Preproduction 5: Prop Design


Illustration from KIN – Mycocene
Illustration from KIN – Mycocene

Welcome back to our KIN – Mycocene making of series. This article will conclude our foray into preproduction with prop design.

Science fiction novels, movies, and games feature a plethora of faster-than-light spaceships, laser guns, and powered suits. For Junglecrow Studio's KIN biopunk universe, we wanted to imagine what gear, tools, and transportation would look like in a sustainable future tech-savvy community without a globalized market economy to rely on.

After the Wi-Flu pandemic, Rafters furthered their use of biotechnology to develop techniques and processes that would allow their survival and permit the continuation of their scientific inquiries. We postulated they could recycle or repurpose inorganic materials while organic compounds could be harvested or synthetized onboard the Raft, their floating facility. Rafters' mastery of genetics and biochemistry led them to engineer cellular and DNA-based information technologies, shifting away from silicon and rare-earth-dependent modern computers. Energy-wise, they use renewable power sources such as solar, wind, and tidal energy.

With this solarpunk-ish technological framework in mind, we started to design props trying to answer this one question: what would you need for a hundred people to survive a three-month-long trek across wild terrains covered in unknown and potentially lethal lifeforms?

SURVIVAL GEAR

Without further ado, let us introduce you to the range of survival equipment created by Pierre Lazarevic in tight collaboration with the rest of the team to achieve a coherent set of items that both fit the KIN universe and contribute to its definition.


Because it is the core of our endeavor, we will go through them following the survival "rule of threes." (1)

Air


You can survive for three minutes without air. In the KIN universe, the problem would rather be its saturation with spores and other unknown pathogens. What if breathing the air outside your doorstep was hazardous, and you would have to protect your face constantly?

KIN – Mycocene | Poncho sketches
Poncho sketches

We are all familiar with hazmat suits. We tried to adapt the idea and began with a few "poncho" concepts that evolved into a pressurized "bubble" englobing the top half of the body, leaving the legs free from restraints to walk the rugged terrain. We like how it ended up looking akin to a lightweight retro-spacesuit.


KIN - Mycocene | Suit final design
Suit final design

A harness holds a small battery-powered air pump with a filter cartridge, all with a DIY feel we constantly strived to apply. In this design, the most challenging part was to find how our characters could put on their backpacks, and we imagined a kind of "tunnel" around each shoulder for them to slip the straps.


KIN – Mycocene | Mask design with a pair of goggles that clips on top
Mask design with a pair of goggles that clips on top

We designed an additional set of protection, with goggles and a mask in case a poncho would break and would not inflate anymore. There we re-used the same filter cartridge design as we wanted our items to feel versatile and modular.



Shelter


You can survive for three hours without shelter in a harsh environment. In the KIN universe, shelter is also a matter of finding a protected environment where you can take off your suit.

We designed a modular tent system inspired by floating structures. They consist of a weather-proof membrane under which a second one provides a sealed environment. The exterior layer is anchored, and balloons filled with gas-and-light-producing bacteria lift the whole above ground. We tested the physics of the set-up in Blender to render realistic folds and speed up the design process.

KIN – Mycocene | The modular tent system
The modular tent system

We used Medium to try out some variations. We like how it turned out to be a very flexible set-up that can adapt to various terrains.


Quick 3D sculpts created in Medium to visualize tent layouts.
Quick 3D sculpts created in Medium to visualize tent layouts

The larger tent in the middle is a communal space, while the smaller ones around it provide more private quarters to teams of people during their journey. We paid attention to details like water collection and air conditioning and even designed a kind of AC unit on wheels that plugs into the interior membrane.


KIN – Mycocene | Tent details and AC unit design
Tent details and AC unit design

Water


You can survive for three days without water. And you can hardly transport ninety days' worth of it for a hundred person on your shoulders. Still focusing on modularity, we created a collection of connecting vats, pipes, and straws that should cover most situations as they collect, store, and process water as they go.

KIN – Mycocene | Water system concept
Water system concept

The straws inspired by actual equipment are fitted with filters and UV light to sanitize the water, allowing the production of sterilized water to drink directly or fill in the vats to serve as storage or even makeshift bioreactors.


KIN – Mycocene | Water straw design
Water straw design


Food, Etc.


You can survive for three weeks without food. And when nothing edible is to be relied on in your environment, better to take a maximum of lightweight food rations with you and the necessary to produce your meals on the go if you can.


KIN – Mycocene exploration starting pack
KIN exploration starting pack

It would help if you had a bit more to make a life in the wild a bit less of a challenge. So we completed the garb of the perfect Mycocene survivor by making a list of all the other items that would fit in a backpack and spent some time designing them to match the rest of the equipment.


SCIENTIFIC TOOLS


In our story, Rafters are returning on land in search of a new refuge. Their final choice will rely on the results of a thorough scientific survey. They cannot do this work without the proper tools. Given their background as a biotechnology research facility, we created props based on the iconic items you will find in today's biohacker spaces and biology laboratories.

The "Pipette Stick"


We call the "pipette stick"—for lack of a better name—a multipurpose tool for collecting samples in the field as you go. It looks as if an electric drill was mixed with a vacuum cleaner, which pretty well describes how it works.

