Deobia Oparei, Jack Veal and Richard E Grant in a promotional shot from 'Loki' (2021- ).jpg
Loki (2021– )
Stories & Ideas

Wed 14 Jul 2021

The Look of Loki: "It honestly feels like we did six Marvel movies"

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Maria Lewis
Maria Lewis

Assistant Film Curator

From Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker to the stylings of David Bowie, Loki’s production and costume designers break down the inspirations for the time-bending superhero show.

Audiences know what a superhero property is supposed to look like. That’s kind of the problem. Superhero blockbusters in both film and television have existed for more than 80 years and they have never been more popular than they are right now. The top dog amongst that genre dominance is, of course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) which has more than 24 films, billions of dollars in box-office receipts, and almost 20 television shows in various iterations. The latest and most critically acclaimed of the bunch is Loki (2021), a six-episode limited series streaming on Disney+ that sees Tom Hiddleston return to the role that made him a star as he traverses through time, space and dimensions in a journey of self-discovery. The show is intentionally designed to break conventions in more ways than one, with an aesthetic and design as boundary-pushing and non-linear as the storytelling. “I think with everything, you start really big, you pile everything on, and then you just begin to peel it all away,” says Loki’s costume designer Christine Wada. “It’s like walking into IKEA: you put everything in your cart and then by the time you get to the counter, you’re only buying a candle… or at least that’s what happens to me. It’s like that with design.”

A big part of the difficulty for Wada was “just so much to reference” with the costumes of not just Hiddleston’s Loki from the MCU over the past decade, but every iteration of Loki on the comic book page from when he first debuted in issue 85 of Journey into Mystery in 1962. That includes Classic Loki (played by Richard E. Grant in the series), Lady Loki (aka Sylvie portrayed by Sophia Di Martino), Kid Loki (Jack Veal) and Croc Loki (performed by an, um, CGI semi-aquatic reptile)… to name a few. “Even though it does seem so broad, there was this very specific language,” says Wada. “With Loki, Tom (Hiddleston) describes and knows that character so well that just the intention behind anything that you’re going to build for him is so clear.” Even so, she diverted back to her “usual suspects of inspiration” for not just his costuming choices in the show, but Sylvie’s which are equally pivotal as it’s the screen debut for Di Martino’s character. “It begins with art, music, people and history that I love,” says Wada. “An influence of Terry Gilliam, the Brazil (1985) and Time Bandits (1981) world of it all, and just artistically speaking there were pieces that I drew from that were from specific designers like old Kenzo that were an inspiration for me. Also, the photography of (Alexander) Rodchenko: that very minimalist and brutalist art was a huge place for me to start and helped shape the colour palette.”

While Wada is new to the MCU, her closest collaborator – production designer Kasra Farahani – is a veteran, having working on key titles like Black Panther (2018), Captain Marvel (2019), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), and Thor (2011). He too drew from pre-existing popular culture, but given that he works so much in the comic book blockbuster space it’s not necessarily the inspiration you would expect. “(Andrei) Tarkovsky’s film Stalker (1979) was a huge influence on The Void,” he says. “The way it feels and even the narrative conceit of The Void, this feeling of isolation and banishment. Stalker invokes that for sure with these three guys travelling through this irradiated wasteland, it’s very much like our group moving through The Void… For anyone who has seen Stalker, I think take a look at episode five of Loki and they’ll see a lot of parallels.” An avid lover of classic cinema and foreign films, Farahani says it’s important to “supplement” his perspective outside of mainstream Hollywood fare, which can reveal itself in micro and macro ways in the extensive 360-degree builds. Citing the subterranean Loki palace – “a bowling alley from some bizarre world that has crash landed into other deleted, abhorrent realties” – and the Time Theatre as two of his favourite set pieces, it’s a setting from episode one that remains a favourite. “It’s a more simple set, which is the Miss Minutes queue where it’s just a rectangular room with a matrix of eyeballs in the ceiling watching Loki. A fun detail that we did there was we dropped the ceiling really, really low – it’s only seven foot six. Even in a really humble apartment the ceilings are usually eight feet tall or higher so this had a very intentional, claustrophobic feeling especially with Tom being six foot four. The ceiling was just above his head and that was a detail that I think really paid off in the way Autumn, our DP, shot it with this beautiful, long crane shot pulling out and moving across this sea of eyeballs in the ceiling.”

The unusual and unexpected inspirations seem fitting for an unusual and unexpected show, with the look of Loki creating just as much of a social media storm week-to-week as the plot reveals. Whether that’s an acclaimed thespian like Grant in a green and yellow outfit straight from the comic book page or the intuitive design for Sylvie that allowed Di Martino to continue breastfeeding during production, the visual language of the show has been expansive enough to include fans outside of the usual MCU fandom – even with Hiddleston’s aesthetic. “There was definitely a David Bowie influence for Tom from the get go,” says Wada. “That androgyny instantly made me feel like Bowie was a really good cue for a lot of it.” For Farahani “acknowledging the source material and building upon it” was a key objective for him and Wada, one that he hopes they successfully pulled off. “You know, as a viewer I do think in the end cinema is a visual medium so creating impactful imagery is an important part of what the art form has to offer,” he says. “And I’m pretty opinionated, so are my collaborators, but it wasn’t that hard to narrow down to what we wanted to make … It was a gift to work on a project that had such a breadth of visual variety, to have the narrative and visual anchor of the TVA (Time Variance Authority) in the story but then to also have these other exotic and strange settings to build out to and imagine. It honestly feels like we did six Marvel movies.”

– Maria Lewis

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