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SYFY WIRE Resident Alien

Exclusive Set Design Secrets: How They Created the Key Places in SYFY's Resident Alien

SYFY WIRE sits down with the man responsible for building the world around Harry Vanderspeigle.

By Josh Weiss

Now that Season 3 of Resident Alien (currently airing on SYFY) is in full swing, we decided to hop on a Zoom call with the man responsible for building the world around Alan Tudyk's Harry Vanderspeigle. That would be production designer Michael Joy, who has been with the hit SYFY series since the very beginning.

How to Watch

Watch Resident Alien on SYFY and Peacock.

While the vast majority of exterior shots are filmed in the quaint town of Ladysmith (located on Vancouver Island), the rest of the action takes place on custom-built sets spread across two Canadian soundstages.

"The great thing about a series is that as it goes on, you can add more textures and layers to the town," Joy tells SYFY WIRE while taking us through all the major landmarks of Patience, Colorado and beyond. "Of course, the writers always find new things. If you look at [it] episode by episode, how much happens in Patience and what happens in the wider world… As the seasons go on, there's a lot more stuff happening in other places. So we have a lot of new sets all the time."

For More on Resident Alien:
Alan Tudyk Coos About Harry's New Resident Alien Love Interest, Edi Patterson's Blue Avian
Linda Hamilton on Her Resident Alien Role: "I'm Not the Funny Girl, I'm the Straight Man"
Resident Alien Boss Says Harry's Wild Blue Avian Encounter "Was One of the Best Things We've Done"

Breaking Down the Major Sets of Resident Alien With Production Designer Michael Joy

Harry's Cabin

Harry Vanderspeigle wears a suit and holds a mug in Resident Alien Episode 301.

"It’s based on my grandfather's house. His house was very elaborate and this is just a cabin. But the look and feel of the stuff in the house is directly related to the fact that it’s a wood exterior with red trim. That’s directly lifted from [my grandfather’s] house. That whole North American ideal of having a cabin in the woods, it has to be like the most beautiful cabin. You also feel like Harry Vanderspeigle was probably a rich New York doctor. I think that cabin was several generations old. It gives the idea that he didn't decorate that, he just [bought] it and a lot of stuff was there. Maybe his wife added some decorative touches, but it's certainly not the cabin of a young professional. It's an upgraded retreat. The idea was that he was kind of a serious fly fisherman."

Harry's Spaceship & The Grays' Spaceship

Kate Hawthorne cries as an Alien takes her baby away in Resident Alien Episode 303.

"Harry's ship … was quite high-tech and advanced. What was really important to [creator/showrunner] Chris [Sheridan] for the Grays’ ship, was that it conformed to the old school sci-fi flying saucer because [Dark Horse President] Mike Richardson saw a flying saucer. The end of Season 2 has all these eyewitness accounts, so it was very important for Chris that it be a classic flying saucer. When we introduced the exterior of the Grays spaceship in Season 2, it was a flying saucer as opposed to Harry's, which is more of a contemporary sci-fi version of a spaceship. We saw [the inside of] it in Ben's flashback to him floating down a corridor of the spaceship, passed out. We also saw it in Episode 3 where Kate's baby is in this kind of theatrical nursery in the belly of the spaceship ... It's a really fun set. That was the big set of the season. It's a kind of brutalist interior of a made-up flying saucer."

Dan’s Diner

Dan Twelvetrees , Asta Twelvetrees, and Jay talk at the diner in Resident Alien Episode 304.

"The diner comes straight out of the comic. I don't know if you know this, but the the guys who made that comic [Steve Parkhouse and Peter Hogan] are Englishmen, so it's an Englishman's version of America ... Little known fact: diners in America were targeted to veterans returning from the Second World War as opportunities to start a small business. They were built in factories the size of railway cars and shipped on site. Dan was a Vietnam vet — he came back and used his money to run the diner. So that was kind of a cool, nostalgic tie-in."

