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How UI Design Plays A Leading Role In “The Martian”

A geeky look at the many smaller screens that grace the big screen in Ridley Scott’s blockbuster hit.

If you are one of the millions who have watched The Martian since it hit theaters, you probably have an opinion on the performance of the star-studded cast or the believability of the CGI. But the interfaces powering the on-screen tech? Less likely. However, as Amanda Aszman writes in an excellent article for HOW, when you’re dealing with a movie about science and technology, UI plays a key role in moving developing the narrative.

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To design the 400 screens across eight sets during the filming of the movie, producer and director Ridley Scott tapped creative agency Territory, the same studio behind the UI of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy and Prometheus. The creatives had to develop realistic, credible graphic interfaces–meaning all of the images, text, code, engineering schematics, and 3-D visualizations that show up on laptops, smartphones and screens throughout the movie had to make sense. To do this accurately, Territory worked closely with NASA scientists who gave the team an enviable peek at the technologies it uses for space travel today, as well as a blueprint for possible technologies of the future.

“The greatest challenge was to create graphic interfaces that looked like they were genuine NASA screens as they will be in 30 years time,” Territory art director Marti Romances tells HOW. “So the amount of realism was key, but we had to push the design concepts further, [visualizing] near-future technology. Knowing that NASA is always one step ahead, we had to consider the technologies that are being tested now and those that haven’t even been developed yet and imagine ways to represent information, from a user interface and experience design perspective.”

Once the UI design was conceptualized, Romances and his team had to make sure the visual language on the screens was consistent across all of the sets in the movie. They did this by creating detailed UI style sheets, animating the screens and then executed them live on set for the actors to interact with. So when you see Matt Damon stare dramatically into a screen in The Martian, you can rest assured that what he sees is about as real as it would get, had NASA actually built this stuff itself.

Read the full article on HOW.

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About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.

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