American Horror Story is a horror anthology television series that has been on the air since 2011. It’s produced by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Dante Di Loreto and stars Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters among others.
The american horror story spin off is a new show on FX that will be airing in September. Eve McCarney is the production designer for the show and she talked about what it was like to bring this show to life.
Fans of American Horror Tales got to see separate stories set inside the broader American Horror Story world in the first season. While some had strong connections to American Horror Story — the show’s opening two episodes, as well as the season finale, were both based on the famous Murder House from the first season — others were distinct, stand-alone stories that presented fresh horror. Despite the fact that American Horror Stories, like the main series, provided something fresh for viewers, a big part of the show is the look and feel of each episode, with no detail too minor in trying to bring the horror to life.
Eve McCarney is in charge of the style and feel of those episodes. From transferring ownership of the Murder House to new owners in “Rubber(wo)Man Part One” and “Rubber(wo)Man Part Two,” to creating a bright and airy horror in “Ba’al,” In her varied position as production designer for the series, McCarney assisted in bringing the series to life.
“I develop the concept for the project on the creative side, which is my favorite part. So whether it’s a film or a series, I’m the one who comes up with what it’s going to look like, what it should look like, what types of colors we want to use, what types of colors we want to avoid, creating the palette, creating a story for the characters through the use of visuals, colors, textures, and their spaces, delving into a character to really flesh out the environments so that they reflect a character’s personality “McCarney stated. “Then I do a lot of that, working closely with the director and according to his or her vision. Then I collaborate with the director of photography on how we’re going to light these locations and how we’re going to move through them. So we collaborate on how certain things are put up, what kinds of practicals they want from us, and whether or not we’ll be doing any built-in lighting on the set. And we’re going to look into it all together. Then there’s the matter of using color, improving the color palette, and sticking to the color palette. The color pallet was something we did a lot of on Horror Stories.”
She also said that she is responsible for a number of things on the “business side.”
“So, before the DP, I’m typically one of the first people brought into a project. Obviously, the director is on set at that time, but I’m usually one of the first people to be called in “she said “As a result, I employ everyone in the art department. So it involves building, painting, props, and the set deck… So I employ all of those important people, and then they hire their subordinates. Then I’m in charge of all of those departments for the duration of the production, whether it’s a season or a feature. And I do it within the constraints of my budget and the practical difficulties that emerge. So that’s how it works from a business standpoint.”
We sat down with McCarney and had her walk us through some of the creative processes behind American Horror Stories’ production design, from what it was like to create new worlds for each episode while staying true to the larger universe, to some specific details about the episode “Ba’al” and some of her favorite sets from the season overall.
(Photo courtesy of FX)
: The American Horror Story world as a whole is very successful and legendary in many ways. There are a number of things that are instantly recognizable to fans, but American Horror Stories also has its own set of intriguing elements. Each episode of the normal world takes place in the same location, giving it a consistent mood, theme, appearance, and palette. Each episode of American Horror Stories is unique. How do you approach a project like American Horror Stories, which is part of something so famous while still being unique?
McCarney, Eve: That is an excellent question. The series was enjoyable since it began to tie into the main series. So our first two episodes were Murder House, which was a flashback to the first season. As a result, we had a starting point. We’ve got the home, and we’ve got the location. We wanted to remain loyal to the first season. When the family initially moved in, we saw items in the home that were extremely similar to what the Harmons had, as though the house hadn’t been touched in the ten years since the Harmons had left. That was the theory at the time. As a result, we now have a good idea of how that initial beat should sound. Then there came the fun part: imagining how the home might change under this new family, as well as their style and décor. As a result, that’s how we go with it.
Then there’s our primary character in this developing psychopathic, the teenage daughter. It allowed me to have a lot of fun and experiment with how her room evolved from Violet to her and what that looked like, as well as how I could use metaphor and character development in her space and how it would alter it. That was a great deal of pleasure. So we had this pattern to follow for the first two, and we were largely relying on the nostalgia of season one. It was a whole different ballgame once we got to episode three. So tales three, four, five, and six were all quite different. We went back for number seven, but there was still some more things in there.
(Photo courtesy of FX)
Fortunately, I had previously worked on an anthology series, so I was accustomed to having a different narrative every week and understood how to handle it. You just immerse yourself in the narrative. I’d make my mood boards. I’d come up with concepts. We were really leaning towards the eighties for the “Drive In” episode. As a result, I created a main palette. We had the drive-in, so with the horror stuff in Larry’s trailer and the Rabbit Rabbit poster I created and all of that, we really relied on a lot of eighties nostalgia in that. Then there’s “The Naughty List,” which was, well, a Christmas Story. And it was about a home, as well as TikTok users and Santa, so we had a Christmas connection. We needed to locate the home, which took some time since it was such an important element of the narrative that it had to be flawless. We discovered it. That was excellent, and Ryan approved it as well.
Then there came “Ba’al,” 105, which was a totally other tale about fertility and, of course, the demon. As a result, it had a completely distinct color scheme. That was totally different since everything was tone on tone. Then there’s “Feral,” which has a national park, missing individuals, a lost child, and a little Big Foot mythology, as well as these cannibals. So the bone totem was my favorite design in the project. Making it was a lot of fun. As a result, I typically take my cues from scripts. We hold a concept meeting with Ryan after I read the screenplay and come up with suggestions. And he’ll tell us what he thinks about it. And that, in a nutshell, is our road map. He has precise thoughts about, well, not everything; it’ll just be a handful of things, but he’ll give you a very clear direction, and you’ll have to work within that when speaking with the executive producer, John Gray, and the episode’s director. As a result, Ryan is engaged in the shaping of the vision from the start, which is very beneficial.
