Reimagining Terminator 2's HUDs and Graphics with Adobe XD
COW Library : Adobe Creative Cloud : Hillary Lewis : Reimagining Terminator 2's HUDs and Graphics with Adobe XD
If you’re a big fan of the Terminator series you’ll probably recognize this clip…
And this one…
If you do, you probably know that these scenes from Terminator 2: Judgment Day were iconic in setting an example of futuristic interface design for the film industry in the early 90s.
The first cyborg, the T-800, could scan and analyze people, objects, and data all within his red-tinted heads-up display, or HUD. And although these scenes above might look primitive in today’s world, they inspired countless TV and film creators to dream up futuristic designs in the hope their impossible tech would one day become a reality.
Tech companies and creators alike have even built their own heads-up display (HUD) tech together, often using a combination of Adobe tools including Illustrator, Photoshop, and After Effects.
Among the companies doing exactly that is Territory Studio. Territory's Creative Director and co-founder Marti Romances and his team have produced countless screen interface design for major blockbusters such as Avengers: Infinity War, Ready Player One, and Blade Runner 2049.
Here's Territory's reel for interface design and heads-up displays in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Looking back at Terminator 2: Judgement Day, imagining how to update the interfaces to look futuristic by today's standards, and thinking at the same time about how Territory Studio might adapt new tools and new approaches to their own future work in interface and HUD design -- all of this together led creators and designers from Territory Studio to get in touch with Adobe XD’s Senior UX Design Lead Talin Wadsworth to put their heads together and visualize what a T-800’s HUD might look like in 2018.
Territory Studio's Marti Romances, left; Adobe's Talin Wadsworth, right
On one hand, it seemed perfectly obvious: use Adobe's newest toolset for interface design to...design interfaces. On the other hand, XD's original intent was grounded in the more immediately practical needs of web and mobile app developers, which led to some unexpected twists as the product's own designers found themselves being challenged by its customers to move in unexpected directions.
I sat down with Marti and Talin to talk about the process and adaptations of using a workflow with Adobe XD, how they tackled redesigning the two stills above, and how each of them personally view the connection between movies and tech.
Creative COW: Why was this collaboration formed and what were your underlying hopes for the project?
TALIN WADSWORTH: Being a creator of tools, it was about imagining what's possible and being inspired by sci-fi and movies to really push the limits of [Adobe] XD. XD is a new tool for UX and UI design, so it's a chance to work with Marti and the team who are visionaries using film and movies to imagine what the future looks like. So it's just a great opportunity to go back and pull from our influences of the past and imagine where we're going, especially with AR and VR industries exploding in the platform. And being able to reimagine major film touchstones of the past using a new tool from Adobe was an opportunity I don't think we could pass up.
What was the creative process from conception to delivery and how did Territory and Adobe work together?
MARTI ROMANCES: It was a good experiment. Most of those tools are part of the Adobe Suite, so we have the ability to learn a new tool inside of that group of software we use every day. We discovered very quickly how that taps into our pipeline that we are used to. It really helped us save some time and approach different factors of our design process from a different angle, and that’s very important for us when we’re going over 500 shots. So optimizing our pipeline is great.
Also the fact that Adobe XD focuses on interactivity and user experience helped with interactive pieces that we do on set for films. That was a great surprise to us seeing what the software is capable of doing, which is fairly new, and knowing there‘s more stuff coming and we get the opportunity to jump into it in its infancy... It got us pretty excited. And these guys push for more tools within the software that will end up helping us further in our process. It was really priceless for us.
TALIN: Yeah, what was most exciting for me was that they were actually surprised and excited about getting more than they expected in XD natively. They came from using Illustrator and After Effects and initially it seemed like they were going to use a lot more of Illustrator in the process, but actually found they could do a lot of their high fidelity design work in XD. It’s not an element of XD that has been really showcased yet.
Starting with the original overlay showing a few number of relatively low-resolution graphic elements, you can easily see the contrast in a more contemporary approach featuring a large number of high-resolution graphic elements. Adobe XD allows them all to be created, managed, and updated in the same space.
If you'd like to download the Terminator UI kit project files to play along, you can get them from Adobe, here.
MARTI: And the fact that XD works in a non-destructive mode, vector based, for us is extremely important. We need it to be crisp and clear and we could do what we did in Illustrator inside of XD. You have control over all of your designs just by iterating on your control panel or your widgets. It was one of those moments when you realize the amount of time you can save when doing changes to the entire set properties.
TALIN: That's definitely a goal of XD is to optimize those workflows that we know and love from Illustrator and making them better and more seamless and allow the designers to think about design, not about managing the design file.
How extensible is Adobe XD to other Adobe apps like Premiere Pro and After Effects?
