Computer interfaces in cinema - evolution of the imagination

    TL; DR. We tried to cover a lot, so the article turned out to be frighteningly voluminous. But hopefully informative. And under it you can nostalgia.

    Interfaces in pop culture have a whole story that deserves special attention. Today we’ll talk about how people represented and portrayed interfaces in cinema. The priority will be for computers (from home to on-board), however, it is worthwhile to understand that any system with which a person interacts with another system is an interface.

    First glimpses

    When the science fiction genre just came to the screens, the 20th century was occupied in the yard. The first film of the genre, Journey to the Moon, was inspired by the work of Jules Verne.

    Now it’s hard to imagine, but this pioneer of the “space” sci-fi did without talking holograms in the wheelhouse of the star cruiser, rotatable volumetric maps, flickering data projected onto the glass of the “smart helmet”. Everything without which we are not used to perceiving science fiction.

    The film “Journey to the Moon”, directed by Georges Méliès, 1902 The

    genre by this time has not yet accumulated its own “knowledge base”, a set of established images, from which dozens of science fiction films, books, cartoons and video games will grow up.

    A starting point

    Like any fictional system, this one had to have a basis. If for fantasy the basis and source of inspiration was (mainly) European mythology, for the NF this is technological progress.

    Any science fiction literature is based on its meta-universe: a set of clichés that all authors agreed to take as a basis. For classic fantasy, these are orcs and elves, gray-bearded wizards in conical hats, fictional continents as a mandatory scene, non-existent languages, magic and the like. Science fiction also has a very vibrant cliché system: teleportation, superluminal speeds, time travel, holographic communications, laser weapons, humanoid robots, futuristic computer programs ...

    The twentieth century is the century of computers and electronics, nuclear weapons and the first space flight. Militant and enthusiastic, striving only for the future. It was scientific and technological progress that pushed the authors to create high-quality science fiction. And the world of NF gradually absorbed the inventions of the century and conceived them.

    In the pictures - inventions of the beginning of the XX century and sources of inspiration: sonar (sonar), radar, electrocardiograph, gyrocompass, theremin, Geiger counter, iconoscope ...


    The first NF films delight with a bold flight of thought. A typical computer here looks like a grandmother’s sideboard with gates, verniers and knife switches, and what it shows to the user (if at all) is to the work of constructivist artists.

    Images from the film Raumpatrouille Orion, 1966

    The main motives of space fiction are already clearly visible here: a large round table in the command wheelhouse, on which graphic data are projected. The interface is fantastic more than completely - after all, no one has yet felt the “real” computer interfaces.

    But remember the legendary Enterprise or a couple of the latest “star” NFs - has much changed? We still get to the futuristic UI (they are called FUI), but for now the next stage in the evolution of cinema interfaces.

    Green console of the eighties

    With the advent of the first PCs, everyone once again felt what “future today” means. The hero of the day is not a space captain, but a hacker who is seen as an indispensable computer wizard. Such a magician who can, by entering html tags on the command line, make a primitive text OS suddenly give out color photographs, color lines and polygons.

    And, of course, the secret information of the special services.

    Typical attributes of computer interfaces for films of this time:

    • Green command line on a black screen.
    • The appearance of letters one at a time, as if instead of a PC they were issued by a not very quick typesetter.
    • Squeak and crackle  - after all, the computer had to radiate suspense and even a threat.
    • Quick click on the keys (to show the virtuosity of the hacker).
    • Loading screens, more like screensavers, and showing that something will happen now .
    • The epic ACCESS DENIED and ACCESS GRANTED (namely capital) as the only way to show at least some movement among the uniform characters
    • Exploding monitors. Since the eighties, everyone knows that if you do not enter the correct password in time, C4 detonates, which is built into any monitor by default.

    The c access denied / granted cliche is so ingrained that it is still in operation successfully. A shot from the series "Revolution", 2012-2014. They say the code is real, taken from the github, and the truth relates to fingerprint recognition.

    Interfaces are typical representatives of the era:

    Tron, the original 1982 film.

    “Tron: Heritage”, a 2010 remake of

    “Brainstorming,” 1983

    “Hard Nut”, 1988

    It is curious that the creators of the LOST series, which takes place at zero, put “the same terminal” with green letters in the Dharma Initiative bunker, which was based on an island just in the late seventies.