The 59

Resident Alien Season 2 Episode 15

"This is my favorite set in the whole show. It evolved. When we did the original [pilot], there wasn't really enough money to build a bar set. We had to basically save money from the other sets to kind of scrape together to build this set. It’s not very big, but it shoots a lot bigger than it really is. I went to a bar like this in Durango, Colorado. It was a biker bar built in an old Western town and that's what [The 59] is based on … a little sports bar where everybody in the town meets."

General McCallister's Secret Government Base in Montana

Harry Vanderspeigle (Alan Tudyk) works at a desk in Resident Alien Episode 301;

"Doing high-tech is a bit of sleight of hand because you have to really suggest that there's more to it than there is … That was built on an old set that was already there and then we custom-built all the desks, monitors, and stuff like that. It's a riff on the famous Alexandre Trauner set from The Apartment [the 1960 comedy film starring Jack Lemmon as a pencil pusher at a New York insurance agency]. 

The Hawthorne House

Resident Alien Season 2 Episode 12 POST-AIR

"The Hawthorne house is a bit grand for their social status. The idea was that Ben inherited his parents’ house. They're just normal people living in a normal life, trying to raise their kid. The Hawthornes are basically the straight people of the show. They’re what all the weirdness is bounced off against. It's a nice house. We used to shoot on location and then made a carbon copy, down to the last detail, on a stage. We built for the beginning of Season 2 ... The Hawthorne bedroom is a set that we built in the third season that never really existed before."

Asta and D’Arcy’s Apartment

Asta Twelvetrees (Sara Tomko) and D'Arcy Bloom (Alice Wetterlund) chat over a meal in Resident Alien Episode 305.

"We went to Ladysmith ... to find an exterior. We wanted an exterior where we could sort of feel the town. It couldn't just be an isolated building. So we found this wonderful building that had been a schoolhouse at one point. It had very wonderful, American-domestic architecture. I did a Google search of rentals in Colorado and made an amalgam of what would be a rental apartment [that implied] somebody wouldn't have put a lot of money into it. It had been renovated over the years, but maybe it had been an Airbnb at one point before somebody decided they would rent it. It had a lot of character because neither of them have very much money  … The idea was that D’Arcy is a bit of a mess and Asta’s completely together. That adds a lot of character to the place."

Patience Health Clinic

Asta Twelvetrees and Harry Vanderspeigle talk while a patient sits and watches in Resident Alien Episode 304.

"When we went to do the series, I basically reconfigured the floor plan of the clinic, using all the surface elements that were in the pilot. I'm sure you cannot tell what was location and what was the new set. We also matched it to this building that we found in Ladysmith. A lot of brick and colors — a kind of happy, contemporary medical clinic."

Town Hall & Police Station

Sheriff Mike Thompson, Deputy Liv Bake, and Mayor Ben Hawthorne speak around a ring light in Resident Alien Episode 302.

"When it went to series, the creatives had a very specific idea that the town hall and police station were like a tennis court; that it was a power struggle between Sheriff Mike and Mayor Hawthorne. It was like a push and pull between the two of them. So it was very important that those two offices looked opposite each other ... It's tied to an exterior in Ladysmith, so that gave us the rough dimensions of what it had to be, the window shapes, etc. The inside is based on an Edward Hopper, Norman Rockwell-style interior. We really wanted to play into this nostalgic idea of a lost version of small-town America. In the research, you see buildings in small American towns where it's a traditional interior. It's filled with monitors and computer equipment, but everything else about it is literally unchanged since the early 20th century."

How to Watch SYFY's Resident Alien TV Show

Resident Alien is currently in the midst of its third season, with new episodes airing Wednesdays at 10/9c on SYFY, and streaming next day on Peacock.

The first two seasons of Resident Alien can be found on Peacock as well. The NBCUniversal platform currently offers two monthly subscription plans: Premium ($5.99 a month with ads) and Premium Plus ($11.99 a month with no ads and download access for certain titles). If you're a student, you can enjoy the Premium plan for just $1.99 for an entire year!

Looking for more SYFY Originals? ChuckyFace Off, and Paranormal Witness are also streaming on Peacock.