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We Launchies have it easy. We sit here, look at everything Summit gives us to do with Ender’s Game, critique, nerd-out, etc. But just how does one go about building Ender’s world? That’s all I could think about sitting in the dark barracks (the lights were no longer working) waiting to talk to Sean Haworth and Ben Proctor, set designers for Ender’s Game.

I mean, I was sitting in a Battle School Army barracks. I’d walked through a massive metal hallway to get to it. There were bunk beds to sit on, lockers to go through, and actual ladders to climb to the top bunk. Where does one start with such a freakishly daunting task?

The two wizards who made it happen sat down on bunks across from us and happily chatted about how they’d ended up on the crew. Proctor told us an amusing story of how he’d cold emailed author Orson Scott Card asking if a movie was going to be made. It made me laugh inside. He was a curious, anxious, impatient fan like me. Only his job was a whole lot cooler.

When NASA workers were cleaning out the warehouse space for them to work in, they began to dump a lot of materials. Materials which would prove invaluable to a pair of sci-fi set designers. “We heard about it and we went down there and we saw them moving all these beautiful boxes of bolts and connections and hoses and we basically just stopped them. We started ripping everything off of there.” Haworth recalled.

“Can we have this?”

“Oh no, it’s junk.”

“No, no, no it’s not junk, it’s good!”

They spent a whole day rifling through the stuff scheduled for recycling, since there’s a specific life span for the parts. Things like bolts they were able to keep, but larger pieces such as brackets all had to be accounted for and returned. Still, having access to a NASA “junkyard” meant scavenging $80 titanium bolts, which can’t be a bad thing. For anything else they needed, they would cast and replicate.

When they first met with director Gavin Hood, he already had a pretty firm idea of what he wanted and it was clear to him why some of the choices were made, such as limiting the school to only one Battle Room. “If you think about the number of kids that actually are involved in this many armies or a number of armies it’s actually manageable to digest in the context of the movie, the station doesn’t need to be that big with multiple battle rooms.” explained Proctor. “There’s just no need for that much overhead.”

Proctor explained to us some of the mechanics behind the glass shield around the Battle Room and how an orbit around Earth only takes 45 minutes, which meant the lighting in the room would change pretty rapidly during a battle. A satellite engineer pointed out that with that design, the sun would cook the kids instantly at certain parts of the day, so they will make it so that during those times, the glass is clearly protected by some kind of metallic sheen that represents a reflective coating.

When it came to the interiors of the school, Proctor admitted that there’s definitely a common look when it comes to space ships and they wanted to keep that while still looking fresh and real to people. It was a matter of striking a balance so that they weren’t being technologically slick just for the sake of it. “It should be more like […] being sent off to something that looks like something NASA would make in seventy years.”

Ships that dock with the school attach to the surface, though that wasn’t something that sat very well with self-proclaimed super geeks like Haworth and Proctor. “We’d be like, “It wouldn’t be like that. Have you seen 2001?” There’s a reason they go to the center, because it’s really easy to match orbit!” Proctor admits that ultimately it didn’t matter though, since Hood had creative prerogatives that they had to adhere to. “It does latch on to the wheel and kinda flow around in this elegant new way of making it attach, so it doesn’t go into a hole, it actually just docks. We actually invented this sort of robotic mechanism a teeny bit like the canadarm on the shuttle, one of those arms that come out and catch it in a sense and click it into place as it now starts to flow with the station and spin around.”

For lighting and the color palette of the sets, Haworth said that Hood had a very set idea on the color progression of the film. Earth and Battle School representing humans would be mostly blues and greys with splashes of color for the armies and then eventually they would transition to the amber tones of Eros where the Formics used to live. And indeed, you can see the stark contrast of humans in a Formic environment in scenes in the trailer.

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And while it may not have been executed perfectly, audiences should be able to unconsciously follow the color changes. “You know who’s who. You have an overall sort of color arc or color script of the movie.”

