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StarBeast — Alien Vs. Predator

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Alien Vs. Predator was born as a successful comic book series by Dark Horse, which pitted the two iconic film Monsters against each other within an organic backstory. When the film version was being written, Dan O’Bannon, the original writer of Alien, suggested to the filmmakers a new twist on the relationship between the two titular creatures. The idea was — for perhaps obvious reasons — discarded. O’Bannon told Fangoria: “the most obvious creative thing you have to solve on a movie like this is: what’s the connection between the species? What they came up with was that Predators bred Aliens as part of a complicated ritual. But my idea was, what if the Predators are the Aliens? In the first Alien movie, there’s a part in the end when they blow up the ship. And it still has one stage left, and my idea was that if it metamorphosed one more time it would have become the Predator, but they didn’t use it. It was good, though! My one great idea for them and they didn’t use it.” Despite that, O’Bannon still ultimately enjoyed the final product.

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An Alien discusses his paycheck with director Paul W.S. Anderson on the set of the film.

When Alien Vs. Predator finally began its creation process, the task of bringing the Aliens to the screen fell on Amalgamated Dynamics, the company that had created the effects for the two preceding Alien films. ADI was restrained by an incredibly tight schedule and only five months to complete the creature effects for filming, which by itself would only last three months. “We went to ADI ’cause Tom was the guy in the suit,” director Paul W.S. Anderson said. “It’s amazing when you see a great performer, and the suit comes to life. He’s part of the Alien family; he had to be the guy in the suit. I was insistent on getting ADI to do the Aliens, because that kind of experience you can’t buy, no matter how much money you throw at it — the experience of having done three Alien movies — they’re the guys. Especially given that I wanted to do probably the most complicated and expensive man-in-a-suit movie ever made, it had to be all about performance.”  Supporting the practical creatures with digital versions of the characters were multiple visual effects companies, including MPC and Cinesite. Those companies were also given a short time to complete post-production — under four months.

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The requirements for the film were numerous: ADI had to bring to the screen both titular creatures — and creating the Aliens meant building each stage of their life cycle. The special effects company worked in strict collaboration with visual effects supervisor John Bruno; they all agreed that the film should use as many practical effects as possible. “One of our goals in this,” Tom Woodruff Jr. said, “secondary to just coming up with cool-looking creatures and satisfying the needs of the show and the director, was to make a real fanfare on behalf of animatronics, rubber work, men in suits — creature stuff that has sort of been pushed aside in favour of the digital aspect, which has really happened in the last few years.” Bruno himself added: “the first thing I did [on Alien Vs. Predator] was come up with this rule: ‘do everything for real, and what we can’t [do for real] will become an effect. But that effect could be a puppet, a model, a miniature or CGI. Using a puppet or a model means it’s a practical element within the shot, and that all you’re doing is compositing other things into a real lighting situation, which is quicker to complete.” Anderson concurred: “John hates visual effects. His first rule is, ‘well, do we have to do it as an effect?’ You know, if he could go out, capture a Predator, and breed a couple of Aliens, that would be the movie we would make. We would all be wearing armoured suits and we would be shooting a documentary.”

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For Alien Vs. Predator, a new hive set was built based on the original Aliens design; materials for its construction included foam latex, silicone, and fiberglass. With only five months to complete their effects work, ADI had to save budget and time however they could. For that very purpose, the company recycled a number of moulds used in the production of Alien: Resurrection. As in the preceding films, every stage was carefully completed with KY Jelly on set before filming.

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The Eggs were among the reused moulds, and as such remained substantially unaltered in their structure. They were repainted with greenish highlights by Justin Raleigh and David Selvadurai. A total of twenty Eggs was built, between seven hero cable-operated Eggs and several stunt Eggs. Hollow versions of the Eggs allowed puppeteers, as in the last film, to animate the Facehugger hand puppets from below the Eggs themselves.

