‘Oblivion’ and Tom Cruise: A closer look at the Bubble Ship design

April 10, 2013 | 8:00 a.m.
oblivion6 Oblivion and Tom Cruise: A closer look at the Bubble Ship design

The Bubble Ship rests on its launchpad at Skytower in "Oblivion." The spacecraft was inspired, in part, by the Bell 47 helicopter. (Universal Pictures)

oblivion1 Oblivion and Tom Cruise: A closer look at the Bubble Ship design

The Bubble Ship concept design, by Daniel Simon, for "Oblivion," which is set in an apocalyptic vision of the year 2073. (Daniel Simon / Universal Pictures)

oblivion8 Oblivion and Tom Cruise: A closer look at the Bubble Ship design

Jack (Tom Cruise) is interrogated by Beech (Morgan Freeman) in "Oblivion." (David James / Universal Pictures)

The U.S.S. Enterprise, the Millennium Falcon, the Nostromo — in the best science-fiction movies, the spaceship is an iconic character unto itself.

So when “Tron: Legacy” director Joseph Kosinski set about designing a spacecraft for Tom Cruise to pilot in his next film, the sci-fi thriller “Oblivion,” due in theaters April 19, he knew the stakes were high.

Based on a 2010 graphic novel Kosinski penned with comic book writer Arvid Nelson, “Oblivion” takes place in a not-so-distant future when Earth has been decimated by an alien invasion, and former Marine Jack Harper (Cruise) is one of a few people left on the planet to mop up after the war.

The movie, written by William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt, also stars Morgan Freeman as a 102-year-old insurgency leader, Melissa Leo as Jack’s authoritarian boss and Olga Kurylenko as a mysterious woman who stirs Jack’s memories.

Kosinski found inspiration for Jack’s craft — the so-called Bubble Ship — in an unlikely place, the lobby of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. That’s where the Bell 47 helicopter, a utilitarian 1947 helicopter with a transparent round canopy, hangs from the ceiling. The Bell 47 already holds a prominent place in the annals of vehicle design — it has served as a Korean War ambulance and a Batcopter in the 1966 “Batman” movie, among other jobs.

“It looks like a dragonfly,” said Kosinski, who was trained as an architect. “I love that. But it’s very functional, a helicopter stripped down to its essential parts.”

Working with Daniel Simon, the lead vehicle designer on “Tron: Legacy,” Kosinski took the inspiration of the Bell 47 and merged it with an advanced fighter jet to create the Bubble Ship. The aim was to build a vehicle as practical as it was pretty, a lesson he took from the utilitarian design of the ships in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“When Kubrick made ‘2001,’ rather than going to the hotshot concept designers of the day, he hired NASA engineers,” Kosinski said. “I believe form follows function. I’m not a fan of excessive decoration, of putting fins on something because it looks cool.”

The Bubble Ship concept design, by Daniel Simon, for "Oblivion," which is set in an apocalyptic vision of the year 2073. (Daniel Simon / Universal Pictures)

The Bubble Ship concept design, by Daniel Simon, for “Oblivion,” which is set in an apocalyptic vision of the year 2073. (Daniel Simon / Universal Pictures)

The Bubble Ship is a physical prop, not a digital one. A Camarillo concept car company called Wild Factory built the mostly aluminum vehicle, which is 25 feet long and weighs 4,000 to 5,000 pounds.

“We knew the Bubble Ship was gonna be in a lot of shots,” Kosinski said. “So economically it made sense to actually build this thing. But it’s not some flimsy movie prop. It was built solid so it feels like Tom could really fly it.”

Tom Cruise stars as Jack Harper in "Oblivion." (David James / Universal Pictures)

Tom Cruise stars as Jack Harper in “Oblivion.” (David James / Universal Pictures)

The Bubble Ship’s designers customized the craft for Cruise’s body, including where the joystick sits and the placement of the pedals. Since the actor is a pilot in real life, he had certain input into the design as well, Kosinski said.

The ship needed to be easy to assemble and disassemble, so the crew could transport it from California to the movie’s Iceland set, and mount it on a gimbal for flying scenes.

