The unique challenge of making a stalking, unfolding, alien entity that hides amongst the clouds

MPC’s key role in designing Nope’s ‘Jean Jacket’: an excerpt from issue #8 of befores & afters magazine.

The transforming alien entity in Jordan Peele’s Nope might initially appear to the film’s characters–and the audience–as a UFO, but of course it ended up being so much more. First seen in a sleek, circular shape, darting behind clouds, it is ultimately revealed to unravel like origami in its destructive path.

Peele called upon MPC directly to visually develop what is referred to in the film as Jean Jacket, with the MPC Vizualization team, led by art director Léandre Lagrange, taking on the task. Lagrange tells befores & afters about the design origins, including the central presence of designed skies and clouds in bringing the alien entity to life. This is an excerpt from the full article in issue #8 of befores & afters magazine, which covers VFX art departments.

b&a: What can you tell me about the brief for Jean Jacket?

Léandre Lagrange: When we first got approached, it was to design a creature and to design the relationship to that creature with the skies. We started to talk to Jordan. He had a script that was very simple in a way. There weren’t too many things there. He had an idea. What he asked us was, imagine that the lore of the UFO has nothing to do with little green men and flying saucers or stuff like that. And instead, that it’s actually a creature or an animal, something that is actually grounded in the animal kingdom that is thought to be those UFOs.

Jordan said, how could we have a creature, an animal, that could look like a flying saucer that everybody thinks is a UFO? And then the other thing was, how can I then, later on in my film, reveal what it is actually? So he wanted to think of it as those two states; the flying saucer state, and then an open state, if you will. And how you go from one to the other, obviously, which was definitely the interesting part as well.

The one other thing that he mentioned that was immensely helpful early on was he just talked about the notion of origami. This was super helpful because, straight away, you start looking at different things. There’s the idea of the flying saucer and the shape of it. It’s like a shell. You could just go to, how do you open? Is it a clam? But the fact that he said that notion of origami was definitely very helpful, and to a point that the first sketches that I did and the first things we talked about were actually what we went for in the end.

b&a: Was the origami-like unfolded entity designed first? 

Léandre Lagrange: It basically went all in one go. We took the idea of the flying saucer and we were looking at referencing iconic ones from old-school sci-fi movies. Then we said, let’s just try for a second to integrate those shapes in the clouds and see how we can hide them.

We realized, it’s a creature, maybe the shape is not quite that perfect. Maybe it’s spherical or plate shaped. So we started to look at more organic shapes. And that’s when we started to talk about sand dollars. So we started to play with those shapes. And as I took that idea, that final unfolded shape, I took the flattened version and tried to see how I could open it up. And I naturally ended up with that shape that we refined.

So it was a logical way of, okay, how do we open it up so it’s interesting? And it’s like, oh, well, it kind of looks like that. So where do we go from there? Where do we go from there? And so we ended up with the final shape. And then that final shape got refined in a lot of multiple ways.

Get issue #8 of the magazine, which covers VFX art departments.

b&a: One thing that I actually really love that is happening with larger visual effects films is a bit of the blurring of the lines of what’s being done by the production designer or art director from the production side, and what’s being done by the visual effects studios. And sometimes VFX studios are on a film as the art department team, but then don’t even work as the vendor. How did it work here? 

Léandre Lagrange: This time, it’s one of those where you really get lucky in a sense that you’re there right at the very beginning. Very quickly, we got in conversation with Jordan and production VFX supervisor Guillaume Rocheron. We were on our own. There was nobody else really at that stage.

Every time we would give Jordan an idea or bring something to build the script around it and make it progress. He would come back the next week to us and say, ‘Well, all of those things gave me ideas, so that’s where I’m at now.’ And then we would look at the design and say, ‘Okay, so now where do we need to go?’

At the beginning, we talked about the creature as being a Mother Nature incarnation, like your godly representation of nature. The sheer size of it would be what is scary in a way. But then as things were evolving, the script started to introduce more horror into it. Then there’s the whole idea of the stalking in the clouds. And the sky started to take on more and more importance. And so the design of the creature changed as well.

For example, at the very beginning, we had more of the idea of tentacles. But then toward the end, we actually fused everything together to really get that feeling of just a whole sheet that allows the creature to float around. Obviously, we talked quite a lot about Neon Genesis Evangelion. That was one way we solved the final shape of it, which was, how can we simplify things as much as possible? It’s not about the amount of detail or the complexity. It’s more about the purity of the shapes.

Inside MPC’s concept designs for Nope.

b&a: Yes, there was something about the entity that was quite scary, even though it was such a simple shape. Can you talk more about that Evangelion influence?

Léandre Lagrange: Well, we actually went around and around that a little bit, as in we were like, okay, can we make it even more simpler, simpler, simpler? We had to go back a little bit because it was so simple that it wouldn’t quite work anymore in the sense that even the silhouette, for example, of the flying saucer, we really made it a perfect, symmetrical-in-all-axes type of shape. We thought, maybe that’s going too far and maybe we are losing the organicness of it.

In Evangelion, there is that notion that you don’t have to ground it in reality as much. So some of those shapes are still stylized. But for us in the movie, that became a little bit of a hard sell. You still have to ground it so people in the audience believe what they’re looking at really.

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