3D World

- Design · Avengers: Infinity War · The Avengers · Timely Marvel Comics · Blade Runner 2049 · Blade Runner · Oblivion · Steven Spielberg · Minority Report · Tom Cruise · Rogue One · Star Wars · Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope · Robert Downey Jr. · Iron Man · Marvel Cinematic Universe · Captain Marvel · Captain Marvel · Joseph Kosinski · Red Digital Cinema Camera Company · Marvel Universe · Harry Houdini

MAS­TER OF THE CRAFT

As men­tioned, UI de­sign tends to be a sub­set of the larger of­fer­ing from the world’s VFX ven­dors. But if you’re not in­ter­ested in su­per­heroes de­stroy­ing cities or di­nosaurs fight­ing, don’t de­spair. It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble to make a name as a UI spe­cial­ist.

“Most pre­vi­ous clients and frankly even new ones come to us specif­i­cally be­cause that’s what they know we do,” says Steve Lawes, cre­ative di­rec­tor and co-owner of VFX provider Cantina Cre­ative. Cantina has a great rep­u­ta­tion af­ter work­ing on Avengers: In­fin­ity War and Endgame, Ho­tel Artemis, Cap­tain Mar­vel, Blade Run­ner 2049 and count­less other hits, but they have also carved out a name for great UI de­sign.

Bradley G Munkowitz is a film­maker and pho­tog­ra­pher as well as a UI de­signer work­ing un­der the name GMUNK, and since his well-re­ceived con­tri­bu­tion to di­rec­tor Joseph Kosin­ski’s Obliv­ion

(2013), he’s carved out a unique niche. He pre­vi­ously worked with Kosin­ski on 2010’s Tron: Legacy

and has just com­pleted work on the di­rec­tor’s se­quel to 1986’s Top Gun, Top Gun: Mav­er­ick.

Munkowitz’s tal­ent has thus al­lowed him to focus on pur­su­ing work in the niche area that in­ter­ests him, so he’s liv­ing proof that you don’t have to be­come a VFX jack-of-all-trades to prove your­self. VFX as a whole has never re­ally in­ter­ested him, and he uses a lot of terms from the worlds of graphic de­sign and print lay­out like ‘grid’ and ‘ty­pog­ra­phy’ – a very dif­fer­ent start­ing point from the mo­tion graph­ics prin­ci­ples that tend to un­der­lie most CGI work. “I’m in­ter­ested by the di­rect­ing in vis­ual ef­fects but not the ex­e­cu­tion,” he ex­plains. “I’m in­spired by user in­ter­faces be­cause I love graphic de­sign and grid­based de­sign.”

But the trick to keep in mind is to re­mem­ber that as a de­signer, you’re also a sto­ry­teller. You’re sim­ply us­ing UI de­sign tools in­stead of Fi­nal Draft or a RED cam­era to tell that story.

Matt Check­owski’s back­ground is as var­ied as Munkowitz’s – he’s a writer and di­rec­tor as well as an ac­claimed UI de­signer, so his ap­proach to ev­ery project is how it best tells a story. His com­pany, The Depart­ment of the 4th Di­men­sion, was set up as his film­mak­ing ca­reer was tak­ing off so he could con­tinue to focus on de­sign in ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing.

He’s also some­what fa­mous in VFX cir­cles for com­ing up with the UI de­sign for Steven Spiel­berg’s Mi­nor­ity Re­port (2002), which not only had some of the most ‘sto­ryem­bed­ded’ vis­ual ef­fects ever, it ac­tu­ally came true – only a hand­ful of years af­ter the se­quence of Tom Cruise point­ing and swip­ing to con­trol the dream images from the minds of the ‘pre­cogs’ Arthur,

Dashiell and Agatha, we were all do­ing the same thing af­ter the ar­rival of the iphone.