Drones — unmanned aerial vehicles left over from Earth’s war — play a key role in the film, too, and Kosinski sought to keep them in the same design family as the Bubble Ship, with its light and functional aesthetic.

By shooting “Oblivion” in Iceland in June, when there is near-continuous daylight and the warm, waning light known as magic hour lasts from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., Kosinski sought to take his vehicle designs out into a bold and revolutionary place for sci-fi: the sunshine.

“My idea with this movie was bringing sci-fi out into the daylight,” Kosinski said, drawing a contrast to Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 sci-fi film, “Alien.” “’Alien’ put sci-fi into the darkness — in the hulls of ships, dark planets, always seeming to be night. I was interested in inverting that, shooting a daylight film. I wanted there to be a beauty in this kind of desolation, in clean technology set against the primordial world of Iceland.”

— Rebecca Keegan

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex


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32 Responses to ‘Oblivion’ and Tom Cruise: A closer look at the Bubble Ship design

  1. HillRunner says:

    It's about time we had another "high-concept" sci-fi film to rock our placid lives!

    Only a "math-denyer" could deny the overwhelming odds that aliens do exist.

    Here are the facts:
    – A galaxies contains 200 to 400 BILLION stars (UniverseToday.com)
    – There are 100 to 200 billion galaxies in the Universe (Same source)
    – A star may have zero to ten or more planets around it
    – Some planets will support Life, some won't
    – Some are younger than Earth, so any life would be primitive
    – Some are millions of years older than Earth, so life on these could be highly technologically evolved.

    Next time you hear someone deny or ridicule the possibility of alien life…ask them what grade they stopped understanding arithmetic.

    • John W. says:

      No need to be so insulting. And why so angry? Why not be angry about more terrestrial issues? Besides, most rational people don't deny alien life exists out there, but the sane ones also don't believe they're so advanced that they've travelled millions (or billions) of miles to visit us and only make appearances in backwood, virtually unpopulated areas. If they were so advanced, they would feel no threat by us relative insects and so make themselves known. Yes, they're out there, but they haven't visited us. Zero real, substantiated proof of that.

      • Anon says:

        Actually there is, just because you havn't seen it yet doesn't make it not so. Get your head out of the sand.

      • Gerhard says:

        How do you know that we have not been visited?

      • John W. says:

        Because clearly he's been abducted, probed, tagged, and set free back into the wild to tell his story.

      • blank says:

        we aren't insect you weirdo. Why would aliens bother visiting us? we still haven't learned how to live with each other, what makes us so ready to get along with another species? I wouldn't visit earth.

    • Anon says:

      "Some are younger than Earth, so any life would be primitive "

      Doesn't mean they can't be more advanced, you can't assume ours is the benchmark of evolution. After all everything reset after that Dinosaurs where wiped out..if they hadn't been?

    • William says:

      I never looked at life like that. Thank you for your bullet points.

    • Vernon says:

      There is life outside of our solar system, and very probably a very lot of it! Sadly the possibility that of at least interstellar traveling species being near enough and advanced enough at approximately the same time frame in the life of this universe are so small that contact would be near impossible. To explore beyond our solar system will require travel exceeding the speed of light, which are currently concepts of science fiction only and may be many hundreds if not thousands of years away for our species to discover if it is even possible. Many advanced species many have reached the pinnacle of technological advancement and never have achieved interstellar travel and may exist still but are stuck like us to their home world, and many millions more may have died out. Reality is we may be the only advanced species currently alive in the Universe, we may be the first or possible the last to reach even our level of advancement, the possibilities are endless!

  2. Ezrii says:

    Well i would say : Let the Nasa do it's job at building the First Warpdrive.
    And after our first flight behond the speed of light, we'll see if some aliens are watching us and have some kind of Prime Directive as in Star Trek ;)

  3. dr Sabu says:

    Come year 2050, were will the generation of earth be -it was tre' bein to watch Tom Cruiseing in that wonderful Pearl ship,and the ingenuity in design ,and the tech in propulsive motion, was not happy of regarding the laser arm used by tom any movie is excellent ,10 score

  4. Anthony Wurthmann says:

    Is there a kit/model available to purchase?