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The Facehugger was also among the reused moulds. A single tail sculpture was used for both the Facehuggers and Chestbursters. Several versions of this stage were built and painted by David Selvadurai and other painters. A hero Facehugger, with both servomotor and cable-maneuvered functions, was fully articulated and also featured an ejecting proboscis. Several stunt versions were also built. In scenes where the Facehuggers had to perform actions impossible to achieve with practical models, they were actually portrayed by digital models. Cinesite was chosen for this task, as crewmembers Ivor Middleton and David Rey had successfully animated the spiders for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; due to the similarity in the characters’ bodily language, the choice seemed ideal. The CGI model was obtained by scanning a wax version of the Facehugger, specifically provided by ADI for the purpose. The same wax model was used to shoot reference lighting footage in order to properly render and light the digital Facehuggers.

The Chestburster was another reused design. The creature was built as a number of puppets, including a ram-rod puppet used for Rousseau’s chestbursting sequence, stunt versions, and a hero cable-operated puppet seen in the scene where the Scar Predator snaps a Chestburster’s neck. All the different versions’ skin was cast in silicone, as opposed to the foam latex used for all the other stages of the creatures in the film.

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As with the Egg and Facehugger, the adult Alien design was fundamentally recycled from Alien: Resurrection; ADI reused pre-existing moulds that had been built for the suits of the previous film. Woodruff explained in AvP: The Creature Effects of ADI: “there simply wasn’t time to build unnecessary pieces, and [the director] knew exactly what he needed and what he didn’t. Fortunately, Paul loved the Alien as we had realized it for Alien Resurrection, but asked for a few changes.” Cosmetic design alterations were in fact applied to the character.

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Original Resurrection hand design on the left; revised AvP version on the right.

On a structural level, the Aliens’ hands were bulked up, in order to appear more weapon-like. “Per [Anderson’s] request,” Woodruff continues, “we made the spindly hands of the Alien into meatier, longer-taloned weapons that looked more formidable next to the Predator.” Peter Farrell resculpted the Alien hands into the new configuration. This change mirrored the upgrades in the Predators’ armour designs, which were changed for the same reason — the Hunters had to fight Aliens. The Aliens’ legs as portrayed by the suits were also never completely seen in the previous film, making them a new design as far as the films went. Another initial design addition was a flat back appendage, reminiscent of the ‘head-rest’ appendage found in the original Alien design. None of the screen-used Aliens, however, do display this trait.

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Whereas the Aliens in the previous two films had been painted with sepia tones-based schemes, Anderson wanted his Aliens — which he defined as “biomechanical, insectoid creatures” — to blend with the environment of the Pyramid. Jet black tones were as such used as the primary foundation of the new colour scheme. “Paul Anderson wanted to return to the deeper blacks of the original film,” Woodruff said. “Production designer Richard Bridgland’s pyramid interiors were black, obsidian-like blocks, and the Aliens needed matching tones in order to integrate into their surroundings.” In order to enhance the creatures in the shadows, “a reflective silver highlight scheme was devised to help define the shapes of the Alien. Some gold and subtle blue tones were also introduced to avoid a totally monochromatic look. By the time slime was applied to the suit on set, the distinctive Alien imagery was complete.”

Suits on set.

The adult Aliens were built as a series of hero suits and stunt suits. The hero suits featured radio-controlled animatronic heads. An innovation that helped the suit performance was the implementation of an advanced wire rig system that enabled the performer — Woodruff, usually — to control his own enhanced movements. “we had done early tests with a wire rig, a temporary harness that we built at the shop, and came up with a bungee supporting system, which is something I’ve wanted to see for a long time. I’ve done wirework in the past, and what I always thought was missing was the ability to let me, as a performer, dictate my own movement, rather than have a second set of hands pulling on a cable to give the creature lift. It’s very hard to balance those two things — my movement with what somebody else is interpreting as the right time to give me some lift. This really took the edge off of that and basically amplified the momentum of what I was doing. There were plenty of times when it didn’t work, but there were really sweet moments where it all fell into place.”

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Concept art of Grid.