    Lost, 2004-2010.

    The Fallout game, which recreates the atmosphere of the “cyberpunk of the fifties,” also actively exploits the style of the green console:

    Fallout 3, 2008

    However, the fantastic interfaces in the 80s did not disappear. The most iconic example of the era is the NF film "Tron", which is very bold in terms of interface design. In fact, we are not even talking about a computer interface, but about virtual reality, a qualitatively different level of interaction .

    Fantastic interface with the pacman in Tron: do you recognize these spinning circles? Choose any modern NF film and wait until it comes to computer technology;)

    The film in many ways predetermined ideas about the “interfaces of the future”, not only in the movies of the nineties. This vector has not changed so far.

    Graphic shells of the nineties

    The nineties were held under the motto "personal computer in every home." Filmmakers also changed boring monochrome squiggles to full-fledged graphical interfaces. However, the methods of hacker attacks remained the same (but outwardly they became much more effective):

    In the video in the movie Universal Soldier: The Return, the smart computer prints “Hello, doctor Cotner ...” - but instead of the green console, we see the “beautiful” Times New Roman against the background of the standard “green marble” texture from Power Point.

    For some reason, the masters of the special effects of that time did not consider it proper to show real programs or OS, even if the film took place in a severe present.

    Distinctive features of the movie era:
    • Visualization of everything in a row. If this is password guessing, then let it look like a computer game, not a dull console.
    • Dossier as a symbol of the era. Everyone remembers this search on the CIA database, where pictures flicker at a frequency of five pieces per second. Showing, apparently, that the base is really big.
    • Windows, icons, animation. The fundamental things of modern interfaces.
    • Glitch effect. A photograph that is suddenly twisted and pulled makes the viewer feel that something is going wrong.
    • Progress bars. The meme window “uploading virus”. Which is likely to blow monitors to all adversaries. But according to the laws of the genre, both the timer of the time bomb stops at the penultimate second, and the progress bar freezes by 98%.

    Typical dossier from Ace Ventura, 1994

    Flabber, 1997

    Biometrics on the Thirteenth Floor, 1999

    Indispensable visualization in Batman Returns (1992), and also showed where the spacecraft’s energy shield was broken.

    Golacteko danger! The Fifth Element, 1997

    In the cinema of the nineties the beginnings of “modern futurism” appear: biometric indicators,
    heatmaps on computer screens, rotating 3d models. And another important element that will predetermine the appearance of cinematic interfaces of the future is virtual reality (Johnny Mnemonics, Lawnmower Man)

    Johnny Mnemonic, 1995

    Real programs for the present

    The next stage in the evolution of movie interfaces is to bring them closer to reality. Or a demonstration of real programs in the frame. Why redesign a video messenger, browser, or operating system if there are so many options without it?

    Tru-Windows in Bourne’s Identification, 2002

    Holmes applies deduction to a dozen real laptops, Sherlock, 2010

    Agent Carrie Matheson opens the WordPad on his armored laptop and we all know the video player, Rodina, 2011

    Gregory House, apparently uses specialized medical software (but believable), “House House”, 2004-2012

    Quite the usual Safari and the site in it, “In the distance of love”, 2011

    In “Iron Man 2” (2010), the Arabic interfaces were stuck somewhere between 80 and 90

    This layer of cinema culture is the least interesting, because we are interested in movie interfaces.

    Futuristic User Interface (FUI)

    We return to sci-fi, only this time modern. The development of computer interfaces for cinema is so in demand that there is even a separate profession for this.

    Particular attention should be paid to futuristic interfaces - it is in science fiction that they are valuable in themselves, because they create the necessary surroundings. In addition, the NF often acted as a prophet, predicting the appearance of gadgets and cars. Maybe sci-fi interfaces will soon be on our staffs?

