Atomhawk worked on Guardians of the Galaxy for over a year, with a core team of four artists, creating key images, action shots, spacecraft and locations.

Here, we give an insight in to the inspiration behind the movie and how we went about visualising key moments, action shots and locations, helping to set the artistic direction of the film.

“Guardians of the what?”

When we heard that our next Marvel project, following our work on Thor, was to be Guardians of the Galaxy, the resounding response was “Guardians of the what?”

Even the most clued up Marvel fans among us were unfamiliar with the slightly obscure comic that had undergone several rebirths over the years.

However, our enthusiasm soon recovered as we came to realise that the history, or lack of, behind this particular gang of superheroes would give us exactly the kind of blank canvas we like to work with.

A blank canvas

Director, James Gunn, conveyed his vision for the film in this words:

“Guardians of the Galaxy would be about color, and life. In-your-face, over-the-top, unrepentant COLOR”.

The brief to us was to avoid the usual references to Blade Runner Alien and Logan’s run and focus on the aesthetics of Pulpy science fiction films like Forbidden Planet, Fantastic Voyage and even Barbarella!

We would have an explicitly postmodern palette, contrasting colours and a history of architecture from fantastical, galactic cultures.

All this, as well as futuristic technology juxtaposed with retro design of the 80’s, embodied in Quill’s iconic Walkman.

Doing things the Marvel Way

So, where did we start with reimagining a universe for a big budget Marvel movie?

The challenge wasn’t just to create awesome concept art which could effectively guide the art and production team. With a movie, time is also of the essence: actors have to be booked, sets have to be built and there was no room for delay.

The technique of working to a gated process, where images are created in response to a brief and then iterated on until it meets approval, just takes too long.

Instead we used a process of creative convergence, funnelling ideas to hone the design. Designs were time-boxed and during this time, many ideas were created, giving us the opportunity to spot a creative gem.

The importance of key images

Our main area of responsibility was space-craft and location design. However, we began with a “key art” image with the aim of giving the artists a chance to stretch their creativity and express the vision to the whole production team.

We did a series of explorations centred around the young Quill’s abduction by space pirates, the intention being to capture the overall mood, without getting stuck on details.​

Without this kind of initial exploration, finding the overall vision which everyone could work to would have been a much harder task.

The Kyln

The first key location we worked on was the maximum security space prison, The Kyln.

We used the same process of creative convergence as we did for the key images. As well as allowing us to rapidly generate ideas, it also has the benefit of purging any preconceptions that the artist may have. Once they have exhausted the obvious, then the unusual starts to surface.

Atomhawk artist, Pete Thompson, worked directly with Production Designer, Charlie Wood, in coming up with this very heavy, ominous shape that had a feeling of familiarity. Reminiscent of a kind of “Space Alcatraz” but instead of being situated in deep, fast flowing water, this is protected by a deadly asteroid field.

Every detail of this location was meticulously planned, down to how the Nova Corp transporter would dock with it and its own ship-breaking yard where the Milano would be impounded.

The impound area takes inspiration from modern, vertical car parks, made to feel dirtier and slightly chaotic.


The most iconic location we worked on was the giant floating head, of a long since expired, celestial being, known as Knowhere

We went through many iterations, with a focus on trying to find the right balance of tech vs organic. It needed to feel techy but also have a look of bony/decaying flesh underneath.

Inside the giant head, entered via the docking bay in one of its eye sockets, is a city.

This city needed to feel like an ancient industrial civilisation, and so we looked at references from both the ancient and developing industrial locations.

We wanted to capture the feeling of the new being built on top of the old, all under a thick, and potentially hazardous, industrial smog.

This city needed to feel like it has some history. So the building architecture needed variation and layering of different eras.

A lot of thought goes into devising, not only what an alien architecture might look like, but also what its evolution has been over centuries.

The Boot of Jemiah

Once inside the head, our heroes do what heroes do best…. head to the bar.
The Boot of Jemiah is a very dangerous place with all kinds of unsavoury galactic characters up to no good.

In the centre is a gambling table where small rodent like creatures run around the table while the gamblers control various traps built into it.

We had to think about the rules of the game in order to create a believable design for the table.

The Collectors Room

The ultimate goal of the Knowhere location, is for the Heroes to meet the “Collector” in his Museum.

We began with a concept of an old world, dusty, yet grand museum. However, it seemed implausible that the collector’s high tech lab equipment would be housed there. So we revisited the design to give a more Sci-Fi look.

Final Battle for Xandar

For the battle of Xandar we created a Key action shot of the Milano and other Pirate fighter craft, swooping into battle.

The illustration of the Ravager fighters and the Milano exiting the Ecclector, helped set the scene for the film’s final epic battle. The Ravager ships are suspended vertically, like bats hanging in a cave, to give this very tech-driven shot, a slightly sinister feel.

The bigger picture

These are just some of the highlights from the staggering amount of concept work that goes in to bring a movie like this to the big screen.

You can find out more about how we went about designing the iconic Milano, and other spacecraft featured in the movie in the next instalment coming soon!