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Environment Design Supervision

Elysium, 2012
Director: Niel Blomkamp
Production Designer: Philip Ivey

Image Engine VFX
VFX Supervisor: Peter Muyzers

Design Team: Mitchell Stuart, Ravi Bansal, Ron Turner

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2013 VES finalist Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture

 
I led the team at Image Engine that designed the Ring and environments of Elysium. Quite an experience.

The core team members on the design effort were myself, Mitchell Stuart, Ravi Bansal and Ron Turner. We designed believable physical environments for several distinct & vastly different areas of an entirely imagined world in incredible detail, exploring along the way ideas in physics, structural engineering, meteorology and history.

The environments we designed ranged from a gigantic orbital Ring structure and the various physical aspects of the thing such as what made it mechanically possible and how it was held together & reinforced & supported, to how it would be inhabited & populated, and what kept it functioning. There were designs for internal factories and external support structures, hangar bays, buildings, and for the topography and city plans of the Ring surface. On Earth we designed a Los Angeles city broken by neglect and overpopulation and a factory setting that was Matt Damon's own personal hell.

To do this we used combinations of sketches, collage and 3d geometry that fed straight into production. The design process started very late in the game and continued during production. We had to ramp up incredibly fast and continue as production was clamoring for elements to get into shots. During all this Neil brought more work to us and has us redesign several elements that been created previously, specifically the robots and a couple of the space ships.

I'm incredibly proud we took a small team through a design process involving everything mentioned above and more, and its a testament to Neil's vision and precision that we were as successful as we were in doing so.

Below is a representative selection of highlights of the process.



The Ring

 
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KM with Mitchell Stuart. This was the image that hit the right note for the layout and feel of the inner Ring.

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KM with Dirk Mauche. The ring was developed as a a fully 3d object before the details and look were explored.

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The image above to the left is an early Syd Mead Study made for Elysium, one of the base images for our designs and efforts. It combines ideas and concepts he's developed over many years, and to the right is one his early studies for NASA from the 1970's. It was images like these that formed the base for our design.



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ELYSIUM, 2013, with Mitchell Stuart

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ELYSIUM, 2013, with Mitchell Stuart

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ELYSIUM, 2013 with Mitchell Stuart

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ELYSIUM, 2013 with Mitchell Stuart

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ELYSIUM, 2013 with Mitchell Stuart

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ELYSIUM, 2013 with Mitchell Stuart & Ravi Bansal

The Buildings

 
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ELYSIUM, 2013 with Mitchell Stuart

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ELYSIUM, 2013, Ron Turner

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ELYSIUM, 2013, Initial model by Neil Blomkamp, rebuilds by KM, Ron Turner.

The Hangar

 
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ELYSIUM, 2013.Ron Turner. The final design for the Elysium Main Hangar, used for main deportation scene from the opening of the film.

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ELYSIUM, 2013 Model by Juan Pablo. This is is an indication of Neil's design sense and what we were always trying to hit, thats its very much about layering. When designing Elysium Neil always asked that although there be a beautiful 'skin' covering the environments there also always be hints of interior chaos and machinery visible - which is very much reflected in the characters who dominate the state of Elysium, they're very elegant & controlled on the surface but are capable of dark and horrific acts. But the first thing we see is the beautiful covering, and then we begin to wonder "what are those dark patches…". So the environment designs hopefully will communicate some sense of why this is.

The Gantry

 
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ELYSIUM, 2013 with Ron Turner

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ELYSIUM, 2013

Los Angeles

 
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ELYSIUM, 2013 with Mitchell Stuart. Though the world has broken down and is pretty much held together by patches & tape theres a sense that the chaos of life is everywhere and that humanity still has the seeds and capability to grow and change, because of this mash. Graffiti is evident everywhere in this environment and Neil was particularly precise about the style and types. The graffiti is used in this environment I think is an expression of humanity trying to break away past the confines and walls of an environment its been forced into, that the graffiti is an expression of creativity not destruction.

The Factory

 
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The main layout for the Earth Factory, blocking in basic groups and areas.

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In living colour.


The base idea of the film is contrasts - between the rich of Elysium and the poor of Earth, between the designed & developed Orbital Ring and the overgrown & rebuilt slums of Earth, and - most importantly - between the harsh or gentle natures of people, what they're capable of, what they're used to doing, what the world they live in forces them to be, and what they may have to do or become to break out of it. The most important thing to keep in mind in any design for an environment is how it relates to and supports the ideas being shown by the characters and story in the film.

What Neil has done in this film thats pretty interesting is to bring both of the ideas of a utopian and a dystopian future together in one vision and attempt to show us both possibilities. Whats shown in this film is both how good it can get, and how bad - both in the environment and also in our own nature - what he's trying to do with the story is to show that we're products of the world we live in but also that the choices we make along our journey through it affects & influences us and the world around us. All in one kick-ass cool package.

I hope the environments we designed have supported these ideas.