Scum of the Universe – Men in Black, Part 2
It was during production that both Sonnenfeld and the producers realized that the MIB headquarters looked empty — as in they lacked a consistent alien presence. As originally envisioned, the headquarters had to represent a 60s airport or way station, and yet the footage shot up to that point only displayed few alien characters. The producers thus decided to introduce more exotic creatures into the scene — in the style of the iconic Star Wars cantina sequence — and commissioned additional creature effects.
This request was delivered six weeks before the end of the shooting schedule. It was a practical impossibility for the Cinovation crew to design and construct the requested aliens in time; Baker was thus forced to seek the help of other special effects companies. Baker recalled: “I had never needed to subcontract a job before, and I felt uncomfortable about doing so. I begged Barry to reschedule it, but it just wasn’t possible. The frustrating thing was that if the concept had been approved early on, we could have had dozens of creatures ready on time. But at this point there was no way — with all the construction we still had to do — that we could get it all done.”
The fabrication of selected creature designs provided by Cinovation was assigned to three different companies. The small father and son aliens that are seen in queue for admission to Earth were the work of ME-FX: Bart Mixon and Earl Ellis created foam latex costumes with simple radio-controlled heads. Ellis related: “we tried to do something different with the eyes — they had a big membrane covering the eyeball, and the eye blinked on the inside of the membrane, just to make them a little more alien.”
Mixon wanted to be absolutely loyal to Baker’s character designs, something that meant mechanical restrictions. “There wasn’t much room inside the head pieces. It was a real trick to get all the servos installed and to run the articulating mechanisms around to the mouth. We kept everything small so they didn’t get too fat.” The alien father was played by Debbie Lee Carrington, whereas the son was played by Verne Troyer.
Another alien in the queue — dubbed the ‘scared guy’ — was devised by Steve Johnson’s XFX. “Scared guy was human-sized,” Johnson said, “so we always intended him to be a man in a suit, but the head featured some heavy articulation by Eric Fiedler. The eye stalks moved around — independently and together — and the eyeballs moved inside the stalks. Both the upper and lower eyelids blinked. Scared guy had a series of gills that extended from his mouth to his nose, which were capable of nice rippling motion. Although we never got to use it on set, his mouth had lip-sync articulation, with side-to-side jaw movement. Taishiro Kiya, who worked with me in developing the creature, did the original sculpture and final paint work.”
The 10 feet tall translucent invertebrate — dubbed the ‘slug guy’ — was also a XFX creation, which employed a peculiar technique. “We wanted slug guy to be translucent,” Johnson recalled, “so I convinced Rick to let me use a technique that we had begun on Species, which involved the manipulation of plastic bags. It was developed by Bill Bryan. He built a rig that he could sit on, and motivated it simply by moving his feet forward — like sitting on a tricycle, but not pedaling. A hand-held device controlled the head; and by moving it manually, Bill could make slug guy sniff the ground or lift its head around in different directions. The creature had tentacles set up on a positive-negative vacuum system; and as Bill scuttled forward, they would spread out and then constrict. The tentacles were also attached to a wheel-based cam, so they would go up and flop down in a cyclical movement.”
XFX’s last contribution was a jellyfish-like alien contained within a glass cylinder. Built by Lennie MacDonald and Nori Honda, the creature was desined to work within a water environment. It was cast in translucent silicone and mechanized with underwater servomotors. An internal system of remote control lights and a colour wheel allowed it to change hues and intensity. Johnson explained: “there were several functions that allowed it to move up and down and side to side, and tentacles that curled and extended independently. It was a beautiful piece that could swim around the aquarium by itself.”
In the film, this monster is carried by two tall aliens — another Baker make-up effect. “[They] were like our version of
the Greys,” Baker said, “but kind of meaner and cooler-looking. We had them in the Men in Black headquarters with this cool kind of jellyfish thing in a tank, way far in the background; you see them, and that’s it.”
The small mollusk-like aliens seen scuttling across the floor were devised by KNB EFX Group under the supervision of Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger. The creatures were dubbed ‘scrubba-bubbles’ after their inspiration. “The design was based on the scrubbing bubbles from the old Dow bathroom cleaner commercials,” Nicotero related, “which was what they resembled. Bill Zahn sculpted a fiberglass helmet and added a foam latex skirt that looked like little tentacles coming out of the bottom — which disguised the fact that they were fitted over radio-controlled cars built by Larry Odien. They basically puttered around the set. The shells were painted a tannish-brown with lots of pearlescent pinks and blues; so when you looked at them, your eye was always moving to the different colours.”
Kay gestures to two small, bony CREATURES with eight arms each and a single eye growing out of a central stalk in their heads. They turn around and wave two or three arms each.
KNB’s most important contribution to the film were the twin tentacled operators of the MIB observation screen — Blbleep and Bob. Dubbed the ‘squid guys’ by the crew, they were built as four-feet tall cable-operated puppets. Each twin had a cone-shaped body with eight tentacles sprouting from the center like flower petals — and a single eye on a stalk-like neck. “They looked like flowers with all the petals opened,” Nicotero said. “There was a crater in the center of each body, and out of the crater came an eyeball on a stalk.”
Garrett Immell crafted the full-scale model based on the maquette he himself had sculpted — which was modified several times before being approved. Tim Ralston and Wayne Toth were instead assigned the internal mechanisms that allowed the motion of all eight arms, fingers, as well as the central eye stalk, which was cable-operated. David Nelson devised four-way joystick controllers for each one of the tentacles — which allowed wide control over their movement.
The eye was built from two vacuformed spheres filled with yellow liquid, and could also move in all directions. “There was an RC moor with a stalk a nd a little black tip that actually made contact with the vacuformed sphere,” Nicotero said. “It looked like an eyeall floating in yellow fluid.” The twins were painted in shades of porpoise-like blues, with lighter tones airbrushed for texture. A last finishing touch was represented by lines of reddish cilia flocked on the tentacles. A total of 18 puppeteers was needed to operate each twin — two for each appendage.
ILM was also tasked with enhancing the headquarters scenes with digital creatures. Eric Brevig, part of the crew, explained: “after we had a good look at the footage, it turned out that the scene was lacking something. It needed aliens that could not possibly have been played by a mechanical creature or a person in a suit.”
The digital characters included a purple humanoid creature that greets Kay as he enters the headquarters — obtained by altering the digital model of Mikey — and a quadrupedal monster with several eyestalks protruding from its body, as well as the worm guys. “Tony Hudson modeled two outrageously nonhuman characters,” Brevig continues, “which Mark Cho animated, together with the worm guys, interweaving them among this crowd of aliens and humans milling about the headquarters.”
The film versions of the Redgicks excised the reptilian qualities that had been ascribed to them in script drafts — instead going for a more cephalopod-like appearance. The tentacle that flails Jay around in the film was a digital effect supervised by John Berton and animated by Glenn Sylvester. Footage of Will Smith shot against bluescreen was composited with the backgrounds and the digital tentacle.
The Redgicks’ child — dubbed the ‘squid baby’ — was a Cinovation design, built by a team led by Jose Fernandez and mechanical designer Mike Elizalde. Baker related: “the script described the Redgicks as reptilian, but I thought it would be interesting for the baby to have a cute face. The main body was like a forked tentacle, and there were quite a few hair-like tentacles on its head.” Two versions of the baby were devised: a stunt, loose-jointed and silicone-filled dummy, as well as a fully-articulated animatronic version with full range of motion — including tentacles and nictitating membranes. A vomit-spewing function was also included. “It actually vomited on Will Smith, who was a really good sport about it. We got him several times, smack in the face, with methylcellulose and oatmeal.”