Creating the retro-futuristic world of Hello Tomorrow!

Michael Starr


March 14, 2023 | 10:28 a.m

Holograms, floating cars, ubiquitous robots, video calls – they are all an integral part of Hello Tomorrow!. – but with a slight twist.

The Apple TV+ series, starring Billy Crudup as the slick huckster who sells timeshares on the moon, is set in 1950s America – yet it’s an alternative reality take on the decade that still feels familiar.

“That’s what we wanted,” series production designer Maya Sigel told The Post. “It’s anchored in the 1950s … where technology advanced at a much faster rate than it has in our history.”

In an extensive interview, Sigel described how she and her team created some of the futuristic gadgets from Hello Tomorrow – and how these machines represent an authentic apex of the Eisenhower era in the space age.

What was your inspiration?

The moment I read the script, I started doing a ton of research, and then my team came in and everyone started spewing ideas. Researching the gadgets…I looked back from the 1920s to the late 1960s. The Art Deco era was wonderful with these industrial and product designs – everything looked streamlined and [as if it] could possibly fly. That was very inspirational for our gadgets; They had to have some weight but all have curved lines and look like they could be aerodynamic. I had a lot of catalogs from that time and books about advertising in the 50’s and also old Sears catalogs and old decoration books and old car books that people brought with them. I also looked at old World’s Fair catalogs and Popular Mechanics magazines, they all had these weird gizmos. Some car companies and appliance manufacturers spent money making “concept” cars or “concept” kitchens and these were really fun to look at.

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Shirley (Haneefah Wood) gets a helping hand from an office robot in Hello Tomorrow! on Apple TV+

From the beginning, [series creators] Ahmed [Bhalla] and Luke [Jansen] had this idea with punch cards and wanted them in this world. On the back of our main robots is a slot for the punch card that programs them, and you see that on other gadgets too. When I designed this [hologram] table, the big deal was sticking a punch card in and the hologram would start playing. I wanted it to look like a nice piece of furniture… and I thought of this kind of donut shaped table that looks like it’s made out of walnut wood and there’s a very small control panel with a slot for the punch card. This was done by our carpenters and we put lights around the center and worked with the special effects supervisor to imagine what a hologram would look like coming through the center [of the table].

Salesman Herb Porter (Dewshane Williams) makes a call on the viddicon in Hello Tomorrow! Apple TV+ Jack Billings (Tommy Crudup) sits in a hover car in Hello Tomorrow! Apple TV+ How did you design those crazy video phones?

They’re called viddicons in our world, a sort of retro-futuristic FaceTime. We made a few of these and knew we had to use them everywhere; I wanted to have some booths in the [Vista Motor Lodge] Lobby and one in every motel room and in people’s homes. This one had to look curvy and a little futuristic, but also be a bit chunky and feel like an old TV screen. We made the base with the control panels and there’s the mic… I thought it was nice for the actors to have a headset on their heads or hold the mic. It was all painted a teal color – there’s a model and that’s what everyone does [in the series] has. The TV monitor was cast and we built plinths and had a Plexiglas panel… with the (black and white) images that were later inserted in post production.

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How did the hover cars come about?

We’ve used cars from the 1950’s and… worked with someone who does vintage detailing. There were chrome caps that went over the wheels for each car; our stage crew formed these out of styrofoam and painted them with chrome. The [wheel] Remaining floors were deleted in post-production.

“Hello morning!” Production Designer Maya SigelCourtesy of Apple TV+ Was there a gadget that was more difficult to use?

Our main robots… took up most of the technology. The body moves, the head moves, the lights go on and off. Puppeteers moved their arms and the robot was placed on a rig by the props department. There was someone controlling her in every scene. I would say those were the trickiest; It took a while for everyone to get the hang of it. There was some trial and error.

Some have compared the gadgets in Hello Tomorrow! to the animated series “The Jetsons” from the early 1960s.

It’s a great show, but it wasn’t something that played into it heavily [our designs] and not often mentioned. When we talked about the robots, we said, “Let’s make sure it’s friendly [‘The Jetsons’ robot] Rosie.” But overall it didn’t have much of an impact.

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