Meet The Designer Of Fake User Interfaces

Meet The Designer Of Fake User Interfaces


The guy who makes what movie characters see on their computer screen shares some insight on how he creates the fake user interfaces.

We've all been watching an action flick where a character has to do something on a computer and a few images flash on the screen conveying just the right information but not resembling how a real computer looks at all. Someone has to make the images that read "Intruder Alert" or "Access Denied," and that person is Mark Coleran. He has designed the computer sequences in movies like The Bourne Identity, Tomb Raider, Children of Men, and Mission Impossible III. The National Public Radio has a gallery of images from some of Coleran's more memorable designs. The challenge is to convey vital information in a very short span of time, and he said that quite a bit of inspiration for that comes from videogames.

"The 'Game Over' thing, it's a very big word that splashes across the screen, and it tells you exactly what's happening," he said.

Coleran admits that what you see on the screen is not truly interactive at all. The actor says his lines and there is a either an operator offscreen advancing the animation or it's a preprogrammed script. "They're not doing anything at all other than acting," Coleran said. He call it pseudointeraction.

"It looks like they're interacting with the device," Coleran says, "but what's really happening is we are watching them do what they do, and we have ways of controlling it and firing it off and cueing it up so it looks like they're doing stuff in real time."

"The entire point of those things is to tell a story," he said. "'I can't get into the computer.' How do you tell somebody in two seconds, onscreen, that they can't get into that thing?"

It can sometimes be frustrating watching movies and seeing computers being manipulated in ways that us nerds know is completely unrealistic (Hackers anyone?), but it is heartening that at least some thought goes into designing such interfaces. Coleran has said he's even seen his designs seep into real applications.

"And unfairly, sometimes we get credit for it." Coleran is nothing but modest.

Source: NPR



I always kind of wondered who exactly did this sort of stuff and exactly how they pull it off when some actor starts blasting away at a keyboard for two seconds and suddenly up pops the exact thing they wanted. I was expecting more pictures of his work though, just to see how many I might recognise.

I didn't recognise any from films but the third one I recognised as based of Virtools.

Pretty intresting...Nice to see how they think about this kind iof thing

Interesting in terms of "why that stuff on Jumping Jack Flash looks retarded when Whoopie bitch slaps the keyboard for 90 minutes". Seriously, go watch Jumping Jack Flash. It makes sense.

He call it pseudointeraction.

While the rest of the world calls it acting!, yeah, I met a gardener that calls himself a "Landscape Artist"... tossers the lot of them.

I suppose a Junior in an office that does all the photocopying should be called a Reproduction Graphics Agent.

I have a sudden dislike for this character and I really want to say bad things about him, possibly owing that normally its Greg Tito that insults people and he hasn't done enough insulting in this article for me!.

The last one kinda looks like a flash game.

Hah something I've always wondered about when watching the movie but never enough to actually go and research for it. Glad to finally get some info on the subject. (Without working for it)

I can accept fake UIs, but what I can't accept is people hammering away at a keyboard like mad... while doing something that would need at most 3 keystrokes and a mouse... or people typing that is so obviously fake, there hands don't move at all, their fingers are centred on the middle of the keyboard, without ever using their thumbs or little fingers, that's just bad acting, and there is no excuse, almost everyone in the world knows how to use a computer, hell my 78 year old grandmother knows how to use a damn computer, not well, but she knows how to use it!

The guys who did the interfaces for Starship Troopers have a rather interesting read on their site that goes into detail on quite a few things.

There have been some crazy interfaces over the years. I don't think anyone will ever forget Hackers and its visual representation of humorously named viruses.

I've always wondered why the heck they designed phony interfaces for movies instead of just using actual ones, I even thought of it as retarded. Mostly because I thought the main reason for doing it was just to make it look more flashy.
While this is probably still the case, I get the point - I can see that real interfaces wouldn't convey the appopriate kind of action and get the point of the action across in an efficient way.

Why didn't I think of this?

I'm always amazed by the jobs that some people do.

Food Photographer, Fortune Cookie Writer, Cheese Sprayer, Cow Hoof Trimmer and now Fake GUI designers. It's a mad world.


I always thought you could hack in to the Pentagon by randomly mashing the keyboard and that it took 7 or 8 keystrokes to do what the mouse can do in 1 click. I am so jaded right now.

Is this the guy I have to thank every single time I laugh while watching CSI or any similar show? Their databases and magical fingerprint machines crack me up every time.

Thanks for the good notes. Hopefully I can answer a couple of questions seeing this is one of my hangouts.

Cold Storage...
I call the process pseudo interaction. The actors, act (generally). The last thing they need to be doing is trying to use a computer at the same time. They are only concerned with the performance they have to do. The reason I call it pseudo interaction is also because it only bears a resemblance to something working, when in reality the entire thing is animated to look like it is being used.

There are a shit load of cliches that surround the use of computers in film and TV and unfortunately they seem to use each other as reference points. It ends up distilled until all you have left is the crack equivalent of cliched computer screens.

There are huge copyright and IP issues when using real stuff in movies. You need an army of lawyers and weeks, sometimes months to get stuff approved. In the real world that doesn't jibe with the budgets and deadlines you have to make this stuff. Companies can be more than happy to have their stuff used in movies but then only in a good light. If people are doing something bad with it or it say, crashes, you can lose the right to use it. There are also other issues. You design it to look like, say, WindowsXP then get on set to discover that Apple have product placement and the machines are all Macs. You are screwed. Easier to create vanilla systems (inspired more by gnome etc) than to get into the minefield.

The look and feel of the CSI stuff might be laughable but I have nothing but respect for the guys who do that stuff. In the end, you dont get to make the call on final look and feel and we have all had clients, as designers, who want to make us dig a hole to climb in.. Week on week they have to deliver a lot of stuff on a hell of a limited budget and still do that one thing, tell the story. I think they succeed in that respect pretty well even if aesthetically it could be more plausible.


I also did a longer, slightly more detailed interview with CBC Radio One show called Spark. Goes into a little more detail.

I rather prefer Okuda's designs over this guy, but hey, those UIs are also pretty neat to look at either way.


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