Production designer Arthur Max led the film's design staff. His art team were tasked with deconstructing the art and visuals of Alien, and reverse-designing them for the chronologically earlier setting of Prometheus. Influence was drawn from the work of Alien creature designer H. R. Giger, and designers Ron Cobb and Chris Foss, including their designs for that film which Scott had been unable to develop at the time.
Costumes and sound
For the crew's space suits, Scott was inspired to include spherical glass helmets after reading a story in Steve Jobs' biography about building an office out of Gorilla Glass. Scott said, "If I'm in 2083 and I'm going into space, why would I design a helmet that has blind spots. What I want is something where I have 360 [vision]. Glass, by then, will be light and you won't be able to break it with a bullet." The interior of the prop helmets had nine functioning video screens, internal lighting, an air supply provided by two fans, and battery packs concealed within a backpack. The helmet's exterior featured a functional light source and high definition video cameras with a transmitter and recorder. For the suit itself, Scott wanted to avoid the unwieldy NASA-style suit. His frequent collaborator, Janty Yates, used medical research concepts relating to skin replacement treatments and materials to develop a garment that would be believable, flexible and comfortable. The outfit comprised a neoprene suit worn under an outer space suit, a base to which the helmet could be attached, and a backpack.
Aboard the ship, Yates gave the characters their own distinct looks. Theron is dressed in an ice-silver, silk mohair suit. Yates said, "[Theron] is the ice queen. It was always our vision to make her look as sculptural as possible". Fassbender's David is dressed similarly to other crew members, but his outfit was given finer lines to produce a more linear appearance. To create a casual, relaxed appearance, Marshall-Green's Holloway was dressed in hoodies, fisherman pants, and flip-flops, while Elba wore a canvas-greased jacket to represent his long career at the helm of a ship.
Sound effects were generated with a variety of sources including Pop Rocks—a brand of popping candy—and a parrot. The glistening ice forming on the stone cylinders discovered in the film was created by applying the popping candy to materials such as wet metal and stone that was then sprayed with water to produce the "popping, cracking" sound. Sound designer Ann Scibelli's parrot was recorded over several weeks to document her variety of vocalizations which were then used as beeps, alarms and the cries of Shaw's alien offspring.
Sets and vehicles
Arthur Max designed the sets such as the alien world landscape and structures, and the vehicles, including the Prometheus and the Engineer's ship. Digital 3D models and miniature replicas of each set were built to allow the designers to envisage the connections between them and to know where the CGI elements would be inserted. To better blend the practical and the digital, the design team took rock samples from the Iceland location so they could match the graphical textures with the real rocks. To create the Prometheus, Max researched NASA and European Space Agency spacecraft designs, and extended these concepts with his own ideas of how future space vehicles might look. He said that he wanted "to do something that was state-of-the-art, which would represent a flagship spacecraft with every technology required to probe into the deepest corners of the galaxy."
The interior of the Prometheus was built across a two-level structure, fronted by a large, faceted, wrap around windscreen. Theron's quarters were designed to represent her high status in the crew, and were furnished with modern and futuristic items, including Swarovski chandeliers and a Fazioli piano. The ship's garage was built on the backlot of Pinewood Studios in England. The vehicles inside were built in 11 weeks and were designed to operate on difficult terrain while having a futuristic aesthetic. Max created a large pyramid structure for the alien world, which had its main interior areas connected by a series of chambers, corridors, and tunnels; it was so large that some members of the film crew became lost inside it. The pyramid was enhanced in post-production to further increase its size. One of the key sets, the chamber where the crew find the humanoid-head statue, was designed to resemble the interior of a cathedral and convey a quasi-religious impression. Giger designed the murals that appear within the chamber.
For the scene of the Prometheus ' descent to the alien moon LV-223, visual effects art director Steven Messing referenced NASA imagery, including vortex cloud structures. He also used aerial photographs of locations in Iceland and Wadi Rum shot by VFX supervisor Richard Stammers and his team. Messing painted over these images and combined them with 3D set extensions to create a realistic altered landscape. Scott wanted the ship's descent scenes to have a sense of grandeur to contrast the dark and shrouded descent featured in Alien. Much of LV-223s world was based upon the world visited in Alien, but scaled back as Scott felt some elements were too unrealistic. Other influences were the Martian mountain Olympus Mons and several large mountain structures on Earth. NASA advisers provided concepts for the aesthetics of alien worlds which were incorporated into the design work. MPC developed a digital representation of Wadi Rum using the design material, modified it to locate the alien pyramid and a landing area for the Prometheus, and resized the planet's natural features relative to the alien structures.
