Recreate the warm and cozy sci-fi future of After Yang

After Yang is probably the most comfortable science fiction film of this year. Directed by Kogonada, the film is set sometime in the unspecified future after an unspecified catastrophe and follows a young family grappling with the loss of their android (the titular Yang, played by Justin H. Min), who is both a Caregiver and a sibling for an adopted daughter.

The film touches on all sorts of themes, from transracial adoption to what it means to be human, but much of its world-building comes from the world. Few specific details are given about the time or place the film is set, or the events that led up to the almost post-apocalyptic world inhabited by the characters. That means the visual design has done a lot in terms of storytelling.

According to production designer Alexandra Schaller, one of the goals was to create a sci-fi vision that’s a far cry from the typically grim and gray take on a post-apocalyptic world. “We don’t want a future that feels alien,” she says The edge. “We want a future that feels warm and cozy, a future that is functional and that we can really see for ourselves.”

According to Schaller, she was initially drawn to the project when, after reading the script, she realized that this was how she imagined the world to be After Yang takes place in That decision was then solidified after meeting with the director. “Kogonada is a real esthete and cares a lot about design and storytelling in space,” explains Schaller. “Actually, I came across the project very early on. I had a long pre-production period where I could really spend time thinking about, talking to and designing the film. I did a lot of concept work before we did the official preparation. So I’d say a lot of the film looks the way I envisioned it because I’ve had so much time to think about it.”

And this vision is very different from most science fiction. Schaller, who has a background in immersive theater, says she even avoided watching futuristic films to avoid being swayed. After Yang‘s world is overwhelmed with plants, and the houses have an almost hygge-like vibe, full of dim lights and natural materials. Even the way people dress looks comfortable. It’s a stark contrast to the often harsh and sterile view of the future found in many science fiction films.

“We wanted that part of the storytelling to be felt and not spoken very obviously.”

But it’s also more than just a purely aesthetic choice. “I would call it grounded futurism,” says Schaller. “It was really important for Kogonada to make the background feel like it was set in a post-apocalyptic time. Humanity rebuilt itself after a catastrophe, so it’s a very green world. It was also very important to him that the film felt borderless and global.”

This is shown in the film in very different ways. For example, the self-driving car that the Fleming family drives is filled with plants because they serve as a fuel source, while their home is dominated by a giant tree in the courtyard. The tea shop run by Colin Farrell’s character has bare stone walls as if it were carved out of a mountain, and in one scene, huge vertical farms can be seen in the background. Few of the world’s peculiarities are spelled out; Rather, they are things that viewers should infer when watching.

“The idea is that we live in a post-apocalyptic time. Humanity has had to go through a major change, and they realize that we have to live with nature and not against it,” says Schaller. “There is a symbiosis between man and nature. Everything is engineered to work with nature.” She adds that “we wanted that part of the storytelling to be felt and not spoken very obviously.”

The same applies to the location. There are a few pointers to this After Yang is set in the US, but it’s also a film about a couple, played by Irish and English actors (Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith), who adopt a Chinese daughter (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) after some sort of catastrophe. It’s a world that Schaller describes as “global” and that shows through the mix of cultural aesthetics but also in smaller details, like a milk carton with information in multiple languages. “It’s not really a placeless world, but it’s a world without borders that’s maybe more free and accepting or more comfortable with yourself,” she explains.

(Among the many creatives who worked on the film were concept artist Oliver Zeller, who helped design the car, and Matthew Vidalis, who designed all of the packaging, among other things.)

All of these details help create a richly defined backdrop for a story that, at its core, revolves around a family struggling through change. And they’re especially important in a movie like that After Yang, which is filled with slow, sustained shots that really immerse you in the details and make it easier to spot little things you might otherwise have missed. “Kogonada as a filmmaker is very aware of the space and the quiet storytelling that happens between the lines,” says Schaller. “These are small details that wouldn’t matter if you didn’t look closely. But for Kogonada it was really important.”

The contrast between After Yang and other visions of a post-apocalyptic future can be seen in another project that Schaller has been working on, last year’s TV adaptation of Y: the last man, which had a much more quintessential and somber perspective as reflected in its world design. Schaller felt this difference clearly. As part of her research process, she uses Pinterest to create mood boards full of images for whatever she is currently working on. “I remember I was done After Yang and think, ‘my Pinterest is so beautiful,'” she says. “And then I started researching Y: the last man and it was like ‘goodbye’.”

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