Arrival: Concept Art, Part 2 – The Aliens

(Part 1 here) Once again, no spoilers.

When I was asked to take a shot at designing the aliens for Arrival, I leapt at the opportunity. It was still the very early days of pre-production, and Denis and Patrice had already given the alien task to a couple of concept artists. The extraordinary concept artist Peter Konig was working at the same time as me, but I didn’t get to see any of his work till a few weeks ago. In the end, veteran creature designer Carlos Huante was the one that got it right; his majestic and mysterious heptapods embodied all the qualities Denis was looking for.

My contributions were more to see if I could come up with something different than the other guys, so I had a little free reign to mess around with ideas, with the mandate to “design something we haven’t seen before.” I had only a couple of weeks for this task, so I experimented more with shapes and impressions. Below are just a few samples of ideas I tried. In hindsight, after seeing the film, I’m glad these didn’t make the cut, as I was going a bit too abstract to identify with the beings. Once again, I’m still so grateful that I got to work on such an incredible film, even if my part was small.


A fairly abstract version of the aliens.


My first doodles, based more on the original short story, “Story Of Your Life,” by Ted Chiang.


More shape explorations. The bottom two rows were created using Alchemy, a little drawing app that allows you to draw symmetrical objects.


More early impressions.


Smaller, smokier shapes.



I built this contraption, with a 16-sided prism from an old film editing bench. The idea was to experiment with flickering light on the screen and see if I could create some kind of sense that the aliens entered and exited though a projection. The video below was taken with my phone camera. The last 3 or 4 seconds are what I thought had an interesting feeling.


More roughs, playing with shapes and symmetry again.


Getting weirder with ideas here.



Playing with very alien anatomies, shape-shifting and kinetic forms.


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.