July 8th, 2021 by Gene Cane & Karen Burg
WANDAVISION begins as a paean to classic television, with odd and mysterious twists all around, before exploding into the full-bore excitement of the MCU. The Disney+ series features Wanda Maximoff and Vision, the super-powered beings living idealized suburban lives as husband and wife...but do they? And do we know what is swirling around them?
Set Decorator Kathy Orlando SDSA, with Production Designer Mark Worthington and their teams, depicted the mismatched mish mash world of settled suburbia, classic television sitcoms, Marvel epic and well…saving the world.
Kathy gives us a great behind-the-scenes perspective in these excerpts from a zoom interview with SETDECOR.
Background & choices:
“I had worked as Set Decoration Buyer on the first IRONMAN for Lauri Gaffin, and it definitely gave me a window into the Marvel universe.* For this project, though, I first dug deep into the sitcom world, and then to further explore the Avengers world, I watched all of those movies again. Typical of Marvel, WANDAVISION has lots of visual effects, so CGI drives a lot of the dressing. Yet, our show is very different from the rest of the MCU, richer and unique, focused on the characters. I liked the writing, the gripping emotional character development, and the sitcom aspect was a great touchpoint.”
Interference...Something’s not quite right for Wanda in the perfect ‘70s home, which is inspired by THE BRADY BUNCH: carved divider screen, modern wood dining set, recessed overhead lighting plus contemporary pendant, and the ubiquitous avocado green and harvest gold kitchen. Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen. Photos courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
“I tried to channel Wanda. She did this whole thing in 9 days, imagining from her memory what these sitcoms were like. So, I feel like our sets were a little bit like that. Imaginings, not verbatim copies of the sitcom sets.”
“We had all of the scripts at the very beginning, which was very helpful. We shot it as block shooting, with one Director the whole time as if it were a feature, and with the same DP. That was extremely helpful, to have that through-line with the same people. We became very close.”
We had so many meetings, there were so many special effects, stunts...every scene has some, so the set decoration is influenced by those moments, sometimes to the extreme! For instance, in the ‘70s set, we had to completely lose the carefully selected side tables and the perfect lamps because of the stunt that was going to happen in the following episode! It was heartbreaking for a few moments, but you have to get over that stuff on a Marvel show, because of all the action. And certain elements would be required, like artwork of a specific size and shape and durability, because it had to be able to spin! So, there’s a lot of collaboration with all of the other departments.”
1970s...A sudden arrival...Two babies are a surprise for Wanda and Vision, but they seem happy, although the stone wall and bars on the balustrade do resemble a prison. [Please don’t notice that this is the set where the side tables & lamps are missing!] Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
“For the main sets, we would always start with the sofa and the fabric. The classic sitcom sofa! And, of course, we would meet with the wardrobe department, looking at what they would be doing, so the characters and furnishings would work together. Another key point was that we always had a TV positioned in the same spot opposite the sofa between the two chairs, no matter the era.”
“We set up a warehouse that was almost like a prophouse. The first thing I did was basically fill a warehouse with vintage pieces, with individual aisles for each era. In my office, I had the eras divided up on my boards and you could really begin to see the differences. It was so interesting going back and examining what choices the set decorators on these shows had made, the kinds of things they would select for their sets. I don’t think I had ever noticed that they were basically depicting society in general at the time, which was the audience they were trying to capture.”
As a set decorator, it was a blast. We kept these sitcoms running in my office on a continuous loop, so we were always checking the backgrounds, taking screen grabs. It became a love letter to sitcoms, including the way it was shot. The sitcoms were shot in the 4.3 ratio, and the aesthetic of the show changes with each sitcom, which helped to authenticate the look of the entire show.
“The WandaVision Show”...Wanda [Elizabeth Olson] and Vision [Paul Bettany] ham it up in the kitchen. Electric coil stove and dressings, including the portable radio, are indicative of many television kitchens. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.
Episode 1 homage: THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW...
“Of all the sets, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was the one we were truest to in terms of furniture. We really examined those furnishings to do as much as we could to match the set and give a good nod to it. At first, you think you’re looking at just mid-century modern furnishings, but actually, there’s so much else going on, and we really tried to give it that blend.”
“We were very careful to use colors that would look good in black and white. So, we were using the mono capability of our phone to determine how something would appear in black and white, particularly as a guide when we were choosing our fabrics and our wall colors. That was really helpful, because we knew we would see this set again in color in a future episode.”
“I had the main sectional made for this ‘50s set, because I couldn’t find just the right curve that would fit the set proportions. The light green tufted wingback chair, I was lucky enough to just stumble on in a used furniture store in Atlanta, and I could not believe my eyes. It was almost the exact same chair, even in the same color! We had seen some color references. But I had to rework it and recover it anyway, because it was so old. It turned out beautifully, though, as did the drapes!”
