While watching the latest Avenger movie (huge fun btw) I was so intrigued by the user interface design in the movie that I spent some time looking around at the virtual UIs that have come out of Hollywood. I realized that someone actually not only had to design this stuff but also think it through in terms of functionality and applicability – which seems to be a huge task and an under-appreciated one at that.
Anyway, I was hooked and the result is a somewhat more elaborated post than usual:
Let’s start with a 2008 showreel by Mark Coleran, a visual designer who created UIs for films as diverse as The Bourne Ultimatum, Tomb Raider, Mission Impossible 3, The Island, Mr and Mrs Smith and many more:
Funny thing is that UIs in feature films seem to get more elaborate and complex while real-world interfaces are getting more simple and intuitive. An odd contradiction that is also true for Jayse Hansens’ UI Designs in the current Avenger movie:
(click to enlarge)
But it also works the other way around: Sometimes movie UI design might predict the future. Take a look at the use of gestural UIs in Minority Report and then compare it with the g-speak video afterwards:
(gestural UI in minority report)
(g-speak spatial operating environment)
You’ll find more and deeper insights on this topic in an interview on Joystiq in which Minority Report UI designer John Underkoffler talks about the future of gestures. Compare that with the iPad you’re probably reading this on and you know what I’m talking about.
Then I stumbled over Huds + Guis (Head Up Displays + Graphical User Interfaces) a collection of beautiful and/or innovative examples of UI design in movies and otherwise. Here for some time now stereoscopic/holographic and/or gestural UIs seem to be en vogue and if we expect movie UIs to be a glimpse into the future you can have a look:
Still, everything looks extremely complex. But of course there is a simple reason for it (and that’s also why I’m somewhat skeptical about the glimpse-into-the-future part). As Tony Walt expertly put it in his 2010 article at uxmag.com What Movie UIs Say About the Future:
Complexity conveys the impression that a system is very robust and advanced, and a character’s mastery of a complex system is more impressive than it would be if the system were simple and intuitive. No matter how complex the system gets, the hero can always operate it expertly, leaving the audience dazzled by the UI and the character’s skill.
Anyway, when you talk about UI design in movies these few examples up there are merely the tip of the iceberg. But if it makes you appreciate the work of the nameless designer next time you watch a movie featuring UIs for a second or so this little effort was already worth it.