“The dark side of the future world is the world of the Morlocks,” said Simon Wells, director of The Time Machine. Early script drafts for The Time Machine portray the Morlocks underground humanoids with mole-like claws. As the creative process progressed, they became more brutish and ape-like. To bring the creatures to life, Wells hired Stan Winston Studio under the supervision of Greg Figiel.
Mark ‘Crash’ McCreery was the main creature designer for the project, providing fundamental concept art. “Working with Simon Wells was interesting,” the artist recalled, “not only because of who he is, but because he has an animation background. Animators know every bone and muscle in the body and so, he had very specific things that he wanted anatomically. That was a new experience, because I don’t come from that school. I come from the school of, ‘if you don’t know it, fake it.'”
To give a new spin to the characters, Wells decided to establish a caste-based system for the Morlocks, inspired by social insects. The director related: “in the Über Morlock we had a character that didn’t exist in the novel or in the George Pal version of the tale. I had always wondered how these great honking pale guys with blue hair and bath towels knew how to operate all the machinery in their underground lair. I felt the need for some greater central intelligence in control of these monsters. What we came up with was a sort of community animal idea, like a beehive or an ant nest, where there are castes that are designed and bred for specific purposes. If the spy Morlocks are the eyes and ears of the system, and the hunter Morlocks are the muscle, then the Über Morlock is the brain behind it all.”
Winston Studio was assigned the more creature-like spies and hunters. Initial iterations were more ape-like, but eventually steered towards a more humanoid configuration to better accommodate human performers within their frames. Designs were elaborated in concept art and maquettes.
Winston Studio’s original designs were heavily altered under the request of the filmmakers. From the selected designs, the creatures were sculpted in full scale by Greg Figiel, Hiroshi Katagiri, and Joey Orosco. From the same basic outline of a gangly humanoid with skeletal nostrils and pronounced cheekbones, the hunter Morlocks were characterized by a more muscular anatomy and longer hair, whereas the spy Morlocks were endowed with a thinner anatomy.
The Morlocks were built as muscle suits with outer foam rubber layers and radio-controlled heads. Each hero head — two hunter heads and one spy head — was endowed with 32 servomotors, either housed in the head itself or in a backpack, that enabled a wide range of facial expression. Monitors installed within the heads, combined with a camera inside one of the nostrils, allowed the performer inside to see; lighter stunt heads were devoid of mechanisms, allowing better visibility. Three hero suits (two hunters, one spy) and about twenty stunt suits were constructed, with individually-applied hair and final touches of fuller’s earth and mud on set, suggestive of the Morlocks’ underground environment. Suit performers included Rich Cetrone, Edward Conna and others (for the hunter Morlocks); Doug Jones, Dorian Kingi and others (for the spy Morlocks).
Ultimately, the artists of Winston Studio were unhappy with several decisions taken during production regarding the creatures. They felt that the integrity of the original designs had been compromised; and the characters had been designed to be shot at night, and then were shot in full daylight. Shane Mahan recalled: “they decided to shoot the Morlocks in the daytime, rather than at night — which was a mistake. The end result was that the Morlocks looked awful; and, of course, we took the heat for that. We got flogged for those designs, in fact, even though we would never have designed and shot the Morlocks like that.”
Mahan concluded that The Time Machine served as an important lesson for Winston Studio: “in this business, we’re trained to please people. Our natural inclination is to give directors and producers what they want; but we’ve learned to put our foot down if we think something is a really bad idea, because if we go forward with that bad idea, we’ll be the ones to take the blame. We’ve learned to say, ‘that’s a dumb idea — and if that’s what you want to do, you’re going to have to get somebody else to do it.’ It shocks people when we do that, but we’ve got a reputation to protect. If people meddle with our designs to the point where they no longer work, where they destroy the integrity of those designs, we have to take a stand.”
