Art director

“Squid Game” Artistic Director Reveals Secrets to Sets, Props and More

Art director Chae Kyoung-sun is the mastermind behind the sets for Netflix’s dystopian original hit Korea Squid Game ″. [CHAE KYOUNG-SUN]

The surreal, fantasy world shown in Netflix’s dystopian hit “Squid Game” is not your ordinary “Alice in Wonderland”. What looks like an amusement park is actually where gamers struggling with mountains of debt become objects of cruel entertainment, meticulously fueling conflicting imagery that leaves viewers uncomfortable.

In an online interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily on October 1, art director Chae Kyoung-sun, 42, explained how the visual aspects of “Squid Game” came to life with jaw-dropping behind-the-scenes stories. The following are edited excerpts but beware: Spoilers ahead.

Q. What details did you focus on to make Squid Game more disturbing?



A. At the beginning, when the director [Hwang Dong-hyuk] and I talked about how we were going to define the visuals for the whole series, we wanted to take a different route from the original staging of survival games, since “Squid Game” revolves specifically around Korean children’s games. Our first goal was to create a childish, fairytale atmosphere, so it wasn’t about intentionally inserting disturbing and spooky details, but adding movie props that viewers wouldn’t expect to see. in a thriller where deadly games are played, such as bright, vivid colors or gift-wrapped coffins.

This labyrinth of pink stairs, which players pass to get to a new game, gives an

This labyrinth of pink stairs, which players pass to get to a new game, gives an “Alice in Wonderland” atmosphere. Chae explains that he follows the general theme of confusion and chaos among players. [NETFLIX]

How did you come to design the famous “Squid Game” costumes?



We have one person leading the costume team. While I take charge of the overall production design, we split into teams for costumes, makeup, and special props. We would usually meet and discuss what would ultimately be best.

How is the work of the director and the artistic director divided?



Before going into production, I received written explanations from the director about what the plot was going to look like, and my job was basically to foreshadow how the whole series should come to life on camera. I tried to visualize ideas that might be vague in the director’s mind, and constantly argued with him to see if the images I was making matched his intentions. I guess you could say that the job [between us] is not really strictly divided, but rather we worked hand in hand towards the same goal [of making “Squid Game”]. Director Hwang let me use my imagination to its maximum, and I would tell him my ideas. It was about being honest with each other and in-depth communication.

The main colors of the show make sense: green and pink.  Green is terrified of pink because it watches over and suppresses green. [NETFLIX]

The main colors of the show make sense: green and pink. Green is terrified of pink because it watches over and suppresses green. [NETFLIX]

What is the meaning of colors and shapes?



We opted for a popular green color from the Saemaul movement [a political initiative launched by President Park Chung Hee] and the tracksuits kids wore on field days at school in the 1970s. It may sound retro and kitsch, but they have their own nostalgic charm. We chose the pink [as one of the main colors] also because it is a color frequently used in fairy tales. But we [the production crew] came with our own sense [depicted in “Squid Game”]. Green is terrified of pink because it watches over and suppresses green.

And I’ve never mentioned this before, but the hallways of the Masked Guard dormitories are painted green, while most of the maze of stairs, which players walk past whenever there’s a new game, is pink. This symbolizes that the masked guards monitoring and killing players is just their job. It divides their workplace [the pink maze] and their dormitories [where they are not required to “work”] to show that the two spaces are opposite.

For the shapes – the circle, triangle, and square – we took inspiration from the squid-shaped board drawn on the ground for the actual squid game. You will see that there are ranks among the masked guards. The hierarchy is classified from the square, from the triangle to the circle. Did you know that we decided this based on the number of vertices for each shape? We have also planted these shapes in many places throughout history. I’m sure everyone has found them in the masks before. I won’t give any details about where the others are; you will have to hunt them yourself (laughs).

In the tug of war game, the game takes place on top of a disconnected road.  Chae explains that there was a fixed theme from the start: people abandoned and forced to live on the streets. [NETFLIX]

In the tug of war game, the game takes place on top of a disconnected road. Chae explains that there was a fixed theme from the start: people abandoned and forced to live on the streets. [NETFLIX]

How did you design the sets for each game?



The sets in general were created to create confusion and chaos among the players – between fact and fiction.