TALIN: With XD we're adding new features and extensions every month but we're working on plugins and extensibilities that will open up XD to third-party applications and services. Right now some of the animation capabilities in XD are limited, but of course we're adding to that over time. For TV and film we really want to support a pipeline of assets from XD into After Effects and Premiere, so that we can add that extra layer of polish and resolution for film and video production.
MARTI: I think of XD as another tool that can help with our process. It’s not necessarily that we will do everything and then export to After Effects, but sometimes we want to try a design that needs to be an extensive cluster of data so we will jump into XD, grab that asset, and go back to After Effects to continue our work. It’s a great addition and that's exactly how we envisioned ourselves using it in the future.
TALIN: And talking with Marti, they mentioned sometimes they need to create representation on set for the actors, a UI that feels real. XD is great for creating interactive prototypes that designers can use to create rich experiences. The possibilities to have physical prototypes that actors can interact with in a real way both solves a problem from a UX and UI perspective and bridges that gap into feeling real on set.
MARTI: Our objective is to please the director and sometimes, right when they're about to shoot the scenes, we found ourselves in a situation where the director would say “We should do those changes here and there, right now.” The only thing we could do is open every single project file, Illustrator file, and After Effect file for each of those screen designs, and one by one change the color because the director wants more of a red tone. Then we render the files again to playback on each machine. That is time-consuming especially knowing that we have an entire team of actors, extras, electricians, makeup artists, cameras waiting on us.
But we discovered that if we have all those screens playing back into the monitors and all that is controlled from XD, we can easily do changes on the master access folder and edit the symbols, edit the colors, the typography, anything we want that's controlled in XD and that quickly populates all those designs in real-time.
Adobe XD has been out of beta for almost a year. What would you say to those who don’t know much about the software? Which jobs in our industry would benefit the most from using XD?
TALIN: One of our core founding principles for XD is to be fast in terms of iteration and very responsive to the community and their needs. So we committed to monthly updates which means almost twelve feature updates a year. More tools for creating high-fidelity graphics on the canvas, more interactivity features like fixed elements and overlays, etc. So we've come a long way in a year and we're just getting started.
For anyone who hasn't checked it out in a while, I'd really encourage them to jump in and re-evaluate any sort of screen design, screen communication, UX/UI, etc. That's where XD was founded and when it comes to producing high-fidelity vector assets for the screen, XD is really the screen designers tool or the UI/UX designers tool. Working with Territory I've seen it open up a whole other range of possibilities. That's the kind of legacy of Adobe, we build great tools and we see what happens and where designers are able to recombine those features in new ways and open up possibilities that no one imagined. That's the thing I really geek out on.
Territory is well-known for its futuristic interface design on big blockbusters like “Avengers: Infinity War”, “Ready Player One”, and “Blade Runner 2049”. How much of your designs are based in predicting what technology will look like in the years to come and how much of it is based in reimagining what’s already been predicted in the past?
MARTI: We listen to the director and the director's vision when we have to reimagine things. We have to be very grounded of where we've gone so far and how things have evolved in a realistic way. Having a very recent point of reference of what's happening in technology right now and trying to speculate what's going to happen next. One film will want these extra fresh pair of eyes and for us to think outside of the box. And other films will want to work in real life technology. And that's why we're very grateful to be right in the middle, merging Hollywood and Silicon Valley into one.
Territory Studio screen graphics, top to bottom: Iron Man, Blade Runner 2049, Guardians of the Galaxy
TALIN: To build on that, it reminds me of the ongoing conversation that Marti and I have been having that kicked this project off... What is a role of the designer and the role of the creator in guiding technology? The dreamers are using the tools to imagine some future state where we might be as a civilization and the ways in which we might interact with one another.
Being here in the Bay Area, you're seeing these companies who are still inspired by things like the Star Trek Tricorder. Or maybe designers working in AR still trying to recreate the Minority Report UI with Tom Cruise, with those gloves on and all those heads-up displays flying everywhere. Or even inventors who want to be Tony Stark and interact with their software in very intuitive ways like he did.
The exciting outcome is really injecting that sense of "what if" into the DNA of XD and allowing the people to create experiences that haven't even been imagined yet.
How do you personally see projects like this that imagine HUDs actually influencing the reality of what HUDs will look like in the future?
MARTI: When we were looking back at the Terminator design you can see how in terms of visual effects it was already showing a way of machine vision, a way of augmented reality, some layer on top of reality. We have all these tools that allow us and that was not there before. I imagine we will have even more powerful technology, visual effects, and design tools, and my hope is that will trigger even better future visions that will end up in our homes and our work spaces and our everyday lives.
I think that’s why clients come to Territory Studio and why directors trust us to help with the vision of the future, or the vision of another planet, or the vision the next few years of military operations, technology, etc. All of it is our playground and without the rights tools we won't be able to execute it. It’s an amazing place to be.