Code 8 is a science fiction film starring Robbie Amell (The Flash) and Stephen Amell (Arrow) in a world where super-powered people exist but are fugitives from the law. Production Designer Chris Crane married the familiar present with near-future creativity to create a brave new world.

In Code 8, Robbie Amell plays Conner Reed, one of just four percent of the population of Earth who displays incredible superpowers. However, in this future world, people with such powers are considered dangerous and wanted by the law. Conner joins a group of thieves to survive. But as law enforcement closes in, Conner’s only defense is the power that makes him a fugitive.

PopAxiom interviews Chris about his life leading up to becoming a production designer and his work making Code 8’s world come alive.

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Photography To Designer

Chris’ road to production design started early. “I was around 14 and was watching Twin Peaks in reruns on Bravo. I noticed how much I liked the look and aesthetic of the show and wanted to be transported to such a beautiful yet dangerous place.”

The curiosity born in the town of Twin Peaks, made Chris begin to “… pick up on certain styles and looks I liked when I watched TV or film. I started to get into different time periods look for colours used, or not used, in certain films. I also loved anything with world-building and made up places and even products and branding.”

Naturally, Chris immediately went into production design, and the rest is history. Not exactly. “It was a pretty complicated and roundabout journey that got me into Production Design …”

The short version of the story starts at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where Chris took photography after High School. “I met a bunch of people in the film program there and helped them on their projects. Deciding photography was not for me career-wise, I left school and started working at H&M …”

At H&M, Chris ended up with a promotion to Window Visual. “A few years of that, and I realized I did not enjoy where I was in life.”

Chris had friends in the right places, though. “A friend of mine, who I had met at Ryerson, was beginning to Production Design small indie features and short films, and she convinced me to take a job as her Set Decorator.”

The soon-to-production designer learned and soon realized that’s “… what I ultimately wanted to work towards.”

About Code 8

Code 8 is based on a short film of the same name, which was produced by Robbie and Steven and director Jeff Chan. Chris actually met with Jeff back in 2016 about working on the short film, but it “…ended up shooting in LA Instead of Toronto.”

Now interviewing for the feature film version of Code 8, Chris says, “… it was nice to check in, watch the short film … and get into what I liked and where I thought we could talk about things.”

The discussion continued. “We went over what Lincoln City was and the types of people that lived there. The different looks and colors that would denote the haves and have-nots of this world.”

About working on Code 8: “I loved the short film and the script, so it was easy to connect and go over ideas.”

After the weekend interview, Chris returned to a feature film project he was already working on. “I went back to work and found out I had the job right soon after we wrapped.”

What’s Your Mood?

Even before interviews for Code 8 or otherwise, Chris will “… put together a mood board and package… “

Chris continues to add to this board throughout discussions and reading the script, which offers a flood of ideas. “As soon as I start to read a script, ideas start to come. I just grab images from Google or screen grab from films that come to mind. Or I write down notes and ideas.”

Chris admits this means that while reading the script, he will “… stop on and off to get ideas down.” But there’s some method to the madness. “It’s my way of finding what the script means to me. I’m also afraid of losing out on a possible idea. That doesn’t mean I don’t go through large chunks, just reading and enjoying. Still, I also enjoy figuring out what I think I am seeing as I read and who the people are or the places they find themselves.”

So, what does Chris’ mood board contain? “It is way easier to show a colour then to describe it and to show a mood or look then to discuss it… That becomes the jumping-off point, and now there are already references to show producers, location managers, and my team. From there, I can do deeper dives with research and references. Start putting together more ideas and get all departments on the same page as far as the look or what colours we are going for or what types of locations we hope to find.”

Army Of We

The filmmaking process is a massive dance between many departments. Chris talks about one of his dance partners, the costume designer. “… it is always great to go through some of the looks on different sets and see what they were thinking for certain looks for characters. Sometimes, my work informs their work; I have the approved wallpaper or colours for the space or know what some of the location options are, etc. Sometimes, they will have a look or colour for a character …” Chris shares an example from Code 8. “… the Costume Designer Bernadette Croft wanted to go with a lot of blues in designing the wardrobe for ‘Conner’ (Robbie Amell), so that was something we had to think about when creating spaces that his character would be in.”

Another department is Visual FX, in this case, Playfight. “I was so lucky to work with the team at Playfight. They were always around to discuss what needed to be a practical set piece or prop and would discuss what would be set extensions or would have an overlay. A lot of the shows I work on mostly keep it as something to deal with in post, and so I do not always have a lot of interaction with them. They were also all there since the beginning, having worked on the short film, so it was great to ask them how they did certain things or what they were planning to do this time around.”

Alternate Familiarity

Code 8 takes place in a near-future world, so viewers will recognize some things but also see tech that’s not real but very plausible. “Creating an alternate reality was the best part!
Something familiar yet different. Director Jeff Chan had the motto ‘it’s not sci-fi, it’s 5 seconds in the future’. So instead of making everything up from scratch like crazy, unfamiliar futuristic, we looked at what was upcoming tech today or where things looked like they were heading. Keeping things slick and modern but not totally impossible.

According to Chris, the production had “… so much fun with the world-building. Other than makes and models of cars, we tried to rebrand everything, from the Lincoln City logo to the fake soda pop brand that is advertised. I even had the art department make parking meter cover-ups and tiny Lincoln City logos to cover the Toronto City logo on all seen street signs. I love seeing that kind of thing in movies, so I wanted to put as much world-building into this as I could-yet keep it familiar and relatable.”

Wrapping Up

When it comes to the question of influences and inspirations, Chris says, “Anything and everything can influence me. I love going through the design sections of used book stores and finding books on old signage or movie poster art. I love random Instagram accounts that only showcase 1980s high-end offices or low budget horror movie deaths. I do not think there is one way, or even a right way, to work in creative fields.”

Chris spreads the love to fellow production designers working today. “I had the pleasure of being on a panel with production designer Mark Steel and am so excited to see his work on the new season of The Umbrella Academy. Michael Bricker’s work on Russian Doll was incredible. Lisa Soper’s work on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is visually stunning. I am also excited to see Hannah Beachler’s work post Black Panther, and I loved Paul Austerberry’s work on Shape of Water.”

What movies does Chris love when it comes to production design? “I have always loved Edward Scissorhands… The original Alien, the 80’s craziness that is Brian DePalma’s Body Double and Ken Russel’s Crimes of Passion, the mod-60’s futuristic 2001: A Space Odyssey. I also love the mood and atmosphere that early-mid 80’s slasher flicks have, even the cheesy ones. They all tend to have fun with design, based on the subject matter and lower budgets.”

Code 8 comes out on December 13th, so what’s next for Chris? “Well, an incredible series I did for the streaming service Crave called New Eden comes out January 1st in Canada. It’s a dark comedy (very dark) about a fake 90s documentary about a fake 70s all-female cult and how things go terribly wrong. Also, Two feature films I designed come out in the early spring; Run This Town from director Ricky Tollman is a modern take on old political thrillers that involve the former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford scandals of 2012 and Disappearance at Clifton Hill from director Albert Shin which releases February 28th. It’s about a young woman named Abby (Tuppence Middleton) and her arrival back in her hometown of Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. There she must uncover a dark memory from her past in this modern-day noir.”

Will you be watching Code 8? 

Thanks to Chris Crane and Impact24 PR for making this interview possible.

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Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.