“We played with the VFX,” is how Check­owski de­scribes the process of de­sign­ing and ex­e­cut­ing that iconic scene, where he and his team brought their own film­mak­ing skills to bear. “It wasn’t the tra­di­tional process of lock­ing the edit, send­ing it to VFX to do their stuff and get­ting it back to give notes. Ev­ery­thing hap­pened in con­cert. The best ad­vice I can of­fer is think like a film­maker, not like a VFX artist.”

And Check­owski’s team talked the talk, sub­mit­ting a pitch for the pre­cog dream se­quence as a fully re­alised short film that you can view on­line (see the ‘showreels’ side­bar on the next page).

THE DNA OF THE STORY

But just like in other VFX, there’s a strange kind of ten­sion in UI de­sign. You want to do your best work and of course you want it to be seen and no­ticed – your work on screen is the best ad­ver­tise­ment for your ser­vices, af­ter all. But if you wait for a di­rec­tor to hire you be­cause they re­ally want to show­case your stuff, you’ll soon starve. They want you to de­sign UI that fits seam­lessly in the story they’re telling. In fact, the ax­iom from way back in the pre-cgi spe­cial ef­fects days very much ap­plies – if you’ve done your job prop­erly, it’ll be in­vis­i­ble.

Take Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. When the doomed Rogue One crew trans­mit the Death Star plans to the Tan­tive IV in or­bit over the Im­pe­rial data fa­cil­ity on the planet Scarif, the screen show­ing the data trans­fer as the pan­icked rebel sol­diers look on with im­pa­tience per­fectly matches the style and aes­thetic we saw al­most 45 years ago in the orig­i­nal film.

To­day au­di­ences ex­pect far more bells and whis­tles from UI de­sign in sci­ence fic­tion, be­cause the rudi­men­tary graph­ics tech­nol­ogy from 1977 seem quaint by com­par­i­son. But in the Star Wars canon the events of A New Hope take place im­me­di­ately af­ter those of Rogue One, so it would have made no sense for the Death Star graph­ics to now look decades more ad­vanced.

Or take the ex­am­ple of the HUDS from Tony Stark’s Iron Man suits. When Cantina first worked in the MCU there was a lot of past work to draw upon. “The suits in­flu­ence what we do and the [es­tab­lished] de­sign lan­guage of it sort of tran­scends what we do,” says Lawes.

But how do you strike that bal­ance? Ev­ery­one we spoke to who’s suc­cess­ful in the field had one thing in com­mon – they con­sider their job as to serve the needs of the script. And as com­mend­able as that is, it’s not al­ways easy. Lawes says Cantina can only do it when they have all the nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion and con­text. “A bit of back­story is al­ways the most help­ful sce­nario be­cause we un­der­stand what we’re de­sign­ing for. Things don’t feel quite so suc­cess­ful when we don’t have enough con­text or don’t know the en­tire story.”

“THE BEST AD­VICE I CAN OF­FER IS THINK LIKE A FILM­MAKER, NOT LIKE A VFX ARTIST”

Matt Check­owski, di­rec­tor/UI de­signer

In fact Lawes says that when Cantina doesn’t get that con­text (it’s more com­mon than you think in to­day’s world of scenes split among so many providers, and the over­all plots on some movies be­ing so se­cre­tive) they’ll come up with their own, just so they have a story-based ba­sis to build UI de­sign from.

Of­ten, the only ref­er­ence ma­te­rial that Cantina will get is an edit and some postviz treat­ment, and then the chal­lenge is to over­come what he calls ‘post love’. “They’ve lived with it for so long in the edit they can’t get out of that,” he says. “So we’re of­ten go­ing ‘no, there’s a dif­fer­ent way of look­ing at this.’ That’s a pretty con­stant bat­tle we fight.”

De­spite Mi­nor­ity Re­port be­ing Check­owski’s first on-screen UI de­sign project (he’d mainly done main ti­tles prior), he had what sounds like a fairly charmed time. Re­al­is­tic UI de­sign was baked into the project from the get-go, when di­rec­tor Steven Spiel­berg as­sem­bled 16 fu­ture tech­nol­ogy and be­hav­iour ex­perts and locked them in a room until they emerged with a care­fully thought-out pic­ture of what the year 2054 would look like.

