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Foundation: How Apple design influenced the hit TV series

Foundation concept art
(Image credit: Apple TV + / Stephan Martiniere)

Foundation on Apple TV + has proved a hit with audiences and sci-fi fans looking to fill a Game Of Thrones sized hole in their schedules. Based on the famous books by acclaimed science fiction author Isaac Asimov, Foundation plots humanity's rise and fall amongst the stars. It's an epic, sweeping story that some said could never be filmed. 

Getting the foundations right with inspired concept art has ensured Asimov's vision comes alive on Apple's streaming platform. Fittingly, the clean design of Apple influenced some of the concept art behind the TV series.

Foundation is just one of many great new shows exclusive to Apple TV +, if you want to find the latest Apple deals, take a look at our round-up of what to expect from Apple's Black Friday offers!

Foundation is a beautiful TV show with blockbuster movie visual effects and stellar performances from a cast that includes Lee Pace, Jared Harris, and Lou Llobell. But it's those visual effects we love. Acclaimed concept artist Stephan Martinière has shared the designs he created for the Foundation Apple TV Original, how he created the iconic sets and spaceships of the latest hit show. 

Stephan Martinière is a Hugo-award winning illustrator and concept artist. You can find more of his art work on his portfolio website, but below he shares insights only with us… 

(This article may contain spoilers for the Foundation book series and TV show).

A revised concept for the space station seen in Foundation, now streaming on Apple TV + (Image credit: Apple TV + / Stephan Martiniere)

Where do you begin when starting a project like Foundation?

Each vision for the film project I am working on is driven by either the director or the production designer. It starts with a conversation about what the vision or look wants to be and what is important to convey in each concept and the overall ideas. Directors and production designer know my work and are always looking for what I can bring to complement the vision and offer unique or compelling ideas. It’s also about offering concepts that can trigger new narrative possibilities. 

A concept design for a Trantor street from Foundation (Image credit: Apple TV + / Stephan Martiniere)

Foundation inspired Star Wars, did Star Wars now inspire Foundation?

It’s an interesting question. From a thematic perspective you can certainly see how Foundation inspired Star Wars but Asimov also mentioned that the main concepts of the Foundation series also borrow from actual ancient history. 

These main ideas don’t dictate a specific visual and scripts don’t tend to be visually descriptive which leaves the director, production designer and concept artist to come up with something interesting. 

It’s always a challenge as more and more sci-fi films are being made and creating a unique visual signature becomes harder but there are still plenty of interesting visual ideas to come up with unique visuals. One of them being proposed was to use the Apple sleek design and try to carry it in some of the ship looks. Another was to give the Anacreons a very unique tribal look loosely based on the Polynesian designs. There was also a very specific architectural direction for some of the environments.    

What have been the broad influences on key scenes and concepts?

Modern concrete architecture with a monolithic and geometric design, characteristics of brutalism was some of the main architectural influences for the [Trantor] Palace. It was an interesting choice that felt appropriate and representative of the empire's rigidity. 

The Anacreon ship design has been inspired by tribal patterns (Image credit: Apple TV + / Stephan Martiniere)

What considerations does good concept art need to have?

A good concept can do many things depending on what that concept is. The requirements for an environment might be very different from a vehicle or a costume. It’s not about just looking cool. As a concept artist I try first to understand the narrative intent of the concept; what it needs to convey.

Take the Anacreon ship for example. The early concepts were very aggressive and sleek in their design. They were cool but too modern and did not fit the narrative of an ancient, feudal and warlike society. Incorporating tribal designs into their technology helped give the Anacreons a unique visual signature but also clearly established the right narrative. Using tribal design also helped me define the general shape of the ship. It became clear that using a simpler and less sophisticated look would work better like the front part of the ship looking like two ancient carved wood shields. Does it need to look like it can it work? I would say I have seen hundreds of different designs for space ships and I don’t think anyone worries about that. Even transformers make you believe the impossible. 

It’s different for a costume or a weapon, at least some weapons. The crossbow is a good example. I had to think of a design that could be functional if the weapon was going to be a hand held practical prop. If it’s not it still need to be design for the mechanical part to work. The simpler solution is to make a cool shape and have it fire a laser beam that works too.

The wrist bow needed to reflect the book's description, look good, and be workable for the actor (Image credit: Apple TV + / Stephan Martiniere)

Foundation concept art

Concept art for Foundation was a mix of 2D and 3D (Image credit: Apple TV + / Stephan Martiniere)

Do you approach designing a gun or ship in a different way to an environment?

Each concept needs to convey different things or solve specific problems but there is always a narrative being them. An environment tends to require more thinking. There is the composition, the mood, lighting, and the design. Sometimes there are multiple narratives in one single shot which make it more challenging. A ship is more direct but still need to have all the proper elements to feel right and fit the story.  

For this project I use 3D much more than usual. I like doing that when certain designs are complex or need to be very precise like ship design and weapons or the palace interior. There is also a different creating process I like when using 3D. It allows me to come up with intricate shapes that would be very difficult to conceive in 2D. The lighting is also important and using 3D makes it a lot easier. I usually built 60 to 80% in 3D and finish the concepts in Photoshop. 

Do you need to be up to speed on the latest science to create believable concept art?

It's important to do a lot of research to keep up with all trends, not just science. As an environment artist I need to know what the trends are in architecture and technology. As a costume designer I need to follow what the fashion industry is doing. As a weapon or vehicle designer I also need to know what the newest design trends or new thinking are. It’s not so much about believable design more than it is about using the trends as a springboard to create unique and compelling concepts.

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Ian Dean

Ian Dean is Digital Arts Editor on Creative Bloq and ImagineFX magazine. With over 25 years' experience in both print and online journalism, Ian has worked on many leading video game and digital art brands, including Official PlayStation Magazine, 3D World and GamesRadar. With a passion for video games and art, Ian combines his interests to run ImagineFX, the world's leading digital art magazine for fantasy, sci-fi, video game, film, and animation artists. In his spare time he doodles in Corel Painter, teaches himself ZBrush, and plays PS5.