How Science Fiction Is Influencing Smartphones Of The Future

It has been said that a circle has no end, but where did it begin? Take the circle of art and technology, for example: which one influences the other more, and which one came first? Is it just one big feedback loop where science fiction will always conceptualise technology, or do technologists and developers dramatise art in their own creations? Will a visual effects studio ever be contracted to create the next version of Android, iOS or Windows? So many beautiful interfaces are spied in films, but what are the chances of the next big thing being something from a movie?

Paul Butterworth is a visual effects artist with some impressive credits to his name. He's worked side-by-side with Ridley Scott to create the holographic effects in Prometheus, right through to working on Thor, Rabbit-Proof Fence and Farscape. Speaking last night at the Prometheus Blu-ray launch, he revealed that both he and Ridley Scott in creating the beautiful holographic interfaces seen in the film were inspired by everything from fighter jets down to Apple's iPad.

Credit: Lockheed Martin

The F-22 Raptor fighter jet is an impressive machine. It's a $US150 million, Mach 1.82 war machine and served as the inspiration for the graphics on the Prometheus' holotable. The shiny blue heads-up display loaded with numbers, figures and data was perfect for transplant into a dark, alien environment.

The F-22-inspired graphics form a map of the pyramid that the crew of the Prometheus explore in order to find the Engineers who created human life. Data on the shape and size of the stone corridors is pulled from explorer drones that float around the joint, projecting LIDAR-like signals all over the walls in order to determine the shape, size and occupancy of the ancient structure.

Of course it's not the first time that the heads-up display of the Raptor has inspired artists and designers. The Lamborghini Aventador — the company's latest four-wheeled, V12 supercar — liberally applies the interface from the Raptor into the dashboard instruments, for example.

Credit: FuelVFX/20th Century FoxCredit: FuelVFX/20th Century Fox
Credit: FuelVFX/20th Century FoxCredit: FuelVFX/20th Century Fox

Meanwhile, back on the Prometheus, blue hues, detailed numerical data, contrasting yellow markers and familiar ping sounds make up the holotable that the captain of the Prometheus uses to monitor the mission inside the pyramid. At one stage, a chamber is discovered that houses an ancient orrery — a map of the planets, stars and their resident life forms from the beginning of their history up to the present moment.

The orrery also bears the blue hues of the Raptor fighter jet, but that's where the similarities stop. The orrery is built around touch and gestures. What was the inspiration for the control system then if it wasn't the world's favourite fighter jet? Butterworth tells me that it was in fact both the iPad tablet and the humble app dock in Mac OS X.

Butterworth recalls getting a "Ridleygram" from director Ridley Scott — a sort of sketch for how he wanted something to look with a brief caption attached. On the Ridleygram, Scott talked about how he had just bought himself an iPad and asked if the orrery could be operated by pinching in and out. In the cinematic cut with the orrery, David the android selects an element of the holographic interface — the representation of Earth — and centres the whole machine around it.

Credit: FuelVFX/20th Century FoxCredit: FuelVFX/20th Century Fox

The orrery is also surrounded by lines indicating different species on the planets that the Engineers had created. These lines were inspired by the zoom functionality on the OS X app dock, Butterworth adds.

"In this film, form definitely followed function. We found an engineering idea that worked and then grew the design on top of that. We try to give it a sense of believability. Years ago when I worked on Farscape, we used to go on these flights of fantastical [with the technology] and we got nailed for that. We try now to make tech very believable so that it can last for five or maybe even ten years," he said.

So, now we know that one of the most beautiful sci-fi films in living memory pulls its inspirations from existing digital concepts and stylises them to make them look like plausible representations of the future. But what's to stop designers and developers from borrowing these hyper-stylised concepts as the virtual effects artists did from their creations, and apply them into the next great smartphone?

According to Butterworth, nothing at all. He believes that film and television have always influenced the next big thing in technology.

Credit: FuelVFX/20th Century FoxCredit: FuelVFX/20th Century Fox

"Occasionally you get questions [from developers] saying that our stuff would be a cool idea for an app, and sci-fi has proven in the past that it inspires technology. The classic one is the mobile phone. The guy who created one of the first mobile phones was a die-hard fan of Star Trek and always wanted [a tricorder]. If you look at the original Motorola flip-phones they're dead-set designs from Star Trek. So sci-fi in technology definitely has its place."

So the next time you see something beautiful in a movie, all you have to do is settle in and wait a few years for that amazing technology to get into your next smartphone or tablet. Here's to our holographic future.

What gadgets from movies do you want to exist?

Front page image: FuelVFX/20th Century Fox



    Peter F Hamilton' "The Reality Dysfunction" Had us implanted with micro electronics that buried themselves deep into the brain and allowed us to communicate without talking and use an internal computer to access any information you wanted and learn any skill just by plugging in an appropriate program. This is what I hope we are heading for!

      Timmah, you should read The Gap series by Stephen R. Donaldson.
      One character in particular pretty much gets turned into a cyborg.
      Lots of very interesting technical and ethical concepts involved.
      (pretty good story too and unusually, the last book is probably the best)

        Thanks for that, I'm currently working my way through his "Commonwealth Universe" series, having finished the "Confederation Universe" but I'll give yours a try sometime down the track. His books aren't the read in one night, or even one week type of light reading. :)

        The Gap series is definitely worth reading. The first in the series is actually a read in one night type book as it was initially a stand alone novella. The rest are pretty heavy weight though by comparison.
        Also explores some pretty dark psychological stuff and typically for Donaldson all his characters have pretty gaping character flaws that make things interesting.

          Ugh, Donaldson... in every series rape is used as a plot device. He's a great writer; deep, clear, dark, compelling, interesting. But sometimes too dark- lots of stuff about depression and despair.

      David Weber's 'Empire of Man' books have similar tech, but also take getting hacked to the next level, with the chip controlling the person, rather than vice versa. I, too, hope for such an interface, but we better be damn sure about our security

      See also: Ghost in the Shell (film) & Stand Alone Complex (series).

      There is a reason when you use google maps and look at the most zoomed in level for the Afghanistan Region and find nothing on the map for that region - because there will always be someone who can deny access to information for their own strategic interests.
      Even if you could download a martial arts app your's would have exploits so your enemy would have the advantage.

    The pants from Wallace and Gromit.

      +1 Awww hell yeah :) ha ha ha

    you n00bs, you clearly dont realise apple influences everythiing and the heyzues jobs created all our scifi wonder before it was a twinkle in gene roddenberry's eye. apple makes the future, not stupid tv!

    there is a hint of sarcasm somewhere there in this wasted comment

    The suit worn by the cops in the future from Continuum which are body armour as well as having integrated popup visual controls on the forearms.

    This is my life.

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