This post was written by Michelle Gallina on June 13, 2022.

Bringing beloved comic book characters to life is about more than just costumes and casting; it’s about creating an entire, immersive world that supports the character. That’s what Robyn Haddow loves about her job designing fantasy user interfaces (FUIs) for DC and Marvel’s biggest names. Using Adobe Creative Cloud apps, Haddow creates HUDs, holographic displays, scientific simulations, flight controls, and computer interfaces.

Haddow has worked on many television and film projects, from WandaVision,The Flash, and Arrow, to The Suicide Squad, Spiderman: Homecoming, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Black Widow. We spoke with Haddow about her process for designing visuals that balance realism with imagination.

You’ve worked on many big-name television and movie projects, including the DC Universe and Marvel Universe. What are some of your learnings around FUI design?

Haddow: I think the biggest thing to remember is that everything should tell a story. You have to think about how the interface draws your eye and how that contributes to the story. What kind of character is the interface designed for, and what sort of technology is displaying them?

For Black Widow, I worked with Creative Director Stephen Lawes and artist Carly Cerquone at Cantina Creative to design and conceptualize the HUD for the villain of the story, Taskmaster.

2-taskmasterhud_robynhaddow02Boot Up Sequence for Taskmaster’s HUD, 'Black Widow'Credit: Marvel

The character is very imposing; having Russian Constructivist influence, they are very sophisticated yet low-fi. Their HUD needed to be old school with a cold, mechanical sensibility. I referenced DOS terminals and computer programming languages, targeting iconography along with various styles of machine vision and a mix of retro cyberpunk aesthetics.

3-taskmaster_icon-tearsheet_robynhaddow01Visual development for Taskmaster’s HUD, 'Black Widow'Credit: Cantina Creative

The result became a mix of math-based readouts, calculations, and data points with dynamic scanning, recording, and proximity-based icons. Taskmaster’s top skill is to copy. So, we created a “mimic mode” where they record their opponents' fight tactics, only to replicate and then beat them at their own game. Carly came up with some awesome light-based scan animations that visualized the HUD processing and downloading such data, mapping to the character’s movements, and highlighting environmental awareness and shapes.

Timed with harsh, bold sound effects and bleeding, frayed red color, the result is quite dark and menacing. I mean, anyone would be intimidated!

4-taskmasterhud_robynhaddow05_1POV through Taskmaster’s HUD, 'Black Widow'Credit: Marvel

Red Notice is another film I worked on with Cantina, this time with Artist and Graphic Supervisor Aaron Eaton. I helped conceptualize and design a series of graphics for a sequence where we told the story of Gal Gadot’s character, Bishop, the world’s most wanted art thief, and how she breaks into Interpol’s system. She’s a hacker, so, similar to Taskmaster, we wanted it to be more stripped down and DOS-esque, but she’s also cheeky, witty, conniving, and smart, so her graphics needed to reflect that.

We put in a lot of ASCII art for humor and a programming language using double entendre of chess as a playful hint that it’s all a game for Bishop.

5-rednotice_robynhaddow_01Screen graphics created for Gadot’s hacker character, 'Red Notice'Credit: Netflix

6-rednotice_robynhaddow_02Screen graphics from the Interpol set, 'Red Notice'Credit: Netflix

Walk us through what a typical workflow looks like for you.

Haddow: My staples are Adobe After Effects, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and Cinema 4D. I use these apps for everything. They’re like my hands—I couldn’t work without them.

7-holographictimetraveldevice_designconcept_robynhaddow_0Personal warm up “what if” sketch to get into flow and creative thinking/free space (Adobe Illustrator)Credit: Robyn Haddow

But the very first step is usually pen and paper. I’m terrible at drawing, but it really helps to rough out ideas and get basic designs on a page. Then I’ll move to Photoshop or Illustrator, drawing and playing with simple shapes to get a rough sense of composition, layout, and hierarchy. It’s in this play phase I find the graphic language begins to develop; line, spacing, and flow.

After that, I tend to get all over the place. I jump between apps, adjusting things here and there, doing tests, comping elements—very rough, with assets to make sure everything looks and feels right. Even if a design looks beautiful on its own, the only thing that really matters is whether it looks right for the shot. Do the right shapes and colors stand out? Does your eye still catch the important information? From there, I go back and build up detail and higher fidelity graphics. 

For WandaVision, I helped develop a really cool holographic light table. It was three layers of glass stacked on top of each other in the middle of S.W.O.R.D. command. The challenge here was to balance each layer of graphics on the table such that the right layer was in focus, yet we could still see all the complexity the table had on all its surfaces.

8-wandavision_robynhaddow01Hologram Concept of the “Hex” on a triple layer light table, 'WandaVision'Credit: Marvel

This is a perfect example of the go-between—the constant back and forth of working on the intricacies of a design in Illustrator and then seeing how your elements read and stand out in the context of the shot in After Effects. And there also was a volumetric hologram on top! So that meant going back and forth through Cinema 4d as well.