As soon as that was done and ac­claimed pro­duc­tion de­signer Alex Mc­dow­ell came on board to sketch it all out, he re­cruited Check­owski and his team to help bring it all to life as sto­ry­tellers, not just an ef­fects crew. “It’s a tes­ta­ment to ev­ery­one in­volved in the early con­cept phases,” he says. “It re­ally wasn’t just snapped on and I think that’s part of the rea­son why it still sings, they were there to sup­port the amaz­ing vis­ual ex­e­cu­tions.”

But not ev­ery project is so easy. Hav­ing be­come one of the pre­ferred providers of ser­vices to the ul­tra-se­cre­tive Mar­vel Uni­verse, Lawes and his col­leagues of­ten win as­sign­ments that are very light on story de­tails. “We treat ev­ery project ex­actly the same, but it doesn’t take long be­fore you re­alise ‘okay, it’s go­ing to be one of those…’,” he says (we should has­ten to add that he’s not sin­gling Mar­vel out by name).

A lack of con­tex­tual de­tail about a project can also re­veal deeper sys­temic prob­lems with the whole project. As Lawes’ col­league Alan Tor­res told VICE on­line, “that’s when you start hear­ing, ‘Oh, yeah, make the text big­ger, big­ger, big­ger, BIG­GER!’ Maybe that’s when they re­alise the writ­ing isn’t so strong.”

And all the while, you have to be think­ing about how the UI you’re build­ing would work for real users in the world of your story. But you have to be think­ing of the au­di­ence even more. “We do think of hu­man psy­chol­ogy when we cre­ate these projects and con­sider where things need to be mapped and what makes sense in terms of vis­ual hi­er­ar­chy,” Tor­res told VICE. “But some­times we just go ‘screw that, this is what the story needs.’ In real life it’s the com­plete op­po­site and a lot harder to cre­ate a work­ing prod­uct. De­vel­op­ment takes years as op­posed to weeks.”

TOOLS AND METH­ODS

In most cases, the work­flow to con­cept, cre­ate and de­liver UI de­sign to a movie or show is much the same as any vis­ual ef­fects gig. To Lawes, the best sce­nario is when you’re bounc­ing ideas back and forth with the pro­duc­tion rather than just get­ting an as­sign­ment, toil­ing in iso­la­tion and re­act­ing to notes.

Munkowitz got to do so for Obliv­ion in a way that would make most UI de­sign­ers jeal­ous, be­cause di­rec­tor Kosin­ski wanted the UI

“A BIT OF BACK­STORY IS AL­WAYS THE MOST HELP­FUL SCE­NARIO BE­CAUSE WE UN­DER­STAND WHAT WE’RE DE­SIGN­ING FOR”

Steve Lawes, cre­ative di­rec­tor, Cantina Cre­ative

graph­ics played right on set with the ac­tors, rather than the usual method of trans­pos­ing/an­i­mat­ing them in post-pro­duc­tion. It meant work­ing with DP Clau­dio Mi­randa way back in pre­pro­duc­tion, fig­ur­ing out how to best dis­play and shoot the UIS in situ on set.

As far as the crit­i­cal tools and tech­niques go, Lawes says he and his artists spend 80 per cent of their time in Af­ter Ef­fects and Cin­ema 4D and a lit­tle less time in util­i­ties like PF Track or spe­cial­ist tools like Hou­dini where the project war­rants it. Prior to that, al­most ev­ery­one we spoke to said it all be­gins with doo­dling and pen­cil sketches, then moves onto ba­sic wire­frames or an­i­mat­ics for client ap­provals, be­fore go­ing into full­ren­der pro­duc­tion.

