Many of the vfx for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus were created in the UK. Here’s how the director’s Promethean universe was created
Prometheus is Ridley Scott’s first venture into science fiction filmmaking in over three decades. The legendary British director of Blade Runner (1982) and Alien (1979) has cited the latter as “the jumping off point” for the $120m film, which was shot in 3D on Red Epic cameras.
The sci-fi world of Prometheus was created at Pinewood and on location shoots in England, Iceland, Spain, and Scotland. But special effects also played a crucial role in creating the look of the film and, like the shoot, took place around the world.
The UK’s MPC was the lead facility, while the other main vfx houses involved were Fuel in Australia and Weta Digital in New Zealand. MPC, which had previously worked on Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, began pre-production on Prometheus in November 2010, delivering the last of its 418 shots in April 2012. In all, MPC’s total crew on the film was 120 people.
They had to create some of the most iconic images in the film: the planets, moons, space, star fields, sandstorms, as well as the two key space ships that are central to the action, Prometheus itself and alien craft the Juggernaut.
MPC’s vfx supervisor Charley Henley says the effects were created in a typical visual effects production line process that saw the work pass from team to team in the company. In pre-production, the ‘asset build’ team began animating and creating the key effects, which were approved by Scott himself. Meanwhile, a team in India handled the majority of match moving and roto, preparing the groundwork for the insertion of the vfx. Their work was then handed to a layout team in London, who placed the pieces. This passed on to lighting and finally to a team of 40 compositors to finish it all off. “It’s a really large multi-team process,” says Henley. “And each team is very specialised.”
Scott, he says, was keen for the effects to look as real as possible and to feel grounded in reality. The digital work was seen as an extension of the physical sets created in Pinewood or action scenes shot in the mountains of Iceland. Even the space environments created by MPC related in some way to reality, and were created after Scott spent time with NASA experts. “Our brief was always to find something real on earth – that could be extreme – to keep the vfx in check.”
Scott’s dark and gritty visual style also emphasised realism. “He always wanted things to look dirty and rough and used,” says Henley, who cites a key scene when the spaceship Prometheus smashes into the Juggernaut. The brief was to emphasise the debris and the total mayhem of the collision. “He would always say more is better, big it up and make it as hectic and gritty as possible.”
Scott was heavily involved in the vfx. “He was often based in London, and through pre-production came in to work on the pre-visualisation of some of the scenes. We had interactive sessions with him – we gave him a particular pad of paper and a pen and he would sketch camera angles and do storyboards on the fly that we would pick up and do cg versions of.” And, after the shoot, Scott was in MPC discussing the looks, grades and finishing of shots. Henley adds: “He’s a really fascinating and enjoyable director to work with for vfx because he is so visual himself. It’s very satisfying to have direct feedback into the look. He is so interested in the lighting and the mood of the scene that you straightaway find that his input gives you a style.”
Set in the late 21st century, Prometheus centres on the crew of the spaceship Prometheus as they follow a star map discovered among the remnants of several ancient Earth civilisations. Led to a distant world and an advanced civilisation, the crew seeks the origins of humanity, but instead discovers a threat that could cause the extinction of the human race.
Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender
KEY MPC SUPERVISORS
VFX prod manager