Stephen Lawes of Cantina Creative was the genius who comped all the elements together and really made the graphics sing. He has such a beautiful eye for color and balance. He made the graphics stand out clearly and give it that purposeful sense of focus the design required. In the end, everything looked so intuitive, perfectly placed.

9-wandavision_robynhaddow06Top view of the table displaying surveillance footage of the town of Westview, 'WandaVision'Credit: Cantina Creative

What are some of your favorite parts of working with Adobe Creative Cloud apps?

Haddow: I love the ease with which all the Adobe apps work together. I can push and pull vector art between Illustrator and After Effects to iterate on designs in a click, so the focus stays on design. I can use links in Illustrator and layer comps in Photoshop to create base "template" layers and then stack unique elements for story points to build out sequences or custom screen flows.

10-antmanwasp_pymslab_robynhaddowPym’s Lab: studying Pym Particles, the underlying fabric of nano tech that power the pod and entry into the Quantum Realm, 'Antman and the Wasp'Credit: Robyn Haddow

Utilizing the layer index and expression system in After Effects is another big one for me. I can build mini-systems in order to make lots of similar, but different design elements. For example, when I’m building tags for various data callouts, I set up one pre-comp with elements that are expression-based in order to generate something different over time; numbers, text elements, on/off graphics, or varied rotation and /or position sets to simply build out something that in the end looks very complex.

11-antmanandwasp_robynhaddowAnalyzing quantum energy fields and vehicle parts in Pym’s Lab, 'Antman and the Wasp'Credit: Robyn Haddow

The collaborative nature between the apps has saved my butt so many times! I worked with Marti Romances, Creative Director at Territory Studios to create graphics for the feature film Mile 22.

I was working on set for that show, and I had to make edits on the fly as well as have everything ready for playback on set in an incredibly short amount of time. There was a last-minute pivot changing screen sizes and resolutions. Being able to send comps from After Effects to Adobe Media Encoder made it possible for me to keep up with all the changes and get everything out in time for camera.

12-mile22_overwatchconsole01_robynhaddow_0Black Ops Mobile Command Unit from the Overwatch set of 'Mile 22'Credit: STX Entertainment

Are there any Creative Cloud apps or features you’re excited about using in the future?

Haddow: I’ve seen some wicked applications of Adobe XD and I’d really love to try it. It seems like it’s the essence of atomic design! The ability to ripple changes and build element systems seems like it would be a very effective way to build interfaces, particularly for something like episodic television.

And who isn’t excited about multi-frame rendering in Adobe After Effects?! The hype is real. Plug-ins like Trapcode Form and Particular are staples in my workflow. I can’t wait to see how fast previews and rendering will become. Even the performance boost in comps is going to be a game-changer. I finally got my new MacBook Pro so I’m really excited to see the speed and put multi-frame rendering to the test.

How did you get your start in motion graphics design?

Haddow: I opened a boutique design studio with friends from Vancouver Film School. We called it “We Are Normal,” and the whole idea was that we wanted to juxtapose classic design norms with zany ideas. We did a lot of really great work—everything from infographic videos to creating motion graphics advertising for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. But honestly, nobody wanted to run the business. We were all artists and we just wanted to work on design all day.

We went our separate ways and I ended up getting into the video game industry. My first game project was working on design and motion graphics for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It was my introduction to the idea of creating fantasy user interfaces and it was so much fun. It’s very technical stuff—cockpits, instrument panels, and galaxy maps—and it needed to feel real, but there was an element of make-believe where you could just have fun with it. I worked on video games for a while—everything from Batman to Madden—before I got a call about a TV pilot.

The pilot turned out to be The Flash. It was really exciting because I love the character, but also because it was the pilot; I got to build a visual world from nothing. That led to a bunch of work on DC television shows, like Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, before I got a call for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. That was my entry into the MCU, and it was so freaking awesome.

I know that you’re a very involved parent. What is it like being a working mother in such an intense, mostly male industry?

Haddow: Well, I’m lucky because I’ve always worked on very small teams with friends, so it’s been pretty smooth for me. But I definitely hear stories from other women in the industry where it’s much harder for them to get ahead. Many women take on more caregiving for their families, so they’re working with compressed time. Balancing family life is tough when you’re trying to learn new software or practice a new technique.

I’m finding it’s an evolving practice, balancing being the mom I want to be and professional goals. Most times I’ve just found ways to do more with less time because I refuse to give up projects that I really love. When one of my kids was a baby, he was sleeping really weird hours. I’d get up with him at 2:00 a.m. and have him sleep in one arm while I’d be texturing a 3D asset or coloring a comp. I’m awake, might as well get some work done and learn a few new things!

Check out more of Robyn Haddow’s work at her website,

This post was written by Michelle Gallina on June 13, 2022.