For Arthur Max, the production designer on PROMETHEUS, visualising the world of the film meant not just creating the alien landscape of the planet the crew visit, but also the Prometheus herself, a highly-technical state-of-the-art spacecraft – the pride of the Weyland Corporation's fleet some 70 years into the future - that the film's human crew call home.
Michael Fassbender couldn't believe the work that had gone into creating the ship's sets. “I don’t think I’m ever going to see anything as impressive as this,” he enthuses. “I remember walking onto the ship on one of the first days and it really felt like I was on the ship. No acting required. And I’m pressing all these buttons, and they all work. The bridge is almost like the heartbeat of the ship showing all the vital signs of the ship. Everything has been thought through.”
Agrees Idris Elba, who plays Captain Janek, the man responsible for flying the ship, “I couldn't fly a spaceship to save my life, but because of the detail involved I'm sat there in front of this console that actually works. You press this button and something happens, that button and something else happens... And the thing about Ridley is he knows everything about the ship. He's designed it in his head and he's designed it to work and that's what makes him so special.”
“There's a mass of visual effects going into this, but we're always trying to do as much practically as possible,” reveals Executive Producer Michael Ellenberg. “That way the VFX are informing and evolving what's already there rather than inventing it from thin air. That's the difference between allowing the future experience to feel believable and real and not. The truth is, doing things with VFX might be a little easier, but actually it's not always cheaper. And if you can build something and allow someone to feel that it's practically real – especially when you're trying to scare them – that's all the better.”
Actor Logan Marshall-Green says the design of the ship, and its layout, feeds into the character motivations that divide the Prometheus's crew. “Everybody is kind of there watching everyone else,” he shares. “And there are these really beautiful duos, if you will. You have Noomi’s character and my character, who really hold on to each other because they are surrounded by people who don’t believe in them and want to destroy them. And then you have Rafe [Spall's] and Sean [Harris's] characters, and you have Charlize [Theron's] and Idris [Elba's] characters. Each duo is kind of watching the rest. Yet it’s not a big crew. It’s a big spaceship, but it doesn’t take that many to run it.”
Summarises Michael Fassbender, who plays David: “Some people are there for the pay. Other people are there to get answers. Other people are there to hopefully attain some sort of secret. Others are there in somewhat of a spite journey. You’ve got all these collective relationships, individuals and motivations and that’s what makes quite intriguing even before the shit hits the fan.”
Production Designer Arthur Max describes the approach to the highly-technical look of the Prometheus. “The first ALIEN movie was taking place on what was basically a mining tug; the Nostromo. It was a very rough and ready rust bucket. Whereas what we’re doing now is the flagship of the Weyland Corporation fleet. It’s cutting edge. I’s got all the technology its owner can afford for space exploration. So it's the best of the fleet rather than the worst, even though it’s just a generation before.”
Costume Designer Janty Yates was responsible for building PROMETHEUS's iconic spacesuit, worn by the crew when they step onto the planet's surface. “It started off with a conversation with Arthur, who showed me all of his wealth of fantastic research,” she remembers. “He said there would be some concept design work in spacesuits, and that they'd be uniforms like in ALIEN. And then Ridley arrived!”
Scott threw out all 16 concept designs Yates had come up with, preferring that she concentrate on something much simpler. Says Yates: “Ridley went, 'Oh, no, that’s too foreign; flight suits and camouflage pants.' I had a couple of concepts that he really loved. The whole script just was screaming out for prototyping.”
Yates focussed on building a spacesuit that was both visually and practically technological. “There's an under suit and there are supposed to be the conduits to monitor the blood systems and the oxygen levels and all that running around your body.” In addition, the helmets feature their own lighting elements, as well as myriad LED screens showing telemetry and atmospheric data, built by the film's graphics department.
And many of the additions to the suit were practical considerations for the production too: “There’s a skull cap, which is wired for sound so they can not only speak, they can hear direction,” explains Yates. “Most important, it’s completely wired up for air because Ridley said that on ALIEN, panic would set in after their actors being in the helmets for more than 30 seconds, when the visors clogged with condensation.”
The importance of the film's human component can't be underestimated, thinks screenwriter Damon Lindelof. “The amazing thing that Ridley does, as a director, is ground big ideas in some sort of fundamental reality,” he says. “What’s cool about this movie is that it doesn’t take place on Earth, in any real significant way, so the way that we’re experiencing the future is really away from Earth. It’s more about what people are like now. What have they gone through? What are the things that they’re thinking about? The idea that we’re basically all going to be the same a hundred years from now, but we might be driven by different ideas, is what’s driving the movie.”
The other, and perhaps most impressive, bits of human technology developed for the film are the vehicles, which were built to run. From speedy quad bikes to giant armoured personnel carriers, Prometheus's vehicles are second to none. “We're going to take them to Iceland,” laughs Max from the film's Pinewood portion. The location the production has chosen is remote. “That's going to be a logistical challenge!”
But he summarises the real challenge of the job: “I think audiences and film technology has gotten more sophisticated and there's been a lot of science fiction movies [since Ridley did BLADE RUNNER]. There's a lot of pressure on everybody here to raise the bar, and that's definitely what we've tried to do.”
Opening in Philippine cinemas on June 6, 2012, “Prometheus” is from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros. (in Phil. theaters) nationwide.
Official and Exclusive Feature from 20th Century Fox