The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at
The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at

Designing Into the Unknown

Before the days of special effects and CGI, filmmakers looking to transport their audience to other dimensions needed to look to other methods to create their otherworldly landscapes on screen.

In the 1960s, director and special effects supervisor, Douglas Trumbull, became one of the first to pioneer a new technique that would allow filmmakers to do just this, creating the surreal motion backgrounds we recognise from science fiction films of the time. Using  different density paints and inks in huge water tanks, also known as ‘cloud tanks’, Trumbull created the stunning scenes for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner and Silent Running.

Today, many filmmakers look to computer generated effects and green screens to design a new science fiction realism in films

But for Into The Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction, we wanted to create an image that captured the history and evolution of science fiction but also reflected the new technologies available in the 21st century. The result saw design agency Praline and photographer Dan Tobin Smith bring these pre-CGI techniques into the modern studio, combining these with 3D printing and graphic design.

Watch the behind the scenes video to learn more about this fascinating technique that helped create the imagery for Into the Unknown.

Photography by Dan Tobin Smith, design by Praline.

Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction takes place from 3 June–1 September.


One Comment


Worth to watch so much to learn. Really inspiring to try and create something similar.

Comments are closed.