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Monster Gallery: Alien Vs. Predator (2004)

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Predator Metamorphosis – Part III: Alien Vs. Predator

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Predator 2 was ultimately only a modest box-office success, and with its lukewarm reception, a sequel was temporarily abandoned. Another project instead surfaced; Twentieth Century Fox decided to conjoin two film franchises together, and brought to the screen Alien Vs. Predator — based on the homonim comic book series published by Dark Horse. Stan Winston Studio, however, did not return to bring the Predators once again to the screen — and much like in the case of Alien³, passed the torch to Amalgamated Dynamics, co-founded by Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis. The duo had previously worked with Stan Winston Studios, but founded their own effects Studios in 1989 — with their first film project released soon after: Tremors. At the time of the production of Predator, the Winston Studios crew had actually been split into two teams — one of which was assigned to work on Monster Squad; the Dynamics duo happened to be in the latter project, and as such, had never had previous experiences with the intergalactic Hunters before their work on Alien Vs. Predator. “The Predator was a bit of uncharted territory,” said Alec Gillis to AvPGalaxy. “Of course, it’s a creature suit and that’s what we do, but there are always fan expectations. We had a lot of input from Paul Anderson so that helped things move along quickly, since he knew what he wanted. He was a real joy to work with because of his decisiveness. We knew that our Predator would in a way be a prototype for our company.”

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Johnson’s Predator concept.

Steve Johnson Fx, who had precedently worked for Predator — both for the gore effects and the unused, original Hunter — tried to propose to the production team redesigns of both the titular creatures of the film. The concept drawings were, however, rejected — due to the changes they applied to the design: they were labeled as too radically removed from the original outlines. Following director Paul W.S. Anderson’s rather specific instructions, Amalgamated Dynamics conceived a Predator design that would fit the new role in the film. The story focuses on a Pyramid discovered in Antarctica, which is revealed to be a sacred place for the race of the Predators — or, at least, a specific Predator culture. Three Predators are sent every 100 years to perform a rite of passage: slay an Alien — the ‘perfect prey’ — and mark themselves and their helmets with a stylized symbol, proof of their victory. It is unclear what cultural or religious purpose the passage actually serves; in some interviews and backstage featurettes, Anderson stated that it is an equivalent of a manhood rite of passage; this comes in contrast with another concept, which conceives those Predators as in the hierarchic stage before that of an Elder. In November 2004, Anderson said to Empire Magazine: “the idea is that only once they have hunted enough humans do they qualify to hunt Aliens. Then they become Elders.” The film ultimately leaves the question ambiguous, with the only further clue found in the Elder Predator’s marked face and helmet shown in the climax of the film.

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Given the fact Anderson’s Predators were hunting Aliens, and not humans, the director chose to give the characters a more imposing and muscular anatomy, as well as a more complex and protective body armor — that would still mantain the distinct ‘Predator aesthetic’. Woodruff explained: “In this film the Predators would be engaging in ritual combat not with humans, but with Aliens. This meant that they would need more protective armor than previously seen. This new armor needed to retain the aesthetic of the Predator culture we’d seen before but extrapolated to full body coverage. Just what is the Predator aesthetic? The first film showed us a mix of Asian and tribal influence along with a rough-hewn primitive quality to the body armor. Predator 2 introduced a more ornate, almost insect-like look. Our job was to turn these eclectic motifs into a unified aesthetic. The Predator society builds sophisticated spaceships, yet they should not look as sleek and hi-tech as a Star Wars Stormtrooper. They are a tribal culture, yet their look should not be as primitive as the Orcs from The Lord of the Rings. They are also a warrior culture, so the ornate cannot conflict with the practical. Huge samurai-style decorative projections could be a disadvantage in a fight with an Alien, for instance.”

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Don Lanning’s Predator maquette.

