The trailers and clips for Ghost in the Shell present a cold, neon-blazed city in distress, reminiscent of Blade Runner and other iconic dystopian scifi. However, some recently released design work hints at a world we could have had.
Monika Bielskyte, co-founder of All Future Everything, worked early in the film’s production to come up with some conceptual design work and world-building for the new Ghost in the Shell, and she recently released some of her work on Twitter. Bielskyte told io9 her job on Ghost in the Shell was world design research, through storyboards, and strategy write-up. With other scifi works, she also specializes “early stage ideation,” storyboarding visual themes, as well as working with designers and concept artists, to create an idea of what the film’s universe could look like.
“At that stage when the script is not yet final, everything is moving and shifting around, and I essentially help to craft that early stage universe and develop that strategy of what that world could be like,” Bielskyte said.
Bielskyte’s Ghost in the Shell concepts focused a lot on the intersection of technology, biology, and artistry, paying tribute to the original manga and anime through immersive use of space, architecture, and especially color. Bielskyte said the original Ghost in the Shell film was what inspired her to pursue her career, so she wanted to make sure that the source material was respected, while also making changes to better reflect new innovations in technology and design. For example, bringing in modern graffiti artists and fusing their work with virtual reality.
If you look at her Twitter thread of conceptual design storyboarding, you can see that some of her ideas are echoed in the final film, but a lot of the them look to have been unused. The movie looks pretty dark and cold, with a lot of grey and blue... except for the occasional pops of color. There’s admittedly some cool-looking stuff in the trailers for the new Ghost in the Shell film, but as beautiful as the movie looks, it does recycle things we’ve already seen. I’m sure some of that is to harken back to the previous manga and anime, as well as to pay tribute to its Blade Runner design roots, but it doesn’t reflect the future as well as it could.
Bielskyte wouldn’t speak to what Ghost in the Shell used or not, but she did say that, as a whole, scifi Hollywood films like this one have a tendency to rely on old, tired tropes about what the future will look like. It’s either a 1980s cyberpunk dystopia, or super clean, cold, and sterile.
“I’m just really frustrated how scifi today would not look into what’s actually happening in technology and science, or they will bring in one consultant for Interstellar to not get black holes completely wrong,” Bielskyte said. “My main critique to Hollywood is you can’t dip in and out of scifi. You could before because the future was so simple, but things are getting more complicated now because the future is so complicated.”
Bielskyte said she often pushes scifi films like Ghost in the Shell to move away from tired clichés and come up with futuristic designs that actually reflect where we are and where we’re going. A lot of that involves getting younger and more diverse voices involved in production, especially in the realms of tech consulting and design. Bielskyte said Hollywood has a long way to go before it actually starts getting the future right, but she’s hopeful that movies will one day move forward.
“I think scifi is the most important genre that we have in literature and entertainment today, because these futures are upon us and we don’t know what to do with them. The opportunity of scifi is to allow to start thinking about these things, and the only way we’ll be able to create these incredible future is to engage,” Bielskyte said.
Clarification: Updated Bielskyte’s work with Ghost in the Shell in relation to her other consulting projects.