“The WandaVision Show”...Dinner with the Boss...Vision [Paul Bettany], in his human form, entertains his boss, Mr. Hart [Fred Melamed] and Mrs. Hart [Debra Jo Rupp] while seated on the one-armed sofa, a living room staple of early comedies. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
“I had a wonderful draper, Jessica Anderson, who works regionally. She’s amazing and has a really good eye for shopping the fabrics, so I had her on full-time, set up in a shop in our warehouse. She had an arsenal of vintage fabrics to die for! So that part was very exciting, but it was also very exhausting. We would spend 5-hour sessions where we were looking at all the fabric—in mono, in color, combined—trying to make the set come together.”
Skipping forward to Episode 5, 1980s homage to FAMILY TIES/FULL HOUSE...
“I put camel-colored mohair on the classic camelback sofa for our FAMILY TIES reference, I just had to! The mohair was expensive, but it was what looked right on camera. We searched really hard to find just the right shape of that sofa, because there’s a gazillion versions of camelback out there, but not necessary the right one.”
Episode 5 leaps forward into the 1980s and an homage to FAMILY TIES...Big ‘80s hair and a living room inspired by the hit family sitcom, with dark wood paneling, stained glass, flowing lace curtains and gold mohair camelback rolled-arm couch. New look Wanda and Vision [Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany] welcome neighbor Agnes/Agatha Harkness [Kathryn Hahn], fresh from jazzercise, or so she says...Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
“I did a juxtaposition of themes for this set. FULL HOUSE had boats and ships everywhere. So, I included some of that nautical theme. A few of our fans have noticed that! Those are the kind of things you do for fun and maybe someone will notice or maybe they won’t, but I think it struck the hearts of some of the fans of those ‘80s sitcoms. We also included nods to Marvel, particularly hexagons, and believe me, the Marvel fans notice that stuff. And, no, I am not going to reveal what they symbolize!”
[Editor’s note: Check the photo galleries above and below for more details of the different eras and sitcom references, including MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE and MODERN FAMILY.]
The final episodes—Agnes/Agatha’s basement witchery...
“The witchery was purposely shot very dark. Sadly, we never get to see all the details. It was really beautiful, all of the niches with the black magic elements, the vines taking over, and the tunnel...the basement witchery literally leads to the Sokovia set, that’s not a cheat.”
“I loved that step back in time to Wanda’s memories of her childhood home in this fictitious Eastern European country. The set was supposed to look markedly different from the sitcoms. This was an important scene that ties it all in with her memories, including her father’s black-market videos of old TV shows that became their escape from the misery of war going on around them.”
“I started prepping early on, so I could order a lot of things from Russia, and from Eastern European people on Etsy. Every single thing in there is authentic...the fabrics, the Russian small appliances...even the tapestry on the wall came from Russia. The crocheted bed cover is my favorite piece. I met the woman, a little old lady who had made it 30 years ago. The coverlet worked out perfectly because the kids are under the bed and you can see the scallop points on the edge of the coverlet framing them. To be able to put those kinds of details on a TV show is significant. I’m proud that we were able to do that.”
“All of the sitcom house exteriors were shot on Blondie Street at Warner Bros. backlot in Los Angeles. That’s the historic street where many of these sitcoms were actually shot. Our director was a child actor on sitcoms, so it was very meaningful to shoot there. Of course, for the different eras, we changed out the streetlights and the window boxes, fencing and shrubbery, big changes era to era, even though it was the same neighborhood.”
Dancing in the Brady House...Episode 3 brings us the ‘70s and inspiration from THE BRADY BUNCH. Note the TV on rolling stand as Wanda and Vision dance among the river rock and brick, modern art and stereo turntable with classic speakers, then on through the sliding glass door to swing set in the back yard. Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
“We shot Main Street & the Town Square at Disney Ranch. Earlier, we had shot one Halloween-decorated street in Georgia, and we were going to do another, but something prevented it, so we ended up shipping all of our Halloween dressing to L.A. to shoot on the backlot at Disney. We were one of the first productions back after Covid hiatus.”
“The circus was shot in Georgia, in a field just right outside our office at Pinewood Studios. We brought in all of those circus pieces from L.A. Circus. Wini McKay and her partner, Chester Cable, brought a 50-ft trailer of circus elements from L.A., flew their workers over, and set it all up. It rains often in Georgia, so I believe we were setting that up in the rain, if not shooting in the rain! But it worked out. It looked cool. I was really happy. And, this is episodic TV, so that circus was just “one little thing” on the list of things to do for that episode.”
