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Author Topic: Prometheus Q&A with Neville Page, Steve Messing an...  (Read 9604 times)

Jenga
Aug 19, 2012, 01:03:23 AM
Topic on: Aug 19, 2012, 01:03:23 AM
Q
Last night I attended a packed standing room only Q&A at Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Hollywood that was headlined by Neville Page, Steve Messing and David Levy. All three speakers were gracious and interesting hosts and were major parts of the concept team for Prometheus. They had a lot to say and show in regards to their concept art for the film and in regards to how some of those concepts evolved over time. There were some highlights that stuck out in my mind, particularly in regards to creature design since I am an aspiring creature designer and artist myself. I thought some of you would like to hear a recap:

- David Levy, who was responsible for more of the vehicle and set design showed artwork of his and Ben Proctor's that depicted several revisions of the RT01 transport vehicle. One interesting thing to note was that the concept they spent most of their time developing was thrown out by Ridley at the last minute and a month before the vehicle was to be created by the props team, he had David and Ben sit down and completely redesign the vehicle in a marathon concept session over the course of a single day.

- Steve Messing showed his matte painting-style concept artwork where he helped to define the look of the planet surface and landing sight by augmenting, painting and compositing photographs of landscapes they picked from both Iceland and Jordan. He confirmed what many of us observed in the "art of" books that due to the earlier JS script being the guiding factor in the beginning, they began by creating a world that was essentially LV-426. These early landscapes were covered in the recognizable smooth-yet-jagged spires and a dark cloudy atmosphere as seen in alienS. After Scott changed his mind many times about what the planet should be called (always an LV-some number) he finally settled on LV-223 and decided he didn't want the more exotic spires or the cloudy atmosphere and instead wanted the planet to feel like it had a massive scope and a long viewing distance. He specifically chose to have a clearer looking atmosphere with a giant snow capped mountain range that was several times larger Mount Everest.

- The visual language of the ship design was supposed to avoid a military or weaponized look. David Levy's quote was that they were told to make it look like "National Geographic with billions of dollars".

- Steve Messing showed a previously seen early concept of the planet that shows a pyramid and crisscrossing engineer structure with beams of light shooting up from all over the planets surface. He said at one point the idea was that the audience was only aware of the one base until they are all "turned on" and then we see the beams of light shooting into the sky all over and realize there are more bases. He said that this concept didn't feel like it belonged in the universe and looked "too stargate-y". Later they decided to go back to the Giger mounds instead of pyramids.

- Messing showed the planet view from space that is the first shot in the movie and explained that since he is multidisciplinary he painted, composited and projected the image of the surface onto a sphere in Cinema 4D and then re-lit it to create the final image. By doing this he ended up creating that first shot all by himself.

- Messing showed artwork of the original more alien/aliens style planet approach where the atmosphere was a mass of vortex clouds that were lit up by a network of lightning strikes. He kept reinforcing the idea that they started with something that was exactly like Alien and Aliens and that Ridley wanted something that felt more realistic, clear and broad in scope. This is why we ended up with a more earth like planet and several establishing shots of the ship appear so small in the frame that you can barely see it except for the telltale contrails it leaves in the sky.

- Steve Messing's Deacon design was always intended to be more of a placeholder but he was excited that it ended up inspiring Ridley somewhat when he sat down to design the actual creature later with Neil Scanlin studios.

- The hammerhead end and winged protrusion on the derelict/juggernaut ship ended up inspiring Ridley Scott to suggest how they should design the hammerpede. I find something amazing about this as it was essentially the one other time that an original H.R. Giger design directly influenced a creature design in this film and I find the hammerpede to be the most successful original creature in this film.

- Neville Page showed a lot of artwork that we have not seen before depicting the early incarnations of the Fifield monster that was not used. There were several quick Ridley Gram sketches that showed the creature lying all curled up with it's legs under it almost like a goat or a fawn. As a crew member approaches it, it was to stand up and uncurl to reveal itself to be a long armed and legged semi-humanoid/alien hybrid similar to the alternate Fifield we saw in the production artwork but slightly more alien. Alien features included the elongated but fleshy head, that contained eyes. Sometimes the eyes were above the surface and sometimes below the surface of the skin depending on the version of the design.  I personally loved Ridley's sketches and found them to be better in overall shape and proportion than the more finished artwork from the creature designers. The Ridley Grams were, however, very very rough and open to interpretation by the viewer in some instances.

