Vermette returned to the book to look for clues about what the various residences might look like, and decided that the natural environments on each planet should most greatly inform the designs. In the city of Arrakeen on the planet Arrakis (known to the natives as Dune), for example, the buildings are quite angular, so that the 750-kilometer-per-hour winds described in the book can glide over them. They are made of thick stone and feature light wells instead of large windows as a response to the extreme heat.
A variety of architectural styles influenced the look of Arrakeen, including WWII bunkers, Mesopotamian ziggurats, Egyptian and Aztec pyramids, Brazilian architecture, brutalism, and even the Italian 1960s and ’70s design collective Superstudio. Still, Vermette was determined to make Dune look like nothing seen before. During the seven months he spent on concept work, he’d show everything to his then 16-year-old son and ask if it reminded him of any movies or video games. “If he would say, ‘Well…,’ I said, ‘Okay, let’s change that.’”
One element it was especially important to get right was the ornithopters, the helicopter-like vehicles the characters use to get around. “They needed to look real enough that you’d believe that it would be safe to fly in those things, and real enough that it would stand the winds,” Vermette says. Two ornithopters were actually built for the film; only the flapping, dragonfly-like wings were added using special effects in post-production.