The Tomorrow War

I had the pleasure to design the vicious White Spikes for The Tomorrow War. Back in early 2019, I worked a few weeks with director Chris McKay and production designer Peter Wenham on the film. To my surprise, I was told at the very end that other designers already had worked separately on different alien designs and ultimately it was my design that got picked for the film. Later Weta Digital, Luma Pictures, Framestore, Method Studios and Spectral Motion used my work to bring them to life.

The Tomorrow War

A family man is drafted to fight in a future war where the fate of humanity relies on his ability to confront the past.

The Tomorrow War - Trailer

In The TOMORROW WAR, the world is stunned when a group of time travelers arrive from the year 2051 to deliver an urgent message: Thirty years in the future mankind is losing a global war against a deadly alien species. The only hope for survival is for soldiers and civilians from the present to be transported to the future and join the fight.

Designing the White Spikes

Video about the White Spike concepts I did for The Tomorrow War, showing how the design evolved starting from the first sketches to the final 3D concept.

White Spike Brief

The White Spikes had to be a powerful enemy. Director Chris McKay described the White Spikes to me as vicious creatures that attack and eat everything in sight. He asked for a compelling design that conveyed the hunger and intelligence of these creatures. Additionally, the White Spikes needed to have different abilities such as fast swimming and flying. It was important that they were agile and able to move extremely fast. It was my job to translate all this information into one cohesive design. In our Skype meetings, Chris mentioned H.R. Giger’s Alien and Hellraiser as a reference point but he also encouraged me to show him additional ideas. He liked the work from my portfolio and wanted to see what I’d come up with.

Early Ideas

Because there was no clear description of the White Spikes, I gave Chris a few different options to choose from in the beginning. In this early stage, it was all about brainstorming and coming up with interesting ideas.

Early Ideas

Early Ideas

Early Ideas

Chris was looking for something truly alien, but yet grounded. He liked the boney structure of the arms and legs in this early version. Some elements of this sketch made it into the final design.

Tentacles

The initial script had a battle scene at the Miami Beach that was mostly in water. Therefore, in the early sketches, I pictured the White Spikes more aquatic with tentacle-like legs. It ended up a bit too much like 'War of the Worlds' and 'Matrix', nevertheless it was a great base.

Bio Weapon

In order to make them more threatening, Chris felt they needed to have some kind of an offensive weapon, and asked for a plausible way of how the White Spikes could shoot at their targets. I came up with the idea of spike-shooting-tentacles and presented the idea in this sketch. Chris loved that idea and wanted me to develop that particular design further.

Influences

I used various animal references that influenced the design. For the head of the White Spikes, for example, I tried to incorporate various references of deep-sea fish. Especially the Viperfish and Piranhas were big influences when I worked on the face.

Armored Shell

Chris suggested adding an armored shell and bigger blades for protection. I made the shoulder blades wider and added thicker skin on their backs that could repel attacks.

Legs and Claws

During the design process I added joints to the legs but kept two tentacles which became the two tails on the back. Based on notes I received from Chris and production Designer Peter Wenham, I did 67 different alterations in total until we found the final version. Those alterations consisted of different head shapes, eyes, spikes and legs.

3D Model

Because of a planned meeting at the studio, I only had a few days to sculpt and render the White Spike. It was a tough deadline considering the complexity of the design, and exporting a model for rendering can be a time-consuming process. Thanks to 'ZBrush to KeyShot Bridge' I managed to finish everything on time.

Anatomy

I like to mix the anatomy of insects with mammals in my designs. For example, the small front arms are based on Mantis claws and the back plates resemble the shell of a grasshopper.

Anatomy

To make a good design, I think it’s important to find a good balance between realism and imagination. If you design a creature too outlandish or abstract, it will look unbelievable and silly. And vice versa. If you make a design too realistic, it will look boring. I like seeing actual anatomy in a design, this makes it look more grounded. Using reference photos from real-life animals is a great help to accomplish that.

Clay Render

Clay Render

Clay Render

Clay Render

Clay Render

Clay Render

Rendering

Earlier White Spike 3D Concept. This version had bigger insect-like eyes and longer hind legs. I used KeyShot at the end of the process for the final rendering. The program enables me to present the design in a very photorealistic way so that the client gets a good idea of what the character might look like in the finished film.

Neutral Pose

I rendered the model with different materials in KeyShot and then composited those render passes in Photoshop. In the final stage, I overpainted the rendering for a more refined finish. This technique gives me more control over the textures and colors.

Defence Pose

The goal is to come up with something new and original and avoid making it look similar to an already existing design. This is always very challenging and the hardest part of the job.

Spike Shooting Tentacles

Close up.

Thanks

I want to thank Chris McKay, Rob Cowan, James E. Price, Peter Wenham, Randy Starr, Skydance, Amazon Studios and Chris Pratt. Also shoutout to the artists and animators who brought them to life: Weta Digital, Luma Pictures, Framestore, Method Studios and Spectral Motion (for their on-set animatronic).