One of the things I liked about all of the episodes, but especially “Ba’al,” was that the look and feel of the episode didn’t always match the narrative visually. Visually, there was almost a false feeling of security, especially in “Ba’al.” That narrative is gloomy at times, yet it has such a lovely bright and airy color. How can you take a screenplay with a dark fertility, demonic plot and turn it into something light and airy?
The fundamental idea was that they’re a young couple with money, and she’s an heiress. It’s hinted at in a way. So the concept was to imagine a youthful thirty-something couple and their home. We made the decision early on that we didn’t want… We looked at ancient Spanish-style homes, such as Hummingbird Ranch, where the dark wood and terracotta flooring were prominent. And he replied right away, “That’s not going to happen. That’s something we’ve seen a million times before. She will not be relocating to her grandfather’s home. This is where she calls home. She has the means to nurture this place because she has the money.”
(Photo courtesy of FX)
So we started looking at décor and fashion trends for this time period, and what we came up with was tone on tone with a lot of creams and beige. Because that was something Ryan really desired, and anytime you see the demon or the totem, it really lends itself to a contrast. The moment with the ceremony in particular stood out. So we experimented with a few other options before settling on tone on tone. It wasn’t the apparent option since it was a collective effort including John Gray, Ryan, myself, and our director. We also took into account what you would anticipate, such as darker wood, paneled chambers, and darkness. And we made the decision to try something new.
(Photo courtesy of FX)
Yeah. With all the bright and airy and the Crate & Barrel of it all, I wouldn’t have imagined huge monster.
Exactly. That was a lot of fun to experiment with since, as you say, it doesn’t lend itself to what you’d anticipate. And I believe that’s the aim with this series, as well as the Ryan Murphy universe in general. He’s constantly trying to push the envelope, and design is a huge part of his life. It is at the very top of the priority list. To a degree, it’s truly about design above everything else. Obviously, the narrative is essential as well. But it’s also evident in American Horror Story, where everything is just stunning. So remaining loyal to the flagship series and attempting to keep that level of design alive across each episode, even if each episode had its own episode with new settings to create, was one of my greatest problems. And we were meant to shoot in eight days, but we only managed to get one done in that time. The others ranged in age from nine to fifteen. So I just had approximately ten days to prepare in between.
I know it’ll be like asking you to choose between your children, and I despise having to ask a creative person to do this, but looking at your work on American Horror Stories, with everything being so detailed and incredible, is there anything that if I had to say, “Eve, I need you to pick a favorite and you need to do it now,” is there anything that comes to mind? What would you say is your favorite item or set from the series that you worked on?
The second episode’s Halloween carnival.
And why do you think that’s your favorite?
As a result, it was very difficult. It was very tough, but we managed to pull it off, so there’s that. We were scheduled to perform a Halloween dance at a school, I’d say. That’s how the screenplay was written. We discovered out about three weeks before Halloween that it was going to be the greatest Halloween attraction in Los Angeles. For what it is, that is a significant shift. As a result, we constructed the maze. I’m adding the labyrinth, which we constructed on stage, in the Halloween carnival.
So we constructed the labyrinth on stage, then utilized the ancient zoo’s rock features to include the entry and exit, tying everything together. Then I created this massive skull head to serve as the maze’s entrance. However, because the labyrinth is now at Griffith Park’s former zoo, we have this carved skull. So I took advantage of it and staged a hayride entrance, which served as the ideal bookend to the event. We just had three days to put everything up. Actually, two days if you include all the staging and other details. As a result, everyone on our team put in a lot of effort. But it was a dead ringer for the concept drawings I created. These pre-show vignettes were created by myself.
It’s funny because you don’t see nearly as much of it in the final edit of episode two as I did in the dailies or as was really there. When that occurs, it’s always a bit sad, but I was just so pleased with the size, the way it looked, the freak show performance that we were able to develop, and the atmosphere that I built for that. We had a 30-foot cage in which we kept fire breathers. We had some lunch and a scene from a weird show. At the end, we had the skull. The rock faces were available to us. The director of photography created all of the amazing lighting in the rock faces. As a result, I was really pleased with it.
The labyrinth itself was also a lot of fun. And the very final shot, when Ruby and Scarlet are together in the doctor’s office, is a nod to season one, when the Murder House’s doctor’s office was in 1929. So it’s simply a little, unobtrusive tie-in. And I am well aware of this. Most people are probably unaware of this, but it was a lot of fun to design and build.
Scarlett’s second glance at her room is equally fantastic. The wallpaper I selected had these little faces and silver circles, but it was dark and textured, and the silver circle seemed extremely connected to her, and the faces felt like they might conceal her victims. As a result, I thought there was some pretty interesting layering going on. We then created a big thing with butterflies since she’s changing and going through a metamorphosis. Because she was obsessed with butterflies, which we continued until the eighth episode. She attacks a butterfly when she first gets into the apartment.
It’s just the small stuff like that. There were many cuts made. It was a huge undertaking to renovate the drive-in. “Oh, my God,” you’d say if you saw what it looked like previously. I’m now uploading photos to my website in order to demonstrate a lot of the change, but here’s what it looked like before… “It seems like a jail,” John Gray said to me, “like we couldn’t come up with an idea that we can present Ryan.” And I did, and we pulled it off, and it sounded, felt, and looked fantastic. Also, we constructed a projection room on stage, and I was really pleased with how it turned out. So I was lucky in that I did a lot of very excellent work on it and had a wonderful crew to work with. Everyone put in a lot of effort, and we were all in it together, which made all the difference.
FX’s American Horror Stories is now available on Hulu.
- american horror stories
- what is ahs season 10 about
- ahs seasons in order