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Fake Movie and TV GUI's: A Little Known Industry

Updated on August 3, 2016
"Dr. Bruce Banner (aka The Hulk) manipulating a GUI on the Avengers set."
"Dr. Bruce Banner (aka The Hulk) manipulating a GUI on the Avengers set." | Source

The Basics of Faking It

Today I want you to sit back and give full appreciation to the often unappreciated work done by a few intrepid graphics artists and designers the world over. Specifically, I am referring to the design, maintenance and operation of Movie GUIs or Fictional GUIs. An example of one such GUI is shown above, courtesy of the movie The Avengers.

For the uninformed, GUIs are shorthand for Graphic User Interface. This is the umbrella term that describes a user interface that allows the user of an electronics device to interact with the device itself with using images rather than text or numerical commands. As a reference, just think of how your typical Windows or Apple desktop screen looks like when you boot up your computer. This is an example of a GUI. You can control your computer's various functions through interaction with the desktop display. Following so far?

Good. Well then, it follows that a Fictional GUI is simply a fake GUI. Or rather, it is a GUI with limited to zero functionality whose main purpose is to make a display or convey a message. Who uses Fictional GUIs? Well, look no farther than your latest Hollywood blockbuster. Movie and television productions, big and small, make frequent use of Fictional GUIs to clearly convey technological savvy or clearly show how someone is using a specific piece of technology. It is a cottage industry with many actors and few superstars.

For this article, I will try my absolute best to include as many examples of Fake GUI awesomeness as possible. Hopefully, you will recognize some of these GUIs from your favorite movies or TV programs. Meanwhile, I will be providing more valuable information on how Fictional GUIs are made and operated in the movie creation process. And now without further ado...

"Fictional GUI from Matrix Reloaded"
"Fictional GUI from Matrix Reloaded" | Source

The above example of a Fictional GUI is so trite, so overplayed in the entertainment industry that it deserves some special attention. Imagine you are a secret government agent who has infiltrated a foreign bureaucrat's main office. You sit at the bureaucrat's desk and turn on his nice and pricey ultrabook. Uh oh... Houston, we have a problem. The bureaucrat's computer is password protected. Strangely enough, the password dialog box is huge... big enough to see from clear across the room.

Now you have to think fast, the Bureaucrat will be back in the office pretty soon. What could his password possibly be??? Nervously, you try a few combinations, subsequently ruling out the most obvious passwords first... "1234" ... "abcd" ..."bureaucrat" ... "embassymole." And then you remember something vague and esoteric about the bureaucrat... he likes really like avocados... mmmm... you try "guacamole"... aha! ... you're in. Cue the GUI scene seen above.

If this scene seems painfully familiar to you, then you are familiar with the work of FUI (Faux User Interface) designers such as Mark Coleran or Jayse Hansen.

"Fake FBI criminal profile from Mr. and Mrs. Smith"
"Fake FBI criminal profile from Mr. and Mrs. Smith" | Source

Mark Coleran and Jayse Hansen are some of the most sought after FUI designers (among other things) in the industry. In an interview with NPR (National Public Radio), Mark Coleran describes the details about both making FUI's and utilizing them on movie sets. The interview can be read here.

Mark Coleran has made FUI's and other motion animation for major movie blockbusters such as The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Ultimatum, Children of Men, and Mission Impossible III. And while most movie buffs know that FUIs probably don't have any useful functionality; what they probably don't know that it's the designers themselves (not the actors) who operate what limited function the FUIs have.

"Famous FUIs from Independece Day......(Top) When Jeff Goldblum finds out that the aliens are using satellite signals to coordinate an attack on Earth.   (Bottom)  Jeff Goldblum uploading "virus" to alien mother ship.
"Famous FUIs from Independece Day......(Top) When Jeff Goldblum finds out that the aliens are using satellite signals to coordinate an attack on Earth. (Bottom) Jeff Goldblum uploading "virus" to alien mother ship. | Source

It's called psuedointeraction by those in the business. Because actors have to concentrate on their lines, a typical FUI designer will actually perform functions such as cueing the user as to what will be done next and making sure the desired result is displayed on screen.

Some FUI designers have done work so futuristic and seemingly complex that some speculate that real software and hardware companies are taking note. Is it a coincidence that touchscreen and glass displays have become so popular as of late? Or are they a reference to the touchscreen-ish future depicted in movies like Avatar (I'll let you do the comparison)? See pictures below.

The Future is Here!
The Future is Here!
 ...now all we need are mecha suits and battle ships.
...now all we need are mecha suits and battle ships.

Now for your viewing pleasure I have a collection of truly excellent examples of GUI wonderment. Sit back and enjoy.

"Tom Cruise operating one of the weirdest GUIs in The Minority Report"
"Tom Cruise operating one of the weirdest GUIs in The Minority Report"
"Dr. Elizabeth Shaw in Stasis Capsule in the movie "Prometheus."  Check out her stats on the GUI.
"Dr. Elizabeth Shaw in Stasis Capsule in the movie "Prometheus." Check out her stats on the GUI. | Source
One of the many examples of crazy GUI on-board the Starship Enterprise. Any Star Trek fans out there?
One of the many examples of crazy GUI on-board the Starship Enterprise. Any Star Trek fans out there? | Source
Very early GUI of the alien in Predator detonating a powerful explosive using some kind of lancet GUI.   I even think some movie geeks found out what those symbols mean.
Very early GUI of the alien in Predator detonating a powerful explosive using some kind of lancet GUI. I even think some movie geeks found out what those symbols mean. | Source
"Courtesy of Iron Man the movie....Tony Stark doing some engineering work on a wacked out keyboard not even in English."
"Courtesy of Iron Man the movie....Tony Stark doing some engineering work on a wacked out keyboard not even in English." | Source
"Courtesy of the movie Hollow Man....Kevin Bacon checking out whether an atomic structure will be stable or not....the fake gui of course giving a great big 'unstable' sign."  To really drive the point home, Kevin Bacon sighs and clutches his head.
"Courtesy of the movie Hollow Man....Kevin Bacon checking out whether an atomic structure will be stable or not....the fake gui of course giving a great big 'unstable' sign." To really drive the point home, Kevin Bacon sighs and clutches his head. | Source

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