Munkowitz, again re­fer­ring more to the rich legacy of print lay­out than mo­tion graph­ics, says he works mostly in Il­lus­tra­tor, cre­at­ing el­e­ments to then bring into Pho­toshop or Af­ter Ef­fects to give them the op­ti­cal qual­i­ties needed.

“We al­ways start with sketches,” he says. “You know, in­for­ma­tion, hi­er­ar­chy, us­abil­ity, user ex­pe­ri­ence. We go from ‘how does it work?’ to ‘what does it look like?’ What kind of ty­pog­ra­phy are we look­ing at? What kind of di­viders and colour pal­ettes and struc­ture? Then, once I have a rough idea of what we’re go­ing to do I de­sign the grid. The grid does the work that the in­ter­face will ex­ist within and once you have that, you just kind of pick the time and pop­u­late the grid in beau­ti­ful ways.”

Of course, ev­ery pro­duc­tion and di­rec­tor (as well as ev­ery other el­e­ment) is dif­fer­ent, and that can make the work­flow quite var­ied for each project, ac­cord­ing to Lawes. “Some de­sign­ers love to start with lit­tle thumb­nails, oth­ers start straight in Pho­toshop or Il­lus­tra­tor, some take a bunch of pho­to­graphs of tex­tures or re­flec­tions for source ma­te­rial for in­spi­ra­tion.”

And above all, re­mem­ber that you can end up too deep down a small rab­bit hole. De­sign in­spi­ra­tion comes from ev­ery­where. Munkowitz and Check­owski run stu­dios where they do far more than UI de­sign for movies, and all that knowl­edge of film­mak­ing, art in­stal­la­tions, ad­ver­tis­ing tech­nolo­gies and more cross pol­li­nate and aug­ment the artistry in ev­ery other area.

In fact, Check­owski goes even fur­ther. He stud­ied de­sign at univer­sity but took classes in ev­ery­thing from me­te­o­rol­ogy to psy­chol­ogy. “I learned a lot about de­sign through those, and then I went through a soft­ware class,” he says. “Learn how to be a sto­ry­teller and not just use the soft­ware.”

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 ??  ?? Right: An­drea Rise­bor­ough as Vic­to­ria in Obliv­ion (2013), with a wall panel data dis­play de­signed by Bradley G Munkowitz (GMUNK)
Right: An­drea Rise­bor­ough as Vic­to­ria in Obliv­ion (2013), with a wall panel data dis­play de­signed by Bradley G Munkowitz (GMUNK)
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 ??  ?? Left: The vis­ual data dis­plays for Obliv­ion were de­signed and ren­dered dur­ing pre­pro­duc­tion and ac­tu­ally dis­played/ pro­jected on set to give the ac­tors some­thing real to re­act to
Left: The vis­ual data dis­plays for Obliv­ion were de­signed and ren­dered dur­ing pre­pro­duc­tion and ac­tu­ally dis­played/ pro­jected on set to give the ac­tors some­thing real to re­act to
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 ??  ?? Top: Footage of Tom Cruise as Jack in Obliv­ion, treated and com­bined with on­screen graph­ics for a ro­bots-eye view
Above: The HUD in Jack’s bub­ble ship was pro­jected di­rectly onto the glass cock­pit dome on set
Top: Footage of Tom Cruise as Jack in Obliv­ion, treated and com­bined with on­screen graph­ics for a ro­bots-eye view Above: The HUD in Jack’s bub­ble ship was pro­jected di­rectly onto the glass cock­pit dome on set
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 ??  ?? Be­low: Check­owski de­signed the point and swipe pre­crime footage in­ter­face
for Mi­nor­ity Re­port us­ing a sys­tem he called ‘zoetrope’, which al­lows An­der­ton to in­habit and synch-up dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives of the crime
Be­low: Check­owski de­signed the point and swipe pre­crime footage in­ter­face for Mi­nor­ity Re­port us­ing a sys­tem he called ‘zoetrope’, which al­lows An­der­ton to in­habit and synch-up dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives of the crime
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