Prometheus Q&A with Neville Page, Steve Messing and David Levy at Gnomon 8/17/12

A report published on AVPGalaxy by "Jenga" on August the 19th 2012 of what was said at the Q&A at Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Hollywood. "Fangface" shared additional information. No audio recordings so far have made it onto the internet
  1. Jenga: 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 rudimentary 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.(source AVPGalaxy)
    • 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. (source AVPGalaxy)
     
  2. Jenga: Hi guys, at the Prometheus Q&A last Friday in Hollywood with many of the film's concept artists they showed the concept art and some renders of the ship from the beginning of the film and although the fine surface details are similar (in that there is a sort of dark metallic surface with fine etched relief lines), the ship shape itself was not at all like the juggernaut/derelict. It was in fact not a round disc either as it appears in most shots. Scott called it "the petal" because it is actually a more ovoid ship that is weighted and slightly stretched in one direction so as to appear exactly like a rounded rose petal or more spefically like a guitar pick.
    It is almost exactly this shape: 
    source: http://static.musiciansfriend.com/

    There is also a smaller landing ship that disconnects from the petal and deposits the group of engineers on the planet surface. The ship does not belong to another race.  (source: AVPGalaxy.net)
  3. Fangface: Yeah, if I remember correctly, there were different classes of Engineer ships to be featured in that opening scene (with the elders getting out and milling around, etc.).  One ship had a guitar-like design to it.

    However, Ridley & Co. felt it all looked too much like a Star Trek film, so they cut back on the ships and other Engineers. (source AVPGalaxy.net)
  4. Fangface: 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. (source: AVPGalaxy.net)


Züritipp Online - Home: «Die Aufgabe war, die Leute zu erschrecken»

www.zueritipp.ch/ Interview: Thomas Bodmer. Aktualisiert am 13.08.2012

http://www.zueritipp.ch/home/home/die-aufgabe-war-die-leute-zu-erschrecken/story/31000421/
(translation made using a combination of online translators and as much common sense as possible about the subject matter.)



H. R. Giger sitzt in der Küche seines Hauses in Oerlikon. Er ist natürlich schwarz gekleidet – und sehr nett. Das sonderbare Ding auf dem Küchentisch erweist sich als Rückenkratzer in Alien-Form – eines der vielen Merchandising-Produkte, die bis heute hergestellt werden. Als Giger 1977 aufgefordert wurde, für einen Science-Fiction-Horrorfilm ein Monstrum zu entwerfen, war er bereits weltberühmt.

H. R. Giger is sitting in the kitchen of his house in Oerlikon. He is dressed in black of course - and very nice. The strange thing on the kitchen table proves one of the many merchandising products, manufactured to this day back scratchers in alien form -. He was already famous when Giger in 1977 was asked to design a monster for a science fiction horror film.

Die Spezialität des 1940 in Chur geborenen Apothekersohns waren sogenannte Biomechanoiden, Wesen, deren organische und mechanische Bestandteile nahtlos ineinander übergingen. Aufgrund von Gigers Entwürfen wurden in den englischen Shepperton Filmstudios Modelle angefertigt – doch nicht zu seiner Zufriedenheit. Der Absolvent der heutigen ZHdK beschloss, Monster, Landschaften und ausserirdische Eiersilos selbst zu modellieren. Zum Erstaunen der anderen Mitarbeiter an «Alien» – so nämlich sollte der Film heissen – erwies sich der Erfinder grauenhafter Ungeheuer als umgänglicher Mann, der im Pub auch mal Klavier spielte. 

So-called Biomechanoid, beings whose the organic and mechanical components of which were seamlessly transferred were the specialty of the pharmacist's son who was born in 1940 in Chur. Because of Giger's designs movie studios models were produced in the English Shepperton - but not to his satisfaction. The graduate of the present-day ZHdK  (Zurich University of the Arts.) decided to model monsters, landscapes, and the alien egg silos themselves. To the amazement of the other staff in «Alien» - so that the film should be called - the inventor of dreadful monster proved affable man who sometimes played the piano in the pub.

Am 25. Mai 1979 hatte «Alien» Premiere, und rasch war man sich einig: Noch nie hatte man ein so furchterregendes Monstrum gesehen. 1980 wurde «Alien» mit dem Oscar für die besten visuellen Effekte ausgezeichnet. Gigers Vorlagen und viele seiner besten Gemälde sind heute im Giger-Museum in Gruyères zu sehen.

«Alien» had its premiere on May 25, 1979, and soon it was agreed: you had never seen a monster so terrifying. 1980 «Alien» was awarded the Oscar for best visual effects. Models and many of his best paintings are Giger today to see the Giger Museum in Gruyères.

Thomas Bodmer: Herr Giger, was war es für ein Gefühl, mit «Prometheus» nach mehr als dreissig Jahren in die «Alien»-Welt zurückzukehren?

Thomas Bodmer: Mr. Giger what it was back for a feeling, with "Prometheus" after more than thirty years in the "Alien" world? 

