Exclusive: Interview with Paul Taglianetti!
Following our brief conversations, filmmaker Paul Taglianetti agreed to do an interview with me! Paul has worked on many famous films, but of course in this interview we focus on the creature effects he collaborated on over the years.
Monster Legacy: A more personal question first. What inspired you to have a career in visual effects, and how did it kick off?
Paul Taglianetti: Before I moved to California in 1991, I worked in animation and post production in Boston. I studied animation and effects while attending Emerson college there. I have always been interested in visual effects mostly due to my appreciation for the work of Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker, Jim Danforth and the artists at Industrial Light & Magic. My first job was coordinating the computer graphics and video effects on the Joel Silver film Demolition Man. It was a big job to start my career with but it remains one of my favorite experiences to date because of that challenge. Computer generated imagery in effects work was just taking off due to the phenomenal success with Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park.
Monster Legacy: In your 30-year career you oftentimes worked for VIFX, and basically saw the evolution of modern visual effects happen before your eyes. What would you say were the key steps forward from the 90s to the 2000s to what we have now? How have VFX workshops changed since then?
Paul Taglianetti: When I began work in Visual Effects there were only a few operational effects shops in Hollywood. That would change very quickly as digital technology began to proliferate, but the boom in the industry hadn’t begun yet. Computer technology was still in its infancy and extremely expensive and slow. At the time ILM still dominated the effects industry but there were slightly smaller shops in southern CA that were competing with them: Boss Film (run by ex-ILMer Richard Edlund), Rhythms and Hues, R Greenberg, Fantasy II, 4Ward associates and the company I worked for Video Image/VIFX.
VIFX was different in the sense that they diversified into many different areas of effects. Led by former Doug Trumbull collaborators, EEG artists and technicians, we did miniature/motion control work, computer graphics, 24-frame video, pyrotechnics and underwater effects. VIFX had many specialists all working in house. So we got a lot of work because the studios liked the one-stop shopping aspect of it. Visual effects houses are very different now. Most of the effects companies I just mentioned are gone due to the changes in the industry, economic factors and methodology used to create the imagery. CGI gradually became more accessible and affordable and over the past decade there are more and more trained artists that can do the work. Visual effects now are mostly created with computers and due to the massive overhead needed to keep their doors open, companies need to run lean. Very few companies are left that do miniature effects work now.
Monster Legacy: The claim is often made that digital effects are cheap, soulless and all that jazz, whereas of course the art of CGI is all but that and is often a nightmare to produce. What are your thoughts on this?
Paul Taglianetti: They are certainly not cheap, so that observation would be wrong. They are certainly not soulless because the artist who create CGI imagery put as much passion and effort into it as the creature creators and traditional animators or puppeteers would put into any project. They simply use different tools that allow the studios and the creative heads of a film more options. Directors, producers and studios like options. They like to be able to change things, fix mistakes and most of all save and make money. CGI allowed them to have more flexibility in this regard.
Monster Legacy: In Relic, there’s an impressive scene where the Kothoga licks Margo before the final chase. This scene employed a fully digital tongue composited with the animatronic head, which was pretty innovative for the time. Could you explain the planning and VFX process for this scene?
Paul Taglianetti: That was supervised by Greg McMurry and Digital supervisor John DesJardin at VIFX. The Stan Winston puppet was incredibly impressive and powerful looking but it couldn’t run or climb walls so the CG version was needed… this included an extremely articulated tongue for that scene. My recollection of this was it was a big challenge for the VIFX team because you were seeing it very close and it had to look organic and slimy. Realistic CG textures were a challenge when we made this film, so I remember it was a long render but they clearly did a great job with it. I think the artists at VIFX did an incredible job on this film.
Monster Legacy: On that note, what were the biggest challenges in crafting the vfx shots for Relic?
Paul Taglianetti: Well, to get the most accurate response I think you have to ask the digital team leader John Desjardin or Supervisor Greg McMurry. But from what I observed the biggest challenge was getting the creature to look photoreal and have it integrate as well as possible with the shots that included the Winston creature.
We had to shoot a lot of plates at Paramount studios and at the stages at VIFX so keeping it all organized was a challenge. There was a lot of insert photography and plate shooting done at VIFX including the ending where Penelope jumps into the Maceration tank. I remember the CG fire was a big challenge for the VIFX team as that kind of digital simulation was very new and took a lot of rendering power to realize.
