DC Comics superheroes Batman and Superman face off in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
, and longtime villain Lex Luthor also hatches an evil plot. But live-action is only one way the story is conveyed. The rest plays out through user interfaces (UI) and on the many screens seen throughout the film. A huge wall of screens glows red inside the otherwise dark Bat Cave.
Known for their innovative UI and HUD design for feature films and real-world technology, New York City-based Perception
was asked to create the UI for Batman and Lex Luther, as well as the look for several screens, including huge displays inside the Bat Cave, as well as the Bat Wing and Bat Mobile. Additional screens were designed for Wonder Woman’s laptop and drone POV. Using Cinema 4D, After Effects and Nuke, Perception spent 14 weeks working on the film. Technical schematics are displayed with stylistic touches by blending C4D’s various renders, including Physical and Sketch & Toon.
Here Perception’s Chief Creative Director, John LePore, explains the team’s design approach to the project, as well as how Perception creates visuals and motion graphics that play crucial roles in storytelling. As always, Perception’s approach to the fantastical was based on realistic depictions of current and future technology, which they arrived at by researching military avionics and fighter jet heads-up displays and tracking systems.
(Check out Perception’s case study on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice here
You’ve worked with Marvel several times, but this is your first project with Warner Brothers, right?
This was our first project with them. I think our work on films like Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man 2
and Men in Black
has put on the radar as the go-to shop for fictional user interface design. Right from the start, Warner Brothers VFX department really liked the level of thought and detail we were putting into our ideas. To create the film’s realistic-looking technology Perception researched military avionics and fighter jet displays and tracking systems.
What kind of creative direction did they give you?
They had done some work roughing out some of the sequences, and they explained the scenes we’d be working on. The edit was already mostly locked, and they knew how the story was going to unfold. We wanted to know which aspects of the story were most important so we could design interfaces and screens to help expand and enhance the action and storytelling.
Perception’s Art Director, Russ Gautier, used Cinema 4D to depict Kryptonite and other xeno-materials being analyzed in the film.
How did you approach designing the UI for characters as different as Batman and Lex Luthor?
Each interface was designed to play to the character’s distinct personality. We worked with the studio to develop an aesthetic for the Bat Cave, which is tactical and precise, almost militaristic. There are a lot of screens everywhere and his interface is black. Lex Luthor’s interface is just the opposite, white and clean and bright, almost playful in an over-the-top way. The differences are important because there are times in the film when one operating system is being used as a portal to the other and viewers need to understand what they’re seeing.
Screens in the Bat Cave show Batman flying the Bat Wing and an array of complex data. The map (lower right) is entirely 3D in order to pivot in the film. Here, a screen in the Bat Cave displays detailed information about ammunition.
One of the complex challenges was figuring out the design of Bruce Wayne’s computer when he is hacking into Lex Luthor’s computer, which you see happening on screen. It’s hard to visually convey something like that because manipulating someone else’s computer from your own is such an abstract concept. We wanted to bring as much clarity and elegance to the scene as we could.
Multi-layered UI panels helped mirror Lex Luthor’s scattered personality and were simple to arrange and choreograph using After Effects’ Shape Layers.
What software do you use for initial design and what do you move on to from there?
We do a tremendous amount of design in several different pieces of software. We usually start with Illustrator and Photoshop, but even in the earliest phases of the design process we incorporate Cinema 4D to generate complex environments and layout individual elements and widgets. Once we’re past the design phase we do a lot of animation in C4D, and some animation in After Effects. Mostly we use After Effects for compositing, adding graphic elements and creating final assets. If we’re integrating assets into live action we use Nuke for final output.
Talk a little bit about the dramatic wall of screens in the Bat Cave.
There are screens everywhere inside the Bat Cave and the centerpiece is a massive panoramic wall display that fills the back wall. All kinds of diagnostic information can be seen on those screens. The studio gave us a lot of freedom to do what we wanted to do with the different screens as long as they supported the story.
Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Alfred (Jeremy Irons) use diagnostic screens in the Bat Cave to repair the Bat Mobile.
Rather than create photographic depictions of Batman’s gadgets, Perception made stylized diagrams and schematics to reinforce the complexity of each weapon or tool.
We treated the expansive wall in the Batcave as an all-purpose dashboard for Bruce Wayne. The wall’s modular layout can be reconfigured based on the character’s needs, whether that’s doing an inventory on an endless array of munitions or performing pre-flight diagnostics on the Batwing. The contrast of elements allows granular lists and icons to become textural while the viewers eyes are drawn to vivid diagrams and visualizations.
What’s your favorite technical visualization in the film?
I really like the car chase scene where a villain is targeting the Bat Mobile with a massive military-grade bazooka. You see the flight profiles of the missiles, so we needed to understand how those targeting systems operate.
No one would ever actually use a military-grade weapon to shoot at a car, but we wanted to know how it would function and how it would really look through the scope. The Bat Mobile is agile, so it’s able to evade the missiles.
This POV through the bazooka’s scope shows that the villain had a clear shot at the Bat Mobile.
There was a practical Bat Mobile on set, but we used C4D’s tracking tools to track a model onto it so it would be highlighted and visualized through the scope of a bazooka.
What are you working on now?
The team at Perception is working on a lot of real-world technologies right now, from new advances in virtual reality to autonomous cars. On the cinematic side, we’re working on Dr. Strange and have just rebranded Marvel Studios with a very epic logo animation.
Meleah Maynard is a freelance writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.