing,'” Durald Arkapaw recalls. “It was all this amazing architecture and sets that I was already excited to shoot. Who knew if they were gonna end up becoming what I had seen on this wall, but it was a great first meeting. I think you had your pitch book on the desk and I looked through that.”
Farahani was equally stoked to meet Durald Arkapaw after perusing her website and falling in love with her “very distinctive and very bold” low-angled coverage. “Some of the way that I had been illustrating the sets was in a similar kind of form language, just incidentally,” he says. “We could just tell right away that we had a lot of common ground in what we thought looked good and dramatic and cinematic.”
SEE ‘Loki’ star Tom Hiddleston: ‘I was very engaged with the idea of breaking Loki open’
Melding midcentury classic design with brutalist architecture, Farahani, who won an Art Directors Guild Award for his work last month, crafted a striking retro-futuristic dystopia that looks and feels both beautiful and sinister. That’s certainly the case for the main Time Variance Authority set, where Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is taken after the events of “Avengers: Endgame” (2019). Wanting to capture the draconian bureaucracy of the TVA, Farahani designed an element infrequently used or seen in film and TV: ceilings. And in “Loki’s” case, they weren’t ordinary, unadorned ceilings but ones with elaborate lights and designs, casting shadows for an even richer atmosphere. Farahani, Durald Arkawpaw, Herron and producer Kevin Wright lobbied hard to get approval for the ceilings, a greater expense, from Marvel executives.
“It’s not exactly common to build these large, complex, architectural ceilings with integrated lighting,” Farahani says. “But we got to do it because of a lot of careful planning and basically trying to get the story in such a way, trying to suggest things to the writing team, to the director, Kate, to move scenes into these kind of bigger sets so that we could justify building a more complicated set, basically saying, ‘You’re gonna be in here so much. We’re gonna see this. Let’s really build something special that nobody’s seen before.’ The fact that Autumn’s style dovetailed so much with what my architectural goals were just really was lucky. It really took Autumn and myself and Kate and Kevin Wright, our producer, advocating for this approach, which was not a conventional approach, to get it approved. And it was risky because, like I said, it was sort of unprecedented and we thought it would work out, but we weren’t sure. And it paid off.”
Durald Arkapaw’s low-angle style not only meant that the stunning ceilings get a lot of screen time, but it added to the prison-like feel of the TVA as well. “When we decided to do that, it was so exciting,” she states. “I think us fighting for it and actually happening made sense to us, but I guess in the structure of them [not having ceilings] in the past and it working, they were a little wary of that. These are big, heavy ceilings and it takes a lot of thought in how to rig them and how to incorporate light in them if it’s not practical sources. So it was just such a great idea to have everyone on board and to be able to keep that design element because it’s so huge. And I like to shoot spaces, not just people. I think the relationship between the person and the space is so important to tell the story and I think sometimes a lot of people forget that and they’re just kind of focusing a lot on the actor’s face. Every day was exciting to walk into a full space.”