Of course we couldn’t just let this go. We picked the brain of David Sheldon-Hicks, Founder and Creative Director of Territory Studio to ask about working on top secret projects and what it’s like playing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
No spoilers, I promise.
As well as designing the HitFilm logo, Territory Studio’s portfolio includes Prometheus, Jupiter Ascending, Ex: Machina, and Guardians of the Galaxy to name a few. They’re a great team to work with, it’s always exciting to see what they’re up to with the big studios.
K: It doesn’t get much bigger than the Avengers. Did Marvel give you much context for your designs? Were you given explanations of the scenes or a peek at the script?
D: We toured the concept art room, which was covered in floor-to-ceiling artwork of characters, vehicles, and locations throughout the film. We also had several readings of the script. This allowed us to analyse the characters and think about the sort of data they might look at on screens and the types of technology they might use.
[Editor’s note: Simon is now hyperventilating]
K: Once you knew the set up, what was involved in terms of building the initial concept through to the final designs?
D: We start with mood boards and visual research to understand quickly if we’re in the right area. We run these by the production designer and art director to get their feedback.
At first we were quite flamboyant with our designs, but realised the tone of this film was a bit more gritty and real, so we started pulling images and content from real world displays, such as brain scans, ECG’s, blueprints and engineering drawings and started mixing it with more Marvel design aesthetics.
From there we develop our designs for each character and set. It’s important that we get a consistent look across several screens. This allows the graphics look like they’ve been designed by the same software company. We animate content in 3D and then comp it into 2D for final UI animations.
K: How was interface designs used to evoke the character of each Avenger?
D: Each character had their own colour palette. Green for Banner (no surprises there), orange and blue for Stark and Cho, had vivid blues and pinks to give it a medical tone. Joss Whedon wanted this film to be bedded in a more authentic, real place so we took a lot of colour and tonal references from real-world industrial software.
K: Territory created more than 200 screens and 80 minutes of unique animations across all 11 sets. How difficult was it to stay on schedule with such a heavy workload?
D: When a director says ‘Action’, you have to be ready! We’ve completed a lot of films now so we’ve developed a solid process for delivering many screens in a day turnaround. We always prefer to plan our work, but sometimes shoot schedules change quickly and we need to adapt. Fortunately, we work in a modular way so having several people working on the same set is achievable.
K: With that in mind, how long does it typically take to design and produce one screen?
D: For scripted graphics it can be 1 – 2 weeks. For more background work the average is a day for 2 animations (design and animation).
K: Were you given fairly free creative reign on these designs or did you work closely with Marvel?
D: The people we worked with closely were the production designer Charlie and art director Alan. They made sure that what we were doing tied into all other departments – such as costume and set designs. Compuhire, who we’ve worked with since Prometheus, ensures the graphics are delivered on-set for playback in front of the actors.
In the meantime, if you haven’t had your fill of the Avengers, do check out this interview with Christopher Boyes, supervising sound editor. It’s a field rarely covered in behind-the-scenes material, so it’s a refreshing insight into a vital part of any film’s post-production: