Scum of the Universe — Men in Black II, part 2

To convince the neuralyzed Kay that what he is saying is true, Jay shows Kay that most of the workers at the postal office are actually aliens. Dozens of concepts were devised, and ultimately nailed down to four.

The first alien to reveal itself is ‘Eye Guy’. “We did this AfterEffects image,” said Bill Sturgeon, “where we took a shot of me, cut my head off, and had this little eye coming out of my neck, going ‘blink, blink.’ The blinking is what made the joke work.” From a maquette — sculpted by Matt Rose — the character was realized in full size and mechanized by Bud McGrew, who enabled it to shrug arms and a number of other possible moves.

Split Guy appears to be a tall man — played by John Berton — and then is revealed to be two ‘pieces’: the top half now sitting on the floor and the bottom half controlled by a multiple-eyed alien that had previously been hiding within the torso. The alien controller was a fully animatronic element with radio-controlled arms, lips, eyes and stalks. Joe — played by Doug Jones — instead, takes off his wig to reveal his somewhat small cranium — a puppet head.

The ‘sorting alien’ — played by Jeremy Howard — combined practical elements with digital extensions provided by Tippett Studio. Visual effects supervisor Scott Souter explained: “this alien is in a cubicle office, smoking and drinking coffee and sorting mail, all at the same time.” Make-up on Howard — designed at ILM — was devised by Kazuhiro Tsuji; it included full head make-up and bluescreen arms, so that they could be replaced in post-production with the digital alien arms. “They had three fingers and a thumb,” said Souter, “skinny arms with bulbous joints.”

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Serleena sends a squad of alien thugs after Kay — all more or less complex make-ups on actors. These designs are the foremost example of the film’s more clear-cut humorous aesthetic and are based on visual puns. Cornface is a reptilian creature with scales resembling corn, a straightforward make-up appliance; Dog Poop is named after the appearance of its skin, and was also a make-up; the same went for Mosh Tendrils; Third Eye Guy — played by Kevin Grevioux — required more attention, and featured a working mechanical pineal eye.

Of all the thugs, the most challenging was ‘Flesh Balls’ — named ‘Ballchinian’ by Will Smith in one of the takes for the scene, which was ultimately kept. “The issue was how far to go with that,” said Sturgeon. “Rick’s idea was to put him in some type of high collar, so we wouldn’t actually see the joke until the lower half of his face was revealed.” The make-up appliance was driven by servos; the make-up, based on Baker’s design, was devised by Kazuhiro Tsuji. “The character’s mouth is up high and very small,” he said. “it’s really out of proportion. So we made little teeth inside a little mouth, and mechanized the mouth with three servos. Even the balls on the alien’s chin had servos, so they could swing back and forth as he spoke.” The false mouth and chin were attached to the actor’s face via screws on either side of the mouth, hidden by a deep wrinkle in the alien face.

Returning from the first film, the Worm Guys — now with names and distinct personalities — became supporting roles following the resounding success of the characters with the audience. For the project, they were named Gleeble, Neeble, Sleeble, and Mannix. Sonnenfeld said: “the worms had appeared in the first [film] and I liked them because they allowed me to be politically incorrect. They were disgruntled workers — they talked about babes, they smoked, they drank, they stole.”

For Men in Black II, the Worm Guys were recreated from scratch following the more complex actions the characters would have to perform. Sturgeon related: “we found the original one-piece mould and did a master, and then resculpted it because it wasn’t at all suitable for what the Worm Guys had to do in this movie. We made specific moulds for the arms and other body parts, rather than do it as one mould, which is hard to mechanize.” Each Worm Guy was painted slightly differently to enhance their individuality.

Ten puppets were built for the apartment scene and filmed in an elevated set under the supervision of puppeteering supervisor Tony Urbano. They were puppeteered by radio control, rods and cables. Sturgeon explained: “usually, one puppeteer had a joystick that controlled the neck and a little pistol-grip for the mouth; then there was a person producing the gross body movement with a stick that came down through the torso. Sometimes, just before the shot, Barry would say, ‘I want the hand to do this,’ so they’d attach monofilament to a hand or wrist to get that action. It was all done on the fly.”

Following the success of the technique on other projects, Baker and team devised oversized head-to-torso puppets of the Worm Guys in 3:1 scale to correctly portray finer, more detailed movements of their faces in certain extreme close-up shots.

