Arrival: Concept Art, Part 1: The Shell

In February of 2015, I began work on “Story Of Your Life,” the Denis Villeneuve movie that would eventually be called “Arrival.” I worked with Patrice Vermette, the production designer to illustrate his and Denis’ ideas, and over the course of three months provided many variations of designs for the ship and its occupants. It was a real treat to be part of this film, and to work so closely with one of our most visionary directors, a real honour.

Here are a few samples of the various designs, beginning with the vessels which were called ‘shells’. There were many shape explorations, beginning with  a sphere, some triangles, odd shapes, and eventually an ovoid. The lozenge shape seen in the final was designed by another concept artist; sorry, not sure who*. No spoilers here, as most of what you see ended up in the trailer.  (*Edit – the final lozenge shape was rendered by assistant art director Aaron Morrison)

Coming next, Part 2: Alien designs


Spheres were in the first script I read.  The sphere shape was abandoned quickly at the start.


One of many texture exploration pages.


Getting closer to the final idea.


An illustration of the basecamp, with the final design of the shell.


Base camp, and on the way to the shell.


Early explorations of the meeting room in the shell had various shapes and colours at first. this was getting closer to what Patrice and Denis were looking for. I loved the idea and simplicity of a wide and empty space – the exact opposite of typical cluttered movie spaceships. With less to distract, we pay more attention to the main characters.


More interior explorations.


The top image was going to be called “The Meinert Room”. The way one “entered” the room – inside it while being outside it, like a Klein bottle, was going to be a challenge, FX-wise, and for set-design it added a bit too much to an already tight soundstage. The bottom image shows some early exploration of the alien appearance.


10 thoughts on “Arrival: Concept Art, Part 1: The Shell

  1. Reblogged this on David Fortin Art and commented:
    This is one of the great teachers at my school who has a lot of amazing work and has worked on some great blockbuster movies!

    • Hello Heidl,
      Thank you for letting me know – this looks fantastic! I love what you are doing; album covers, as well as movie posters, deserve better graphic treatments and you’re doing it so well.

  2. So refreshing to see your exploration of possible forms for the appearance of the mysterious visitors, along with the organic lens and the manifestations created by the visitors for the purposes of communication. Hats off to you for such fascinating, strange and imaginative visualizations! Bravo.

  3. Meinert — I’m very impressed by your evocative and lovely work here. Denis Villeneuve has truly become THE sci-fi auteur of our time, like the 21st equivalent of Ridley Scott. I’m a multi-optioned screenwriter developing several projects in the sci-fi, horror and history realms. Would love to have a chat with you at some point down the line. Amazingly enough (I write this in mid-April, 2020), our world has changed almost as much as it does in ARRIVAL (2016) after the aliens have arrived. So STOKED for DUNE (2020) Hope you and yours are well in this uber-strange new Lockdown World! Best regards from Helsinki, Finland. Cordialment — Juhani

    • Thank you so much, Juhani! I too am super-excited for Dune. Denis is a brilliant man, and the right director to adapt it.
      I would be interested in chatting with you. Keep in touch, and I wish you well in these strange times.
      Warm Regards, Meinert

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