Wednesday wears a little black dress from Alaïa to the school dance.
The centerpiece of Wednesday and Enid's dorm room, a stained glass window with a spider web design.
Cast as Thing, magician Victor Dorobantu wears a blue spandex suit so his body can later be digitally erased from screens.
Wednesday's Dark Matters
The devil is in the details for these three craftspeople who bring Wednesday's world to life.
Wednesday Addams may be allergic to color, but that didn't stop a trio of artisans from crafting an environment of colorful characters, costumes and sets.
The Netflix series Wednesday is a visually stunning addition to The Addams Family canon, thanks in large part to costume designer Colleen Atwood, production designer Mark Scruton and visual effects supervisor Tom Turnbull.
Created by showrunners Miles Millar and Alfred Gough, who previously created Smallville, the series places Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) at the center of a teen coming-of-age, murder-mystery story set at the Nevermore Academy in Jericho, Vermont. Tim Burton, an executive producer on the series (which was renewed for a second season), directed the first four of its eight episodes.
Charles Addams first invented his spooky clan in the 1930s as a cartoon for The New Yorker. In 1964, ABC brought The Addams Family to the airwaves for sixty-four episodes over two seasons, and after decades in syndication, the family came back to life in the 1990s via three feature films. A 2010 Broadway musical revived the ooky group yet again, and went on to open around the world over the ensuing decade. Meanwhile, back in the States, an adapted version of the show has become one of the most-produced high-school musicals of recent years, ranked third in 2022.
Atwood has teamed with Burton on many films, including Edward Scissorhands, Dark Shadows and Alice in Wonderland (for which she won one of her four Oscars), but Scruton (Pennyworth, The Informer) and Turnbull (Halo, Into the Badlands) were working with him for the first time.
The three spoke with emmy's Christine Champagne about their contributions to the series, which was shot in Romania.
Tom Turnbull: VFX Supervisor
One of Wednesday's most endearing characters isn't a person. It's Thing, the disembodied hand that is, in essence, Wednesday's right-hand man. The series is rich with visual effects, but Turnbull was particularly excited about the opportunity to recreate the lively limb.
"It's a character that's been done before, but we're in a place now where I felt we could really take it further and do more with it," he says. "Tim from the very get-go said, 'We're going to do this with an actor.'"
Victor Dorobantu, a Romanian magician, played the hand. In addition to exhibiting the manual dexterity required for the role, Turnbull says, "He had an impish quality to him. There was a bit of Thing in him, a bit of irreverence."
It took a team effort to ensure that the VFX artists would later be able to paint Dorobantu's body out of the shots. Scenes had to be lit from certain angles, holes had to be cut into the sets for the actor to hide in and wardrobe had to fit him into a blue spandex suit. "They were all very much on board," Turnbull says of his fellow artisans. "When you do something like that practically, it's everybody's 'Thing.'"
Dorobantu couldn't perform some Thing movements — such as turning completely around or jumping in the air. Those scenes feature digitally created hands. And that work was painstaking.
"It's actually not too hard to do a CG hand, but if you have to do a CG hand that exactly matches the practical hand, it's got to be really good," Turnbull explains. "It has to capture Victor's performance, capture Victor's character. So we put a lot of effort into making it as much like what Victor did as we possibly could."
Colleen Atwood: Costume Designer
Just like Wednesday in the series, Atwood spotted — and was mesmerized by — the dress the character wears to the Rave'N dance when she saw it in a store window.
"I was shopping for the show in London, and I walked by the Alaïa store on Bond Street, and I saw that dress on display, and I was like, 'Oh my God,'" Atwood says. "I was with an assistant who's quite petite, and I had her go in and try on the dress just to see how it moved, and if it was really as good as it looked — and it was."
The costume designer bought the dress and made alterations, including scaling down the ruffles, to make it work better onscreen. The dress is black, of course. "The bottom line is she is allergic to color," Atwood says of Wednesday. "So everything had to be a version of black and white."
Atwood set out to make the Addams family look like the classic characters we know, while modernizing their fashion. The iconic sweater Pugsley (Isaac Ordonez) wears was especially fun to play with. "I had a knitter make it. I didn't want to do just bumblebee stripes. So I drew the stripes, and then she knit them all uneven and crooked," Atwood says.
The costume designer also created the necklace Morticia gives Wednesday when she starts school. It features a letter M that rotates to become a W. "I was just doodling one day and I went, 'It's the same letter. It's just reversed.' And I was like, 'It would be cool if her mom gave her this necklace.' When you're a teenager, you want nothing to connect yourself to your mother," Atwood points out. "I told Al and Miles, and they put it in the script."
Mark Scruton: Production Designer
After reading the first few episodes' scripts, Scruton began sketching the Nevermore Academy dorm room Wednesday shares with her roommate, Enid (Emma Myers). "It was pretty clear that Wednesday's dormitory was going to be the driving force and the linchpin for everything else stylistically," he says. "So before we'd found the location for the rest of the school or anything else, in fact, that was what we dove into."
Scruton designed a huge stained-glass window with a spider web design to center the room, which the girls split right down the middle. One side reflects Wednesday's darkness, and the other is bursting with Enid's colorful personality and ever-expanding collection of stuffed animals.
Given how much time Wednesday and Enid spend in the room, Scruton set out to create a space with a lot of visual interest. "We didn't want people going by episode seven, 'Oh, no, we're not back there again!'" he says.
Wednesday also spends a lot of time in the school headmistress's office. Scruton initially planned to build that room on a stage, but then he visited a gothic mansion on the outskirts of Bucharest. "In there, we found what would become her office," he says, describing a grand room that was "this extraordinary mashup of rococo and gothic and all these styles. It was as good, if not better than, what we could build on stage in terms of the scale of it."
Scruton built a massive gorgon-topped fireplace for the office and furnished the room with pieces including a modernist desk from Texas.
The New England town of Jericho was constructed on a flat piece of land just outside the gates of Buftea Studios, Eastern Europe's largest film studio, in Buftea, Romania. "We started from a muddy swamp. There was nothing there," Scruton says, "and we built an entire town."
One of Wednesday's most iconic moments occurs in the fourth episode, "Woe What a Night," when Wednesday hits the dance floor at Nevermore Academy's Rave'N dance.
For the first time in the series, Wednesday loosens up (while keeping her face characteristically expressionless) as she struts her stuff to The Cramps' "Goo Goo Muck." (Released by the "psychobilly" band in 1981, the song is a cover of a tune originally recorded by Ronnie Cook and The Gaylads in 1962.)
Wednesday seems possessed by the music as she bobs, sways and flings her arms about on the dance floor.
The "Wednesday Dance" quickly went viral to a new soundtrack — a sped-up version of Lady Gaga's "Bloody Mary" — spawning legions of imitators on TikTok, with celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga herself getting in on the fun. (Gaga's 2011 song has since seen a resurgence in popularity, much like Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" did after being featured in an episode of Stranger Things.) Gia Kourlas, The New York Times dance critic, was even inspired to write an article about the Wednesday Dance, heralding it as "disarming and defiant."
Jenna Ortega choreographed the moves herself, finding inspiration from a variety of sources, including Siouxsie and the Banshees lead singer Siouxsie Sioux, archival footage of goths dancing in clubs in the 1980s and the late Lisa Loring, who played Wednesday in The Addams Family television series from the 1960s and famously taught Lurch how to dance.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #5, 2023, under the title "Dark Matters."