The most dazzling aspect of Cloud Atlas is probably the vision of near-future Korea, the city of Neo-Seoul. Glittery and dystopian, Neo-Seoul sits next to the sunken ruins of the original Seoul, with slums side by side with shining ribbons and flying cars.
But if anything, the original concept art for Neo-Seoul looks even cooler. Check out an exclusive look, right here. And you should definitely click to enlarge these images, which look best at full screen. (Minor spoilers below.)
This gallery comes via George Hull, the concept artist who developed Neo-Seoul. (We previously featured his concept art from Battleship and Amazing Spider-Man.) Check out his thoughts about the creation of this amazing artwork below.
Top image: Neo Seoul, a very early image created in 2010 as the directors pitched their script and art to investors.
Here's what Hull tells us about the process of creating a whole new dystopian city:
In Early 2010 the Wachowskis gave me their epic script to read and described this incredible movie they wanted to make with Tom Tykwer (director of Run Lola Run). After reading it, I was in awe of their vision and sheer guts to take on such a cinematic challenge... wrestling six stories together across centuries of time.
Old Seoul, exploring the idea of floodgates holding back rising ocean levels, and a city adapting over time.
I guess I am the target audience for this movie, I love Science fiction, but also movies that dare to tackle big ideas. And trying to weave moral patterns of the human experience across six centuries of time is ranked a difficulty level of 10 to say the least. My take away on the overall theme is - that the sum of the human experience is come to by a series of choices that we all have to make...and those decisions, cruelty, kindness, bravery - can ripple across time and interconnect us to our past and pave our future. They really reached for the moon on this one, and I am quite honored to have been involved.
More of Old Seoul
In 2010, the directors were working on getting funding for the epic script and needed some concept art to accompany it. To begin Lana and Andy asked me to do a keyframe from the Somni 451 story, to help sell the action and visuals of the film. They described a chase scene across a futuristic Seoul Korea, with glowing ribbons of freeway arteries. I had a limited amount of time and designing new ships and architecture takes more than the days I had. So in the chase keyframe, you can see I hid most of the gunship in the extreme foreground and worked primarily on scale of the cityscape. This was the first image I created for Neo Seoul. It was used (in addition to storyboards by Steve Skroce and other images) to help get more interest and of course money to kickstart the movie!
The film went up and down during the tumultuous funding phase and I got entangled into another film for over 6 months. Eventually Cloud Atlas successfully got off the ground and I was excited to return to designing Neo Seoul.
I was tasked with creating the big picture city design and master shots for this quintessential Wachowski story. Over skype sessions with Lana and Andy, we would talk about trends in architecture and ideas on where it could go in the future. They are very into architecture. I assume it comes from thier background as builders. Some directors would just say "put a futuristic city in the background", but with the Wachowskis, they talk about the history of skyscrapers and how building materials have dictated the shifts in architectural language. From stone towers to metal and glass we pondered the next leap in architectural vocabulary- nano built structures, organic skins with solar cells etc. Much of this exploration was just too odd looking and I left it out of this gallery. We came to realize we like a certain level of "tower" shape to our skyscrapers. So I worked on unique vertical shapes that were organic but not too crazy and composing a layout that could hold a lot of the detail and information that they wanted, yet still be readable. I used warm and cool temperatures to help separate the foreground to background picture planes for depth and to help maximize scale and aerial perspective.
My favorite art from the film however are the paintings for Old Seoul. I remember a great skype session with Lana and Andy, they came with the idea of old Seoul being flooded by rising oceans and Neo Seoul rising up like a manmade mountain. As they were describing tops of flooded towers, I closed my eyes trying to picture it in my head. I instantly merged their description with a photograph of a mountain range in Vietnam that spiked out of the ocean like giant fingers with tiny fishing boats juxtaposed against them for scale. This was the inspiration for the blue image "view from inside the floodgates'". We brainstormed ideas for dams and levees that would hold back the ocean. I went to work offering up layouts and ideas about the evolution of a flooded city. I used a 3D program call sketchup to help me quickly block out hundreds of buildings and different elevations. It allowed me to experiment with the flood height and perspectives for composition. I started with circular designs for these dams- that maybe 100 years before neo seoul, were erected to save the financial and other important districts from the rising oceans.
View from inside the flood gates
When I returned with sketches, we kept getting new ideas about what might happen in an abandoned flooded metropolis. I recalled the slums I had seen in Cairo, Mumbai and photos of Favellas in Brazil, and Kowlon in Hong Kong. It is unfortunate and sad what conditions huge populations of humans are forced to live in, and yet fascinating what structures we come up with to survive. I sketched shack dwellings growing up the floodgate walls like a coral reef, imagined the fishing villages I saw in Cambodia on top of (almost) flooded skyscraper tops like an island chain, flotillas of ships creating city blocks with low tech bridges, overturned oil rigs retrofitted for shelter, 3rd world fishing boats with holographic adverts, high tech gear for defenses and communication, etc. Now to make all that into pictures!
This is my favorite aspect of my job, when directors engage me intellectually and artistically. This is why I love working with the Wachowskis. They are so friendly and respectful of the artistic craft, that I find I work on a different frequency... one of respect for the shared collaboration. Now I sound like the biggest sycophant, oh well.
I am currently working with them on their next sci fi epic called Jupiter Ascending, and can say I am having the most fun of my career. Now go see Cloud Atlas! I hope you enjoyed a bit of my art, more at www.ghull.com.
Cropped version of Slums of Old Seoul — imagining the kinds of adaptive technology and commerce the slum dwellers would invent to survive
Ideas for shanty towns/fishing villages, built (almost) on top of submerged skyscrapers, creating an island chain of building tops.
Another pass at imagining an archipelago of almost submerged building tops
Work in progress, showing the sunken city that is current Seoul, with Neo Seoul rising up
Neo Seoul, with "illuminated freeway ribbons"
Cropped version, future architecture and transportation ideas, including holographic building "skins" and advertisements
Early layout sketches for fabricant recycling/slaughter and processing facility
Hull was faced with the unpleasant task of adapting actual animal slaughterhouse mechanisms to humans/fabricants
Papa Song's processing ship
Papa Song's processing ship concept
Safe House view towards slums, painted by the talented Emmanuel Shiu, with art direction by George Hull
Early painting showing Sonmi 451's reveal of Neo Seoul
Early concept art - Submerged Old Seoul
Cropped version of early concept - Submerged Old Seoul