For example, in “Red Light, Green Light”, I deliberately put a leafless tree behind the Young-hee robot to imply that this place was “lifeless”. And the whole represents confusion among players about the distinction between fact and fiction, like the movie “The Truman Show” [1998]. Most gamers initially tend to think that this is not the reality. It all seems wrong and contrived, so they deny that people are actually going to die here. With the first game over and hundreds of people dead, the top of the set closes with flying birds. This scene is meant to convey to players that this is a game they are now stuck in. [that is separated from the real world], but it’s not just any game, you can’t go out [unlike the birds], so you have to risk your life to win in this fictional world created by the game operators.

What about the tug of war match? Why is the game being played on top of a disconnected road?



For the tug of war, we had a fixed theme from the start: people abandoned and forced to live on the streets. These people have mountains of debt, they have families to support, but they have nowhere to go. We therefore decided to opt for an asphalt road disconnected for the whole. However, and this is something I’ve never mentioned before, there was a set design that we were considering whether or not to use until production. The game almost took place on the roof of two primary school buildings! But we were worried, “Wouldn’t it be too scary to play a game of life and death on top of the schools?” It would probably have been outrageous if we had chosen that (laughs).

The ball game is played in a replica of a Korean house with alleys from the 1970s-1980s.  Chae says it was her favorite ensemble. [NETFLIX]

The ball game is played in a replica of a Korean house with alleys from the 1970s-1980s. Chae says it was her favorite ensemble. [NETFLIX]

You revealed in a production video that the set of marbles takes the most work. What does this set mean to you, and what do you mean when you said you wanted to illustrate “the coexistence of life and death, fiction and reality?”



This decor was born from the director’s idea of ​​wanting to recall the alleys of his childhood and arouse nostalgia.

In this game, players bonded with people they loved and sympathized with, such as the married couple, believing that they would be on the same side. But then each team was forced to watch their losing partner die on the spot. Survival and death were happening simultaneously in the same place.

And if you see the scenery from a bird’s eye view, you’ll see that we’ve arranged two-dimensional sets that you see in plays and put them together to create the whole 3D. So when players open a door, they come face to face with a wall or other door – this symbolizes how players are placed in a repetitive situation, with nowhere to escape.

I don’t know if viewers understood this, but when Ji-yeong (player 240) and Kang Sae-byeok (player 067) sat together and reflected on their past, we placed a flowerpot next to it. each figure – one with a dead flower and the other with a living flower. Watch the episode again to find out which side of each jar is on (laughs). We did it for the other characters as well.

We put a lot of little details in the setting of the film to really illustrate the place as if it really was in the 1970s-80s, to the point where players would be confused as to whether it was fiction or reality. Sunset [in the scene] was obviously a fake. And we’ve also added a lot of other details, like window sills, window glass panels, milk baskets in front of each house, and front porch lighting. We made the accessories that we couldn’t buy, like the tiles and brick patterns. We even planted the weeds ourselves.

The gates of each house were the essence of this ensemble. We used real door handles from the 1970s-80s and made the whole thing look like real houses with alleys from that era. Basically we wanted to portray the ambivalence of the characters with this set, like how even a good-natured character like Gi-hun (Player 456) ended up showing his darker, selfish side in order to survive. The scene looks real but at the same time if you look closely you will realize that everything is wrong.

I cried after reading the script of [this episode] the first time; it was so heartbreaking. It also took the longest time to create this set. Personally, this is my favorite.

The players “crack under the pressure” in this glass bridge set, created like a circus where the players are the object of cruel entertainment. [NETFLIX]

The players “crack under the pressure” in this glass bridge set, created like a circus where the players are the object of cruel entertainment. [NETFLIX]

What makes “Squid Game” different from other projects you’ve worked on in the past?



When I first read the script, I immediately thought, “This is it! It’s a room where I can finally freely use the colors I want to use! I told the director that I wanted to use the bright colors you see in fairy tales and the colors of the gamers’ childhood.

I’ve worked on a lot of different genres before, like historical dramas. I would say that with “Squid Game” I was encouraged to use my imagination to the fullest. I didn’t have to worry about production expenses and it was a great opportunity for me to actively try out new designs. It was really fun and an honor to work on the series. I want to thank Netflix and director Hwang for making this happen, and honestly I wonder if I can ever work on a track that beats “Squid Game” in the future. I feel so lucky.

BY SHIN MIN-HEE [[email protected]]


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