Monster Legacy: How was the overall experience working on Relic?
Paul Taglianetti: For me it was great because I got to work with some very talented people. VIFX was a terrific effects house with some very talented people. McMurry had pervious work experience with the director Peter Hyams — VIFX had also done 2010, Timecop and Sudden Death — so there was a pretty good, non-hostile relationship to start with. That made everything go smoother than you would normally see on a movie as complex as this.
Monster Legacy: Tremors 4 employed some fairly impressive miniature effects… my favourite shot has to be the Graboid barreling through the river bed. Could you talk about how this scene was achieved? What about the baby Graboids?
Paul Taglianetti: That was carefully storyboarded and planned from the beginning. Those effects were done by 4Ward, supervised by Academy award winning vfx supervisor Robert Skotak. Robert is a true artist and he plans things out very carefully and meticulously — he storyboarded and planned the shot. Weeks later he went to the set, measured the full size bridge, photographed it from every angle. His miniature team constructed the bridge and then KNB studios brought over the Graboid to the Fantasy II stages — where we were shooting — and thhe 4Ward team puppeteered the creature on the miniature set. Robert supervised the live-action element of the actors crossing the bridge and that was composited in post production.
I was involved as producer in planning, budgeting and pre-production but left to work on Scary Movie 3 when the shoot on that shot had begun. The baby Graboid and full-size Graboids were built by KNB studios but brought over to 4ward for the miniature photography. Robert was very hands-on in everything he did and he directed the puppets, oversaw the effects photography with his brother Dennis and supervised the miniature construction. I think that came from his early beginnings at Roger Corman studios where many filmmakers got their start, including James Cameron. Everybody there was an artist and very skilled and because they had limited budgets and resources, they learned how to creatively solve problems on the fly.
Monster Legacy: Starship Troopers 3 employed various miniature effects, from new creations like the God Bug and the Scorpion Bug, as well as returning designs like the Brain Bug and of course the iconic Warrior Bugs. Could you talk about those creations?
Paul Taglianetti: SST3 was supervised by Robert Skotak and his company 4Ward which he ran with his partner Elaine Edford. The film was directed and written by Ed Neumeier, the writer of the first film, and his production team approached Robert, likely because of his work on Aliens. I worked on the film as visual effects producer. The work on the film was a combination of digital effects, miniatures and animatronic/full size puppets.
The large creature was called the Behemocotyl and it was roughly the size of the Jabba the Hutt creature. It was a huge puppet and took months to build, mold, paint and rig. It took a half a dozen puppeteers to give it life — including myself! We created the puppet and shot those scenes at SOTA Effects, a creature effects company that at the time was directly across the street from the Van Nuys airport — on the same street as Stan Winston studios, Apogee and the original ILM studio. Took weeks to shoot. We were all pretty tired when it was done because it was extremely hot on the stages when we shot.
We also built a creature called the Scorpion Bug which was a new creature created for the film. That was also built as a rod puppet miniature. We had to create a section of the live action Roku-San set in South Africa and build it in miniature to get those shots.
The returning bugs were the Arachnid warrior and the Brain Bug. Most of the arachnid warriors and the Marauder suits were CGI and animated by Roger Nall at 11/11 filmworks (supervised by Robert Skotak) but there were a few shots where we needed a rod puppet. One shot involved setting it on fire! So we built an arachnid warrior rod puppet sculpted by Jordu Schell, a very famous effects creature fabricator who has worked on many great creature films and we rigged it as a rod puppet and photographed it against greenscreen on our sound stage.
The Brain Bug puppet was also built in miniature, puppeteered and shot by 4ward vfx. This involved rigging it with squibs as it was being hit by gunfire in the scene. So we also had to carefully light the miniature so it matched the full size set in South Africa and that took quite awhile. Luckily I was able to fly to South Africa with Robert and take extensive photos and lighting reference so we could match everything together. We did the best we could to make the film look good on a limited budget and I think we succeeded.
Special Thanks to Paul Taglianetti for taking the time for the interview! Be sure to check out his Facebook page where he posts about the filmmaking craft and his past career.