How “Spaceman” Production Designer Jan Houllevigue Built Adam Sandler’s Sci-Fi Love Story

“I like the fact that there’s something a little bit strange in what we do,” production designer Jan Houllevigue tells The Credits about his collaboration with director Johan Renck (Chernobyl). The two have known each other for years, working on David Bowie music videos, Chanel No. 5 commercials, and the television mini-series The Last Panthers. Their latest is Spaceman, starring Adam Sandler as cosmonaut Jakub Prochazka on a solitary space mission to the edge of the galaxy.

The story is based on the Jaroslav Kalfar novel “Spaceman of Bohemia” (screenplay by Colby Day) and lets us know that even in outer space, hearts can be broken. Isolated and alone, Jakub is months into his voyage only to regret leaving his wife, Lenka (Carey Mulligan). Enter a six-eyed hairy creature named Hanuš (voiced by Paul Dano) as Jakub’s voice of reason to navigate the troubled relationship. The task for Houllevigue was building distinct worlds that immerse viewers in Jakub’s singular environment and the life he left on Earth. 

SPACEMAN. (L to R) Sunny Sandler and Adam Sandler as Jakub in Spaceman. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.

In creating the spacecraft the production designer steered away from the high-tech, digital vibes you’d find in Star Wars or Star Trek and leaned into an analog approach. “We wanted to make something that had more of a brutalist feeling to it,” he notes. The entire aircraft was designed from scratch. Its shape, architecture, and details are laid out through concept drawings and 3D renderings. Each section was then built into modules so that “every piece was moveable” for filming.  “We made a 360-degree set and tried to make it as small as possible because it had to feel claustrophobic,” says Houllevigue.


Its tactile design blends an eye-quenching color palette that creates a comforting connection as if the spacecraft is an extension of a home rather than a piece of technology in space. The immersive details inside the ship were a collaboration with set decoration. All the touchable dials and buttons were made to blend seamlessly into the surrounding environment. Artificial light sources were chosen to illuminate the ship’s interior rather than shaping sunlight through windows, further separating Jakub’s life on Earth.

SPACEMAN – BTS – (Featured)Adam Sandler as Jakub on the set of Spaceman. Cr. Jon Pack/Netflix © 2023.

For anti-gravity scenes, ship modules were arranged to coincide with each framed shot. Various rigs were attached to Sandler or the set to simulate the character floating in space. “It’s difficult to shoot in a tight environment and even more difficult to shoot in zero gravity, but every piece of the ship was moveable. It was a big puzzle,” says Houllevigue. Most of the photography was produced in-camera but visual effects stepped in to replace sections of the ship that were removed for filming. A digital 3D scan of the aircraft allowed visual effects supervisor Matt Sloan and the VFX team to reconstruct the interiors in post-production.

SPACEMAN -BTS- Adam Sandler as Jakub on the set of Spaceman. Cr. Jon Pack/Netflix © 2023.

The bigger hurdle for visual effects was Hanuš. On set, a plush toy spider with a 3D printed face to provide an eye line for Sandler was positioned in frame before being fully replaced with a digital version. Space exteriors were also created with visual effects, including the mysterious purple Chopra cloud. To replicate small particles of the cloud falling, the camera department made LED lights that were later finessed by visual effects in a “very natural way.”

SPACEMAN. Hanus (voice by Paul Dano) in Spaceman. £Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.
SPACEMAN. Adam Sandler as Jakub in Spaceman. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.

Juxtaposing Jakub’s space environment is his life with Lenka. Houllevigue designed locations, like their home, with unique aesthetics that were personal to the characters. “There has to be something grounded and very soft to Lenka’s world,” he says. “The story is not only about Jakub but her as well, so it was a matter of trying to make it work for both.” Location scouts helped inspire the production design story on Earth, which was a mix of set builds and practical locations. “I have an idea going into a location, but I like to be opportunistic when it comes to scouts because if there’s something I like at the location I bring it into the production design,” explains Houllevigue.

SPACEMAN. (L to R) Carey Mulligan as Lenka and Lena Olin as Zdena in Spaceman. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.

Color palette subliminally adds to the story’s depth, which shifts from creams, yellows, oranges, purples, and blues in outer space to more earthy tones of greens, browns, and whites on Earth. “Production design is not always about building huge sets. It’s about finding what’s right for the story,” notes Houllevigue. “We tried to make the emotion work with Lenka and Jakub’s world feel isolated.  I hope we succeeded.”

SPACEMAN – BTS – (L to R) Carey Mulligan as Lenka and Johan Renck (Director) on the set of Spaceman. Cr. Larry Horricks/Netflix © 2023.

Spaceman is streaming now on Netflix.

For more on Spaceman, check out this interview:

“Spaceman” Director Johan Renck on Guiding Adam Sandler Through the Cosmos

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Featured image: SPACEMAN -BTS- Adam Sandler as Jakub on the set of Spaceman. Cr. Jon Pack/Netflix © 2023.


Daron James

Daron is a veteran journalist, who has been writing about the film and television industry for over a decade.