The gate and staging area were their personal favorite sets, with Proctor saying that his choice was purely on a craft level. “That was probably the most well executed set.”

While the book may have implied a lot of potential scenes for Formics, the majority of what we see of the aliens will be in the construction; their caves, their ships. Designing and constructing the Formic sets required the help of many different designers including their lead sculptor, who had done a lot of research on his own.

“Ender will discover his enemy essentially through his environment so we had to convey a certain sense of beauty and elegance to get him to try and understand who he was and who he’s destroying.” said Haworth. The main thing was to convey creative continuity, since Formic structures would have been constructed with thousands of hands of the queen.

An interesting parallel between production and the Formics came with the 3D printer that was available as a prize at the Ender’s Game Experience. “They would kind of just swarm over something just licking it and creating it layer by layer by layer and that’s where this striation comes from. So it’s kind of cool, licking a spacecraft into existence.” joked Proctor. They used the printer to make some things for the set and the printer worked in a way that reminded him of how Formics would have built. They even featured a small printer in Ender’s room on Earth.

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In addition, with the Formics came a sort of religious analogy with a Formic cathedral set that they hoped to incorporate into the film, but it ultimately was too complicated to integrate an alien religion into the film and so they changed it to be part of the mind game. It sheds some light on how they’ve changed Eros in the film. “It switched identities into being more of her nursery which gave us opportunities that it didn’t have before, to have dead kids essentially.” said Proctor. “When we came and bombed Eros the mind game became something different. The mind game became a memory, a multi-bodied memory of what the queen had of what it was like to be bombed, to be scared and to run into the cathedral, and then have it get collapsed on top of you. That’s the whole story that really happened on Eros.”

With what he’s saying, it definitely sounds like Eros has become the setting for the ending scene with Ender finding the real mind game scenes made for him somewhere on the planet. It’s an understandable change since the movie’s timeline had to be condensed. Proctor confirms it by explaining the reasoning behind the change, “If we don’t really get to go to the Formic planet ever, then how do we go to one of their spaces? And that was the answer, was Eros is not an asteroid with little tube holes in it, it’s a proper planetoid with an atmosphere that would look a bit like the formic home planet. It gives you a preview, it gives Ender a preview, of what their world and their society really feels like.”

One of the producers also confirmed that it may intentionally be called something else, such as Command School, so it’s not clear yet whether we’ll actually hear it referred to as Eros.

I asked if, since they were book fans, if it was any harder to break down these sets than any others. While Haworth said that it happens all the time to them and that they can’t get too attached, Proctor did admit it was sad. “The good news is that hopefully the gate, if all goes well, that the gate you just saw will be the Comic Con booth in 2013, so everyone will get to experience that directly.”

We all know now that everything did go well and fans were able to experience that and much more for themselves!

In closing, they commented on how fun the project was for them and how great their work environment had turned out to be. “It’s rare that we have this kind of dedication from a crew. Every plasterer, every painter, every carpenter was giddy. We almost had the pick of the litter where everyone wanted to work on this. Pretty much everyone we talk to is [a] serious fan.”

Stay tuned for our final two reports coming out later today with stunt coordinator Garrett Warren and Sir Ben Kingsley.

12 Comments »

  1. Wendy Clare says:

    Wait…what?? EROS is where Ender will discover the Mind Game built for him?? Wow…that’ll take some getting used to, but I can see how it would work, and it’s a rather clever way to deal with Chapter 15, I guess. But on the other hand, how could the formics have built it there when they got this from Ender’s mind while he was at Command School, i.e. Eros, where the buggers aren’t anymore…? This is tying my brain into a pretzel…well, at least that’s a little better than that horrible conjecture y’all came up with a while ago about Petra being the one to go off with Ender rather than Valentine. *Shudder* Less than two months now before we find out how this is all going to work… 😛 <

    • MajorAnderson says:

      har har, that’s not off the table. Ender may find the queen on Eros (as I have predicted), but he still has to go and find a new home world for the formics. And guess who’s going with him … ? (evil snicker)

      • Wendy Clare says:

        It better bloody well be Valentine or this household of mine will be really…um…mad! ><

        • Why would it need to be Valentine? It wasn’t even Valentine in the book!

