Every idea needs to be visualized before it is fabricated, and that process is what Conceptual Art is all about,… a drawn interpretation of an idea. This work is the foundation of Industrial and Automotive Design, as well as Architectural, Environmental, and Entertainment Design.
Before the turn of the century, there were no books available on the subject of Concept Design. Now, several are available, with more on the way, as new conceptualists emerge to pick up the gauntlet, thrown down by film & television projects which have, because of the increased abilities of computer imaging, become more complex and spectacular. Consequently, with a stunning ability to put actors (what looks like actors) into virtually any environment, any vehicle, and any situation,… nothing is impossible.
This means that fantastic scenarios are being written which compel Entertainment Designers to come up with any fantastic shape we want, assured that it will work as the script intends. We never have to concern ourselves with details like the shape & the size of a wing, and whether or not it will produce lift, or be concerned if a tiny racing vehicle, tethered to a pair of enormous jet engines, has any space allocated for the tremendous amount of fuel needed to get those engines powered up. We’ve seen spindly spacecraft, brisling with antennas and other protruding “stuff”, fly straight down to a planet’s surface without exhibiting the slightest concern for, or evidence of atmospheric friction.
But having said that, we don’t want every flyer to look like the Space Shuttle; it would be boring. And while everyone knows about the Shuttle’s protective tiles, and the consequences of having just one missing,… we designers are allowed to (sometimes ‘encouraged’ to) ignore that level of realism in favour of a ‘cool’ shape. Now, I appreciate the appeal of cool shapes as much as anyone, but I’m wondering why we can’t produce vehicles that look cool but are also believable. Yes, rarely, that does happen, as exemplified by the cars in “Minority Report” or the Armored Personnel Carrier in “Aliens”. But, in that same movie, for example, the drop ship, while very cool looking, indeed, would realistically be thrown into a fatal spin, the moment it unfolded one of those retracted wings. An audience typically believes what it sees, however, so details like that are blurred for the sake of the plot line. On the other hand, there have been times when we’ve all seen fantastic vehicles do something that we inherently know they really couldn’t do. Even though it doesn’t feel ‘right’, the majority of us can’t quite figure out why.
As a designer, I keep trying to override that trend, because I’ve always felt that if I approach a piece of hardware as if it’s real, the audience will believe it’s real, on-screen. Therefore, I design movie hardware as if it was to be fabricated in the real world, at my level of understanding, with concerns for power systems, life support systems, personnel living & operating spaces, vehicle operations & performance, access panels, emergency escape systems, defence systems, and how all these things can be in a package that looks good yet not look like something you’ve seen before. No, I’m not an engineer, but I am familiar with some of the reasons why things are put together the way they are. This allows me to go for the “cool shape” while keeping in mind the practical side of what the vehicle is to do.