For more complex actions, the Worm Guys were portrayed by ILM’s digital versions. Derrick Carlin was the animation lead on the characters and based their performances on personality profiles provided by the director. Tom Bertino related: “Barry goes very deeply into the characters and personalities of all these creatures, and we were provided with a sheet of of traits that each character had. Mannix, for example, is this blustering tough guy who pictures himself as Rambo and sees himself as the leader. Barry even made distinctions about whether a character came from Brooklyn or Jersey, and he delivered that to us as important character background. That kind of detail was never spelled out on the screen but it gave the puppeteers and the animators vital information as to why a character carries himself a certain way, or why he moves the way he does.”

The inhabitants of Kay’s locker — including their Moses-like leader played by stunt coordinator Charlie Croughwell — were designed by Rick Baker and brought to the screen as performers in suits and elaborate make-ups. Baker said: “since they’re in this little locker, I felt they must be packrat characters. Their whole village is made out of trash they’ve scavenged off the floor at Grand Central Station. I felt they should be very rodent-like, but still appealing — mammals with hair; so I did these Photoshop renderings that were kind of meerkat-like — big eyes, antennae to make them a little more odd. I did the designs, then Eddie Yang built suits for the performers.”

The Lockertown aliens were shot against bluescreen and multiplied digitally; Sony Imageworks’s digital versions — dubbed ‘furbies’ — also filled backgrounds, using crowd simulation software. Visual effects supervisor Sheena Duggal oversaw the process. “We adapted our existing technology, which uses motion capture and particle systems,” Duggal recalled, “and made different action cycles to control the motion of the CG furbie characters.”

The alien criminal Jarra was played by John Alexander. Taking out his coat, Jarra reveals his true appearance as well as three smaller copies of himself — dubbed the ‘Jarrettes’ — all in their respective floating mechanical saucers. The idea evolved from Matt Rose’s concept of an actor riding on an unicycle beneath a bell-shaped cloak, thus appearing to float. Baker recalled: “it would look like as if he had this big body and very small head; but then, when the cloak came off, you would see that it was just the opposite — his head was big and his body had withered away, and was in this little flying saucer. We pitched the gag to Barry, and he loved it. In fact, he made it a much bigger part — it was Barry’s idea to have all the little Jarras underneath the coat.”

Alexander’s head was tracked and composited onto the digital models, whose skin texture was created with one of ILM’s in-house shaders — enhanced by Jean-Claude Langer and Catherine Draig of the 3D paint department. Sequence supervisor Will Anielewicz related: “our 3D paint department really made it work. They put in a huge level of detail, with many organic surface qualities. That department is the reason coming out of ILM look as good as they do.”

The digital performance was limited by the fact one essential element — Alexander’s head — was a real object that had to be tracked onto the models. Bertino explained: “we were limited in what we could do with his face, which was, for the most part, a bluescreen element of the actual actor. Fortunately, match-amation gave us a way to build a 3D face that would go on the animated model like a texture element, so we could get a little moving and turning — and we still had the performance of the actor, which freed us up a lot.”

In animating the characters, the saucers were treated as physical extensions of them. Bertino related: “we rotated them like hips, so it wasn’t like a ship he was piloting — this was actually part of his anatomy. We tried to make it specific, even invoking specific actions on the levers and dials in front of him for corresponding actions to the ship.”

Wanting Men in Black II to end with a ‘punch’ — just like the first film — Sonnenfeld settled on the idea that our world is contained within a locker inside a giant alien station. This final scene — an entirely digital sequence barring the bluescreen elements of the actors — showcases a multitude of alien creatures, and was assigned to Rhythms & Hues. Bill Westenhofer’s team populated it with over 120 aliens, which were multiple copies of four designs. Those, conceived by Nick Pugh, were selected by Sonnenfeld and then translated in three dimensions. Westenhofer explained: “out of 40 designs, Barry chose four. We modeled those and added some random variations in the sizes and colours so they wouldn’t all look the ame.” Animators developed procedural walk cycles, and additional actions were hand-animated.

According to Bertino, the sequence encapsulated Sonnenfeld’s approach to the Men in Black films’ humour. He concluded: “the big thing in Barry’s humour is the dryness. His humour is all based on the incongruity of the situation. So all of these characters behave in a dead-serious manner. They behave as if they are not in on the joke. Aliens ordering Burger King, talking dogs, crawling artichokes — it’s all just another day in life. There are no winks at the camera.”

Next: Men in Black II, Serleena
Previous: Men in Black II, Part 1

About the monster philologist

I'm always bored and monsters were the first thing to entertain me

Posted on 12/03/2018, in Movie Monsters and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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