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How Wes Anderson Created His Aliens and Ray Guns For Asteroid City

Asteroid City production designer Adam Stockhausen reveals how those '50s era contraptions and that UFO came to be.

By Tara Bennett
A still image from Asteroid City (2023)

Asteroid City, Wes Anderson's latest film, is about a lot of things: death, grief, theater, science and aliens! As teased in the trailers, Anderson dips his dapper toe into the sci-fi milieu and serves up an actual '50s era UFO sighting in the tiny desert town. Plus, he layers on the kitsch with an array of outrageous scientific contraptions invented by member of the Junior Stargazers. 

RELATED: Asteroid City Reviews: Critics Weigh in on Wes Anderson’s Retro Sci-Fi Story in the Desert

In our continuing conversation with Asteroid City production designer, and frequent Anderson collaborator, Adam Stockhausen says the creation of the '50s era inventions and the big alien moment were the result of several departments working together to meld historical accuracy with fantasy. In the case of the Junior Stargazer award-winning inventions, Stockhausen says each were ultimately built by property master Sandy Hamilton and his team. But their origins all stemmed from the work of illustrator Victor Georgiev.

A still image from Asteroid City (2023)

"I'm the designer of the film, but the art department involves all these different skills and crafts," he explains. "There are people who have worked on multiple movies with Wes, and one of them is illustrator Victor Georgiev who did the illustrations of all the scientific inventions [made by] the kids. It's a back and forth, iterative process with Wes getting the drawings just right. So just like we're sketching the luncheonette and the gas station, we're sketching the inventions, and the ones that are added later on in the film, too. It's just super inventive but the process is the same."

Because Anderson was looking for design that specifically felt organic to the post war, futuristic style, Stockhausen says there was a lot of reference research infused with pure concept design. "We have reference points and they might be something that's  explicitly like the thing we're trying to draw. And they might be other things like a hunk of machinery from a windmill that gets attached to this other thing, so it's a whole mixed bag of things," he details. "So, Victor did the drawings for those pieces and for the alien." 

A still image from Asteroid City (2023)

Model maker Simon Weisse was then tasked to create each of the props and the miniatures. "He does the miniatures with Wes but then he's also prop making. He just did the latest Matrix movie so he was right down the ray gun alley for that," Stockhausen jokes. 

How They Made Asteroid City's Alien Surprise 

A still image from Asteroid City (2023)

When it came to setting the literal stage for the Asteroid Day award ceremony and the surprise alien appearance, Stockhausen says the very first decision they had to make was whether they should create a scale, full crater set or to approximate one for the production. "What was difficult is that we ended up not really building it," he says of their decision. "The original intention was to build this enormous set inside the crater. And then, partly because of production, the realities of time and money and all of that, at some point along the way we said why don't we just make a little piece of the crater? It turned out to be one of those decisions that saved us a little bit of time and stress upfront, but caused a huge amount of time and stress later," he chuckles. "If we had it to do over again, I think we would both agree that it would have been better to just build the giant set from the beginning.

"And then in terms of what's going on in there, there's this wonderful set of photographs that Emily, our researcher, found in Life Magazine," Stockhausen says of their research discoveries. "I think it was the 1955 Stargazers Convention to see a meteor shower, or something. People with the lawn chairs and the cardboard box helmets. It was the whole thing. So sometimes just by digging and looking, you find things. You weren't expecting it, and it's wilder than you could imagine. We borrowed quite a number of things from that group of images."

A still image from Asteroid City (2023)

However, the standout production design that distinguishes itself from everything else in the film is the glass and green lit UFO that covers the crater opening and stuns the audience. Stockhausen says the whole concept came from Anderson's brain. "We started that process and got him going with Victor, the same illustrator, worked with him on that. And sometimes you can see a process with him just sort of take off and fly. It's going great, so then I'm just going to step out. He very, very quickly came to the final illustration for the spaceship. Then Simon made it and there we go!"

Can't make it to one these theaters? Get your sci-fi film fix until the film's June 23 wide release by checking out some of these flicks on Peacock!