by Shannon Shea
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.
Confident that they would come through for him again, Stan put Steve and Matt in charge of the aesthetics of the Predator. It was a privilege and a curse. To have Stan put that much faith in these two inexperienced artists on such an important project was huge, but it didn’t make them popular with Stan’s established core crew (or Lifers as they were called).
It was a combination of convenience and discrimination. While his permanent staff was busy on set with Monster Squad, Stan had seen something that struck a chord with him and that’s what he had wanted for his Predator. So with an impossible deadline hanging over our heads, he made the decision that, although unpopular with his staff, would be best for the studio. And…he was right.
I tell you this, because it is important to realize the stress level that Matt and Steve were working under as we set to work. I was in the shop with them, doing whatever I could to facilitate the rapid build. It was evident that these guys really knew their stuff.
We had to cast Kevin Peter Hall’s 7 foot, 2 inch frame in two overlapping pieces, otherwise there would be too much leverage in the plaster bandage and it would have warped. So he was cast from his neck to his hips and from his waist to the floor. After the rigid polyfoam casts were assembled, Steve and Matt had us shave ¼” off of the entire surface before we sealed it and molded it again.
This would make the foam rubber suit fit tighter (and the tighter the suit, the less buckling there would be). They had utilized this strategy on their Gillman and it showed. When Tom Woodruff, Jr. would breathe inside of the Gillman suit, the abdomen moved along realistically. It seems like a small thing, but it translates on screen and makes all of the difference in the world.
As they had done on Monster Squad, Matt and Steve divided the duties: Matt sculpted the Predator’s head, while Steve concentrated on the body. True, Steve wasn’t alone. At the beginning, Alec Gillis and I jumped in to help Steve rough out the body, but by the time it was finished, I can’t lay claim to anything that appeared in the final sculpt.
Clockwise from top left: The whole crew gets together for a shot with the Predator, Steve Wang approves of Eddie Yang’s dreadlock work, an albino Predator (or a suit ready to be painted), Shane checks out Matt’s Predator mask sculpture.
The other Lifers helped where they could. I remember John Rosengrant roughing out a pair of feet and Tom Woodruff working on the gauntlet that housed the Predator’s iconic blades. But, as the suit progressed, the Lifers dropped out of the studio, taking well-deserved vacations while the rest of us sallied forth.
At one point, Stan pulled me aside. There would be no question that Matt and Steve were the final word where the artwork was concerned, but he wanted to make sure that they would be unburdened with day-to-day studio practicalities and concerns – those would now become my responsibility. If the suit wasn’t delivered on time, it would be my ass (I believe that last part was a quote). It was the first time I had been put in charge of running a project. I was 24 years old.
I have always liked Matt and Steve and we got along very well. I’d like to think that my presence had the desired effect and that they were able to concentrate on what they were working on rather than worrying that other duties, like sculpting and molding all of the Pred-dreds, were getting done. As was typical of their work ethic, they were at the studio constantly working to meet the deadlines.
Even though construction began in pieces distributed around the shop(s), as the work got refined it was clear that some of the early sculpts would need to be augmented. Matt stepped in and re-sculpted the feet so that they would aesthetically and physically fit the completed suit sculpture. The wrist blade housing had to be reconfigured for the new blade sculptures. However, according to Steve, he got sick toward the end of the body sculpt and John and Shane Mahan had to complete it for him (I don’t remember that, but if he said it happened, then I am compelled to agree with him). I do recall watching Shane add the little chevron details to the armor, for sure.
As pieces were sculpted, molded and cast, other artists and technicians would commence their contributions to the final creature. In the mechanical department, Richard Landon was designing and building the facial mechanics, Dave Kindlon was developing the shoulder-cannon array, while Wayne Strong built custom air rams to drive the wrist blades in and out.
During all this madness, my girlfriend, Tracy Fletcher, and I decided it was time to get married. What?! Yes. Knowing that I would be leaving for Mexico at the beginning of next year, and after non-stop work through most of 1986, we figured that Thanksgiving weekend would be the only four-day break we would get. So we ran down the Los Angeles Court House the day before Thanksgiving and got married. I was back to work the following Monday (however, I did stop into the studio over the weekend from time to time to check in with Matt and Steve who did not stop for the holiday – what a bridegroom, right?)
I wasn’t the only one who was experiencing a fantastic, new change in his life. While at the height of our build, Stan received word that Pumpkinhead, the film that was to be his directorial debut, was green lit. Unlike what he had done in the past, Stan decided that he was going to be “the director” and leave the creature effects to his lifers, but that is another story…
Back in the shop, Matt Rose, since he sculpted the head, became responsible for everything that happened on the creature from the neck up. Knowing that for most of the film the Predator wore a helmet, Matt sculpted a very cool mask, intricately detailed with a frightening, mechanical visage. It was Matt that had decided to sculpt the now famous mandibles as a separate piece that would be glued on later, so that he could detail the sculpture and mold it easily.
During all of the sculptures and prep work, Steve kept showing me a photograph of a particular cricket, and would tell me that this was how he was going to paint the skin of the Predator’s body. Not being a genius, I nodded, but didn’t fully understand what his intention was…until I saw it in person. Holy crap, it was cool. Steve established the paint job on the body, handed Matt Rose the colors he had used, and Matt painted the hero head.
As 1987 fast approached, enough suit pieces were made to have a fitting with Kevin and the production. The suit wasn’t finished by any stretch of the imagination, but there was enough to get a sense of what the final Predator was going to look like. Overall, the reaction from production was positive with two exceptions: The Predator’s original hands had finger-extensions (rigid acrylic cups that Kevin wore on his fingertips beneath sculpted gloves that made his fingers appear longer); they thought the hands looked too big as a result. They also confused us by grumbling about the helmet-mask that Matt had sculpted. John McTiernan kept going on about how it would take away from the face beneath it (a face, they still hadn’t seen completed, yet). Another, plain mask needed to be sculpted.
More work. New gloves, new mask.
However, seeing Kevin standing there, decked out in his partial suit was impressive. He was going to look great. All we needed to do was to finish it, right?
…And Last Time on Blood, Sweat and Latex…: “The Predator Experience (Part I)”
Shannon Shea, a native New Orleanian educated at The California Institute of the Arts, has enjoyed a 27-year tenure designing, constructing, and performing animatronic creatures and characters for Motion Pictures and Television. He has had the pleasure of contributing to such diverse films as Predator, Dances With Wolves, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, Spy Kids, The Chronicles of Narnia, Drag Me To Hell and 2012’s Men In Black 3.
Not limited to the confines of Motion Pictures, he paints (having been shown in New York, North Carolina, and Los Angeles), sculpts, writes and authors a new blog about his motion picture experiences called Monster History 101. Recently, he was tapped by the Stan Winston School of Character Design to be one of their instructors for a lecture series entitled Garage Monsters. When not participating on Hollywood projects, he enjoys producing, writing, and directing his own short films including Hotel Superman, Blind Passion, and his current Internet project Phantom Harbor. Shannon lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Tracy, an Operatic Soprano and their daughter, Molly, who attends the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago.