Who makes these things?

Longtime readers of this blog know that it’s all about critiquing/learning from the end product, much more than the who/what/how it was made. But, I come across the question, “Who makes the interfaces in sci-fi movies?” a lot, and don’t know of any other place where that is answered, so let’s give this a go.

This good boi is the default photo for this template.
I was supposed to change it, but now I’ve bonded.

Be aware I don’t do this for a living (I don’t even run this blog for a living), and so my information is second hand. If you would like to send a friendly correction, please do.

Who makes all those cool whizbang interfaces in sci-fi movies?

The first answer is that it depends. In older sci-fi it was often just the director working with production designers, or production designers working by themselves, but these details are not called out on IMDB, and it’s often hard to figure it out when makers have passed on to that big screening room in the sky or details lost to the editing room of history.

The second answer is that it’s complicated. In modern sci-fi, the writer(s) will often describe what a thing does, and then if it’s plot-critical, the director will work with a lead production designer and one or more subcontracted studios or individuals who will design how the thing looks and behaves. Most studios also have in-house designers who perform the same function. In 2020 the winner of the Fritz Award for Best Interfaces was completely designed by its director. So, it’s complicated.

If an interface is not plot critical, the director might approve designs, but not be directly involved in the creation. It might be designed by a prop master or a set designer or a contractor or a studio doing other plot-critical stuff.

But that’s not all. I understand that it’s rare for actors to be working with real interfaces on set. On-set interfaces take time for actors to learn, taking energy away from their main job of emoting, of selling the story beat. So sometimes, actors are given a description or early comps of what the FUI looks like, and on set they interact with a blank screen or wave their hands in the air and the interface is later edited around them in post. So, in these situations the actors are a core contributor to making the interfaces as well.

And in major franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek, or the MCU, there may be a production bible that also informs how the interfaces look and work, and so whoever made that is also part of the creative inputs that result in what you see on screen.

And, again, these details are difficult to discover for any particular show. These are not in the credits or IMDB explicitly. So there is no easy answer. It’s a lot of people.

The list: Studios

Here are the list of studios that I am currently aware of working in this space, with links to their websites. These links are not an endorsement of their work (that’s what individual reviews are for). There is no guarantee that this list is exhaustive or up-to-date. I depend on others in the space to help me keep this current. Caveat fuidor.

Be sure and follow the links to these studios to check out their work. I don’t have enough time to review everything, and there’s some awesome stuff to be seen.

What about freelancers?

Note that there are also many freelancers in the space, but I expect that would be a huge list and I wouldn’t know where to start, other than the handful I’ve spoken with over the course of this project. That said, if there’s interest in my adding/maintaining such a list, please let me know (email described below), and I’ll see what I can do.

Hey, how do I get my studio on this list?

Reach out to chris, at the name of this site dot com, with a name, a URL, and if that URL does not contain the evidence of what you’ve done, then some way for me to know you’re legit and have shows released with your work on it. If you’re a studio or individual that aspires to do these things and therefore don’t have any extant portfolio, I’m afraid at this time I’m not going to post.