How Territory reimagined what NASA's screens will look like in 2035 for The Martian

The plot of Ridley Scott’s new film The Martian called for Territory Studio to deliver realistic NASA screens – as they will be in 20-30 years time.

Territory’s plot-based graphics includes images, text, code, engineering schematics, 3D visualisations based on authentic satellite images showing Martian terrain, weather, and mission equipment. The graphics are served across consoles, navigation and communication systems, laptops, mobiles, tablets, and on screens throughout the film. 

In all Territory delivered around 400 screens for on-set playback, most of them featuring interactive elements.

With 85 screens on the NASA Mission Control set alone, a number of which were 6m x 6m, there are many moments in which the graphics become a dynamic bridge between Earth and Mars, narrative and action, audience and characters.  

Based on Andy Weir’s novel about stranded astronaut Mark Watney, The Martian is set in the near future, during NASA’s third manned mission to Mars.

“What sets this story apart from many others about the exploration of outer space is that the entire plot is predicated on real science," explained production designer Arthur Max.

To achieve the necessary level of factual integrity in the design, Ridley Scott and Max drew on the expertise of specialists at NASA and the European Space Agency, and asked Territory to craft the screen graphics and UI that would be needed.

In a story that is mediated by technology, hundreds of screens are employed across eight key sets. Screens play a key narrative role in this film, and the characters are actively engaging with or responding to them throughout the unfolding drama.

Territory came into the project during the pre-production phase to map story points that could be explained or supported by screen graphics and to develop realistic and credible graphic interface concepts that balanced NASA fact with Scott and Max’s vision.

“The greatest challenge was to create graphic interfaces that looked like they were genuine NASA screens as they will be in 30 years time," said art director Marti Romances, “So the amount of realism was key, but we had to push the design concepts further, visualising near future technology. Knowing that NASA is always one step ahead, we had to consider the technologies that are being tested now and those that haven’t even been developed yet and imagine ways to represent information, from a user interface and experience design perspective”.

Working closely with Dave Lavery, program executive for Solar System Exploration at NASA and UI art director Felicity Hickson, Territory’s creative director David Sheldon-Hicks and art director Marti Romances developed a series of concepts that distill complex data into a simplified form that serves the need for both factual integrity and filmic narrative, yet are forward looking and pushing NASA’s current UI conventions as much as possible.

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