Prometheus: An alien playground at Pinewood Studios

Prometheus: An alien playground at Pinewood Studios

Although Ridley Scott has long embraced cinema’s “new tricks and toys,” including computer-generated imagery, he is also known for his belief in filming what he calls “the real thing,” i.e. practical sets. Indeed, with so many of today’s epic genre films relying heavily on CGI, Prometheus is a rarity: it presents a massive sci-fi world where most of the sets, props and stunts are real. This provides an impressive tactile reality, with one set being more stunning than the next. As one production crew member puts it: “Ridley built the greatest alien playground in the world.”

The cast and crew were in awe of the efforts of production designer Arthur Max and his team of artisans. “It is hard to overstate the impact of walking on those sets,” says Ellenberg. “It was inspiring on so many levels. There are so many understated, instinctual things that happen when you are filming on real sets. Everyone behaves in a more natural, organic fashion because it feels like a piece of reality. Every design detail was based on real world reference points, real world ideas, and real world notions. Some of these are fairly lofty notions, but they’re from our world. And if you are looking to scare people and engage with them, viscerally and emotionally, practical sets are the only way to go.”

The production filmed on five stages at Pinewood Studios in the U.K., including the famed “007 Stage” (one of the biggest stages in Europe, at about 59,000 square feet). With studio space at a minimum, the filmmakers had to make five stages work for more than 16 sets, as well as increasing the size of the 007 Stage by at least a third. Principal photography commenced in August 2010, although preliminary work had begun much earlier.

Arthur Max designed not only the spaceships and vehicles but also the landscape of the planet to which the expedition travels, and the structures and spaceship they discover there. For the ship Prometheus, Max says he wanted “to do something that was state-of-the-art, which would represent a flagship spacecraft with every technology required to probe into the deepest corners of the galaxy. We looked at a lot of NASA and European Space Agency designs, and played around with those ideas in the context of what space travel would be like a generation from now.” Max then worked out the ship’s interior architecture and how it would play to the exterior form.

The bridge of the Prometheus is a two tiered set marked by extraordinary attention to detail and dazzling technology, including a gigantic wraparound jewel-like and faceted windscreen fronting the structure. Perhaps the most elaborate set on the Prometheus is Vickers’ quarters, which are more akin to a plush Fifth Avenue apartment than a cabin on an interstellar vehicle.

The space is resplendent with designer furnishings both old and new, including a Fazoili piano, Swarovski chandeliers – and a high-tech medical facility featuring a robotic medical pod (Med-pod) that can treat any medical need…or surgical emergency. The translucent casket-like pod figures in one of the film’s defining sequences, which mixes action, terror and horror in a way never before experienced on film. “What goes on there is simply the worst thing you can (or probably cannot) imagine,” says Rapace.

Other interior sets on the Prometheus include a laboratory, where the crew bring their findings for inspection; the ready room, where the crew get suited up in preparation for their mission; the hyper-sleep barracks, where David monitors the crew during their two year journey to the planet; the mess room, with an amazing array of high-tech equipment; and the space crew’s quarters.

Max’s epic sets that bring to life the alien planet include a Pyramid, which contains the Juggernaut, a ship similar to the crashed crescent shaped ship seen in Alien. Using a series of chambers, corridors and tunnels connecting the larger spaces to each other, and after post-production enhancement, the space is as enormous as the Empire State building. It was so cavernous that some crew lost their bearings.

Related Link: View the Full Production Notes for Prometheus