Many aspects of the new Predator designs were also considerably influenced by Dark Horse’s comic versions of the character. “This film owes as much to the Dark Horse comic series as it does its cinematic predecessors,” said Woodruff. “In keeping with that, we decided that the Predators themselves should reflect a comic book-style silhouette, possessing more heroic proportions: wider shoulders, narrower waists, smaller heads. We also lengthened their dreadlocks to help punctuate head movement.” Kevin Peter Hall’s successor as the Predator performer was Ian Whyte, a 7’1″ tall former Basketball player. As such, one of the key aspects of the creature’s presence was kept. Stunt performers played the other Predators when a scene required more than one individual in the same shot. Like in the case of Alien³, they were filmed with certain camera tricks (such as standing on boxes) that made them appear taller.

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Unlike the previous films, Alien Vs. Predator featured not one, but three main Predators (Ian Whyte played each one in key scenes). Such a choice derived in the necessity of differentiating them and giving them their own visual personality; taking direct inspiration from Predator 2‘s production, the Predator bodies, armors and weapons came from single common moulds, sculpted by Bruce Spaulding Fuller and Don Lanning. As the Predators were required to take their armors off, the body sculpture was separated from the armor sculptures. 16 basic bodies were casted and painted with the same color scheme, so that they could be replaced at any time, if needed. The copies were ‘customized’ with different armor parts or weapons (designed by Joe Pepe), casted in fiberglass or in flexible urethane. Over 500 individual armor and weapon parts were built by the special effects crew.

  • The ‘Chopper’ (or ‘Gill’) Predator was given long, singular scimitar-esque wrist blades — over 3 feet in length — attached to the underside of the forearm. Its mask featured a mostly smooth and oval-based outline, with Gill-like patterns on the cheek area. In addition, skulls are mounted on his backpack, to visually imply some of the character’s history.
  • The ‘Celtic’ Predator retains wrist blades with an outline rather similar to the original design. Its other weapons include the new “sleeker” spear (a combination of a practical model and digital imagery), and a net launcher mounted on its left forearm gauntlet. Its mask — as the crew nickname suggests — is based on Celtic knotworks.
  • The ‘Scar’ Predator has telescopic wristblades, as well as the new spear, and throwable “collapsible buzz saws,” (again, practical models mixed with digital counterparts), AvP‘s version of the disk. Its mask was conceived as a homage to the original Predator’s, although it features a more angular outline in the facial area.

All the Hunters shared a common, protective armor covering most of the chest, arms and legs, as well as ‘foot blades’ — conceived with the idea of aiding them in climbing ice; such a feature is, however, not shown in the film. A common weapon given to all three is a dagger-like cutting weapon, implied — in backstage material — to have ritual or religious significance. The ritual shoulder cannons were all considerably bigger than their predecessors, and their appearence fundamentally draws inspiration from the first Predator’s. The cannon Scar acquires also features an auto-cocking function.

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Of the three Predators, only Scar is seen without his mask. Following the character’s role in the story, ADI elaborated a modification of the Predator’s facial connotations that would fit its part, which would also require a wider amount of expressivity. “Because Scar teams up with the film’s heroine, Lex,” said Woodruff, “we thought of him as a romantic leading man. Okay, there was really no intergalactic, interspecies romance going on here, but the subtext was there, at least in our twisted minds. This Predator was not here strictly for scares as before, but as an actual character! He was to spend more time without his armor mask, and needed to convey emotions such as rage, respect, pain, surprise, and even a bit of sadness.” Traits and colors of the creature’s face were changed into gentler and more “heroic” configuration. “He is the Brad Pitt of Predators,” joked Alec Gillis in an Empire magazine article, “so we’ve sculpted him to make him more handsome. After the first little bit of disgust, you can see intelligence in his eyes.” Woodruff added in the Creature Effects of ADI book: “He became sculpturally more regal (dare we say it: handsome?) and in color scheme, we opted for less pale, clammy amphibian tones and more human skin tones. His eyes were based on a predatory cat’s, and imbued with warm golden tones and a slightly larger iris. Finally, we reduced the amount of slime coating of prior incarnations, deeming that more of a trademark of the Alien than the Predator.”