-Neville showed off several basic animation tests for the Fifield monster standing up, unfurling and revealing itself. The movement of creature was depicted by just morphing between several blend-shapes that he sculpted in z-brush since he is not an actual animator. This version of the creature had long (almost ape like in length) spindly arms that ended in two fingers. Both the arms and the legs were triple jointed so that they had an extra bend. The creature also had a small tail. The elongated bulbous head was referred to as baby-like several times. The creature was originally called the baby

-Later permutations of the design were more Fifield and less baby/alien although all of them had an elongated head. As he became more human in later versions they started to play with the idea of having the facial tattoo still be visible on the skin to show that it was the same person, just mutated.

-There were test animations for running and jumping that Weta created. These animations of the Fifield monster and the trilobyte/octopus creature felt very much like something that usually never seen by the public due to the rudementary lighting and flat grey shading. It was exciting to see these tests.

- All three designers spoke about the idea that it is sad to spend so much time working on a creature that is completely thrown out such as the Fifield monster but they understand it is about what is best for the production and is not personal.

- Page showed reference he has collected from google images and other places that show real people with massive congenital deformities both at birth, childhood and adulthood that cause encephalitis of the cranium, enlarged limbs, massive tumors and growths and festering wounds as well. They were horrifying because you really felt for the victims of this terrible diseases. Neville made it a point that he never felt excited to find a picture like this even if it was "great reference" because he also felt for the people depicted. He said that Ridley especially was deeply disturbed by the pictures of the babies and children with massive deformities. His handling of the subject matter was very classy in my opinion.

- A long detailed series of designs and rough animation tests were shown for the Trilobyte/Octopus adult creature but they were all subtle revisions on what was basically the final creature we got in the movie. Some had many penis like appendages, and vagina like orifices but all were very similar. This creature was his chance to "get my Giger on" as he put it in his slideshow. He felt more freedom to try and introduce sexually suggestive shapes in this creature.

-Save for one or two quick sketches, Neville never had time to design on paper and then reinterpret his work in zbrush. Instead he had to work directly in zbrush due to the compressed schedule. He hinted that he considers himself to be a traditional rather than digital artist so this was not his most comfortable MO but he enjoyed working on this film immensely and felt very honored as did the other artists to have the opportunity. 

When I finally gathered the courage to ask I question I knew exactly the topic I wanted to bring up: Where was Giger? I asked the following run-on question (roughly verbatim):  "Early on in the production I recall hearing reports both from Giger's wife and Ridley Scott himself that Giger was going to be personally involved in some design work for the film. Now if we all promise not to go home and write any gossip on the matter, can you guys answer, in a diplomatic way, what ever happened to Giger's involvement?"

There was an expected awkward pause, then they sort of looked at each other and each made small comments on the fact that apparently Giger did go and visit the art team in London and drew some sketches that did inform the murals (which they seemed to imply were the ones on the ceiling strangely enough. I wonder if they meant the wall mural which was much more giger-like, especially in the fact that it portrays parts of his older paintings) They then summarized by saying that he was indeed more of a consultant and that was it. Page in particular was sad because he was working from LA and therefore never got to personally meet Giger who he considers to be one of his heroes.

All three hosts were wonderful guests and charismatic speakers. David Levy particularly had us laughing at several points during the show. After 2 1/2 to 3 excruciating hours standing in a hot dark room with these amazing artists, the night was sadly over. I hope you enjoyed reading these bits of info. I will try to add more if I remember any other good insights they provided.



