Creating the gritty look of Man of Steel
Source: Popular Mechanics
“We used feudal Japan as a model, and one of the rules we came up with was that they shut down science and technology on Krypton, abandoned space exploration, and turned inward,” McDowell says. “At the point where we enter the movie, Superman’s father, Jor-El [Russell Crowe], tracks the damage on the planet as chief scientist and predicts that it will end in tears and no one’s paying attention. The way we built the planet is that they’ve strip-mined the surface to the point where it’s scarred all over. And the cities have moved underground.”
The design language of Man of Steel‘s Krypton grew of the idea that its people could modify the world on a molecular level, leading to a symbiosis between the mechanical and biological. “So they grow their objects, they grow their spaceships, and they grow their buildings in a 3D printing way so it’s a controlled biomorphic architecture,” McDowell says. “They also developed biomechanical creatures, including beasts and robotic servants. Jor-El flies on a giant creature that’s a cross between a dragon and an insect with a carapace exterior.”
One of the outgrowths of this organic philosophy is that they never invented the straight line on Krypton. The architecture is based on curved or spiral shapes made out of hard-shell materials that behave like metal or stone but look iridescent and shiny. The key inspiration was the photography of Karl Blossfeldt, best known for his close-up shots of plants at high magnification. So there’s a proliferation of Fibonacci spirals, including the dwellings and the pod ship that carries Kal-El to Earth.
There was one unforeseen complication: When trying to model the interior of the house of El, which is like a giant snail shell, the moviemakers couldn’t find a digital design program that was capable of building such a convoluted shape. They had to create sculptural curves that all lined up beautifully in virtual space and hired a sculptor who carved the shapes in foam, which were then scanned back into the computer.
“Mostly what we were doing that made it possible to do this Krypton form language is that we were pushing 3D models out to rapid prototyping,” McDowell recalls. “We had every 3D printer … tied up for about three months just carving or printing full-scale parts for the sets.”
This included human-scale sleep bays, doorways, and other exotic forms that were built directly from digital models. But for the really large organic architectural shapes, they prototyped slices of ribbing that were combined with strips of wood constructed by a team trained as boatbuilders, then covered with concrete.
“It’s one of those spaces I really like where you’ve got one foot in the 14th century and one in the 21st century, so the forms themselves are being driven by the computer but the construction methodology is completely traditional,” McDowell says.