HR Giger: Es war faszinierend. Ich bin ein grosser Fan von Ridley Scott, dem Regisseur.

HR Giger: It was fascinating. I am a big fan of Ridley Scott, the director. 


Thomas Bodmer: Haben Sie der Handlung folgen können? Mir gelang das nicht.

Thomas Bodmer: If you can follow the plot? I managed not. 
 HR Giger: Mir hat halt die Machart gefallen. Und es hat geholfen, dass ich eine frühe Fassung des Drehbuchs kannte. Da wird einiges erklärt, was im Film rätselhaft bleibt.

HR Giger: I just did like the style. And it helped that I knew an early draft of the script. Something is explained there which remains mysterious in the film.

Thomas Bodmer: Dann helfen Sie mir bitte. Zu Beginn sieht man einen der «Ingenieure» genannten Ausserirdischen, welche den Menschen erschaffen haben. Dieser Ingenieur nimmt Alien-Gene zu sich. Warum?

Thomas Bodmer: Then please help me. At the beginning you can see one of the "engineers" named extraterrestrials who have created man. This engineer takes alien genes. Why? 

 HR Giger: Die Aliens wurden als eine Art Gegengift geschaffen: Entwickelt sich eine Zivilisation nicht so, wie die Ingenieure das wollen, lässt man Aliens auf sie los. Dieser Ingenieur opfert sich, damit das erste aller Aliens ausgebrütet werden kann.

HR Giger: The aliens were created as an antidote: a civilisation does not develop as the engineers want, Develops not a civilization as the engineers want, the aliens are allowed to get rid of them. This engineer sacrifices himself so that the first of all aliens can be hatched. 


Thomas Bodmer: Was hat Ridley Scott an «Prometheus» gereizt?

Thomas Bodmer: What appealed to Ridley Scott in "Prometheus"? 


HR Giger: Er fand die «Alien»-Nachfolgefilme schwach. Er wollte Geheimnisvollem aus dem ersten Film nachspüren, zum Beispiel dem «Space Jockey»

HR Giger: He found the "Alien" movies successor weak. He wanted to investigate the mysterious from the first film, for example, the "Space Jockey" 

Thomas Bodmer: ...dem ausserirdischen Astronauten, der in «Prometheus» eine grosse Rolle spielt?

Thomas Bodmer: the ... extraterrestrial astronauts, who plays a big role in "Prometheus". 

HR Giger: Genau. Den hatte ich 1978 mit der Spritzpistole gemalt. Der wurde dann genau nach meiner Vorlage gestaltet.

HR Giger: 
I agree. I had painted him in 1978 with the spray gun. Then he was created exactly according to my model.
 

Thomas Bodmer: Dieses Spritzpistolenbild möchten wir gern für den «Züritipp»-Umschlag verwenden.
 

Thomas Bodmer: This spray gun picture for the "Züritipp" cover

HR Giger: Nur zu. Das Original hängt in meinem Museum in Gruyères.

HR Giger: Only to. The original hangs in my museum in Gruyères. 
  
Thomas Bodmer: Das ist nett von Ihnen. Apropos: Sie sind ein freundlicher Mensch, haben aber an einem der furchterregendsten Filme mitgearbeitet. Machen Sie den Leuten gern Angst?
Thomas Bodmer: That's nice of you. Speaking: You are a friendly person, but have worked on one of the scariest movies. Make people like anxiety? 


HR Giger: Persönlich nicht. Aber bei «Alien» hatte ich die Aufgabe, die Leute zu erschrecken, und wenn ich eine Aufgabe habe, will ich die möglichst gut machen. Bei «Alien» hats offenbar geklappt. (lacht)
HR Giger: Personally not. But in "Alien", I had the task to scare the people, and if I have a job, I want to make as good as possible. In "Alien" apparently folded hats.  (laughs)

Thomas Bodmer: Es wird erzählt, dass Sie den Schauspielern die Monster nicht zeigen durften, an denen Sie arbeiteten. 

Thomas Bodmer: It is told that you were not allowed to show the actors the monsters you worked on.

HR Giger: Ja, das kam von Ridley Scott. Er wollte, dass die Schauspieler spontan reagierten. Es gibt in «Alien» ja die Szene, in der einem der Astronauten plötzlich ein Monster aus der Brust bricht.

HR Giger: Yes, that came from Ridley Scott. He wanted that the actors reacted spontaneously. There is in "Alien", the scene in which one of the astronauts suddenly a monster from the chest bursts.

Thomas Bodmer: Etwas vom Erschreckendsten, was ich je im Kino gesehen habe.

Thomas Bodmer: Some of the most terrifying thing I've ever seen in a movie.
 

HR Giger: Danke schön. (lacht) Beim Drehen hat Scott den Schauspielern nicht gesagt, was in dieser Szene passieren würde. Und die eine Schauspielerin, die Blonde mit den grossen Augen, ist dann tatsächlich in Ohnmacht gefallen.

