In happened one night, in the woods. Set designer Lisa Soper was on location filming a scene from the second season of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, when executive producer Sarah Schechter came up to her with an offer. Did she want to design the sets for the CW’s Batwoman pilot? To answer the question, Soper pulled down her t-shirt. Right there on her back...was a tattoo of the Batman logo. “Consider this my signing,” she said.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s production designer spoke with our sister site io9 about how she changed Sabrina Spellman’s world for season two, and her work on CW’s Batwoman pilot, starring Ruby Rose.
While she won’t be working on the show if it gets picked up (due to scheduling conflicts), she shared what she loves about the world of Batman, her thoughts on Rose as Kate Kane, and some (spoiler-free) hints about what this Batwoman and her world will be like.
Below is our edited and condensed interview.
io9: In the second season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, we’ve seen the characters go through some major transition. I wanted to get a sense of how you change their spaces to reflect those transitions.
Lisa Soper: We spent the first 10 episodes of Sabrina really establishing the characters, showing people what this world is. Showing them the rules, and the history and all this kind of stuff. Once we got that stabilised, and everybody’s really comfortable with it, we can now play a little bit more.
For Sabrina [in season 2], the danger is ramped up, and the threats are ramped up. So, we wanted to go a little bit more edgy with the colours. I made everything a little bit darker, a little bit harsher. I punched up the reds and give it a little bit more of a hue. There’s a little bit more of an uncomfortable sense when we need them to feel uncomfortable, and more of a vibrant sense when we take a breath and step out of it for a moment.
io9: For the first season, I remember you mentioning how the sets were designed to reflect this clash between the feminine and masculine. You had this masculine sense of power, and women were being pushed out, or controlled within that space. Looking forward, the women on the show have a hell of a lot more power — literally. What are you envisioning, or even planning, with the sets to represent this shift?
Soper: If we ramped it up when we first got out of the gate with 10 episodes, and then ramped it up again with the second 10, these ones here, coming out of the gate, we wanted to start off with a really, really, really big bang. I want to open up new doors, new worlds, new colours. See what else Greendale has to offer us, what else these witching worlds have to offer us. We will visit the same beautiful sets, but I’m very much looking forward to showing off more spaces we’re going to be visiting [next season].
What I’m trying to approach with this is something we haven’t seen before. It’s kind of kooky and crazy, it breaks tradition — as far as rules, or morality, or colour choices, or architectural design. I’m sitting in my office right now, surrounded by a massive amount of concept art — with colours and textures and golds and fires and all this kind of stuff that I want to tell you all about, but I can’t! I can tell you we’re extremely excited about it.
io9: Moving to Batwoman, what were your thoughts on taking on such an iconic character and series?
Soper: When I would go to work [on Batwoman or Sabrina], I would see a kid crossing the street behind me, and he had a Batman logo on his backpack. You see it everywhere. You see the logo on bumper stickers, you see it on t-shirts. Even the crew on Sabrina. You’d see one person out of the 300 every day wearing a Batman shirt. I have a Batman shirt.
It was always a reminder that we need to respect what this is, and why we love Batman so much, and why we’re going to love Batwoman so much. They’re the closest thing to a human being [version] of what a superhero is. They didn’t have this magical ability to go in and be zapped by a spider that’s nuclear or some magical rock, or Thor’s hammer or whatever. This is somebody that people can relate to so much more.
It’s so much more than just a visual thing for me. It’s more of an emotional kind of setting for Batman and Batwoman. And now, being able to take such an iconic character, to introduce today’s version of that character, which is a strong female lead...this was something where I went “We can’t screw this up.”
io9: I want to chat about your vision for Gotham. How did you picture this iconic world in your own way?
Soper: When we started looking at kind of the way that this world worked—and if you look at the Arrow [Elseworlds] episodes, there’s a tiny, tiny taste for what we started with: If Gotham the television show was before Batman showed up, the Gotham that we’re building for Batwoman is 30 years later after he’s gone—in a visual field. To my understanding, it [may not be] that period of time, but visually that’s the level I wanted to go with.
When you look again at the Arrow episodes, [the moment] where we started hinting at things, where you can feel where I’m heading with all this, is where Batwoman’s suit is. It’s not in this crazy capsule that comes out of the ground, like with Christopher Nolan’s films. It’s in a tree stump. It’s got vines, and nature’s kind of taking over—which, again is kind of the Mother Earth element to a feminine side, encompassed with this strong symbol.
io9: Since you can’t talk about the different places we may visit in Batwoman, like Kate’s apartment or possibly the bat cave, could you tell me how you came to see Kate Kane and how you wanted to portray her?
Soper: I wanted to make sure she wasn’t an extension of Batman, first—as much as we all love Batman, she is Batwoman. I wanted to make sure she’s not a sidekick, she’s not an extension of him. She’s very much her own. I leaned in a lot with the comic books. Batman is very much your classic [hero] — either blacks and blues, or your blacks and yellows. Obviously, with the bat element and the Gotham element — that kind of dark feel — we want to have black as a tone. But right away, I wanted to give that signature colour to her that would separate her. If Batwoman is jumping off the rooftop, what’s that accent? What’s that highlight? When the rain hits her suit, what do we see there? And that’s red. And that’s very much from the comics.
io9: That’s interesting, because red is also Sabrina’s signature colour! What does red represent for each of these characters individually?
Soper: It’s kind of similar, I think, between the two. You have these strong female characters who are coming up [in the world]. But the choices they make are very different. Sabrina kind of lives in two worlds, because she uses both sides of red. On one spectrum of red, we can look at love, passion, and want. That’s the one side of Sabrina’s path. On the other side, there’s this fiery rage.
With Batwoman, it’s very much red in a single line - which, with her character, means caution. Danger. Fear. When you come to a stop sign, we use red to mean stop. Not to make people angry or upset or anything like that, but because there is no other option. That’s the element of how we use the red with her. The same with a stoplight. You have no other option, you must stop. Batwoman is telling you what you must do.
Soper: When we got the call and found out it was going to be Ruby Rose, I thought, “Oh this is absolutely perfect.” Not to drag Sabrina into it, but when I was doing my original look book for Sabrina, I had used Kiernan [Shipka] as a model, without knowing who they were interviewing. Even though in my look book I hadn’t gone to the root of Ruby, a lot of the photographic references of action fighting, and strong female characters for imagery, it was very much her. There was no bump there. It was like, “Oh, obviously. She’s Batwoman.”
I think it was after the first day we started working with her, it was impossible to imagine anybody else in that role because she embodied that character so much.
io9: Are there any Batman or DC Easter eggs we should look out for in Batwoman?
Soper: Absolutely! I can’t tell you exactly where they are, but I will say that DC was amazing with knowing that this is being made for fans, and I am a fan. They provided us with a lot of content we were allowed to use, and I used every single thing we could. When you’re looking at our first episode, in particular, have a really close look at what’s happening in the background, or if someone is holding something.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is currently streaming on Netflix and the CW has not yet confirmed a release date for Batwoman.