written by Rob Licuria, Brown Derby
“I found it so incredibly moving,” three-time Emmy-nominated production designer Ruth Ammon (“Heroes”) reveals about the profound impact that working on “Station Eleven” had on her. “Especially being someone who’s on the road all the time for work, the idea of the traveling artist just obviously connected with me,” she says. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
“Station Eleven” was created by Patrick Somerville, based on the 2014 sci-fi/fantasy novel of the same name by Emily St. John Mandel. Twenty years after a flu pandemic wipes out most of the world, a group of survivors who make their living as traveling performers encounter a violent cult led by a man whose past is unknowingly linked to a member of the troupe.
The series has been met with rave reviews from critics, buoyed by strong word of mouth as audiences inevitably draw parallels to their shared experiences of living under the weight of the (albeit less extreme) COVID-19 pandemic in real life. The HBO Max hit has been lauded for its strong ensemble cast led by Patel, Mackenzie Davis, Matilda Lawler, Lori Petty, Nabhaan Rizwan, David Wilmot, Daniel Zovatto and Gael Garcia Bernal against a haunting backdrop of a post-apocalyptic dystopia where humanity has been whittled down to a few survivors scattered across the Earth. The 10-episode series travels back and forth in time – from the outset of the pandemic to many years later in the aftermath – as it follows the Traveling Symphony, a ragtag group of artists and actors who traverse the Great Lakes region performing for locals every year.
The series offered Ammon unique opportunities to design a post-apocalyptic world unlike anything created for the genre before. Her approach focused on the organic, physical sets and locations, where the world effectively stopped in its tracks once the deadly virus swept through and decimated humanity. “We didn’t want to see broken glass and doors and derelict buildings,” she explains. “None of us wanted the visual effects to lead the story. We wanted as much as we could get in camera, and that the CGI would only help clear up and further the story a bit more without taking control of the frame.”
An example of the creative ways in which real-life locations were adapted is the Severn City Airport, which is central tot he overall narrative of the series. Ammon and her team used a number of disparate and composite buildings and structures to ultimately represent that abandoned airport that would serve as the main settlement for survivors in this Midwestern location. “It’s a lot of pieces that you put together to make one world,” she explains. “It’s five or six locations, and that’s really the fun of it all and that’s actually how you build scale and how you build a world, by pushing the limits on interior and exterior as it helps on staging scenes differently.”