          • MajorAnderson says:

            well, it wasn’t Valentine who was with him when he found the Queen, but she was the one he left Earth with in the book.
            Still, the way I see it, Ender is not leaving Earth to avoid being used in a political power struggle in the movie – he leaves to make things right (which i actually like a lot, since it gives audiences some form of closure as there is the suggestion that this will help Ender find peace). If he is on Eros with Petra and Petra is the one to find the Queen with him, then it makes sense that she should be the one to accompany him on his quest. Val is not involved in this (not as she would be if this was about politics), so why would she be the one to go with him, other than that she loves him? From a narrative point if view, Petra makes more sense.

          • Wendy Clare says:

            Yes, Valentine going off to the colonies with Ender is what I was referring to. And Major, I understand what you’re saying from a separate movie perspective. The main gut problem I see with this (both as a movie fan and a book fan) is 1) why so little love for Valentine, when she is Ender’s rock throughout the series? Their relationship is crucial to his well-being, especially immediately following the war (I’m thinking particularly of Ender in Exile here). Even if her scenes in the film are brief, the significance of Ender’s time with her, if played right, will still work, and them going off together at the end will make perfect sense to any film-goer with half a brain cell.

            And 2) having Petra going off with him obviously screws up any future sequels that have ANYTHING to do with the books, and goes completely against the No-Romance/Just Battle School friends/and fellow war veterans relationship that Hood & Co. have worked hard to project. If they go off together into the sunset, who’s NOT going to think “Oh how sweet…now they’ll be together 4evr!!”. Yuck, yuck, YUCK. That’s just so dang predictable and Hollywood and against the books.

            I can deal with a lot of changes, but this is not one I want to see. Period.

          • I think no matter what, with the unique way Card’s books are structured, you have to accept that any sequels might not follow any of his subsequent books. If this movie makes it, I don’t know that any of the sequels are good enough for another movie.

          • Wendy Clare says:

            Oh I do understand that…I’ve been puzzled all along by the use of the word “franchise” for that exact reason. As much as I love the books, I really see this film as a one-shot deal, because the story stands on its own. But IF there is a sequel, or a tv series or whatever, my bottom line is don’t mess with the characters. Go ahead and play with plot all you want to, but keep the characters and their relationships intact as much as possible. They’re all so richly drawn I just hate to see them messed with. That’s why I react so strongly to the idea of an “Ender/Petra/Twoo Wuv” kind of plot change…it’s cheap and unimaginative, like the worst kind of fanfiction drivel.

            Ok…rant over. 😉

          • MajorAnderson says:

            I gotta admit that I haven’t read them all, but from what I hear Card deconstructs many of his characters himself in the sequels – most notably Ender (who isn’t the savior after all, cuz apparently Bean is much cooler) and Petra, who goes from being a tough, independent player to a woman and mother who defines herself through her men. Personally, that is what I’m most afraid to see. So I hope that if there’s romance with Ender, it is not that type of relationship.
            As for the general direction of any sequels: I guess I’m not a purist. Whatever works from a narrative point of view is fine with me, especially if it keeps the characters as they are in Ender’s Game (and I mean Ender’s Game, not necessarily any sequels).
            As for Valentine: I seem to have an unpopular opinion there, and I hope you guys don’t mind me voicing it, but I don’t actually like Val. I have never been able to forgive her for selling out Ender, whatever the reason. I feel she betrayed him, and that much of his unhappiness is because he loved her and she used that against him. And for some reason I don’t care if she tried to make it better later. He was broken then, and he remained so. The adults would never have been able to break him if not for Valentine. Ender had the right instinct and tried to protect himself. She took away his defenses, and she knew she was doing it. So no, I don’t see her as his “rock.”

  2. 123viewit says:

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