In Alien Vs. Predator, as a result of being trapped in a Predator net, one of the Aliens is scarred with a grid pattern on its head and shoulders. In fact, the character was aptly named ‘Grid’ by the filmmakers. The pattern was thoroughly explored in concept art. “The size and pattern of the Predator’s metallic net which cuts into Grid’s carapace,” Woodruff said, “as well as what would be an appropriate amount of oozing acid blood, all had to be determined in the design phase.” Grid was portrayed by one of the Alien suits, appropriately cut and completed with oozing blood. To portray the effect of the Predator net cutting through the creature’s head, a number of insert heads was built, rigged with additional tubes that would pump fake blood and smoke out of the head’s surface. The ‘Grid’ insert heads were mechanized by Nevada Smith.

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The hydraulic Alien on set.

Unlike in previous films, however, ADI also built a fully mechanized creature — a hydraulic animatronic. This version of the Alien had a range of movement impossible to obtain with the suit version of the creature “A long-term dream of ours,” Woodruff said, “has been to create an Alien Warrior that was completely mechanical. On AVP, we finally had that opportunity. The goal for this particular character was to build in movements impossible to achieve with a performer in a suit. The torso had increased ranges of movement, as did the neck, which was capable of turning the head 180 degrees around to look directly behind it. The neck also had a cobra-like striking ability, and the head carried a pneumatic tongue. This sophisticated puppet was performed with the help of a computer motion control system, which not only aided in performance, but was a safety must for operating in close quarter combat with a performer in a Predator suit.”

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Woodruff added: “it is basically a duplicate of the man-in-a-suit creature, but it gave us the ability to narrow the waist, to lengthen some of the other proportions, to make it a little spindly and more insect-like than you can get with a guy in a costume.” The Alien required a total of five to six puppeteers to operate: one for the head, two for the body, two for the arms, and a sixth crewmember that checked constantly the transmission of data from the controllers to the animatronic itself. A motion control computer system also allowed the crewmembers to record specific movements, refine them, or increase or decrease the speed of certain functions. The crew was in complete control of the puppet. In addition to the hydraulic Alien, insert heads were built, as well as models portraying dead Aliens — including one that is dissected by a Predator, revealing the Alien’s brain. Another recycled effect from Alien: Resurrection was an exploding Alien head — portraying the effects of a nail gun fired by the main character.

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The ‘brain’ Alien dummy on set.

In filming the Alien suits, “you have to be careful that you don’t reveal it as just being a guy in a suit,” Gillis said. “I don’t know if you had this reaction, but in the first film, which was brilliant and had me completely riveted, when I saw it head to toe hanging outside the spaceship, I realized, ‘oh, it’s an actor.’ So we tried to be very careful not to reveal men in suits from any wider than waist-up, just to avoid the guy with floppy feet. That’s where the CGI comes in, to give us the dynamics over long leaps or runs that maybe a performer in a suit can’t quite do.”

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AvPAlienpromoshot2The digital counterparts for the Aliens — used for complex scenes such as big leaps or long shots of the Aliens scuttling on the floor — were provided by Moving Pictures Company (MPC). Based on scans of the suits, the digital Alien Warrior model was built by Stephane Paris, the lead CGI modeler for the film. Various versions of the model were devised, from a ‘hero’ detailed version to increasingly less-defined versions — for scenes such as the flashback, where a swarm of thousands of Aliens is seen. “My approach was very simple,” Paris told 3DVF.com. “I wanted to be as faithful as possible to the creature sculptures [I had received from] Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis, both in details and the general shape of the characters. We made some changes to the Aliens, to make them a little more ‘beast-like’ because the costumes gave them proportions that were too human-like.” In-keeping with the intention to use as many practical effects as possible, most of the times MPC only employed digital tails as extensions of the suits shot on set. The Alien feet, never filmed in close-up, were also modified and made more articulate. To portray the Gridalien, the Alien model was appropriately resculpted by Max Wood.

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The Alien Queen also returned in Alien Vs. Predator, and was virtually the only complete design overhaul introduced in the film. “Early in the design process, it was decided that some artistic license could be taken with the Queen,” Woodruff said. “Experimenting with loose maquettes, Akihito Ikeda added various spikes and other forms to her carapace. The final design featured subtle yet distinctive changes from the Queens in previous films.” The final Queen design was allegedly also inspired by a “spiral-like” Queen head design found in an issue of Dark Horse’s comic book run. Regarding the final design, which added thorn-like structures on the crown of the Queen, Woodruff asserted that “the added spiny structures match her prickly personality.”

