Worldbuilding for the Costume Design of Syntactic Labyrinths

Creating characters for a new world

Reading time
7 min
Published on

February 3, 2024

Syntactic Labyrinths

A still from the short film Syntactic Labyrinths of the habitants of Babel wearing hazmat suits and looking at a greenhouse filled with plants in a brutalist building.
The workers of the Settlement of Babel in Syntactic Labyrinths.


Syntactic Labyrinths is a Blauw Films science-fiction short film.

After a devastating solar-blast humanity is forced to live underground, in a city they call Babel.
They build an archive, in a last attempt to safekeep the collective knowledge of humanity.
The Library is sent out into space with destination Andromeda Galaxy.

As of writing this blog, Syntactic Labyrinths is in ongoing production. 

Building Humanity

The humans in Syntactic Labyrinths were actually not part of the original script.
I drew the first series of storyboards back in 2019, and those did not include scenes on Earth.

It was exactly then, when looking at that version of the script and storyboard, that Leo realized there was an entire sequence missing from the short film. 

He rewrote the opening sequence, this time including shots on earth, the hometown of humans. Humans walking to work. Chatting to each other in the hallways of Babel. Working. Resting. Celebrating. Living.

We understood that in order to make the emptiness of space feel as vast and lonely as it is, you need something to compare it to. 

Black and white storyboard for Syntactic Labyrinths, a science fiction short film by Blauw Films. Drawn by Charlotte Simons in markers and pencil. We see characters in hazmat suits, Cueva de las Manos, the tower of babel painting, the Book of the Dead, a journey to andromeda galaxy, and the Syntactic Labyrinths logo.
Original storyboards for scene 1 of Syntactic Labyrinths.

Q: Exactly how is the hazmat suit necessary?
A: A solar-flare is the cause for deadly UV-light and toxic air on Earth. The humans are working in above-ground facilities.
Though humans are not directly outside, they still need some form of protection; toxic air could penetrate anywhere. 

Q: Does the hazmat suit showcase rank and occupation?
A: There are no visible ranks in the world of Syntactic Labyrinths. Everyone is working towards a communal goal, and knows exactly what their specific task is.
But we should still find a way to showcase expertise, interest or personality.
Every human should feel like an individual. 

Q: Are there natural materials available in this post-apocalyptic world?
A: I can imagine that natural materials are available, but extremely valuable and scarce. 

Character and Costume design illustrations in pencil. drawn and written by Charlotte Simons for Syntactic Labyrinths, a science fiction short film by Blauw Films. The text is a synopsis on the costume design, and the drawing is a diagram of the pattern layout for the hazmat suit.

The humans as a storytelling device have two functions:

1. Feel familiar and alive in contrast to the emptiness of deep space
2. Represent humanity as a group of individual minds, working together as one entity. 

For these reasons, the design of the hazmat suit consists of two key points. 

  • All humans are wearing the same silhouette, most notable is the square headgear with square window. 
  • The materials and colours of the hazmat are custom for every human, representing both task and taste. 

Over the years of design development, I’ve gotten most questions about the square headgear, as it looks completely impractical.

It would absolutely be impractical, in real life. 
But to me and Leo, it was more important to express a type of design language that tells the story of humanity locked up in a single-way road towards building the Library. 

Character and Costume design illustrations. Digital art by Charlotte Simons for Syntactic Labyrinths, a science fiction short film by Blauw Films. The textile design are secundary colors, with patterns and a colorblocking layout.

A couple of specific questions I asked myself regarding Syntactic Labyrinths:

Q: What type of materials could be suitable for the mass-produced hazmat suits?
A: With the lack of natural material available, the humans of Babel manufactured new synthetic fibres. Nylon as we know it does not protect against toxic fumes and Kevlar is too stiff and heavy to be worn comfortably. The new bio-fibre created is lightweight, durable and breathable in only one direction. 

Q: How can humans display taste and culture while wearing the hazmat uniform?
A: Even though the hazmat suit is a uniform, culture is very highly regarded in the world of Syntactic Labyrinths. Humans feel the need to, and are allowed to express themselves through colour and patterns. Colours can reflect the energy a person would like to express, while patterns are symbols for belief systems. Since cultures as we know them have collapsed, humans have gathered around a common culture that is marked with respect and a sense of nostalgia for the Old World.

Character and Costume design illustrations  in watercolor. Painted by Charlotte Simons for Syntactic Labyrinths, a science fiction short film by Blauw Films. The textile design are bright colorblockings.
Water color and pencil illustrations of the Hazmat Suits in Syntactic Labyrinths.

Colours, Patterns and Design Language

Designing these suits has not been a straightforward process.
I’ve changed the technical details of the hazmats quite a bit over the last years, and have tweaked ideas about colours and texture. 

Balancing colour, texture and patterns in a group is not easy.

As reference, I like to look at the work of legendary costume designer Emi Wada. She designed, among others, the costumes for Akira Kurosawa movies. In terms of colour and patterns, Kurosawa movies are hugely inspirational to me.
She has mastered how to balance composition, character and colour. She knows how to add detail and personality, without overwhelming the image. 

I also own a beautiful book, Textiles of Japan, which has given me lots of inspiration in terms of geometric, symbolic patterns and colour blocking. 

Furthermore, the shape language of Syntactic Labyrinths is heavily inspired by the Bauhaus movement, and the work of Le Corbusier. This is where the designs for The Library, Babel and the square headgear are derived from. 


I’m grateful for the ongoing creative process that is Syntactic Labyrinths. It allows me to explore these humans in every detail, and reflect on design decisions.
I realise that this type of process is uncommon, and that I might not get another chance to ponder over designs like this ever again.  

Nevertheless, I believe it marks the production of Syntactic Labyrinths. Just like the humans in the film, we as artists are gathering knowledge as we are building towards the final ship. Together we chip away at it, until we come to a construction that is ready for take off.

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