An additional note: Another major character design point that they covered in the talk was the design of the engineers. There were several concepts that Neville Page showed of the earlier, more statuesque engineers. Interestingly they original had breasts and were were sort of hermaphroditic. Neville did not like this approach and was relieved when they did not pursue it in the film. He did not show any of those designs. What he did show was that the design was primarily derived from greco roman statue-esque style of the ideal man. They also combined other examples of these same ideals that are found in the face of the statue of liberty, Michaelangelo's David and finally (and surprisingly) Elvis Presley's face. This actually became pretty clear once he spelled it out for us because Elvis had this type of romanesque nose, lips and profile. The skin started as essentially living marble, then when human like with caucasian skin tones and eventually to a more silicone or wax style white skin that we ended up with. Interestingly Neville tried to both sell Ridley on the idea eyes that were so far apart as to be inhuman and unsettling (which I loved because it separated it from regular humans). He also tried to have a skull that protruded in the back slightly but was only visible from profile view. Finally he tried adding these sort of modern cyberpunk style circular markings that signified sensor points where the engineer's suit could physically connect to his skin. Eventually Ridley steered Page back to a more traditional grecco-roman statuesque human body.

The 16 foot to 8 foot size issue was brought up and indeed they confirmed that the engineers were shrunk down to make framing of human and engineer sized characters in the same shot more natural as well as to make their physical interactions much easier to stage and pull off in camera.

Finally, on the subject of the engineers, Neville designed a series of tunics and samurai-like shorts for the opening sacrifice sequence and thankfully they went with the one used in the film that was more understated and less leather-fetish like. He was a good sport when we all giggled at the leather-like designs. The basic zbrush sketch of the suit that he ended up coming up with was another last minute on one day type of design. It wasn't until that change at the end that Ridley was inspired by Page's sketch to make the engineer's under-suit biomechanical.

« Last Edit: Aug 19, 2012, 01:50:00 AM by Jenga »

MrSpaceJockey
Aug 19, 2012, 01:43:33 AM
Reply #1 on: Aug 19, 2012, 01:43:33 AM
Q
Awesome read. Thanks a lot for the writings and the very fact you took on the task on asking them where Giger was.

The ideas and concepts, especially those of the engineer's designs (a hermaphroditic approach could be hit or miss in my opinion, but sounds very interesting nevertheless.) 


Dorian Gray
Aug 19, 2012, 06:17:05 AM
Reply #2 on: Aug 19, 2012, 06:17:05 AM
Q
Jenga, thanks so much for writing up such an in-depth description of the Q&A.  One of the biggest mysteries regarding production (to me, at least) was why they changed the Fifield creature design after releasing the original trailer that featured the "baby-head" creature and whether or not those scenes were completed.

Although many would rather have seen the original Fifield design, I tend to understand why they decided on using the hamburger-headed version.  The notion that the reagent (black goo) transforms the person ingesting it into a xenomorph-like creature would have really been out of place, considering it deconstructed the DNA of the engineer and Holloway.  Keeping the destructive cancer-like results of being exposed to the reagent was at least somewhat consistent.


bobby brown
Aug 19, 2012, 10:49:44 AM
Reply #3 on: Aug 19, 2012, 10:49:44 AM
Q
Thank you so much for posting.
great read. should be in the news section. :)


Vickers
Aug 19, 2012, 10:57:30 AM
Reply #4 on: Aug 19, 2012, 10:57:30 AM
Q
Very great read.  Would have been interesting to see what could have been with some of the visual aspects.  But good to know that most of the aesthetic decisions that were finally settled upon ended up being for the best.


Spaghetti
Aug 20, 2012, 07:13:23 AM
Reply #5 on: Aug 20, 2012, 07:13:23 AM
Q
Quote
Neville Page showed a lot of artwork that we have not seen before depicting the early incarnations of the Fifield monster that was not used. There were several quick Ridley Gram sketches that showed the creature lying all curled up with it's legs under it almost like a goat or a fawn. As a crew member approaches it, it was to stand up and uncurl to reveal itself to be a long armed and legged semi-humanoid/alien hybrid similar to the alternate Fifield we saw in the production artwork but slightly more alien. Alien features included the elongated but fleshy head, that contained eyes. Sometimes the eyes were above the surface and sometimes below the surface of the skin depending on the version of the design.  I personally loved Ridley's sketches and found them to be better in overall shape and proportion than the more finished artwork from the creature designers. The Ridley Grams were, however, very very rough and open to interpretation by the viewer in some instances.