Sentient Weapon Observation & Response Division, acronym S.W.O.R.D. and Army basecamp pop-ups...
All along, while we’re planning the sitcoms, we were also planning the S.W.O.R.D. pop-up base, which kept expanding each episode. I don’t think any of us knew it would become so huge! It was quite a lot to organize...the tents, the whacker lights, all the exterior military and research accoutrements, and then completely dressing inside the structure we built. We shot that as we were building it, and, again, it was pouring rain all the time.
The tech stuff was a collaboration. There was a lot of referencing of what they’ve done in the MCU past. We talked with various people who have worked on different Marvel shows to understand what’s involved, and then we came up with some of our own solutions as well. I think Marvel has almost established a language of how they want those kinds of sets to look, but we decided to try to make ours slightly different. So, I ended up ordering LG monitors that our DP really liked because they’re very clean, with a very small bezel. My Gangboss in Georgia, Spencer Anderson, is really creative, and I have a great crew, so we just came up with things. We put our heads together to try to make it look like a pop-up base, which means it’s temporary, but also to make it have a presence that the Marvel audience would recognize and appreciate. That was a brand-new thing for me. I’d never done any of that kind of work.
I do have to rely on my crew a lot for those types of sets. With the team in Georgia, I had 3 Buyers, and a fantastic core crew—everybody has some kind of talent to bring to the table. There was so much creativity and so many craftspeople on our crew, which made an enormous difference. It’s a big collaboration. I can’t emphasize that enough.
And more Marvel!
"After we wrapped the exteriors in L.A., I went right back to Georgia do MS. MARVEL! I was able to use my same crew, which is really why I said, “Yes.” We had our same warehouse, and my same fabulous group of artisans, they just are extraordinary. That was my comfort level going in, plus it’s a Marvel show and I had just done one, so I was kind of tied into speaking the language of Marvel. It does help. There’s so much to get used to, including their server. Once you’re in, it’s a smooth transition to the next show.
However, they don’t give much time for prep. That’s the thing about working on a streaming show versus a feature.Ultimately, it’s the time crunch. The schedule is always so challenging. But that’s what we do. It always comes together. That’s amazing! But, you have to have the right things. If you have shopped well and have the right pieces, then you can kind of wing it with all the changes. Because there are so many changes!
If I had to teach a class in set decorating, I would start with that.
Be prepared! Everything will go out the window. All the planning, out the window. Be flexible and make magic happen!"
“Special thanks to my extraordinary crew, and especially to my core team: Kathleen Denson - Lead Buyer, Kelli Kilpatrick - Buyer, MaryEllen Hendrick - Set Decoration Coordinator, Richard Blake Wester - Lead, Spencer Anderson - Gang Boss, Dean Burns - Gang Boss, Anne-Marie Salm Saville - Set Dresser, Jessica Anderson - Draper, Christopher Watson - Warehouse Manager...and my keys for the Los Angeles Unit: Lisa Tong - Lead Buyer, Kent Rogers - Buyer, Jefferson Murff - Lead, Don Elliot - Gang Boss.”
[Editor’s note: You can find the IRONMAN* article in the Summer 2008 Edition of SETDECOR in the Archive section, click on the Film & Television button in the bar above...
And don’t forget to click on SHOW MORE PHOTOS below for more of the various WANDAVISION sets...period-specific and beyond!!]
“The WandaVision Show”...Like the house, human form Vision [Paul Bettany] in perfect period suit, tie, hat and briefcase has every detail of the proper look. However, the couple and the house are only perfect on the outside. The vine and lattice outside the door are very much the same as the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
“The WandaVision Show”...Wanda, confused about the meaning of the “special” evening, stands in center of the kitchen. While not exact replicas of the original Van Dyke series, the cabinetry, dividing screen and round breakfast table are remarkably similar. Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.
Episode 2 takes us to the famous twin beds of couples of the TV era, a dictate of network standards and practices...Inset: Wide shot of Wanda and Vision’s bedroom, before she pushes the beds together, inspired by the BEWITCHED television series right down to the dormer windows. Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.
The floral print jacquard couch is not the only trouble brewing for the couple. Changes are coming very quickly in the BEWTICHED inspired living room, copying the fan light door and the matching end tables and lamps flanking the couch, a standard for ‘60s sitcoms. Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.
And now, in living color...Color comes to the home of Wanda and Vision, just as it did for sets on television and television sets at the time. Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.
Episode 3 takes us, and them, into the stylish 1970s. Wanda and Vision, in era-changing appearance, ride a tandem bike through the Main Street of Westview. The calmness of the storefronts is interrupted by odd windows above the hardware store. Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Teyonah Parris. Photo