‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ Says Goodbye to James Gunn’s Misfit Superheroes in the Bowie Spaceship

Production designer Beth Mickle tells IndieWire how the Bowie's design is a tribute to Rocket, built as a series of interconnected sets.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3, from left: Karen Gillan as Nebula, Chris Pratt as Star-Lord, Dave Bautista as Drax, 2023. ph: Jessica Miglio / © Marvel / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3"
©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

It’s fitting that James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” wraps up with Rocket’s origin story in the largest spaceship in MCU history: The Bowie, which debuted in “The Holiday Special.” According to the backstory, the massive, four-story craft was built by power tool expert Rocket (Bradley Cooper). “We always thought of it as the muscle car of spaceships,” production designer Beth Mickle (“The Holiday Special,” “The Suicide Squad”) told IndieWire.

In honor of Rocket, the Bowie ended up in the shape of a giant circular saw after initial sketches involved various power tool designs. The art department then built the Bowie’s interior as a series of interconnected sets (three stories high) with seven different areas on a 20,000-square-foot stage at Trilith Studios in Atlanta.

“We wanted the physical spaces to all be connected by these circular shapes, which we hadn’t seen much of before,” Mickle said. “And we staged scenes in every single one of them so that the actors could literally walk from one area to another without interruption. We wanted it to feel as real for the audience as it possibly could.”

As a result, the central corridor wraps around like a large cylinder, and the med bay, where Rocket spends a lot of time, forms a perfect circle. “And we wanted a really sizable pilot bay two stories tall,” she continued, “with a big, beautiful, glass canopy looking out. So we took the lines of the architecture from the exterior.”

Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Dave Bautista as Drax, and Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, and Karen Gillan as Nebula in Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.”Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The only VFX cheat (production supervised by Marvel’s Stephane Ceretti and carried out by Sony Pictures Imageworks) occurred when an elevator didn’t work that was supposed to take Quill (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) from the central core to the pilot bay. “That was the CGI of having the background behind them lower to give the effect that they were rising and it worked beautifully,” added Mickle.

The production designer, who is one of the few women in the industry working on superhero tentpoles, also wanted a very special color palette for the Bowie. She settled on teal and pink, which blended well together, and Gunn immediately approved. “I had never seen a wine-pink color in a spaceship,” Mickle said. “So we thought, OK, let’s put these colors onto the body of this. It all happened very quickly, and within two or three weeks of early concepts I had a rough pass and took it to James, and he was really excited by it.”

Another fun fact is that they put a toilet on the Bowie, also pretty rare. Of course, it’s no ordinary toilet seat: It’s made from the same cotton material as old ice packs, courtesy of set decorator Rosemary Brandenburg. “And so if you look, when Gamora [Zoe Saldaña] is sitting in there, you can actually see the fabric gusset like a big ice pack,” Mickle said.

The rest of the world building was just as imaginative, from the 300-mile-high red Arete skyscraper spacecraft in the shape of a cube, to the ’70s Counter-Earth planet, to the cold and sterile Halfworld lair of the villainous High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), to his bizarre intergalactic bio-engineering company, Orgocorp.

Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) in Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.”Courtesy of Marvel Studios

“For the Orgocorp planet, James said he wanted it to be all flesh,” Mickle said. “We worked from a photo of a spaceship module that looked sort of flesh-like in its texture and other flesh references to come up with something that could feel like a biologically grown world. But, in addition to all the flesh, we had lots of mechanics, lots of metal piping, lots of metal hosing, lots bone architecture, lots of gadgetry attached to it all.”

The color palette was limited but striking, with fleshy, white and pink plant life scattered throughout along with a yellow liquid that ran everywhere. “Then we just had the pop of red with the costumes, and that set for me was very successful because of the limited color palette,” said Mickle.

Now it’s on to production designing Gunn’s “Superman: Legion” for Mickle, who got a taste of DC with “The Suicide Squad.” Of course, Gunn is not only writing and directing the as-yet-to-be-cast “Superman” reboot (scheduled for a June 11, 2025, release from Warner Bros.) but rebuilding DC Studios with producing partner Peter Safran as co-CEOs.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 – Concept Art courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” concept art courtesy of Marvel StudiosCourtesy of Marvel Studios

“He has a very fresh vision for the direction that the DC world can take, and he’s really committed to doing that,” Mickle said of Gunn and his rock ‘n’ roll, misfit ethos. “It’s exciting to see his notes and his references and to hear him talk about how he envisions this movie we’re going to make.”

Mickle added that “Superman: Legion” is already the highlight of her career. “I’ve talked about it with my peers how women just haven’t gotten to do movies of this tentpole franchise level. Only in the last five years have women been given any opportunities in this arena.” For her, the Man of Steel personifies “optimism, hope, and goodness.”

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