Disney+’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier gives audiences the opportunity to broaden their perspectives about some big screen Marvel favorites. Sam Wilson / “The Falcon” (Anthony Mackie) and James “Bucky” Barnes / “Winter Soldier” appeared in several major films, including the blockbusting Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Yet, their screen time largely served to further the plot or accentuate the characters around them.
Enter the new Disney+ series which focuses on their interpersonal relationships, their struggles, and their evolution as fully fleshed-out characters. To mirror their maturation as characters, production designer Ray Chan needed to create new environments mostly unseen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That includes the fictional island of Madripoor, a popular comics locale. Here, Chan talks to AwardsDaily TV about what it took to create these new environments and how they relate to the larger MCU.
AwardsDaily: You’ve been the supervising art director on otherworldly Marvel projects like Thor: The Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Doctor Strange. Nothing is easy, of course, but which do you find more challenging: designing for fantasy or making contemporary production designs pop in an exciting way?
Ray Chan: That’s correct. Nothing is easy, and I’d say (and most production designers will agree) that designing for fantasy is more challenging than coming up with contemporary sets. Fantasy and sci-fi movies have been well done in the past, and it’s always the hardest part — coming up with designs that are cool and original. I’m currently working on Dungeons and Dragons, so I’m facing this on a daily basis. But still, I’m enjoying the challenge.
However, Falcon wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. I had to come up with a unique look for Nagel’s secret lab, which was hidden inside a network of shipping containers. Zemo’s exotic Latvian apartment was another. I was first drawn to Byantium geometry and then merged it together with 2020 high-end interior design.
Of course, the island of Madripoor gave me an opportunity to look at all my many scout photos taken around the world to then give it a little twist to the normal.
AD: Falcon and the Winter Soldier is essentially a 6-hour film. The series has a very global feel to it. How much was filmed on location versus on redesigned locations in Atlanta?
RC: Yes, that’s right. Kari and all of the Marvel producers wanted to give this show a global feel very much from the outset. It was partially driven by the script too, the cat and mouse chase following the Flag Smashers across Europe and then into the US. Atlanta offered many streets and neighborhoods that doubled for NYC, Baltimore, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C., but we’d still have to augment these by building facades on location, new signets throughout, and then the set decoration team would come in to dress an entire neighborhood to trick the audience.
Sam’s family home was shot in Savannah, an old ruin that I found on a river. My construction and set dec team then came in to make it much more lived in and homely. All the interiors were then built on stage in Pinewood. Most of the show was on location. I can’t remember the exact number of sets, but it was a huge, long list. There were very few sets that we’d just walk in, point the camera, and shoot.
AD: Can you talk about how Madripoor was created in Atlanta?
RC: A very early idea in pre-production was to go to southeast Asia. I looked at location scout presentations from Myanmar, Bangkok, and Vietnam. The pitch was to film the entire sequence in southeast Asia, putting the actors in the real streets, capturing all the local color and small details. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do this due to a very tight schedule, so I was asked to build Madripoor in Atlanta. This was one of the hardest things to pull off.
I’d already taken a deep dive into Vietnam, so Jennifer (Bash, art director) and I started once more pouring over great visuals and online videos. The one thing that struck me was the tightness of the streets and that people worked/lived in an almost claustrophobic space. With my location manager, we found a back alley in Griffin which ran over two blocks. It had some interesting features and geometry.
Needless to say, I threw everything at this set! From building steel bridges, commissioning a huge amount of bespoke neons and approximately 80 light boxes. The Brass Monkey Saloon contained a 270 degree large aquarium filled with 100 Oranda goldfish. Jake, an LA graffiti artist, and I had fun looking at way of breaking up brick walls with a unique style of gangster art. Anne (Kuljian, set decorator) and her team did an amazing job as far as the dressing.
Finally, to top it all off, we built a full-size train track that ran the full length of the set! It served as a nod to the backstreets of Hanoi.
AD: Was there a sense of continuity that you wanted to maintain between the Captain America or Avengers films and Falcon and the Winter Solider? Are there any other cinematic references baked into your production design?
RC: Having worked on Infinity War and Endgame, most of which took place on various worlds and planets, I didn’t really feel that there was much continuity as far as production design since we’d never seen Sam or Bucky relax at home. It was a great opportunity to be able to explore their characters through design.
AD: Over the course of the series, John Walker builds his own “Captain America” shield. Was this something you worked on? If so, how did you settle on its design? What does the construction of that shield say about his character?
RC: My only involvement with the fake shield was when Russell (Bobbitt, prop master) and I were talking with Kare and Zoie (Nagelhout, co-executive producer) about the look of its design. We watched many home videos of people making/spinning metal objects in their garages. It was fascinating to see that, with a decent workshop, many things can be made at home. I guess Walker watched the videos too, which, as a desperate man, was the answer to everything.
AD: One of the themes of Falcon and the Winter Solider is defining who is Captain America and what the character stands for. Given the end of the series, can you talk about the collaboration with the costume designer to create the right look for the new Captain America?
RC: From my perspective, I have very little interaction with Michael (Crow, costume designer) as regards to the new Captain America suit. This was a huge design process between Marvel’s own in-house visual development team and Michael’s team. I was in a few reviews and saw the design evolve into the very cool look we all saw in episode six.
AD: There is a Captain America museum at the end of the series. Are those original items from previous films or were they recreated?
RC: Yes, some of the original set dressing was brought out of storage and sent to Atlanta. For instance, Steve’s Harley and small hand props. My art director and set dec liaised with Marvel assets about what was pertinent to the scene, and we then set about updating the Smithsonian exhibit. The majority of the items were all bespoke. The modern floating displays were influenced by contemporary fashion shows. The light boxes were all re-purposed from Madripoor. The interactive monitor displays were all designed from scratch, and the Isiah Bradley sculpture was a one-off made for the show.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is available to stream on Disney+.