For more extreme stunts — such as when the Morlocks run on all fours — digital versions of the Morlocks were devised by Industrial Light & Magic starting from cyberscan of the Winston Studio suits. Animating hair and clothing of the CG Morlocks became very time-consuming; Ed Squires, visual effects supervisor, related: “the original Morlock designs had very little hair; when that changed to long flowing hair, we had to alter our CG version of the Morlock, which required some changes to the ILM hair software. That aspect of the project was overseen by CG supervisor Carl Frederick.”
Run cycles were based on cheetah locomotion. Visual effects supervisor Tom Bertino related: “the Morlocks were actually built more like apes than cheetahs, but for the ‘freakiness quotient’, we wanted a catlike behaviour, not an apelike one. Cheetahs do a lot of work with their spine — which is a lot more flexible than a biped spine — and these humanoids were designed to be musclebound around the shoulders and torso, which made it more difficult for us, at first, to give them a feline run. After a lot of experimentation, we were finally able to find the right combination of vertebral motion, shoulder roll and forward cheating of the hips to bring off the illusion.” Practical Morlocks often appeared alongside digital ones within the same sequence, making a perfect synchronization crucial.
In one case, the two approaches were combined in a single continuous shot. Visual effects supervisor James Price related: “we started with a highly-detailed, realistic close-up of a practical Morlock, but wanted to end the shot with actions that a guy in a rubber suit could never have done.” ILM matched footage of a stuntman with overlapping animation, using the live-action Morlock as lighting reference.
In a subterranean chamber of the Morlock world, Alexander meets the Über Morlock, played by Jeremy Irons. Creation of this character was assigned to the crew of KNB Efx Group, which were given a month of preparation and only six days to shoot (due to Irons’ limited availability). Initial testing by make-up department head John Elliott was the starting base for the appearance of the character, which steered towards a human-like albino look.
What broke the elegant aesthetic of the character and provided a visual cue to the Über Morlock’s role was an extended cerebellum on his back. Nicotero explained: “the character looks elegant from the front, but when he spins around, you see that his cerebellum has grown into a massive organ which has forced his skull open, split his shoulder blades apart and is growing down his back. The ‘brain bag’ was this whole prosthetic piece with bladders in it, because they wanted it to pulsate and move. We designed the spine to move with it in a way that was as anatomically correct as is possible for such an unnatural thing.”
Nicotero, along with make-up artists Chris Nelson and Jake Garber, added a membrane covering the ‘brain bag’ in order to make it look less vulnerable to physical attacks. “Without it, anyone could just walk up and stab him there,” Nicotero said. “It really didn’t make any sense for his brain to be totally unprotected, especially if he is supposed to be super-intelligent. So we covered it with silicone and embedded yarn in it to simulate veins. Then we added a silk organza that we soaked in KY jelly to make it sheer and gross-looking. We did several versions to make sure it looked like a convoluted brain, and not intestines.”
The Über Morlock meets a spectacular demise when he is pushed outside the time sphere of the machine and is subjected to a rapid and unevenly distributed aging process before disintegrating. The sequence was achieved with complex and layered digital animation provided by Digital Domain. Rating limitations implied a minimization of violence, thus setting the effect as a dry mummification-like process. CG supervisor David Prescott said: “as this guy mummifies and melts away, his clothes rust and erode and his skin turns to beef jerky. He becomes more and more skeletal, and finally his head falls off and his bones crack and crumble to dust. We got rid of the skin fairly quickly over the course of three shots and passed rapidly through a sinewy internal stage — which culminated in his reduction into dust. For the falling, tumbling, colliding bones, we used Maya’s dynamic rigid body simulation system.”
The other Morlocks are killed by the malfunctioning machine — which releases a timewave that disintegrates them. Both practical and digital Morlocks were transitioned into disintegrating digital Morlocks by Digital Domain. “Almost every shot in the sequence had ILM CG Morlocks,” said Price, “but as the time energy destroys them, Digital Domain took over.” Jonathan Egstad, part of the crew, related: “ILM supplied us wit multiple passes of their rendered CG character work. We received key light passes, fill passes, interactive lighting passes and fur passes.” Digital Domain transitioned the ILM Morlocks into their disintegrating versions.
For more pictures of the Morlocks, visit the Monster Gallery.