Costume Designer Helen Huang on Bringing Color to the Post-Apocalyptic World of Station Eleven

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Station Eleven, HBO Max’s adaptation of Emily St. John Mandel’s award-winning novel of the same name, debuts in just a few days on Thursday, December 16th and will take viewers into a world radically altered by a devastating flu pandemic that wipes out most of the world’s population. Two decades on from the collapse of the world as we know it, those who survived have built new lives and communities for themselves while a traveling group of actors and musicians bring the works of Shakespeare to this new civilization.

It is in nearly every sense a post-apocalyptic world, but it’s also a post-apocalyptic world unlike anything we’ve seen before. Even for civilization that has endured horrific tragedy, the world of Station Eleven is one that is colorful and lush and full of life in the face of loss. A critical part of that unusual visual experience are the costumes, the clothing worn by the series’ characters. As seen in trailers for the series, the costumes, both in terms of the characters as they exist in their post-pandemic lives as well as the costumes worn by the Traveling Symphony in their performances, all create a portrait of their own, of the resilience not only of humanity, but of the desire to create art and beauty even in the darkest of times. ComicBook.com recent spoke with Station Eleven costume designer Helen Huang about costuming the world of Station Eleven and Huang noted that unusual nature of the series’ more colorful palette and how the lush, overgrown elements of nature incorporated by series creator Patrick Somerville rather than the dry, bleak tones of most post-apocalyptic stories informed the colorful palette of the costumes.

station-eleven-traveling-symphony.jpg(Photo: HBO Max)

“When I met with Hiro [Murai] and Patrick, I read two of the scripts for the episodes, and I was just really struck by the second episode that Patrick wrote. His world was this lush, overgrown nature coming into something that’s been neglected. But it sounded very lush and beautiful, and it was a summer sort of atmosphere,” Huang said. “I thought that was so unusual because in a lot of post-apocalyptic work and visuals, it’s very much about a lack of water, for some reason everything’s a desert, and there are war lords everywhere. Then also the palette on those visuals is usually gray or sepia or something. So, the aesthetic, it’s very pigeonholed in one way.”

Huang also noted that Station Eleven also called for more of a focus on individual characters and their experiences, both with the world before collapse and after, that contributed to how she incorporated color and the familiar into the series’ look.

“Also, I think in terms of that kind of work, sometimes the aesthetic is more for the overall aesthetic of the world to define it and not so much focus on the individual. So, with this, I pitched that I really wanted to feel… There are a couple things that I really wanted. I really wanted to feel like things in this world are like a found object, sort of a memory of our civilization now,” Huang said. “I definitely wanted to use a lot of color because I was thinking there’s a lot of color in our current world that define us, the graphics that are in our current world that define us, and I don’t understand why these things would just disappear in the future. Clothing and things like that, they don’t disintegrate. The things that are in this world don’t disintegrate and disappear because we enter into the future, you know?”

mackenzie-davis-station-eleven.jpg(Photo: HBO Max)

She continued, “So I really wanted to keep that element of it, and I really do want to make sure that people understand that. I think it goes back to what the novel and Patrick is doing, is that in the future, even when people have very traumatic experiences, people still want to create art, people still have the need to dress, and people still have the need to be individuals. I thought these things should be highlighted in this world that we’re creating.”

Station Eleven is described by HBO Max as “A post-apocalyptic saga spanning multiple timelines, this limited drama series tells the stories of survivors of a devastating flu as they attempt to rebuild and reimagine the world anew while holding on to the best of what’s been lost.” The 10-episode series stars Makenzie Davis as Kirsten, Himesh Patel as Jeevan, David Wilmot as Clark, Nabhaan Rizwan as Frank Chaudhary, Philippine Velge as Alexandra, Daniel Zovatto as The Prophet, Lori Petty as The Conductor, Gael Garcia Bernal as Arthur, Caitlin FitzGerald as Elizabeth, and Danielle Deadwyler as Miranda.

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Station Eleven debuts with the first three episodes on HBO Max on Thursday, December 16th.

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