I recently reached out to Luke Bubb to find out more about his role in creating the concepts for the Orrery in Prometheus and the other Engineer special effects as part of our Creatives series on Yutani.
Clara Fei-Fei: Hi Luke, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. How did you start doing what you do? Who are your inspirations?
Luke Bubb: For me, I’d say it all started as a child playing with toy cars and doing lots of drawings; but I didn’t really start developing until my family moved to New Zealand and our neighbours introduced me to Photoshop, that’s when it started to develop into what I’d do now. Though in terms of inspirational people I didn’t grow up knowing anything about the industry or any artist so all I had to go on was films like Alien, Total Recall and Star wars etc…
CF: Are you a fan of the Alien films or sci-fi? What did you think of the movie Prometheus? Is there anything you would change if you could?
LB: Yes very much so and for film culture, in general, its part of a very special timeline in science fictions development. For Prometheus, I loved the ideas, really enjoyed it visually and loved the return of Ridley Scott’s visuals to the series but I was really disappointed by it being a bit of mess. If there is anything I would change? Hmm.. well I haven’t seen it in a while but I guess besides the feeling of disconnect that happened when they killed off some of the characters, I thought that when I was exploring the brief there was a massive potential to link our real-world cultural history to the alien’s seeding of planets narrative but I guess there was an intent to leave it open to keep you imagining things. I think the conversation outside the box office about our own origins could have had more of an impact on the mainstream media if it had gone down that path.
CF: I became familiar with your work when looking for concept art for The Orrery, it is my favourite scene in the entire franchise. Could you tell me what sort of inspirations did you use when creating it?
LB: I feel the same as you that the Orrery is something special though have to thank all of the team at FuelVFX for all there great work and guidance as I didn’t design the orrery it was a team effort. So the team had a brief from Ridley Scott with an image named “A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery”, with some scribbled ideas of “frog spawn” and some rough layout as a start so we went exploring concepts from there.
Working with that plus cross-referencing aspects from other shots from the film we designed these zoomed in bubbles of space that are sort of like bookmarks from the giant cosmic web with the main focus bubble in the middle of the room, and so the idea is that these engineers are going to need information on these systems or planets for either exploring, seeding or I guess destroying so there are these information rings around the bubbles showing all the genetic information for whatever is in focus. That made up the basic interface but the last element was a Sumerian inspired language which was in little circles as a sort of icon for a specific zones/bookmarks.
Also, a lot of the visual ideas are related to real-world concepts so the hologram itself is this idea of excited particles to produce light, I think it was hydrogen particles but can’t quite remember. For the visuals of the control desk, I became obsessed with electromagnetism/quantum trapping and also the suns magnetic’s / flares / coronal ejections. For the Engineers, it was all about being a very old recording so we worked with the ideas corrosion of digital footage.
CF: What sort of creative input did you have in the design and how closely did you stick to the brief? and what technical aspects did you have to consider when creating it?
LB: The director has an idea in his head so we needed to stick as close as possible to his vision but the brief was so wide open visually that we had an immense freedom for exploration and the team produced a lot of stunning other designs. Technically we had to make sure it was functional so you wouldn’t question its use, all those ideas of how it could be used had to also be imagined and explored to help refine to the final design.
CF: Is there any sense to the DNA and Data clusters surrounding the planets in the Orrery, or is it just aesthetically placed?
LB: Yes as I mentioned before its the data for that zone, would be the species or biology for the planets or solar systems.
CF: What was the inspiration for the Engineer Juggernaught control panel and chair? Why the squishy egg buttons and green plasma?
LB: I’m not completely sure on the squishy eggs, that’s probably more of a question for the production designer or the pre-production concept artists. But for the plasma, it just seemed to fit as the engineer ends up holding his hands hovering over the control desk so we needed something that can visually interact through the air and Ridley went for the plasma concept, there were initially lasers being shot up through the table on set I think.
CF: Can you tell us the source of power for the juggernaut or what your own theories are? Do you have theories on what the plasma is?
LB: Hmm that’s a really good question, I ‘d never thought really of what powers the larger machines but for me it seems logical that since the alien technology is based on more of an organic matter idea then you’d only need to look at how nature powers some of its machines, so electromagnetic’s and sound resonance are my bet.
CF: In the Prometheus Art Book, there is an earlier concept of the scanner probe that kind of looks like the Japanese zero gravity space drone. In the art book, there aren’t any credits on the concept artists work. I quite like your version of the spectagraph, what were your inspirations when creating this piece?
LB: That is a very cute Japanese space drone, but yeah for films scanning probes it was really diving deep into lidar/scanners and how lasers work/look, looking at pulses of light, patterns, interactions with smoke and high-speed spinning.
CF: The engineer holograms look really cool. Could you tell me what was in the design brief to come up with the design?
LB: The engineers were all about having old-looking footage yet its a form of digital so the challenge was to imagine what this corroded data might do or how it might glitch in a ghostly way.
CF: What are you currently working on and what sort of projects do you want to work on in future?
LB: Currently, I’m working on a few things but one is a documentary called 2040 which is about our imagined future if we used all the solutions to reduce climate change, it has some insane ideas about our economy, autonomous vehicles, livable cities, biomaterials and marine permaculture with kelp so that’s keeping me busy.
Otherwise I have been deeply investing in Virtual Reality and I’m looking forward to creating new content for it this year that addresses ideas that actually stemmed from my time working on Prometheus, a lot of it deals with the seeding of our planet, the great floods, comets, aboriginal culture, symbology and ancient mythology etc. Can’t wait to see what comes out of it.
CF: It’s really great to find out more details about these parts in Prometheus and it’s definitely made me appreciate the amount of work that goes into such an amazing film, Thanks again, Luke.
If you’d like to follow Luke’s work you can see it on Art Station
To find out more about the work Fuel VFX did for Prometheus you can read an interview with Paul Butterworth at Art of VFX.