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Ikeda’s proposed Queen crown designs. Final film design is on the bottom.

AvPQueenheadsculptThe textures throughout the body were also heavily redesigned but always based on Giger’s work. “In keeping with the idea that the Aliens do change from film to film,” Woodruff said, “and that there is a kind of morphing quality to these creatures depending on their surroundings or their strain, we did make the Queen’s head a bit more ornate and decorative, just to sort of say this is Paul’s Queen. It was a nice, elegant approach, especially considering that the body had been substantially resculpted and is a more intricate and cleaner design.” Changing the practical approach also meant that some of the proportions of the Queen’s body could also be altered. “We really took advantage on the fact that we were pulling those two stuntmen out of the body,” Woodruff said, “so the waist was very narrow and wasplike, with a nice big ribcage; she has a great profile. There was so much movement packed into this tiny little waist.” The thin waist was inspired by James Cameron’s early Alien Queen concepts for Aliens. The Egg sac was instead designed and sculpted by Steve Koch.

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Woodruff poses with the unfinished Queen.

Regarding the Queen’s colour scheme, “we chose to go back toward her original color,” Woodruff said, “and once again created a color scheme of rich blacks in the deeps and blues and silvers for highlights.” In post-production, some of Anderson’s sensibilities regarding the Queen’s design changed. Her feet, which had been designed by ADI to mimic the original’s, were changed into a four-fingered configuration reminiscent of the foot design in the Alien Warriors. In addition, per Anderson’s request, the digital version of the Queen was enlarged — from 16 feet of height to about 20. The change in height was mostly achieved with bigger legs, as the size of the Queen’s head, arms, and the upper body appears to match the practical version. All of the aforementioned changes were only applied to the digital Queen model.

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“The most formidable creature in the film was also the most formidable one to design and build,” said Woodruff of the Alien Queen. Once approved, Ikeda’s 1:4 scale sculpture of the Queen’s torso and lower body was digitally scanned; from the resulting model, a computerized milling machine produced a full-size foam sculpture, which was then refined by Andy Schoneberg, David Selvadurai and Mike O’Brien. The same sculptors worked on the other portions of the body — the tail, the legs, and the arms — which were sculpted by hand. The sculpture of the Queen’s head started from a cast of the original Aliens creature, which was sculpted over with the new design by David Selvadurai, who based the sculpture on Ikeda’s original maquette. Tim Martin sculpted the Queen’s tongue. The full-size Queen was cast in foam latex and fiberglass — and was painted by Ginger Anglin, Mike Larrabee, and David Selvadurai.

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Queen and crew!

To be built as a full-size animatronic, the creature demanded unprecedented mechanical complexity. The Alien Queen was built as a 16-foot tall hydraulically powered animatronic, whose construction lasted five months. David Penikas and a group of mechanical effects artists devised and built the mechanisms that animated the Queen. The puppet, which contained a total of 47 points of articulation, featured a motion control system that was actually articulated into two main computers. This innovative motion control system was called Overdrive. Woodruff explained: “one computer is external to the puppet, and it interfaces the signals sent from the puppeteering controls to the other onboard computer. The onboard computer interprets the data sent from the puppeteering controls and relays that information to the servo valves, which regulate the flow of oil to the cylinders.” He further elaborated in an interview: “All of [the movements] could be recorded, and then we could go in and look at each individual move — every one of the 47 — and we could smooth things out or extend a range here and there. It’s amazing [how many] editing possibilities [we have]. We could also drop or crouch her down and bring her snout down to within 2 or 3 feet of the floor, so it was quite a range to play in.” The animatronic was also mounted on a dolly grip that allowed it to be raised, lowered or otherwise physically moved.

