About the Design
In setting the film more than 1,000 years in the future, the filmmakers sought a distinct look for the humans' new home of Nova Prime in After Earth. "Of course, in a film set a thousand years in the future, you need to design everything," says executive producer E. Bennett Walsh. From the largest sets down to the hand props, nothing can be bought off the rack, he says. "Each department has to think through what will appear on screen and how it will all work together."
At the same time, the film's production designer, Tom Sanders, says, "We didn't want 'The Jetsons.' It couldn't be too different -- people are still using their hands, people still cook their own meals."
Sanders started the ball rolling with conceptual models for the sets on Nova Prime. He says that the 1,000-year-old human civilization on Nova Prime has learned its lesson. "After trashing the Earth, they decided to do it right on the new planet, and studied how life began on Earth as the basis for everything," he says. That is expressed two ways in Sanders' sets: the design and the construction.
For the design, Sanders called on the shapes and geometry of nature. "It was always a fine line between form and function," says Sanders. "I wanted form and function to be equal, rather than taking one way or another." By calling on shapes from nature, Sanders was able to express visually how human ideas had developed after they left Earth. One example, he notes: "the design of the spacecraft has no straight lines -- everything has beautiful, geometric curves," he says. To realize that, Sanders was setting himself a challenge of one of the most difficult sets the veteran designer has ever built, but the result is a unique and beautiful ship.
The other way Sanders' sets show the change in humanity is in their construction: Sanders wanted to show that humans embraced the idea of "green buildings" in their new home. "We tried to invent everything with nature and the environment in mind. 'Green building' isn't just about buying sustainable lumber; it's also using less of everything. The floor of an apartment is the ceiling of the apartment beneath it. The piping and everything else a building needs is part of the structure. We imagined that the people of Nova Prime were able to find minerals that fossilize like coral -- we built those, imagining that these would grow and solidify into the structure of the building."
The film's futuristic setting also required the costume designer, Amy Westcott, to create every costume in the film -- "Every stitch, except for underwear," she says.
Just as it did for Sanders, the futuristic setting both opened up the possibilities for Westcott and proved a challenge. "It's not like a historical film, where you can just look up what was done at the time. It's up to your imagination. That's fun, but it's also challenging. Fortunately, we could do some research -- what scientists and researchers are working on in fabrics. We were also influenced by the environment of Nova Prime."
The Ranger cadets (including Kitai, played by Jaden Smith) wear a uniform that not only matched well against the Utah backdrop, but was made of a fabric that could withstand the rough-and-tumble training regimen seen in the movie.
Westcott worked closely with Sanders, embracing the overall design imperative of creating an organic look. For example, "There isn't a lot of jewelry -- in fact, there are only two pieces of jewelry in the entire film. People don't wear a lot of makeup."
Jaden Smith's main costume is the lifesuit, which he wears as he takes his journey on the harsh, unforgiving planet Earth. "The idea is that the suit is intelligent," says producer Caleeb Pinkett. "It's his protection. It's supposed to be everything that will allow him to survive being on a contaminated planet. It has a naviband on the arm, where you can scan through and get information about the terrain, your vitals, communicate with others. You wear this suit and it tells you everything you need to know -- all of your vitals."
One way it does that is by changing color. "It's a detection device," says Pinkett. Normally, the suit is rust-colored. If something hostile approaches you, it turns black and armors up. If you're sick, injured, or dying, the suit turns to a pale yellow."
Once again, the designers turned to nature for their inspiration. "In our research, we found a beetle, the Tortoise Beetle, that changes colors -- when it dies, it turns pale yellow, and that's the yellow color of the lifesuit when its wearer is dying."
Though the suit's transformations would be achieved in visual effects, the suits themselves were costumes, and naturally, Westcott's team created suits in all three colors. But that was just the beginning -- different suits were required for different aspects of filming. "The suit takes a beating -- it goes in water, it gets scraped up against trees, it gets burnt, it has to take a harness. We had to determine how many different suits to design for all of the different utilities. Not only that -- one of the challenges was that Jaden was 13 when we were filming -- he's still growing. And because we had a six-month shoot, we had to make bigger suits to fit his growing body."
For Jaden Smith, the suit had one more distinct advantage: the teenager could show off the results of his impressive training: "If you're gonna put it on," he says, "you have to be ultra ripped!"
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