Moon Knight Production Designer Stefania Cella Hid References To Egypt Everywhere [Interview]

The world of "Moon Knight" is rich and detailed, and much of the responsibility for making those details look great falls to production designer Stefania Cella. Everything from small props like Harrow's cane to the massive Egyptian tomb sets has to be created from scratch, and not only does it have to look good on camera, but it has to contribute to the story. Easter eggs are a huge deal in Marvel, after all, and "Moon Knight" is chock full of them. 

I had the opportunity to sit down via Zoom and chat with Cella, whose impressive career includes design work on projects ranging from indie fare like "This Must Be the Place" to Sony's "Morbius." She shared all of the details on her inspirations for some of the series' coolest props, her love of putting gold in scenes wherever possible, and more. You can check out Cella's incredible design work when the newest episode of "Moon Knight" drops on Disney+ Wednesday, April 27, 2022. 

This interview has been edited for clarity. 

A scarab with ancient inspiration

First question... There's so many incredible props in Moon Knight. From Harrow's cane to the scarab compass. How much of those designs came from the comic books and how much was up to you and your team to really figure out?

I do not remember a cane in the book, in the comics. We took a lot of inspiration from the comics for the look and the scale, but the props were purely created for our story. The scarab certainly was specifically for our story because it's a compass, basically.

And where did you come up with the design for the scarab in particular? It's beautiful. What artistic inspirations drew you towards that?

It's Cleopatra's scarab, from her dress. We changed it a little bit because you can open the wings, but there are many [women's] dresses from the Egyptian time and the scarab was a decoration that they had here [gestures towards collar] or they had here [gestures to the crown of the forehead].

'Alexander was Macedonian but he always wanted to be considered a Pharaoh.'

That's awesome. How did you design the tomb of Alexander the Great? What thoughts and considerations went into making a mummy's tomb come to life?

So I did a little bit of research on who Alexander was. And the tomb, it's never been found. [T]here are many [theories] of where [it] would be. Somebody said in Alexandria because that was the city then he found in North Egypt. Some say he's still in Macedonia. So I wanted to combine the two cultures because Alexander was Macedonian but he always wanted to be considered a Pharaoh. So the structure of the tomb is based on ancient Greek and Macedonian architecture. The altar in the center, it's something that Egyptians didn't do in their tombs. They generally had all of their belongings on top of the sarcophagus. Sometimes [the] sarcophagus [was] vertical. So the center altar is Greek and Roman architecture. And then the walls were decorated with Egyptian hieroglyphs. I wanted to combine the two like that ... to give an homage to who he wanted to be portrayed in the future generation.

'The white space is that moment where, "Am I here or am I not here?"'

It's funny that you mentioned all these little details because one of the great things about Moon Knight is the mystery of it all. And there are so many little clues and Easter eggs and hints hidden throughout. Did you have any favorite Easter eggs or little clues that you hid in any of the sets or any designs?

We had sharp pyramid corners everywhere, and his apartment is an attic because it [resembles] a tomb. So like a pyramid, but also he's buried inside there and he's trapped inside there as if he's trapped in his mind. So throughout the show, we had details like that. Then we wanted to cross over from the cultures.

And can you tell me about the design of the hospital in episode 4? Because it's so surreal and sort of out of time.

We wanted to be immediately understood in the first shot that when you are there, you are in a hospital. So I tried to use [what was] iconographic of a hospital, which is the materials. Then we use the tiles and also the colors. To me, white is associated with doctors and there are other hospitals [that] are other colors, but white is universally immediately hygiene and operation and gowns. [A]lso the white to me is the color of, "Am I there or I'm not there?" Because it sometimes is the white space and then it's paradise. Not the religious paradise, just the white space is that moment where [you ask], "Am I here or am I not here?"

"Light can change the shape of a set."

You have a bit of background in horror. You worked on things like the 2012 film "Maniac" and you just recently worked on "Morbius." How did that come into play while making "Moon Knight"? This is the closest to horror the MCU has ever gotten, so was it fun to bring that into Marvel?

Night. Look, stuff at night looks better. I'm certainly attracted to work with light also. I love to collaborate with DP, the directors of photography. I don't think anything that I do can be any good if it's not lit properly. I come from theater. So we learn early that light is something that we study when we design sets for theater. We design sets then as fundamental in their shape with light, because light can change the shape of a set. So the attraction to that is because at night you actually play with light much more. So it may be that, but it's purely coincidental. It's that there are no thoughts behind what you choose when you choose a job. You're choosing a job mostly for the material.

'Alexander's sarcophagus... I wish it was my bed.'

What is your favorite design element from the series? Is there something that just stands out to you?

It was such a crazy journey on such a great opportunity. This has really been lucky. How many times in your life can you say, "I'm going to do Egypt?" And I can actually push a little bit because it's a superhero. It's like, that's pure luck ... I like gold. What I liked is that I try to carry on gold through, also in places not necessarily in Egypt. But for the same things, a gold shimmer in the dark.

I love that. Love the glitter. And were there any props or pieces that you wanted to take home?

A lot of them, the sarcophagus, Alexander's sarcophagus, it was such an effort, a communal effort and so many artisans worked on it, that I wish it was my bed. It was so amazing that we sculpted it. We had an amazing art department from many parts of the world that came to work on it.

New episodes of "Moon Knight" debut Wednesdays on Disney+.