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A total of 12 to 15 puppeteers were required to control the Queen on set. Woodruff explained: “the hydraulic Alien Queen’s movement controls were divided as follows: one puppeteer handled the movements of the face and jaw (and striking tongue if necessary); another worked the gross movements of the neck and head; one controlled the torso; the lips were radio-controlled by another puppeteer; each of her large arms required a separate operator; one person controlled the broad movements of her pair of smaller arms while others controlled the fingers on those arms; the back spines were operated by yet another puppeteer; finally, one person manned the control computer monitoring the electrical and hydraulic systems, activating any pre-recorded movements and was in charge of the failsafe safety system. If required by the scene, additional crew members handled drool, blood, and steam functions as well as moving her along on a dolly track.”

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The full-size Queen could not perform all of the demands of the shooting schedule; as such, a third-scale puppet was also built. Based on the same scanned body, a third-scale wax version was produced by the computerized milling machine. It was then refined by Steve Koch (who sculpted the rest of the third-scale components — including head, arms, legs, and tail), and would serve as the moulding base for the Queen rod puppet, which was mechanized by David Penikas’ team and painted by Mike Manzel. The rod puppet could be puppeteered with rods and wires, and certain areas of its body (such as the head and neck) also featured radio-controlled mechanisms. Both the full-size Queen and the 1:3 scale version could also be fitted with different versions of the crowns showing the damage resulting from the Predator bomb device. Filming both versions of the Queen was intense; Anderson described the process as “quite laborious,” but ultimately worth the time, because “you get some fantastic-looking footage.”

Stephane Paris’ digital Queen.

AvPQueenpromodamagdAs with the Warriors, the Queen was also brought to the screen as a digital effect, created by the artists at MPC. Once again, the digital model was created by Stephane Paris. “For the Queen,” the artist said, “we have also played on the proportions and changed the design in certain details — e.g. the feet, [to make the creature] look believable in the sequences where you can see it running.” Animation supervisor Adam Valdez found animating the Queen rather complex due to the structure of her design. “We really had to be careful about her arms. Every time we animated her big arms it looked like a person running or walking. We had to be careful with making poses that put emphasis on her tail, the big spikes on her back, and the crown of the head, to give her a sort of special look. Also, she is a hard-driving, predatorial, killer sort of animal, but then she is alien, you know, she’s not a T.rex. She’s an Alien character, and this means that her motivations are in a way unknowable. Is she just out to kill? Is she out for revenge? Is she hungry, or hunting? What would be her mood in those moments? How would she move, you know, in a way that is Alien-like, part insect, part machine, part animal, all at the same time?” A damaged Queen model was also created — to portray the effects of the Predator bomb — by Max Wood, by modifying the pre-existing version.

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 Alien Vs. Predator marks the first film appearance of a Predalien — although only in the stage of Chestburster. Designed by Patrick Tatopoulos, and sculpted by Akihito Ikeda and Andy Schoneberg, the Predalien was brought to the screen as two puppets: a stunt version was used for the scene where the Predalien erupts from the corpse of the Predator. The set up included a hollow altar and a full Predator dummy that could twitch as the Predalien tried to burst from it. Once the creature is seen in close-up, it is the hero puppet, which was cable-operated and radio-controlled. It was a completely mechanized version with a wide range of bodily motion, as well as movable mandibles, jaws and tongue, and pulsating bladders in the sides of its neck.

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ADI was ultimately enthusiastic about the project and the collaboration with Paul W.S. Anderson. “We thank him for having us on his picture and for his enthusiastic gasps from behind the monitors as our creatures performed for the cameras,” Woodruff said. “His love and excitement for the Alien and Predator genres was infectious and reminded us that, for all the long hours and hard work, we really are lucky to be a part of all this. We were glad to deliver the ‘general unpleasantness’ he requested.”

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For more images of the Aliens, visit the Monster Gallery.

Previous: Alien: Resurrection
Next: Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem

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About omega

loathsome undead blasphemer

Posted on 18/08/2015, in Movie Monsters and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. “Despite that, O’Bannon still ultimately enjoyed the final product.”

    Did he?
    I thought he called it a videogame, but not as a compliment.

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