Excuse me while I shed a tear for wasted potential.


whiterabbit
Aug 20, 2012, 07:41:45 AM
Reply #6 on: Aug 20, 2012, 07:41:45 AM
Q
So they're saying Ridley Scott basically crippled Prometheus to keep it so general that a sequel could go off into any direction he saw fit?



whiterabbit
Aug 20, 2012, 11:25:42 AM
Reply #8 on: Aug 20, 2012, 11:25:42 AM
Q
So they're saying Ridley Scott basically crippled Prometheus to keep it so general that a sequel could go off into any direction he saw fit?
What amde you reach this conclusion?
There was so much content created but at the end it was all tossed out by Ridley. Although they all deny it, they all seemed to be let down by it. Ridley himself said he wanted to leave it wide open. So that appears to be what happened.


ThisBethesdaSea
Aug 20, 2012, 11:38:37 AM
Reply #9 on: Aug 20, 2012, 11:38:37 AM
Q
It's a directors job to filter through the piles of pre-production material to form the best film possible. Every director does it. Most big scale productions have stacks of unused ideas. That's just the way it goes.


Jenga
Aug 20, 2012, 09:20:33 PM
Reply #10 on: Aug 20, 2012, 09:20:33 PM
Q
Quote

Excuse me while I shed a tear for wasted potential.



Honestly don't. There were some cool ideas in the creature's design but it didn't hold a candle to anything that came before it and seemed less interesting. I think it would have lowered the bar.

So they're saying Ridley Scott basically crippled Prometheus to keep it so general that a sequel could go off into any direction he saw fit?
What amde you reach this conclusion?
There was so much content created but at the end it was all tossed out by Ridley. Although they all deny it, they all seemed to be let down by it. Ridley himself said he wanted to leave it wide open. So that appears to be what happened.


You are thinking about this the wrong way. On every fantasy/sci-fi or just heavily designed movie there is tons and tons of concepts that are created and thrown out or changed into something else. This is the normal natural process of pre-production on a film like this.

Just as BethesdaSea said, this is the director's job to throw out ideas and then get the concept artists to bounce new ones back at them in the form of art and designs. The only way Scott would have crippled the film is to have accepted the first thing designed for it.

« Last Edit: Aug 20, 2012, 11:11:19 PM by Jenga »

Vickers
Aug 20, 2012, 10:28:14 PM
Reply #11 on: Aug 20, 2012, 10:28:14 PM
Q
It's a directors job to filter through the piles of pre-production material to form the best film possible. Every director does it. Most big scale productions have stacks of unused ideas. That's just the way it goes.

And sometimes they make good choices and sometimes they make poor choices.


fangface
Aug 20, 2012, 11:07:59 PM
Reply #12 on: Aug 20, 2012, 11:07:59 PM
Q
I was also pretty curious as to how much the digital FX team would divulge, but was very entertaining and blown away by the featured designs.

I really liked the Engineer saucer ship, and was glad to see a clearer view and different angles of that ship.  It looked a lot different than what was featured onscreen.  I also liked some of the other classes of Engineer ships he designed, but I understand them wanting to veer away from it looking to "Star Trek-y."

I thought I'd be most impressed with the creature designs, but I was really most impressed with David Levy's set/vehicle designs.


Jenga
Aug 21, 2012, 12:01:11 AM
Reply #13 on: Aug 21, 2012, 12:01:11 AM
Q
I agree Fangface. I thought David Levy's work was the strongest of the people there (along with Ben Proctor's who wasn't in attendance).



acrediblesource
Aug 21, 2012, 12:19:36 AM
Reply #14 on: Aug 21, 2012, 12:19:36 AM
Q
Were there pictures taken at this event? I bet they were pretty tight on security. I would love to see the saucer ship development in different takes. That would be cool, but it could be top secretly saved for the next film. :P


 

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