HR Giger: Thank you. (laughs) When shifting the actors Scott has not said what would happen in this scene. And then one actress, the blonde with the big eyes is actually fainted. 

Thomas Bodmer: Hatten Sie nie Angst, dass die Arbeit an «Alien» Ihrem Ruf als seriöser Künstler schaden könnte? Dass Museen und Galerien nichts mehr mit Ihnen zu tun haben wollten?
 

Thomas Bodmer: Were not you afraid that the work on "Alien" could hurt your reputation as a serious artist? That museums and galleries refused to have anything to do with you?  

HR Giger: Doch, zuerst schon. Aber das war dann interessanterweise kein Problem. Ausserdem hatte ich früh schon andere Kanäle benutzt wie Poster und Bücher.

HR Giger: But, first already. But that was then, interestingly, no problem. Also, I had early on other channels used such as posters and books. 


Thomas Bodmer: Seit einigen Jahren malen Sie nicht mehr. Fehlt es Ihnen nicht? 
  
Thomas Bodmer: For several years, you no longer paint. Missing do not you?

HR Giger: Kein bisschen. Ich kümmere mich stattdessen um mein Museum, das es seit 1998 gibt.

HR Giger: Not one bit of. I care instead about my museum which has been around since 1998. 

Thomas Bodmer: Haben Sie denn früher malen müssen? Sie haben in Bildern ja auch Ihre Albträume umgesetzt.

Thomas Bodmer:In the past,  did you have to  paint then? You also have converted your nightmares in pictures.

HR Giger: Nein. Ich habe nie malen müssen. Eigentlich wollte ich ja Musiker werden.

HR Giger: No. I never had to paint. Actually, I wanted to be a musician. 



Thomas Bodmer: Stattdessen haben Sie Covers für die Platten anderer Musiker gemacht, für Emerson, Lake & Palmer und für Debbie Harry. Ist das Ihre Lieblingsmusik?

Thomas Bodmer: Instead, you have made covers for the discs of other musicians, for Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Debbie Harry. Is that your favorite music?

HR Giger: Nein. Ich bin ein Jazzfan. Als ich jung war, mochte ich gern Boogie-Woogie. Dann kam der Modern Jazz, Leute wie Oscar Peterson. Ich mag Könner. Doch mein Lieblingsmusiker ist Miles Davis. Für den hätte ich gern mal ein Cover gemacht, aber dazu ist es dann leider nicht mehr gekommen, weil er gestorben ist.

HR Giger: No. I'm a jazz fan. When I was young, I liked boogie-woogie. Then came the modern jazz, people like Oscar Peterson. I like experts. But my favorite musician is Miles Davis. For him I would have gladly done a cover, but unfortunately, then in addition it has not come to any thing because he has died.

Thomas Bodmer: Gibt es andere Filme, an denen Sie gern mitgearbeitet hätten?

Thomas Bodmer:  Are there any other films where you would like to have worked

HR Giger: «The Matrix». Und dann «Dune», den David Lynch gedreht hat. Aber der mochte mich nicht, weil ich einmal eingeladen wurde, an einer Ausstellung in New York teilzunehmen, er mit seinen Bildern aber nicht. Eifersucht ist etwas, das ich nicht nachvollziehen kann. Und von Lynchs Erstling «Eraserhead» war ich total begeistert. Der war so verrückt und tragikomisch.

HR Giger:The Matrix". And then, "Dune", the David Lynch has made. But he didn't like me because I was once invited to participate in an exhibition in New York, but he with his pictures was was not. Jealousy is something I can not understand. And from Lynch's debut "Eraserhead" I was thrilled. It was so crazy and tragicomic
 
Thomas Bodmer: Der Schluss von «Prometheus» ist so angelegt, dass die Geschichte gut weitergehen könnte. 

Thomas Bodmer: The conclusion of "Prometheus" is designed so that the story could go well

HR Giger: Ja, Ridley Scott hat noch einen Haufen Ideen für weitere Filme. 

HR Giger: Yes, Ridley Scott still has a bunch of ideas for other films.

Thomas Bodmer: Im Abspann von «Prometheus» heisst es, er beruhe auf früheren Entwürfen von Ihnen.

Thomas Bodmer:  In the credits of "Prometheus" it means that it is based on earlier drafts from you.  

HR Giger: Ja. Als ich wegen des Films kontaktiert wurde, hatten andere Leute schon zu viel gemacht. Da mochte ich nicht reinpfuschen.

HR Giger: Yes. When I was contacted because of the film, other people had already done too much. Since I did not like pure blunder
 
Thomas Bodmer: Aber wenn Ridley Scott Sie für etwas Neues anfragen würde, wären Sie dann dabei? 

Thomas Bodmer: But if Ridley Scott would you ask for something new, you would then be doing? 

HR Giger: Eigentlich bin ich ja im Ruhestand. Aber wenn Ridley Scott mich früh genug kontaktieren würde, wer weiss. 

HR Giger: Actually, I'm retired. But if Ridley Scott would contact me early enough, who knows.