“Oblivion” Set Design Analysis

"Oblivion" Set Design Analysis

Joseph Kosinski, director of the Sci-Fi film Oblivion, is an alum of Columbia University’s architecture program. With his digital design skills, he broke into the film industry starting with a series of short films. He went on to make his feature debut with 2010’s TRON: Legacy. Both TRON: Legacy and Oblivion exude a futuristic look with a sleek, modern aesthetic.

 The photo above is a digital mock up of the house Kosinski did of what he wanted to call the “Sky Tower.” The photo on the right is the finished product that is featured in the movie. The tower combines blocky and rounded shapes which serves as a nice balance of contrast. This theme is highly visible in the interior with the blocky cabinets and the circular openings for the staircase. Most blocky items also have fillets on the corners which gives a more organic feel. 

 The “Bubble Helicopter” is an iconic part of the film simply because of its form which heavily alludes to the form of a dragon fly. Below is some of the concept art showing the different elements drawn from insects. 

 To compare design languages, the film Dune, directed by Denis Villeneuve, features brutalist architecture. Patrice Vermette, the production designer for this film, commented on his inspirations saying there is “Mayan and Aztec” architecture references as well as “Japanese architecture and influence.” 

 Although the “Sky Tower” incorporates straight lines and angular surfaces, it is portrayed in a completely different way than in the film Dune. Instead of thick blocky structures, the tower is built of thinner pieces of metal with large windows that create the illusion of flying. 

 The “Bubble Helicopter” is extremely rounded compared to the other architecture; however, there are circular elements that tie in the spheres that make up the helicopter. For example, the circle on the landing pad as well as the circular standing point beneath the landing pad as well. The filleted corners also help to blend the contrasting features into one cohesive design language. 

“Oblivion” is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth presenting a world destroyed by war. Jack Harper (played by Tom Cruise) and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are equipped with the duty of maintaining and repairing the drones that protect Earth’s remaining resources. 

As the film unravels, themes of existentialism and purpose arise as the characters are faced dilemmas concerning love, identity, and free will. Harper also struggles with a sense of loneliness. 

Oblivion portrays a beautiful combination of desolate landscape with futuristic technology inhabiting it. The technology itself is very clean and rounded; however, there are examples of blocky and harsher shapes such as the floating bases seen in the photo to the right. What makes this building correlate with the rest of the design language even though they are different forms? I believe the color and the functionality of the base allows it to peacefully coexist with the other features in the design language. The white color with darker contrasting metals, while also having the base levitate above the ground creates a futuristic essence that follows the design language. 

Words that describe the design language in this movie are: 

Futuristic 

Sleek

Desolate

Existential

Dystopian 

Clean 

Advanced 

The control pad shows the advanced technology that is used in the film. The display of commands look complicated, yet they are shown on a long, sleek touch screen. The only intricate thing in the room is the technology itself. Even Victoria’s hair and dress are simple and clean. 

The materials used in this film come together to create a high-tech world with a rugged, yet sleek design. For example, the overall form of the drones are spherical, but the four guns protruding on either side give a harsh essence to the film. The “X” figure on the front of the drone still incorporates the roundness that is shown in the rest of the film. 

The materials that make up the weapons and other gear in the film consist of a mixture of metal and plastic. These materials support the rough and dangerous side of the film. Although the designs are sleek, they have extra indentations compared to some of the more smooth set designs featured in the film. 

Other materials that are featured in the set design is glass as well as a strong white light that is seen throughout the house. Large filleted rectangles made with glass act as walls will allow a sense of openness and space. Inside the “Sky Tower” there is peace and cleanliness, yet outside is a desolate and destroyed earth. This theme is replicated within the design language. 

The colors in this film tie into the contrasting themes of ruggedness and simplicity. Hues of white are spread across the film. The bright white is used to show the “good” side of the conflict as seen in the “Sky Tower.” The white gets covered with dirt and becomes a beige that is used to show the drones which become a protagonist in the film. Dark grey is seen on the weapons and other gear. Grey and black give a sense of survival and toughness. They look different than what would be found in the “Sky Tower” because they are not as rounded or smooth.