No, it really does! But more on that in just a minute.
William Cheng is a concept designer/illustrator currently attached to Disney Interactive, where he creates Puzzle Droids, Jedi Challenges, and other interesting visual designs. Since graduating from the Art Center College of Design in 2017, he has been employed to dream up creatures and prop designs, keyframe illustrations, and environment concept art.
He has also posted some very interesting artwork he produced during his schooling, and I caught up with him today to find out more about it. Now, I share it with you:
THE NOSTROMO FILES BLOG (TNFB): Hello, William! I’ve been a fan of Alien (and the Nostromo!) since 1979. When a friend recently posted a link to your “Nostromo Redesign” gallery, I had to take a look!
I am intrigued by the artwork, which is a nice combination of graphic elements and color as well as a strong organic theme. The design choices you made certainly are cohesive across the different environments.
Were you given a specific set of design criteria? or was it completely up to you?
WILLIAM CHENG: I’m also a really big fan of Alien and was at first very intimidated by the challenge of redesigning elements of such an iconic movie. It felt sacrilegious at first! We were given a somewhat vague direction of redesigning it for a modern audience, and other than that we were given free reign.
TNFB: The film Nostromo was so purely mechanical, but you chose to mix in lots of organics in the interiors… but they have a visually similar “well-used” look. How did you come to make those choices?
CHENG: The direction I had chosen for my redesign of Alien was taking the script of the original movie and refocusing it on the theme of the Garden of Eden. I saw the Alien as the snake in what seemed like a group of humans living so far in the future that life was idyllic. I liked the blue collar aspect of the original movie, and thought maybe it’d be interesting if these people live in a beautiful advanced world but were completely used to it and almost bored of their everyday miracles and technology.
TNFB: That take on the creature and the story setting is very original and a compelling theme for today’s film-goers! I also like how you went to the script for inspiration.
Now, some specific questions about your sketches, please. On Sketch #39, you show a figure standing before a wall, with a note that says, “example of alien traces, plant decay”. Can you explain your idea here?
CHENG: Throughout all of the designs I wanted to try and see what kind if technology they would have that would seem incredibly advanced to a modern viewer. I came up with a ship that uses fungus and organics to power the technology. I also thought it would look really good visually that wherever the Alien went it would rot and decay the plants in the windows and panels.
TNFB: That is an effective way to add drama visually. Once the creature is loose, all it takes is some sign of its presence to instill fear. A very neat idea!
In Sketch #22, I see possibly some Chris Foss influences; definitely an organic approach to starship design. The top two, and the green-colored “turtle-back” one on the bottom row, seem to be composite vehicles, possibly made up of lander/refinery. The others seem to be configurations of the landing ship. Is that an accurate guess? Did you reference any particular stylist when making your design choices?
CHENG: That’s a great point you made about Chris Foss! I actually saw the documentary about the unmade Dune film which featured some great designs by him and that was probably an unintentional influence. I tried to look at real world influences (such as ocean refineries/airports/etc.) to decide what shapes to use and what kind of things that might imply a mysterious functionality to the entire ship.
TNFB: The vehicles in Sketch #24 are striking in the boldness of the organic designs. The two with square, colored backgrounds especially so. Were they envisioned as the lander, the refinery, or something completely different?
CHENG: Thank you! The original Nostromo exterior was such an interesting bizarre shape that I wanted to try something in the same air, but with more organic curves. I think through these sketches I was still trying to figure out an overall shape language I wanted my world to have with possible functionality.
TNFB: I get it. I especially enjoy those kinds of sketches as a way to follow the artist’s thinking as the work evolves.
The mechanical demonstrations in Sketch #25 are fantastic! Your idea is consistent through the variations. That rotating structure is very interesting, but I don’t see where you did anything further with it. Is it perhaps a demonstration of the mechanical functions of the others?
CHENG: When I got to this stage, I think I decided I wanted a ship that would have these green fungi solar panels that could be used as protection and an energy source. These sketches were just showing how you could have an outer shell and the inside of the ship would be housed inside. The rotating sketch was just another idea for the way the ship could move/function, but I decided to go in a different direction so it never really amounted to anything (haha).
TNFB: I like the way you were thinking about the thing as operating within a larger context/civilization. These are ideas that would appeal to many science fiction fans today.
Sketch #26 shows the evolution of the “turtle-back”. It is fascinating. Very different and appealing. I love the Statue of Liberty for scale!
CHENG: Thank you! I like your nickname of the design “turtle back” (haha).
TNFB: A note about Sketch #27: although the design is much sleeker and organic, your detailing seems to indicate she’s been at her work for a while now and not fresh from the dockyards. I like the various ways you illustrate the inner structure!
CHENG: Thanks! I think sci-fi and fantasy brings us into a whole new world, but if everything is too clean and neat the world will sometimes feel too constructed so I think its nice to bring in some real world messiness.
TNFB: Yes, I completely agree. Sketch #32 illustrates a bit of tech. The intricate detail of the quadrants is intriguing. Could you give some clarification about what is meant by the note that says ‘not cleanly deactivated’ on the quadrants drawing? And is that more noodling below it for a landing craft?
CHENG: Yeah no problem! The Fungi Quadrant stuff was actually the ship’s defense system against solar radiation in space and also a possible energy source for the ship. For the “not cleanly deactivated” drawing, my idea for how the team goes down to the alien planet was that the quadrants would deactivate in the shape of the shuttle but it wouldn’t be a perfect fit so some of the fungi shield would break and and leave some residue. This was mainly to show that as advanced as the technology was it was still slightly crude and not perfect.
TNFB: Again, a great way to visualize the dramatic aspects of the story! All of these images, of course, lead up to this final drawing in your project gallery: there is beauty in your choices of color, lines, and shapes. Illustrated with the landing shuttle, it demonstrates quite nicely how big the larger vessel is!
How long did you have to complete the project?
CHENG: This was done over one semester at Art Center College of Art and Design. The entire class was 14 weeks long, but I’m gonna say I started designing the Nostromo maybe halfway through.
TNFB: You certainly put the time to good use! I appreciate you taking time to tell me about the project.
CHENG: Thanks again for the email! This was really fun to just talk about my thinking behind the project.
William Cheng’s compelling visuals aren’t limited to spacecraft, as you will see for yourself at his websites:
And a special thanks to Michael of ASH: A Fan Fiction Comic, for sharing the link to William’s work!