    For the lazy: a video below 99.9% describes the appearance and behavior of any futuristic interface in modern cinema:

    Characteristic features of modern FUI:
    • Sea of ​​information. At the same time, the dynamics of dozens of indicators are displayed on the monitor, graphs are built, pie charts are drawn, an unknown code is written, three-dimensional models are spinning, and that just doesn’t happen.
    • Biometrics The indicators of living organisms are interesting from the point of view of visualization: heatmaps, models of skeletons and tissues, colored DNA chains.
    • Hyperdynamics. There is nothing static here at all.
    • Humanization of the interface. It's strange not to have a talking AI on board the spaceship, even when your smartphone listens to voices.
    • Voice control. The least expensive option in terms of film budget was used in Star Trek.
    • Gesture management. Virtual reality, just the opposite: the holographic projection is completely interactive, it can be twisted, zoomed in on individual sections, and generally create techno-magic.
    • Contrasting vibrant colors on a black background. All "interfaces of the future" are made in this gamut. Reason: the holographic three-dimensional model will be most noticeable if it is acid green or poison blue. But the rule for some reason also works for ordinary computer programs - maybe this is a tribute to the eighties?

    A great example showing how interfaces are developed for sci-fi needs:

    Typical representatives of the genre:

    “Startrek: retribution”, 2013

    Infographics again, “Thor: the kingdom of darkness”, 2013

    “Jack Ryan: chaos theory”, 2013

    In Oblivion (2013), the interfaces already look relatively orderly and logical.

    HUD or inside-helmet interface, Ender's Game, 2013

    The interface from War of the Worlds Z (2013) is more like a professional music software window.

    Tony Stark, of course, is a genius, but even it is hard for him to perceive all this abundance of data. Even Terminator with its red and black UI was easier! Iron Man 3, 2013

    In the TV series The Edge (2008-2013), JJ Abrams, director of LOST (and the upcoming Star Wars), moved away from the primitive text OS, now the interfaces are worthy of the captain’s bridge of the spaceship.

    Similar interfaces are found in games (where, and there they really like cliches).

    Splinter Cell: Blacklist also found a place for “desktop interfaces”.

    In Mass Effect, John Shepard moves around the game world, choosing points on a huge voluminous map of a spiral galaxy.

    In Star Craft II: Wings of Liberty, brutal Jim Raynor makes decisions at a round table looking at a green projection

    In Star Wars: Old Republic, a thoughtful Sith listens to his master's hologram - a reference to the classic movie saga.

    After such shots, looking at the ship control center from Interstellar, I want to shout: “Boring!”:

    Interfaces of the future are usually so complex and crammed with dynamically changing information that a typical user of such a product should look, most likely, like this:

    Beyond Fiction

    Meanwhile, while science fiction writers imagine how interfaces will look in hundreds of years, major software market players also make predictions. True, for shorter periods - five years.

    Microsoft's forecast, everything is pretty logical.

    It is clear that the primary purpose of UI in the cinema is to produce an effect. But it seems completely illogical to use in science fiction interfaces that generally do not correlate with  current simplification trends .

    Andrey Manuilov, interface designer: In the movies, often no one thinks about the usability of the interfaces that surround the heroes - they just try to make it "beautiful." Moreover, directors and scriptwriters, inspired by the classics of science fiction, leave us in the hopeless world of flying stripes, columns and pie charts of one or two colors. The fact that high-quality interfaces are actively penetrating the web and mobile today will eventually force filmmakers to look at “ buttons and  icons”Otherwise. The paradigm when the screen is littered with unknown information should change soon. The “Internet of things” is what awaits us everywhere tomorrow. One of the main principles is to present a minimum of information to the user at a time, for the sake of the usefulness and relevance of this information. It should be developed in science fiction on the screens.

    We’ll see what new movies will be presented to us in the coming year. And we would have to cope with voice control;)


    Productivity Future Vision, Microsoft, 2009  - forecast for the development of future interfaces.
    Live, Work, Play, Microsoft, 2013  - integration of physical and virtual objects.
    Watch Your Day in 2020, Corning  - forecast for 2020 from a manufacturer of high-tech glass.
    Hackers on the screen , Habrahabr.
    The aesthetics of futuristic interfaces  is a terrific, deeply crafted article.
    A collection of interfaces in pop culture: movies, TV shows, games.
    Collection of motion pictures with interfaces.
    Collection of FUI in film and anime.
    The best computer villains in the movie.
    On the development of interfaces, many links to books and courses.
    Apple devices in Matt Groening cartoons.

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