A core team of four Atomhawk artists spent over a year working with Marvel, designing spacecraft, key locations and key action shots for Guardians of the Galaxy.
Here we talk about the inspiration and processes behind the design of some of the movie’s most memorable spacecraft.
Where to start
Our spacecraft designs for the film included the Milano, Yondu’s fighter, Ronan’s Dark Aster and the fly-like Necrocraft housed within it.
We had already explored reference material from Pulpy science fiction films like Forbidden Planet, Fantastic Voyage and Barbarella in our initial key image work and taken on board Director, James Gunn’s vision of “in-your-face, over-the-top, unrepentant COLOR”.
The architecture and spacecraft of the movie needed to draw on a history of architecture from fantastical, galactic cultures; a futuristic technology juxtaposed with the retro design of the 80’s.
As most of these craft needed to be built as a partial set, or even a full set in the case of the Milano, our artists needed to create very precise drawings that were almost architectural in nature.
The set builders needed to use these images to really understand what they should be trying to achieve.
The Milano is the film’s most iconic spacecraft. So much screen time is spent inside it and watching our heroes do battle in it, that it almost becomes a character in its own right. The set built from our final concepts was so detailed; it even came with working switches and real leather trim on the seats!
The challenge with concepting the Milano was to create a fighter plane/rocket ship that was both beautiful and functional. It needed to be a boy’s dream, colourful and stylish, not the kind of standardised, grey aircraft we have today.
So instead, we looked back to the 1940s and 1950s for our inspiration, to an era when air and space travel were idolised; still full of aspiration and style.
We combined beautiful classic curves with futuristic materials, producing hundreds of sketches over the course of several months exploring how to effectively blend the design principles of the past and the future.
We spent so much time painting so many versions of the Milano, that we even developed a specific process for rapidly concepting spacecraft.
The evil Ronan’s ship, Dark Aster, creates a stark contrast to the Milano. It needed to have great scale and presence and to look like a plant destroyer.
The production of the Dark Aster began with some fairly out-there designs, created by multiple artists. These designs were steadily honed and refined through a funnel-like process.
The above image had a very interesting, crab like shape but too much character and didn’t feel ominous enough. We did, however, like the repetitive surface materials and so this idea passed through the funnel and in to later iterations.
The great ominous and faceless shape of the design above worked well and also incorporated some interesting geometric repetition in the surface details. All these elements again filtered into the ongoing process.
The final, monolithic and unstoppable craft took references from cathedrals, submarines, aircraft carriers and concrete buildings, but all supersized to create an indisputably epic scale.
The Necrocraft are the fighter-craft housed inside Dark Aster which feature prolifically in the battle scenes against the Milano.
We needed to produce something as unique as Dark Aster itself, but in total contrast to its scale and domination.
The Necrocraft should move like insects, able to move and turn with the agility of a fly.
The narrow body and low-slung wings in a V format give it the look of an upside down insect and create a total contrast with the streamlined, expansive wings and vibrant colour of the Milano.
The imaged above also helped inspire James Gunn for the Ronan/Thanos scene in Sanctuary which appears in the movie.
The spacecraft play an integral role in the movie, acting as a reflection and extension of their owner’s personality and helping to tell the story. You can find out more about how we influenced the artistic direction of the film with concepts for key moments, action shots and locations here.