  5. affectiveteam says:

    Anyone with real knowledge and true wisdom will know that we aren't sure if there are advanced life forms outside our planet (not speaking of parasites, organisms ect). we as humans always fear what we do not know or understand. thus bringing forth bogus studies of what really isn't in hopes of trying to simply understand. lets be real, we are totally clueless as to what is visiting us until it reveals itself to us directly. because not know doesn't exclude the fact that they do not want us to. a predator never shows himself all the way until it is striking its prey. by then it is overwhelmed

  6. Brian says:

    Tom last few sci fi flicks ( War of the Worlds, Minority Report) left me underwhelmed…but I am looking forward to this one….taking my son and hoping to find a model of the airship…the design is simple, beautiful and utterly convincing.

    • John W. says:

      The design is "utterly convincing"? Sure, to anyone who doesn't know how a helicopter works. Read Gabriel's simple, but astute comment below. That make-believe craft certainly is beautiful, but it's pure science fantasy. Or, physics fantasy.

  7. IOUSC says:

    I want a drone pet now! They are some angry things.

  8. Gabriel says:

    The bubble ship has symmetrically mounted engines. Why is there a rotor in the tail?

  9. Emmanuel says:

    example : if you stay stationnary : thrusters are vertical so you cannot turn the ship left/right unless you have the rotor in the tail. Yes it seems utterly convincing. Even the equilibrium of the ship !

    • FrankO says:

      well the thrusters are vertical in the Harrier Jet and it doesn't use it's tail for yaw movement.

      • JonC says:

        Indeed, it uses a series of reaction thrusters in nose, tail and wing-tips.
        These make use of bleed air from the turbine.
        Now the Bubble-ship does not appear to have (conventional) jet engines, so another mechanism is needed…
        The tail rotor is one reasonable option.

  10. Lee Metz says:

    How can I get a model of The Bubble Ship?

  11. Sphericalone says:

    I've been designing bubble ships since 2005. The artists must have seen my blog on sphericalone in rc groups.. i actually made one that does work. I even had a NASA engineer and a Boeing Engineer laugh at my idea until they viewed it.. My design is very much like the one in the movie.

  12. habshaw says:

    you people are crazy you don't believe in GOD but you believe in the existence of extraterritorial creatures

    • guest says:

      ET's make more sense than superstitious beliefs. Why is it such a leap that in this vast universe life hasn't occurred hundreds, thousands or millions of times over. the same building blocks are out there in abundance.

    • Capt. Obvious says:

      No kidding.!.!
      They're absolutely unshakeable in their view that aliens MUST exist despite the fact that nobody has ever seen one, but will pour the most hateful derision on anyone that dares suggest that God exists when people HAVE seen Him.

  13. jim says:

    Brainless – intelligent design was proven long ago. The next proof will occur in the US on 8/24/17 – full solar eclipse – impossible through random creation. Wake up!!!

    • guest says:

      Intelligent design is another word for creationism which is based on belief and has absolutely no, nada, none etc proof what so ever and is a fabrication to further religious dogma to the .. Solar eclipse events can be calculated via the rotation of the solar system. No mystical mumbo jumbo there, just mathmatics. Superstitions are a fraud on rational thinking, a card trick without any merit what so ever. You want to believe that in the preposterous idea's of intelligent design, creationism and biblical nonsense as proof??? Not even close..

      • JeanLuc LaBarre says:

        Mathematics proves what we already know and can observe. It *cannot* prove what nobody has ever shown conclusively to be true: Aliens exist.
        That's a fact.
        You say people that actually have seen God and wrote down what they saw are all deranged and made it all up? Every last one of them, every single last person who contributed to the Bible either directly or indirectly? They're ALL nuts? Sorry, that's not a fact, since you cannot claim to know for certain that their testimony is false.
        Thus, your faith that there are aliens is about a billion times less logical than my assertion that God exists.

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