Rory Cheyne On Designing ‘Foundation’ Around The World

Apple TV+’s epic new science fiction drama series Foundation, based on the series of novels by legendary author Isaac Asimov, recently premiered on September 24th. The series, set in the far future, follows a band of exiles on their journey to save humanity and rebuild civilization amid the fall of the Galactic Empire and dire warnings from a scientist who can see the future.

We spoke with Rory Cheyne, the Production Designer on this ambitious and hugely-scaled series, about getting the call that would change his life, entire sets flying off Icelandic mountains, working with a team in Toronto and across the world simultaneously, and more. 

Tell us how you became involved with this production.

I say sometimes you cross paths with people for a reason. Becoming part of Foundation was like that. Chris Maclean (VFX Supervisor) and I had tackled season 2 of American Gods a year prior. Chris was the second hire and had mentioned my name in a boardroom in LA. Then I was in the mix. I then met with David Goyer (Foundation showrunner) and was handed two scripts. I had a week to put an overall concept together for the series and head to LA for a series of interviews with Skydance and Apple creatives. I got a call a week later while standing in my kitchen staring at my wife, and our life was about to change more than we could ever imagine. “Can you get on a plane tomorrow and scout Iceland and Europe?” I then had two weeks to scout Iceland, Ireland, and Germany, and present an overall plan to Apple for the series.  

Foundation is based on a series of novels of the same name by legendary science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. How did you make sure you remained true to the aesthetic of Asimov’s work?

The visual aesthetic of Asimov has been interpreted by many movies, series and sci-fi artists before me. It was a daunting task to follow artists like Foss, Barlowe, and films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. I watched a lot of sci-fi, filtered through the Foundation books and pinned up as much sci-fi art I could find. I was after the ‘space’ between what I feel is classic sci-fi and contemporary sci-fi films from the past 30 years. 

What were some of your favourite setpieces designed for the show?

I would live in Salvor’s outpost. That set travelled to three countries: mountain top in Iceland (which at one point blew off the mountain during a storm), the interior was in a studio in Ireland, and its final resting spot was on a mountain in the Canaries.

“My team in Toronto became this design team on the outlying planet ‘Toronto-terminus’. They found an office, supplies and set up for the next 6 months.”

You were working on Foundation overseas in multiple locations, bringing some Art Directors with you while some of your team remained in Toronto. Take us through that experience and what it was like.

The show started during probably the busiest time in the industry worldwide I’ve ever seen. I had an almost impossible delivery date for the designs. I had a team of designers on Locke and Key S1 ready and excited to tackle Foundation. My team in Toronto became this design team on the outlying planet ‘Toronto-terminus’. They found an office, supplies and set up for the next 6 months. Some of the Toronto team joined me in Iceland and Ireland. As the show continued, I had to set up design departments in Ireland, Iceland, Berlin, Malta, and the Canaries. I spent my time balancing between them all. I have a lot of AirMiles now. 

It was truly an amazing experience and I think everyone in these art departments formed some lifelong friendships all over the world. I really tried to sew everyone and their ideas together on this project. One special person I have to talk about is Hank Gay. He was the thread that brought everyone together. When we started filming the pilot, Hank wanted to go on set and art direct. He was on that mountain in Iceland. He was on location in Berlin. He made sure the studios in Ireland shot the right way. He was in Germany on location when the world shut down. The crew in every country bonded with Hank. He was our star.

What do you love most about working in Toronto/Ontario?

The level of professionalism is unparalleled. The depth of the design departments has become more and more advanced since I started in the late 90s, from 3D modelling, VR set design, illustrators, and industrial design. We need to keep up this knowledge base and push further to compete worldwide.

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