Earlier eye iterations featured colors inspired by the original Predator’s, but were eventually discarded. A particular change to the mouth design was the inclusion of a row of upper teeth, something previously seen in an unused concept art piece, dating back to the pre-production of Predator 2. The Predator’s forehead was also modified and given a more convex shape, and the lower jaw was considerably increased in size, with a more highlighted chin. In the concept art pieces for the film, the Predators are depicted with the original ‘mandible closure’, seen in the former Stan Winston Studios designs. In the final film, however, none of the Predators display it, with the mandibles merely lying on the sides of the face.

Credit: 20TH CENTURY FOX / VOLLMER, JURGEN / Album

In the climax of the film, in yet another homage to Predator 2, the Predators’ tribe deactivates its camouflage technology and appears in front of Alexa and the dead corpse of Scar. Four background Predator suits were built — their numbers would be multiplied in post-production. An Elder Predator — played, again, by Ian Whyte — faces Alexa, and, seeing the ritual mark on her left cheek, gives her a Predator spear (with the collapsing action depicted with computer-generated imagery). The Elder’s design was based on the sculpture of the main Predator, which was modified to portray an aged an experienced Predator — again, in a similar manner to how the Elder from Predator 2 was based on moulds of the first creature. Other changes included a pair of longer canines (that somehow reach the lower jaw), as well as thin, needle-like growths on the head. The fangs of its mandibles were also adorned with small incisions.

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

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Predator Metamorphosis

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It was in June the 12th, 1987 that Predator made its theatrical debut, and with it its titular Diablo Cazador de Hombres. Since then, the species of Intergalactic Hunters has appeared in a total of 5 films (including the two Alien Vs. Predator crossover films) — with the most recent chapter, Predators, released in 2010. Divided in 6 parts (plus an appendix), and spanning through all of them  — including the original Steve Johnson Monster — the Predator Metamorphosis Essay analyzes the process which brought each of the incarnations of the character to life.

Please note that not all parts of the series are already available. With the release of each article, the links below will be updated.

Prologue: Hunter

Part I: Predator

Part II: Predator 2

Part III: Alien Vs. Predator

Part IV: Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem

Part V: Predators

Appendix I: Predator camouflage [COMING SOON]

Last Updated: 25/01/2014

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Monster Gallery: The Thing (2011)

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Special: Why was the Pilot Creature fired from ‘The Thing’?

The Pilot animatronic on set.

As Kate Lloyd enters the ancient spaceship, in the climax of Matthijs van Heijningen’s The Thing, she discovers an enormous, luminous tower. Hologram pieces continuosly assemble and disassemble, moving geometrically. It is here that she is then attacked by the assimilated Sander, who has taken upon the form of a horribly mutated, distorced creature. The final cut of the film is the result of a distortion, by itself, of the original idea surrounding what was hidden in the ancient and otherwordly spacecraft.

Amalgamated Dynamics was hired to bring the creature effects of the Thing to the screen, in all of the Monster’s gruesome transformations, as well as additional alien creatures. Several full-sized models were built, ranging from rod puppets to suits. Due to a Studio interference, it was decided late in production to actually replace most of the practical work with digitally rendered effects, as the film “felt too 80s” (despite it being a prequel to an 80s film). An exception is represented by a creature, originally intended to be the Pilot of the spaceship.

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In the final film, the Pilot was replaced by the hologram tower (mockingly labeled as “the tetris version” by the film’s own director), and the Thing, ultimately, took the form of a monstrously deformed and mutated Sander — the last transformation designed for the film, and brought on the screen directly as a digital effect. “We created the Sander-Thing the last minute,” the director said, “and it shows, unfortunately.” The replacement was actually estabilished after test screenings, and as such the Pilot-Thing can be still briefly seen in the film — hidden by the shadows and camouflaged among the machinery. This is in all probability unintentional, and the question comes natural:

Why was the Pilot Creature fired from The Thing?