Neal Scanlan and Conor O'Sullivan developed the film's alien creatures, aiming to convey that each creature has a logical biological function and purpose. Scanlan said that much of Scott's inspiration for creature design is drawn from natural life, such as plants and sea creatures. Creature designer Carlos Huante chose to make the creature designs pale to contrast the black-toned, Giger-influenced aesthetic of Alien. Huante designed them to be white and embryonic because the events in the film occur before Giger's influence had taken effect. Huante took influences from references Scott was using to design the pale-skinned Engineers. Huante also referenced other Giger works, national monuments, large sculptures, and the Crazy Horse Memorial statue in South Dakota. Part of Huante's early design work included developing precursors to Alien 's Facehugger, and a primitive Alien creature, but these were cut from the final release. When designing the Engineers, Scott and Huante referenced paintings by William Blake and J. M. W. Turner, and classical sculptures. Scott wanted the Engineers to resemble Greco-Roman gods, and instructed designer Neville Page to reference the Statue of Liberty, Michelangelo's David, and Elvis Presley. The 8-foot tall, humanoid Engineers were created by applying bulky, full-body prosthetics to the actors, whose facial features were diminished by the material, and were later digitally enhanced to preserve the "godlike" physical perfection. Scott described the Engineers as tall, elegant "dark angels".
The snake-like alien dubbed the "Hammerpede" was given life through a mixture of CGI and practical effects, and the wires controlling the practical puppet were digitally removed. For a scene in which the Hammerpede is decapitated, the VFX team digitally animated and inserted the spontaneous growth of a replacement head. During the scene in which the Hammerpede erupts from Spall's character's corpse, Scott controlled the puppet using wires. Scott did not inform Dickie about what was to occur in the scene and her screaming reaction was real. The creature's design was partially inspired by translucent sea creatures with visible arteries, veins, and organs beneath the skin's surface, and cobras. The designers gave the creature a smooth, muscular, and powerful appearance. Early designs of the "Trilobite", the tentacled offspring cut from Shaw, resembled an octopus or squid. Page redeveloped this creature as an embryo in an early state of development, with tentacles that began fused together and would gradually split, creating new tentacles, as the creature developed. The practical creature was a remotely operated animatronic creation with a silicone skin.
The mutated Fifield effects were achieved mainly through the use of make-up and prosthetics. Due to concerns that the practical effects would be unsatisfactory, the filmmakers completed an alternative version of the sequence, in which Fifield was rendered as "a digital character with elongated limbs and an engorged, translucent head, incorporating a semblance of Harris's face". Three other variations of the mutated Fifield were modeled, but these were rejected as being too inhuman.
For its grown form, the "Adult Trilobite", Max found inspiration from an arthropod-like creature from Earth's Cambrian period, and the alien octopus in Jean Giraud's illustrations for the comic strip The Long Tomorrow. Further inspiration came after Max found a formaldehyde-preserved giant squid, an image which met with Scott's approval. The film's last-unveiled creature, the "Deacon", was named by Scott for its long, pointed head that he considered resembled a bishop's mitre. Scanlan aimed to represent the creature's genetic lineage, beginning with Shaw and Holloway who produce the Trilobite which impregnates the Engineer, in its design. However, they focused on making the creature feminine, and said that "it was born of a female before being born of a male." Messing drew inspiration for the Deacon's birth scene from the birth of foals, and created an iridescent appearance for its skin, based on the equine placenta. The Deacon's protruding jaw was inspired by the goblin shark.
Prometheus contains approximately 1,300 digital effect shots. The main effects studio was Moving Picture Company (MPC), which produced 420 of the shots. Several other studios, including Weta Digital, Fuel VFX, Rising Sun Pictures, Luma Pictures, Lola Visual Effects, and Hammerhead Productions, also produced effects shots for the film.
The creation of life from the disintegration of an Engineer in the film's opening scene was created by WETA Digital. The scene was difficult to produce because it had to convey the story of the Engineer's DNA breaking apart, reforming and recombining into Earth DNA in a limited span of time. The team focused on making the DNA stages distinct to convey its changing nature. Scott requested the studio to focus on the destruction occurring within the Engineer. A light color scheme was used for the Engineer's DNA and decayed fish spines were used as an image reference, while the infected DNA had a melted appearance. To find methods of depicting the DNA destruction, the team carved vein-like structures from silicone and pumped black ink and oils into them while filming the changes occurring over an extended period of time.
A key scene involving a large 3D hologram star map, dubbed the Orrery, was inspired by the 1766 Joseph Wright painting A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery, in which a scientist displays a mechanical planetarium by candlelight. While discussing the necessity of a star map with Spaihts, Scott mentioned that he envisaged a physical representation being similar to the painting, although he was unaware of its title and described it as "circles in circles with a candle lit image". Using Scott's description, Spaihts located an image of the painting. Spaihts said, "making the leap from a star map, to an Enlightenment painting, and then back into the far future. [Scott's] mind just multiplexes in that way". The Orrery was one of the most complex visual effects, contained 80–100 million polygons, and took several weeks to render as a single, complete shot.