The Wachowskis' latest science fiction experience, Jupiter Ascending, may stumble as a film, but it's certainly a feast for the eyes. As we join Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) on her journey across the galaxy, we're treated to glimpses of far away worlds and space-age cities. Most of all, we become intimately familiar with the spectacularly intricate ships that whisk humans across space.
Many of those designs came from the mind of conceptual designer George Hull. Over the years, his work has helped shape the visual language of sci-fi films. He got his start at George Lucas' legendary visual effects studio, Industrial Light & Magic, and has had a hand in everything from the special edition of The Empire Strikes Back and The Matrix sequels to Avatar, Elysium, Cloud Atlas, and a couple of the Transformers films.
"The Wachowskis are always striving for over-the-top aesthetics."
Hull tells io9 in an interview (edited here for clarity) that the Wachowskis "are always striving for over-the-top aesthetics." He notes that they "wanted a visual style for their film that was unlike anything they had seen before." But, as Hull explains, that's no easy task. "Creating something fresh — even slightly — in a genre that has a lot of movie spaceships, robots, and technologies, was the most challenging aspect!"
But he wasn't starting from scratch — Hull tells The Verge that the concepts and ideas in the Wachowskis' script "were already bold and unique by the time I began designing." He adds, "They drive everything visually and had already imagined the big picture from day one."
As a key conceptual designer for the film, Hull had to take the Wachowskis' outline of the visual world of Jupiter Ascending and turn it into a cohesive whole. As he says, "my job is to bring fresh shapes, textures, and details to their ideas."
Hull's focus was on the ships in the film — a massive team is responsible for the final product that made it on screen, including nearly 20 additional conceptual designers and art directors under production designer Hugh Bateup. A large visual effects team brought the concepts to life on the big screen.
To create a unique visual language for the film's vehicles, Hull turned to some seemingly contradictory sources for inspiration. For some ships, Hull drew from forms in nature, like moths, butterflies, and even peacocks. But he also incorporated aspects of an architectural movement known as Brutalism. The result is massive, hulking ships with many delicate floating wings.
Despite the challenge, Hull says Jupiter Ascending was a "dream assignment" precisely because the Wachowskis were so demanding. "To be asked to help invent a bold new visual vocabulary for a world ... [that's] the highest prize for a conceptual designer."
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify George Hull's role in the creation of Jupiter Ascending.