May 28, 2009

Tidbits on futuristic screen and UI designs


To follow up on OOOii: AE, Flash, and AIR in 'Star Trek', here's some more info mostly culled from comments at Mograph and Motionographer.

In addition to OOOii and Mark Coleran, these entities specialize in designing UI & display graphics: Useful Companies, Teknoel, zero one, Playback Technologies, West Media, Decca Digital , and Stargate Studios.

There's a few relevant academic-type articles, like Human Computer Interaction in Science Fiction Movies. And while Jakob Nielsen does make good points in Usability in the Movies -- Top 10 Bloopers, his own site design is starkly unreadable. For balance see, for example, In Defense of Eye Candy by Stephen P. Anderson: "We’ve all seen arguments in the design community that dismiss the role of beauty in visual interfaces... Lost in these discussions is an understanding of the powerful role aesthetics play in shaping how we come to know, feel, and respond."

Here are some example AE projects once available from AE Freemart: A simple blinking cursor, VU Meters, Number Decoder, and Random Circle Segments. Plus, Particle Illusion has 3 pro libraries with tech/interface elements, and a new set of filters from Noise Industries, "SUGARfx H.U.D." There's also a few more resources mentioned in AEP's Futuristic HUDs everywhere soon.

Finally, here's some advice from Mark Coleran:

"When I first started it, each artist would take a scene and be responsible for perhaps 10-20 screens in a movie. 10 years later you can add a 0 to those numbers at times. Anyone with any sense develops huge libraries of reference, large scratch pads of elements to re-use (illustrator artwork, photoshop files and after effects projcts and favorites) so that you can concentrate on the initial design and turn over the animation very fast. The time frames are shorter and the numbers vastly increased. I have absolute respect for the guys who do the TV stuff, they have it even harder. It can be easy to knock sub par work in this area as being unrealistic and sometimes cheesy, but the time frames are ridiculous at times. The complexity is generally nothing more than a visual trick. Rule of threes. Have at least three things animating on any screen and it looks busy and complicated.

The other thing is that when I started the design on a movie, I would do a lot of research on real UI work, future concept from software labs etc. The foundation that most were built on were based on real ideas, although once the design committees have had their input things can end up changing dramatically. 'I want it like it was in that film' is not an uncommon request.


Usually get involved in the pre-production phase, sometimes as early as two months before shoot, sometime as little as two weeks. This is staggered and offset by when the particular screens shoot, but i think the rule of thumb is 2 months before the first screen shoots so do the design, look and animation. It can vary a lot, but on the bigger productions that seem to be general case. The work these days is also not always constant. You can get breaks of a week or two during production then back into another scene.


For the most part we deal with the production designers and only get director involvement on 'hero' screens that contain important plot elements. The actual design and implementation... to be honest, there isn't that much focus for the most part. The only two directors I have ever dealt with who really did care was JJ Abrams on MI3 who was very focused on what he wanted design wise, and Alfonso Cuarón on Children of Men who took a lot of care and consideration about what was done so it matched and worked well with the particular look he was after.
The importance varies widely. Some people care and get involved a lot, other far less so. Some don't even look at them until the first day they see them on set for shooting. It can cause problems!"

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