Designing 'Prometheus'

Category: In Focus
FX Art Director Steven Messing creates the film’s CG designs, setting the visual tone for the sci-fi thriller.

In 1979, Director Ridley Scott propelled us into space with the visually stunning sci-fi horror film Alien. It’s been a while, but Scott has taken fans back to the bleakness of space with Prometheus from Twentieth Century FOX. 

Expectations were high for the return trip to space, and acclaimed digital  artist Steven Messing helped the Scott and the crew achieve the crucial look, utilizing MAXON’s CINEMA 4D software to conceptualize and design complex visual effects shots in the production. 



A veteran CINEMA 4D user, Messing, served as visual effects art director under Prometheus Production Designer Arthur Max. He leveraged the  3D animation software’s speed, agility and intuitive processes to produce several physical set builds as well as CG environments, creatures, costumes and spaceship designs that contributed to the  aesthetic and mythological visual tone of the sci-fi film. He also worked through post-production creating matte shots and additional designs under VFX Supervisor, Richard Stammers and VFX Producer, Allen Maris. Messing’s numerous feature film credits include Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, Transformers: Dark of the Moon as well as  the upcoming film titles, Life of Pi, Star Trek and Pirates of the  Caribbean 5. 

Prometheus, directed by Alien and Blade Runner director, Ridley Scott, tells the mythological story of a team of explorers who  journey through the universe on the spaceship “Prometheus” to investigate alien life forms. When the scientific team becomes stranded in an alien world, they struggle to survive, fighting a terrifying battle to save their own lives, and the future of the human race. 



CINEMA 4D’s real-time capabilities proved particularly invaluable to  Messing who was tasked with designing and redefining complex set pieces from the first Alien film to bring a contemporary visual quality that would appeal to today’s filmgoers. This included designing CG models for the Prologue and Juggernaut Alien spacecrafts, the Pilot Chamber set located within the Juggernaut ship and the larger Compound Mound set located on the Alien planet surface. 

“Ridley was very proud of the original Engineer's spaceship (known as  the Juggernaut) but he felt it looked primitive by today’s standards,” said Messing. “He wanted to convey a more believable level of scale and  detail. He also asked us to give the Pilot’s Chamber set a facelift to include a finer degree of mechanical filigree, and create additional set pieces to support specific story points in the script.”  Messing produced roughly 200 unique images for the film including matte paintings, key-frame storyboards, set designs and visual effects paint-overs of final CG shots. 

Messing spent weeks refining CG models that relied extensively on the UV texture displacement maps and intuitive MoGraph module in CINEMA 4D to  create the new Pilot’s Chamber set. This included creating scale models of the center dais, desk console, sleeping pods and chamber walls. With fellow designer, Ben Procter, Messing also helped refine the Pilot’s chair that rises from the center dais in the Juggernaut. 

“We sorted through a ton of Academy archival reference to make the chair  as accurate as possible,” explained Messing. “The original draftings had been lost and it was truly a labor of love to recreate this whole set.  Using CINEMA 4D remains a top choice software that afforded us a highly flexible solution for previsualizing and experimenting with design  elements such as intricate, surface detail textures and patterns that could be presented to Ridley Scott for approvals in a practical timeframe. 



“Final designs were then easily displaced and exported into scale-accurate hard geometry, which was delivered as very detailed model sheets for the set drafting and also to world-class visual effects studios including MPC in London and WETA in New Zealand for completion of the final digital set extensions.” 

CINEMA 4D was also utilized in the opening shot of Prometheus that gives the audience a glimpse of what appears to be primordial Earth being revealed from shadow. “The planet layers were a combination of clouds, oceans, and continental land masses that all cast shadows as the sun rises, revealing the planet,” explains Messing. “I used CINEMA 4D's Global illumination engine and ray traced area shadows to achieve a realistic layered effect at an accurate scale.” Messing also created a dozen very detailed and dramatic pinnacle formations that were painted over and layered together with atmospheric elements to create interesting compositions detailing the scope and grandeur of the Alien planet’s landscape. 

“MAXON continues to be astonished by Steven’s artistic vision and mastery of CINEMA 4D in imagining alternate universes,” said Paul Babb, MAXON US president/CEO. “Art direction defines the look and feel of a film production, so we could not be more pleased that our 3D software played such a meaningful role in Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated Prometheus.” 

Steven Messing is currently providing VFX art direction on Gangster Squad and Oz: the Great and Powerful. 



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