The only known screenshot of the original climax sequence featuring the Pilot.

The only known screenshot of the original climax sequence featuring the Pilot.

Monster Legacy asked to the directly involved — Alec Gillis, co-founder of Amalgamated Dynamics, who was kind enough to answer our question on the matter. He said:

“The Pilot was the Thing perfectly replicating the species of aliens that built the saucer. It was replaced after a screening that apparently confused viewers as to what the Pilot was. It was felt that, since the audience had only been shown iterations of the Thing that were asymmetrical, split open and grisly, to present a creature that looked like it evolved through normal biology was a violation of what had been seen in the 2011 film as well as the John Carpenter film. It was then decided that the Thing in the climax needed to be more ‘Thing-like’. We designed the Sander-Thing as a maquette that was scanned and animated.”

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The original backstory — that the director had in mind for the film — conceived the Pilot as part of a scientific crew on a zoological expedition: the creatures collected and classified various alien lifeforms from different planets across the infinity of the cosmos, storing them inside research pods. Unaware of the oncoming disaster, the crew of extraterrestrials accidentally finds the Thing — disguised as another lifeform — which then proceeds to break free of containment, and assimilate both the alien researchers and the specimens they had collected. The last remaining crewmember, the Pilot, severs its own ‘breathing tube’ and thus suicides, making the ship crash on purpose, with the intention of killing the Thing. The creature “of course” survives, erupts from the craft and escapes — only to stop a few hundreds of meters away and freeze.

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Early concept art of the Pilot, by Paul Komoda.

As Kate enters the spacecraft, she sees the mummified remains of the Pilot, and is ambushed by the Thing, which has mutated into the form of the Pilot race (having assimilated several of them aeons ago). The spaceship seems to be maneuvered through the use of biomechanical technology; the Pilots neurally connect themselves with the craft, via cables biomechanically embedded in their backs, through “bio-ports” (reminescent of a surinam toad, according to Paul Komoda). Having imitated the Pilot’s form, the Thing is thus able to restart the spaceship for its own, obscure and perhaps incomprehensible motives. When it attacks Kate, the cables detach from the Monster’s back.

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Kate finds the Pilot-Thing in Rob McCallum’s storyboards for the original finale of the film.

Carter, already assimilated, reaches the inside of the ship, where Kate is threatening the Thing to cause an explosion with her last grenade (much like MacReady threatened his fellow crewmembers in Carpenter’s film). The other Thing, in the form of Carter, reaches the Pilot hall; the most convenient move for it is to set the Pilot-Thing on fire, in order to be still disguised as human. Van Heijningen commented, saying that “Carter runs in and sees what she [Kate] is doing, and blows up the Sanders-Thing, just to convince Kate that he is human: he basically has no choice, because had he fried Kate with his flamethrower, everybody would’ve blown up.”

The Pilot in ADI's workshop.

The Pilot in ADI’s workshop.

The Pilot Creature was designed by Jordu Schell and Michael Broom. It was “a great opportunity to design and build a unique alien life form,” according to Alec Gillis. A conceptual imperative was that it should not remind in any way of the Thing — what eventually caused confusion in the test audiences. “We wanted to be sure it looked like its own, stand-alone lifeform,” Tom Woodruff Jr. said in our conjoined interview, “and not something that was already infected by the Thing – that was a crucial story point. So to that end, it was designed with a very biological symmetry, very specific eyes, and hands and feet that looked like they were nimble and with enough dexterity to pilot the ship.”

The Pilot maquette, sculpted by Clint Zoccoli.

The Pilot maquette, sculpted by Clint Zoccoli.

No specific earth creatures inspired the Pilot, a very unusual combination of otherwordly traits: three eyes, disposed vertically, sprout from the single socket in the center of its bulbous head, and blink with circular nictitating membranes. The multi-jointed, arthropod-like arms present greatly extended metacarpal sections. The digitigrade legs feature thin and elongated toes, and seem to be merged in the leg area. It is unknown if the Race has their feet permanently conjoined; in the storyboards of the original sequence, by Rob McCallum, full leg motion is seen — once the Pilot-Thing detaches itself from the cockpit.

