Interview: Ash Thorp (Total Recall)

August 5, 2012 | Future, Present

Ash Thorp, who I interviewed recently about his work on Prometheus, has been busy. His work is also in the just released Total Recall. And he took some time to talk about that work…

Q: So, as you got started, what was the brief?

The brief was to build iconic, yet functional, interface designs that fit and interacted with the actors and environment that Len Wiseman and his team created for Total Recall 2012.

Q: And what was the team like that worked on this?

It was a VERY small team which consisted merely of: myself as the Designer, and the very talented Ryan Cashman, who took my crazy ideas and concepts and gave them creative life with motion. Together, we provided graphic content for about 200 shots towards the movie.

Q: As you approached the project, what were the design inspirations?

When I first got awarded the project, I took a moment to digest that I would be working on a very iconic film. I knew I wanted to try something different, but yet also keep it in line with the sci-fi era this film was built upon. The inspiration for this project was multi-level and open-ended, just as the world itself is very broad and all encompassing. So I researched many avenues of influence, and I mainly looked into circuit board patterns, computer technology, and current day science & math for some of the ideas we built. For example, in one particular concept design, I was really inspired by the way the back of a jet fighter’s engine component appears to function. I loved how it maneuvered and adjusted based on the control of the operator, and Ryan emulated that motion concept into the design; it was very satisfying to see the results of being able to join such very different concepts together. Another design we worked on was creating the icon that displayed messages on the front shield of the synthetic police robots’ helmets. The robots’ face shield design was very aggressive looking, which matched their role in the story to their physical appearance perfectly. With that in mind, I gravitated towards nature as an inspiration and thought of the praying mantis’ mouth and antennas from other insects. I loved the idea of this creepy looking digital icon that could open up and activate in a way that felt natural, yet in a digital would be very menacing and intriguing. My goal with this design was to do something no one had really seen before.

Q: Were there any influences from the original film?

The original film is one of those movies I always remember watching and being a part of my childhood. It’s one of those great films that will never get old to me, because it was so inspiring and ahead of its time. Philip K. Dick writes some really great stories. For this version of the film, I tried to think about what they may not have been able to do in the original film based on technological limitations of that decade. With that in mind, I developed the intricacy of detail and design to a science fiction level that is more to today’s standards while also pushing forward a few decades to give it that out of reach sci-fi twist.

Q: Can you talk about some of sequences that you’re especially proud?

This project had a very wide scale of needs, consisting of everything from simple train schedule diagrams to more complex robotic schematics. One concept that Ryan and I worked pretty laboriously on was the security body scanner sequence. In the original film, Arnold walks through the scanner and we see an X-ray skeleton of his body possessing his fire arm. Since the new set design Len and his team built for this film was more streamline and modern, I needed to come up with an even more futuristic idea to match that same visual impact. I remember trying many different composition ideas and sending them through to Patrick Tatopoulis, who is the production designer on the film. Patrick is wickedly talented and had this great idea of windows popping out around the user, so that it exposed all their personal information and dissected their citizenship. So I extrapolated off that idea and sent comp designs through the pipeline for Len to review. Once everything was on the right visual track, I took his notes to make a final edit for Ryan to set into motion. I remember this particular scene as an iconic moment of the original film that I really loved, so I hope our modern day take on this same scene does the original justice and inspires the next generation.

Q: What was the process of working with the director like?

A director’s time is in high demand by everyone working on the film and so you are sure to ask any and all questions during the moments you have with them, because you never know if and when you will get that window of time again. With the aid of new communication technology, we were able to conduct many review sessions via video conference, where Len could review our designs or motion tests and draw directly onto them with a Wacom for us to discuss and review later. This process was incredibly valuable as I could go back and review notes to remind myself of key requests. It was such an honor to work with Len; he was very approachable, witty, and always open to a good idea to help solve problems.

Q: is there anything you’d like to re-do, or have done differently?

I am never absolutely satisfied with my work as I always strive for a better result each day. I think there are always things on any project that I wish I had more time to play with, but there never seems to be enough time to address numerous shots while multiple deadlines must be met. If I had more time, I think I would have wanted to refine some things like the synthetic robot point of view concepts. The idea was there, but I felt the final execution could have really pulled through even more with another few days of thought and design.

Thank you.

For even more images, take a look at Ash’s web page on the project.

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