An In-Depth Look at the Design of the ‘Prometheus’ Rovers

Prometheus Poster Art Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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The production design for Prometheus surprised a lot of people when the first set stills leaked. Instead of the grungy, mechanical aesthetic of Alien, which it predates, Prometheus’ sets are clean, brightly lit, and very colourful. It’s texturing is much less heavy than Alien, and the reflective surfaces and bold, graphic palette seem a world away from the 1979 film’s muted golds, browns and creams. Ridley Scott’s influences for the look of Prometheus can be tracked back to the 1965 film Planet Of The Vampires - in fact the space suits for the Prometheus crew are taken almost verbatim from that film. Broadly speaking though, pulp sci-fi appears to be the major influence for the film’s look, mixing it’s tone and colour with updated version of the bulkheads and corridors of the original Nostromo setsPrometheus’ prop vehicles, the RT Rovers, continue this theme.

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Contrary to the current trend of making sci-fi props and vehicles ‘realistic’ - Prometheus’ machinery veers much more towards toy-like fantasy than technical reality. Shots of the RT in motion, with it’s huge wheels bouncing hard on it’s suspension, make it look almost like a scale model. It’s Tonka toy-esque proportions, along with it’s various gullwing and scissor door hatches, strongly suggest form before function – both in terms of the film’s design but also within the context of the story as well. For all of it’s sci-fi trappings, Prometheus isn’t a film about technology at all – if anything, the film adopts a slightly contemptuous tone towards the mechanical extravagance on display, so it follows that the design would have more in common with the pulpy flash of Damnation Alley’s Landmaster than, say, Nolan’s functionally perfect Batmobile.
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Three RT vehicles were made for the film, RT-01 and 02, which were crew transports, along with a third RT, which was a flatbed, designed to carry the orange ATVs. The flatbed version wasn’t used in the film, presumably because having the ATVs ‘chase’ the Rovers was more interesting from an action standpoint. The Rovers are based on a Tatra military transport chassis, which was stripped and rebuilt with a metal skeleton and clad in fibreglass and metal panels. Replacement wheels with bigger, chunkier tires were added to give the vehicle a more rugged look.
From the outside, RT-01 and 02 are visually identical, but 01 has a fully dressed interior, with 02 being dressed in the cockpit section only. The exterior design is relatively clean, with the majority of the detailing being recessed or raised paneling to give the impression of armour plating or hatches. There are a few detail pieces such as vents and intakes, but the overall look of the vehicle signifies a sleek robustness. The over-sized wheels and the flatness of the body give it a toyish, moon buggy look. The wheels are clad with fibreglass hubcaps, finished in a vacuum-metalised gold; the gold finish references not only genuine space hardware – but also their exaggerated, sci-fi counterparts from the 50s.
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The body and wheel covers of the RT are finished in a heavily textured paint, adding to the rugged look, while the forward cockpit is finished in a satin silver. The 50s and 60s influence is also apparent in the details, with a slight bubble window on the top of the vehicle, a staple of a lot of jet-age sci-fi design. Finally, the RT’s front grill has hints of the late 50’s Ford Edsel, which at the time was marketed as a jet-age car of the future.
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Small LED light pods are dotted around the body of the vehicle, made from a mix of off-the shelf LED lighting units as well as custom-made enclosures. The white LEDs at the front of the vehicle give off a cold, white light, rather than the typical warmth of incandescents. This suits the harsh, desaturated look of the film’s exterior scenes. Vinyl graphic appliques make up the rest of the detailing, with bold lettering and logos on the flanks, as well as smaller, incidental graphics such as warning labels, hazard stripes, and registration details on the panels and intakes. The colour scheme of the RT – satin silver bodywork, gold wheels, bright orange graphics, and green running lights are a continuation of the bright and almost lurid colour pallet of the Prometheus’ interiors.
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Graphics make up much of the interior dressing, too, with bright hazard graphics and backlit control panels with hexagonal ‘buttons’. Prop dressing is kept to a minimum, with bulkheads finished in warning labels, as well as a glut of Weyland Corporation logos, cut again from orange or frosted grey vinyl. Five video screens in the dashboard area provide even more colourful visual data, which is far removed from Alien’s green and black CRT displays. In terms of hardware colour, there are more splashes of gold – a colour so conspicuously flashy that it implies a technological function just by being there. Some of the interior panels are finished in a quilted teal fabric, which in terms of texture feels reminiscent of padding inside early spacecraft, but the colour choice pushes it away from reality and back towards the more fantastic tone of early sci-fi.
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RT-02 – with some misplaced graphics from RT-01, can be seen on display along with an ATV at the Coventry Transport Museum, in England. Despite showing the wear and tear of filming and stuntwork, it’s a great chance to see an action vehicle close up, and break down all the elements that go into creating a working, convincing prop.
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What did you think about the design aesthetic of the Prometheus Rovers? How did you feel about Prometheus?

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Matthew Clark | @mr_clark

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All written content and Prometheus Rover images are the property of Matthew Clark and ArtDepartMENTAL.com. Please do not copy, reblog, or reuse the above content without our express written consent.

All rights reserved | Copyright 2012

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3 Comments

Filed under Art Direction, Design Love, Exclusive

3 responses to “An In-Depth Look at the Design of the ‘Prometheus’ Rovers

  1. “Prometheus’ machinery veers much more towards toy-like fantasy than technical reality. Shots of the RT in motion, with it’s huge wheels bouncing hard on it’s suspension, make it look almost like a scale model”

    I think those two sentences summed up the designs for me, they definitely feel more Gerry Anderson than Ridley Scott. Personally, I am more interested in the “realistic” approach, because form might not follow function 100% all of the time, it certainly has a huge influence on it. I would expect this to be even more so with utility vehicles. When you look at these designs for military hardware, their shape and details tell a story about their intended purpose. http://essexmodelsandminiatures.co.uk/blog/?p=1003

    The RT’s on the other hand remind me more of the old Matchbox Concept Transporters http://essexmodelsandminiatures.co.uk/blog/?p=1003

    I’m a little non-plussed by the designs…but I do like the article.

    Thanks

  2. Yunos Roberto

    Brilliant looking vehicle………………………………we all want ONE!

  3. James

    I think the design is fantastic!…I plan to built a 4 wheel drive version on an 8 ton British military TM 4X4 chassis. It wil sure to be an Eye Opener when I go 4 X 4′ing in the mountains in Canada… yes, they will ALL want one here in Canada then :)

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