The TNT television series, due to debut on May 17, is adapted from both the film and the novel. The story is set in the future when attempts to slow global warming have accidentally frozen over the world’s surface. The only surviving human inhabitants live in a train that is circling the globe and that train has a hierarchy, where some passengers live in luxury and others in abject misery. The train cannot stop or everyone would die, but it also cannot continue to function with such inequity.
In Bong’s critically acclaimed film, the world outside was briefly glimpsed a few times from the inside, offering images of broken-down ice-encrusted buildings, snow-covered mountains and seven frozen-in-place passengers who tried to escape. The train’s interior had an aquarium, a night club and a garden. The film created a memorable world for a limited time span, but the TV adaptation will have more time to invest in visualizing practical details. Special and visual effects will help to realize more of the Snowpiercer world, both the frigid landscape and the complex interior of a train capable of supporting human life.
“In many respects it’s inspired by the original graphic novel and it’s inspired by the film but there are certainly storytelling departures,” said Jon Cowley, head of studio for FuseFX and VFX supervisor for the upcoming series. “But at the end of the day it is still a train traveling in a post apocalyptic freeze-over environment. That part of the story is still the same.”
As much of the show will be produced on a soundstage, the movie magic of visual effects, which happen after filming finishes, play an important part in realizing the fictional world. With more on screen time, the TV adaptation will offer more views of the world that the train is circling, as well as additional rooms and spaces inside the train.
“While we have the original feature film to pay some homage to and we have the graphic novels to honor, we got a chance to design what this world was going to look like from scratch,” said Cowley.
Viewers will get to see more of the frozen-over world from within the train and from outside of it.
“We see the outside world from inside the train passing by and then we are occasionally outside the train to get a sense of where we are in the world, as we are traveling around.”
It’s important to show the train from the outside, said Cowley, since the train is very much a character in the story. The train is a hopeful and, at the same time, doomed character circling a glacial world in isolation.
“In order to tell the story of the train and have it be a character, you have to see the character. You have to see it traveling through this big isolated environment where every tree is frozen over and broken and every town is caked in snow. We did have a chance to help develop what that looked like.”
While the film appropriately dwells more on the storyline than describing practical elements, the TV show will have the luxury to visualize details that might make survival on a train more likely. For example, there is going to be a sub train, a whole level below in the train where things can be shuttled back and forth.
“There are various train cars that have various things to help people survive,” said Cowley. “So there needs to be meat, there needs to be vegetables, there needs to be fresh fish, there needs to be all of those things and the creators of the train designed this train to be self-contained with its own ecosystem that doesn’t need the outside world to survive. At the same time the train can never stop. The energy used to power all of this is part of the train’s momentum. The train stops, the power dies down. The train can never stop.”
For Cowley, helping to realize that world was a lot of fun and a great opportunity.
“It’s a very well respected property. A lot of people remember both the film and the graphic novel very fondly, so having an opportunity to help build that world was pretty cool.”
The film Snowpiercer stars Tilda Swinton, Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho and Octavia Spencer. The TV series stars Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly, Mickey Sumner and Annalise Bassos. A second season has been ordered.
This story was originally published on forbes.com.