Various views of the Pilot's head.

Various views of the Pilot’s head.

Several small-scale maquettes were sculpted by Clint Zoccoli and Paul Komoda, to estabilish the final appearence of the creature. Ultimately, the Pilot was brought to the set as a full-sized, fully articulated rod puppet, sculpted by Mikey Rotella, Clint Zoccoli, Miyo Nakamura, and Casey Love (who also painted the Monster). When it detaches from the control systems, a digital counterpart was to be used; and for the scene where it is set on fire, Tom Woodruff Jr. wore a special ‘fireproof’ suit — with arm extensions — to shoot reference footage of the fiery demise; the scene would later be finalized with the addition of the digital Pilot-Thing being burned.

The mummified Pilot.

The mummified Pilot.

To portray the ship’s real Pilot, who had died aeons before the events of the film, Amalgamated Dynamics built a featureless model of the mummified extraterrestrial corpse, basing it on the same moulds for the animatronic version; surface detailing and a decayed color scheme by Yuri Everson provided the effect of the mummified skin. The model was then connected with cables going upwards in the spaceship interior set. The ‘breathing tube’ that connects the Pilot’s lower jaw to its chest is severed, suggesting how it suicided (“basically Colin in space,” the director said). Another mummified Pilot was built, to portray another corpse Kate originally had to stumble upon, before entering the Pilot room.

The mummified Pilot on set.

Von Heininjen commented on the sequence: “what had to be done was showing the slaughterfest, while Kate was going through the ship, seeing multiple Pilot aliens dead, half transformed, burned. Something terrible had happened in the ship. I liked that idea, because it would have been like the Norwegian camp in space. Kate sees the pod room and one broken pod, which gives her the clues of what happened. What didn’t work was that she wanted to find Sander and stop the ship from taking off, and still solve the mystery in the ship. These two energies were in conflict.”

The Pilot was not the only character to be ultimately cut out from The Thing. Built for the film were 6 models, portraying some of the specimens, contained inside the precedently mentioned “research pods”. They are featureless background models, and they seem to homage some of Amalgamated Dynamics’ precedent special effects works. Recycled moulds include body parts from the Tremors films, Starship Troopers, and Dragonball: Evolution. Originally, Kate stumbled upon the “pod room”, before she actually entered the Pilot hall.

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One of the pod alien specimens; notice the ‘recycled’ Graboid mandibles, as well as the Arachnid limbs.

Alec Gillis explained to The Thing Prequel Facebook page: “We did create 6 or so ‘Pod Creatures’. These were weird silhouettes meant to show a variety of aliens that had been collected throughout the universe. They were in frozen pods, one of which had burst open from the inside. There was a hallway one of the characters walks through, where a mummified Pilot alien was collapsed on the ground, supposedly killed by the Thing.” Even before the Pilot itself was removed from the film, the Pod Creatures received the same fate. Van Heijningen added: “We needed a lot of money to show the [Norwegian camp] version in space, with all the dead aliens. The studio thought it was too expensive and too complicated, so we erased that whole back story.”

With the shot footage unfinished, and the fact that costs would be too high to finalize it, the Pilot and the pod alien specimens can only represent the remnants of what could have been portrayed in The Thing, and was ultimately interfered with. Although fired from the film, the Pilot got brief days of glory at the 2012 Monsterpalooza convention, and currently resides in Amalgamated Dynamics’ display room, along with the special effects company’s most popular creations.

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Special, great thanks to Alec Gillis of Amalgamated Dynamics Inc.. Be sure to visit their official website and their Facebook Page.

StudioADI also published several behind-the-scenes videos detailing their work on the Pilot creature:

For more images of the Pilot and the lost Pod Aliens, visit the Monster Gallery.

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