The exclusive content, reveals some new information regarding the ‘Planet’ where all the action happens, filmed in a Icelandic location. See below ‘The Art of Prometheus: The Planet’ by Joe Utichi, where production designer Arthur Max explains part of the location process and the art direction of the film:
When the crew of the Prometheus land on the alien planet at the core of their expedition, they find an inhospitable, barren environment and a strange, vast alien structure. It will, assures director Ridley Scott, look like nothing we’ve seen before in science fiction, and the production went to great lengths to shoot on location in Iceland, at a location so remote that the cast, crew and equipment had to be airlifted in.
The Icelandic location, it transpires, wasn’t the first choice. “We were planning to shoot in Morocco,” reveals production designer Arthur Max. “But with all the geopolitical turmoil in North Africa, we weren’t able to do so. We’d scouted it several times with everybody and had worked out all our locations, and we’ve had to rethink.”
The change means a very different aesthetic to the look of the planet – Morocco’s deserts have been replaced by the cold, icy rock of the Iceland location. “When we first scouted Iceland it was winter, and 20 below, and you couldn’t see anything,” remembers Max. “But thank God we’d pre-scouted it. When we went back we nailed the locations and got Ridley over there and he liked them.”
In addition to shooting on location in Iceland, the production took over the 007-Stage at Pinewood Studios, just outside London. At 374ft long, it is the largest soundstage in Europe and boasts more than 59,000 sq ft of usable space. For PROMETHEUS, it wasn’t big enough by half.
The production started on the backlot behind the stage, constructing the Prometheus’s cargo bay and a small replica of the planet surface. This spilled onto an extension built to house more of an alien pyramid mound interior set, before finally connecting, and filling, the main space inside 007-Stage.
“It’s never big enough,” sighs Scott. “I worked on it once, years ago, for a film called LEGEND, and I burnt it down. Even then I was thinking, ‘Damn, it’s not long enough.’”
In the end, the production added 150ft to the stage’s length. “I knew, looking from end to end, it was never going to be big enough for this set,” says Scott. “I hate working with green screen. I like the actors to have their proscenium and see what they’re doing; see the arena they’re in. It’s partly that. To do that blue screen thing and say, ‘the monster’s coming down the corridor!’ It’s really boring.”
“The scale meant we could do a nice, big exploration scene in there,” explains Max. “We’ve got a 250ft network of tunnelling in there, 150ft of chambers and 25ft high doors.”
For Michael Fassbender, Scott’s attention to detail in the set design of the planet surface was second to none. “Have you gone into 007-Stage yet?” he exclaims with disbelief. “You have to see the space colon, as I call it!”
The practicality of the set makes his job easier as an actor, he explains. “What’s great is Ridley will do something on a piece of fishing line if it works, and stick a bit of green screen up in the corner. He knows technology but what’s great about him is he’s very primal. Even the technology in the film, you’re like, ‘That’s totally feasible.’”
To be able to look around at the set in 360 degrees is essential, he argues. “To have these things all around you helps, without a doubt. It’s like putting on the costume. Or if you do a period piece, to be surrounded by the objects that they would have used at that time; all of that helps you get that extra layer on the character. If it’s not there then you have to work on it but it just takes that little section out that you have to work on.”
Arthur Max says he and Ridley Scott have learnt, over many years of working together on films like GLADIATOR, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, and BLACK HAWK DOWN, that sometimes it’s better to achieve something practically than with CGI. “I think balance is the key in how much you build,” he says. “You have to get a convincing base, and when you speak to the visual effects department, they’ll tell you that they want enough reference material to work from. It’s especially tough on this, because almost every shot has a visual component and everything has to be constructed from scratch. You can’t go to a backlot and you can’t go to a prop house.“
The centrepiece of the alien set at Pinewood was a 32ft tall monolithic head, which can be glimpsed in posters for the film. This was built practically by Arthur Max’s team. “The idea there is that it’s part of the culture of the Engineers,” says Max of the race of aliens at the heart of the story. “This race of interplanetary visitors who have given us upgrades – mentally and physically – over the millennium.”
Constructing the “pyramid mound” – its shape was described as a pyramid in the script, explains Max, but the final conception is a little different, hence the contradictory descriptor – took 16 weeks to complete with more than two hundred technicians working on it.
In attempting to understand PROMETHEUS’s connection to ALIEN, for which H.R. Giger designed the reptilian, skeletal and iconic look of the Xenomorph alien, Max says he had a clear direction from Scott. “Ridley said, ‘I don’t want it to be too Giger-y, but I don’t want to give it all up either.”
The art department looked at design work Giger had achieved for the first ALIEN film, in the form of archival files retrieved from the Motion Picture Academy Library and from the personal collections of those who’d worked on the first film. Ridley also screened some of the genre’s most definitive works. “He had accumulated a lot of research based on the original movie and the whole series,” remembers Max. “We watched all those movies. Ridley had us screen ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, and a lot of movies with ‘STAR’ in the title. There’s three of them. I’ll let you figure out which ones!”
Watching the reference material was as much about discovering what not to do. “We didn’t want to be like any one of those,” Max explains. “We wanted to be new and fresh because, I hate to admit it, otherwise it really dates us. We decided to make it less biological, in terms of the styling of the alien planet, and more mechanical.”
Max summarises the key challenge of envisioning the alien environment: “The people who inhabit this planet, called the Engineers, and their technology, is beyond anything we’re able to know or understand, but it has to be visually interesting. That’s, I think, the hardest challenge, too, because we have to compete with the most iconic science fiction creature ever. Trying to come up with something that’s going to rival that is the real trick.”
Ridley Scott, director of ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner,’ returns to the genre he helped define. With Prometheus, he creates a groundbreaking mythology, in which a team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a thrilling journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.
The film stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, and Charlize Theron.
Prometheus opens June 7, 2012