'The Alienist: Angel of Darkness': How Budapest & a Backlot Turned Into 1890s NYC

Alienist Angel Of Darkness
©2020 Paramount Television Studios, a division of Paramount Pictures Corporation

Besides being a chilling murder mystery about the search for a baby killer, The Alienist: Angel of Darkness the second series based on Caleb Carr’s 1890’s serial killer novels (Sundays, 9/8c, TNT) — is worth viewing for its atmospheric recreation of 1890s New York City aka The Gilded Age. Who knew that the rich had cobblestoned streets while much of the city still had manure-covered dirt roads, or that much of the Manhattan’s West Side was no place for proper ladies?

TV Insider spoke with production designer Ruth Ammon (Heroes), who’s responsible for the “overall look and visual arc of the season,” about how she and her international art team turned Budapest into vintage NYC, while having to do serious modifications to Season 1’s backlot because Angel of Darkness covered so much more of the city landscape. One example: Private eye Sara Howard’s (Dakota Fanning) horse and buggy race through many of the city’s neighborhoods in the first episode was shot on the show’s “quite small backlot.”

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“For that scene, the team “had to keep redressing sets to look like different neighborhoods and create streets that were mostly pedestrian, had carriages  or [in poorer areas] were full of wagons,” Ammon says. They had to work hard to “create a scary Gothic feeling in broad daylight shoots rather than last season’s night scenario.”

Below, Ammon describes some of her designs for both indoor and outdoor shooting, along with concept sketches (have done by Pixoloid Studios’s artists in Budapest) and photos from the finished series.

The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, Sundays, 9/8c, TNT

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Courtesy Pixoloid Studios / ©2020 Paramount Television Studios, a division of Paramount Pictures Corporation

Siegel Cooper Department Store Exterior

To recreate the then world’s largest store — “It was an entire New York City block, front to back — we actually built an exterior with the giant windows facing the street,” says Ammon.  “We also built a train platform with massive steps that lead right to Siegel Cooper’s door.”

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Courtesy Pixoloid Studios / ©2020 Paramount Television Studios, a division of Paramount Pictures Corporation

Siegel Cooper Department Store Interior

“For the interior, we converted a beloved Budapest coffee shop and built all the furniture inside,” she says.

That would include the shelves and tables holding the store’s dolls, one of which turned out to be the corpse of a tiny victim.

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Courtesy Pixoloid Studios / ©2020 Paramount Television Studios, a division of Paramount Pictures Corporation

Gansevoort Market   

“We recreated the massive [open-air produce and meat market] by the Hudson River piers,” Ammon explains. “Animal carcasses would come down to the market via the Hudson River or train and be chopped up for purchase. The area we used had too much sun and we created these extra cross-sections of railroad so we were able to bring the underbelly, the dark side, of The Gilded Age.”  These days, it’s the trendy “Meatpacking” area full of restaurants.

Alienist Angel Of Darkness
©2020 Paramount Television Studios, a division of Paramount Pictures Corporation

Greenwich Village

“We also created Hudson Street in Greenwich Village,” says Ammon. Sara may be an intrepid private investigator who helped save his life, but New York Times reporter John Moore (Luke Evans) is not only investigating a good story but still feels a duty to help protect Sara when she ventures into rough areas. Count Greenwich Village as one of them where the mucky dirt streets can mess with the career woman’s trusty boots.

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©2020 Paramount Television Studios, a division of Paramount Pictures Corporation

Duster Alley

Sara and John search for clues in Duster Alley, connected to the Market, and frequented by the real life notorious Hudson Duster gang founded by Goo Goo Knox. In the season premiere, Goo Goo held a knife at John’s neck in this spot, until Sara brandished a pistol.

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Courtesy Pixoloid Studios / ©2020 Paramount Television Studios, a division of Paramount Pictures Corporation

Newspaper Row  

Many New York newspapers at the time were grouped together on Park Row in New York’s Financial District. To replicate it, the series “used the facade of a block-long building in Budapest waiting to be renovated, for the building that Hearst’s New York Journal and the New York Times occupied,” recalls Ammon. “We created a very high scaffolding system for the era’s giant incoming news billboards where the masses below could see it and react. It was the beginning of sensationalistic ‘yellow journalism’ and the predecessors of digital news alerts and Twitter feeds.”

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©2020 Paramount Television Studios, a division of Paramount Pictures Corporation

John and Violet Hayward’s Engagement Party

Violet, the fictional out-of-wedlock daughter Violet (Emily Barber) of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, held the lavish ‘do in the lobby of her father’s paper, The New York Journal. The spectacular gala interior was filmed in Budapest’s Ethnographic Museum, as were other areas of the Journal.

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Courtesy Pixoloid Studios / ©2020 Paramount Television Studios, a division of Paramount Pictures Corporation

Where the Upper Crust Lived

We created a grand home owned by John Moore’s grandmother on Fifth Avenue in the ’80s [across from the Metropolitan museum, which opened in 1870] on our backlot,” says Ammon. “We tore off the face of two houses we had already built  and added architectural details around the windows and doorways to make one very upscale home. It’s supposed to look onto Central Park, so we built almost 150 feet of wall that we used as a foreground element to the CG Central Park. The new mansard roofline we did in the computer afterwards.”

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Courtesy Pixoloid Studios / ©2020 Paramount Television Studios, a division of Paramount Pictures Corporation

And the New Middle Class Worked   

“We built upon our existing Broadway set massively,” says Ammon. “We wanted to build larger stores to show the growth of New York. I also wanted the streets to be very very busy and very very male, so Sara as a female business owner would stand out in a crowd of men in dark hats and dark clothing.”