KIN – Mycocene | Pipette stick 3D blocking
Pipette stick 3D blocking

To design this prop which is probably one of the more original of the lot, Pierre started with a few simple 2D shapes that served as a basis to model a rough 3D asset, which we used as a guide while working out the details.


KIN – Mycocene | Pipette stick concept
Pipette stick concept

We created a variation of mouth tips for the collection of different materials. We imagined an automated conditioning system that directly put samples into the test tubes carried on its side.

Portable Clean Bench


Once samples are collected, you need the proper equipment to analyze them. The first step is to use a safe environment to manipulate the collected materials. Biologists do this using a clean bench.

KIN – Mycocene | Clean bench sketches
Clean bench sketches

The challenge for this prop was to make it portable. We tried a few ideas and settled on the option that appeared more practical.


KIN – Mycocene | Clean bench concept
Clean bench concept

We took advantage of the bulk of the item to render the distinctive look of recycled plastic. We thought it was an interesting touch to remind us of the building materials available to Rafters.

DNA Reader


The second step of sample analysis is the analysis itself. So we needed a device that would serve as an example of the Rafters' DNA-based biocomputing technology.

We took inspiration from prop designers like Mike Hill, who worked on Blade Runner 2049. This was a way to pay homage to the cyberpunk works that led us to the creation of the KIN universe in the first place. You can still feel the influence in the small retro screen, the holographic interface, and shape language.

KIN – Mycocene | DNA reader concept
DNA reader concept

However, the material we chose to render it in is recycled, 3D-printed plastic. The glass-looking plates on top (below the clap) and inserted on the side are interchangeable biochips featuring complete miniature laboratories capable of performing all sorts of biochemical manipulations, including reading, writing, and editing DNA at super-fast speeds.


TRANSPORTATION


Last but not least, when talking of an expedition, moving is of the essence. Here are the means of transportation we designed.

Shuttle Boat


Rich with his experience designing the Raft, Klaus Pillon took on the challenge to create a ship to shuttle expedition members from the high-sea cruising platform to their landing point at the Southern tip of the Japanese archipelago. We started sketching out ideas and came out with different solutions mixing hull designs and alternative propulsion modes.


KIN – Mycocene | Shuttle boat sketches
Shuttle boat sketches

Klaus modeled the final design in Blender for future use during production. We settled on a relatively regular ship frame to suggest it was salvaged and added apparent additions such as the two side hulls—giving increased lift and stability to cut energy needs. These are covered in pools of algae cultures to capture solar energy (and why not feed the crew in emergency cases). The boat is wind and wave-powered with a retractable sail and flippers inspired by Yutaka Terao's catamaran (2).


KIN – Mycocene | Shuttle boat render
Shuttle boat render

Lifeboats


Next, we needed smaller boats for our explorers to cross straits and potential rivers and lakes. Pierre Lazarevic designed this one based on the idea of a folding lifeboat.


KIN – Mycocene | Lifeboat sketches
Lifeboat sketches

After some quick hand-drawn iterations, Pierre refined the design by changing the folding lines to more dynamic, organic-looking ones.


KIN – Mycocene | Lifeboat final concept
Lifeboat final concept


Trekking Cart


Once on land, Rafters will have several tons of equipment to haul over thousands of kilometers. While we designed Mirror dogs explicitly for the task, we thought it was probably better to have another option in complement. The trekking carts we created share their basic idea with the mirror dogs' harnesses.

KIN – Mycocene | Early trekking cart 3D model
Early trekking cart 3D model

Pierre prepared a 3D basis in Blender—always a helpful move to free yourself from the tricky issue of perspective—and brushed up the design in 2D before returning to Blender to finalize a reusable asset.


KIN – Mycocene | Trekking cart final concept
Trekking cart final concept

The final design includes a small electric motor and shape-shifting, puncture-proof tires for an effortless and worry-free experience.

Chimera GO!


It might surprise you, but we also designed a car. We will leave the topic of how our characters come to get hold of it aside for now, but here are a few things about this antique piece of technology.


Due to the complex mechanical structure we wanted to be as credible as possible, we started with a 3D model looking close enough to an iconic Japanese car—the Datsun 510. We kitbashed several augmentations in Blender to make sure it would not look out of place in the rugged Japanese landscapes of 2161.


KIN – Mycocene | Chimera GO! 3D renders
Chimera GO! 3D renders

We added a second radiator, raised suspensions, puncture-proof all-terrain tires with mudguards, and took off or broke others like the headlights. We used Substance Painter to make the rusted and dirty textures, and we customized its look down to the smallest details with a nearly accurate Japanese number plate and a paint job by our designated doodler.

Composite image featuring the Chimera GO! within the (adapted) Shore concept
Composite image featuring the Chimera GO! within the (adapted) Shore concept

And here we are. We hope this series of five articles covering the preproduction of KIN – Mycocene gave you a better understanding of its original universe, the processes and techniques we used, and the collective effort to design it. Next time we finally move on to production.



(1) Rule of threes (survival), Wikipedia

(2) Boat, Moved Only by Waves, Sails to a Seafaring First, The New York Times