Creature Design

We packed the truck that would travel to location in Palenque, Mexico a few days before we traveled via airplane. The set crew: Steve Wang, Matt Rose, Shane Mahan, Brian Simpson, Richard Landon and me. Stan Winston would be with us, supervising the set work, understanding that we would only be gone for two weeks. At least that is what our work visas indicated. Palenque, Mexico was not a location easily reached. It required one flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City, another to Villa Hermosa, and finally a long ride in a Volkswagen bus through miles of rough country until we reached our hotel that was, from what we were told, the best in the area. It sat in a large clearing, surrounded by trees; two wings of rooms branched out from a central building that housed a restaurant/bar. Later, we discovered that Arnold Schwarzenegger had taken over the entire upper conference room and had turned it into a gymnasium that was open to anyone on the crew. As we settled into our rooms we were told that there would be screening of the film the next day for the cast and crew. My understanding was that this was for the benefit of the new crew members to get a chance to catch up and understand the shots needed to complete the film. A screen and projectors were set up in Arnold’s gym.

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By now, most fans credit Steve Wang and Matt Rose for the creation of the Predator. However, in my conversations with Steve, in particular, he feels that an unfair amount of credit has been given to him; it was a team effort bringing the Predator to life, and he couldn’t be more correct. During Monster Squad, Matt and Steve, who had been responsible for the Gillman, had worked through the weekend, grabbing precious few hours of sleep, while they established and painted the final suit. On Monday morning, it stood in the middle of Stan Winston’s satellite shop in all of its amphibian beauty. Stan saw it and his jaw bounced onto his chest. He had NEVER seen anything like it. It impressed him so much, that he, literally, stopped the work in the studio, gathered all of his employees around it and heaped praise upon these two kids (Matt was roughly 21 and Steve 20…maybe?). He said it was the best thing he had seen in his career thus far. Probably not the best strategy in the world. Months earlier, he was in England with his crew working on the Queen Alien, and now he was recognizing these two studio newcomers as the best. Where most of us in the shop agreed with Stan, there was some dissension.

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It’s unclear why this is a red-band trailer. Maybe because it’s adequately startling? Or a bit gruesome without splattering blood everywhere? Or maybe because no one curses or gets naked? Either way, even though The Thing is a remake prequel with the same name as its originator featuring roughly the same plot, the strength of this piece of marketing is the fabulous creature design done as a group effort by Amalgamated Dynamics, The Aaron Sims Company and several others. From the design to the execution, it looks appropriately slimy and scary. Check it out for yourself, and watch out for that co-worker with the eye twitch.

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There are events that define one’s existence that go beyond being learning or growing experiences. They become scars. Battle scars. They may fade in time, but they don’t go away. They persist. The memories of the events may become blurry, but every now and then, you run your fingertips along the raised, healed wound and remember. It all comes back like a punch in the nose. I had been on movie sets before and believed that I had been trained. The snarky ADs , the disinterested teamsters, the hustling, the waiting, they were all nearly second-nature to me, especially with the close of my on-set involvement with Monster Squad. However, nothing could prepare me for what I was going to face. My first location experience. My first time out of the country. My first time working set on a big budget film. My first time supervising a team. Predator would be all of those things and it would change my life forever.

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This week, on a very special episode of Reject Radio, Jason Momoa talks Conan, director Joann Sfar talks Gainsbourg, concept designer Jerad Marantz talks rising Apes and Spidey’s costume, and action icon Renny Harlin discusses his latest film 5 Days of War. Plus, our old friend Scott Weinberg goes up against FSR’s own Gwen Reyes in a Movie News Pop Quiz that leads us to talking about sexy animated characters. Don’t judge. You know you think Ariel is the bee’s knees. Listen Here: Download This Episode

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For newbies to the column, I’m recalling defining moments that made me what I am: A Special Effects Make Up Artist looking for relevance in the 21st Century. The time is 1985, and I have finished a tour of duty for Stan Winston’s Studio. I am 23 years old. Freelance. Footloose and fancy-free. Unemployed again. I had tasted of the good life and knew that, somehow, I needed to return to Stan Winston Studios. It was everything I imagined working in a Hollywood special make-up effects studio would be and more. It certainly was first class all of the way but at the moment, it was irrelevant. Alec Gillis and Rick Lazzarini had left and joined Stan and the rest of the crew in England to continue work on Aliens. I, on the other hand, needed to find work. Toward the end of Invaders from Mars, a rumor began circulating that Rick Baker was putting together a crew to build a Sasquatch suit for a film entitled Harry and the Hendersons. Now, regardless of what others may or may not think, I knew that my work was below the established standard of excellence at Rick’s studio. This was confirmed when I interviewed with him and I wasn’t hired.

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This week, on a very special episode of Reject Radio, Movies.com‘s John Gholson offers a primer before we all go see Green Lantern, and lead creature designer for the film (and Super 8, Avatar, and many others…) Neville Page talks about creating aliens. Plus, our very own Matt Patches faces off against UGO‘s movies editor Jordan Hoffman in a Movie News Pop Quiz that’ll be one for the books. We follow it up with a Green Lantern review, so stick around. Listen Here: Download This Episode

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Without H.R. Giger’s design for the alien in the original Alien, it wouldn’t have come close to having the impact that it had. It was the launch of not only a frightening new monster to invade our nightmares, but also of an iconic beast that permeates pop culture. Thousands of monsters movies attempted it, and Alien found success because of Giger. Now, it’s loosely confirmed that he’ll be back on board for the prequels. Good news by any stretch of the imagination.

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