Tag Archives: Amalgamated Dynamics

StarBeast — Part IIIa: Alien³, the Beginning


Alien³ underwent a long, articulated creation process — which saw several scriptwriters elaborating their own screenplays, only to be replaced — one after the other. Going from William Gibson to David Twohy, the film only began to develop to the next step with Vincent Ward and John Fasano’s script. It was based on that story that concept artists Stephen Ellis and Mike Worrall elaborated their own designs for the creatures, which included a woolly Chestburster born from a sheep, and an adult Alien whose origin was left unexplained. Those very initial concepts were conceived more as placeholders to illustrate certain sequences in the script, rather than actual designs.


Concept art by Mike Worrall.

Given Aliens was the winner for Best Special Effects at the 59th Academy Awards, Stan Winston Studio was the obvious choice for the third film’s creature effects. The artist was initially contacted for the project, but was unable to accept the offer — as he was already attached to his own feature film, A Gnome named Gnorm, and James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Despite that, Winston recommended two of his previous crewmembers — Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis — who had recently detached from his Studio to found their own special effects company, Amalgamated Dynamics. Hans Ruedi Giger — who had not been contacted for the previous installment in the series — was concurrently contacted by both Gordon Carroll and David Fincher, director of the film, to reimagine the StarBeast. “While I was working on my idea for The Mystery of San Gottardo, Gordon Carroll contacted me about doing Alien³. I told him that I was working on a new creature and I could probably combine it. I had imagined that because I had done the first Alien, this time I would have a little more freedom to be able to bring in some new ideas.” Although he was given no script to work from (as the story was being constantly rewritten) the artist was happy to accept the offer. From the information he was given, three new creatures had to be designed: an aquatic Facehugger, a new quadrupedal Chestburster, and a new version of the adult Alien.


The Facehugger design was slightly modified, with prominent webbing between its limbs and thorns adorning its tail. “One of the first scripts had it swimming, so I visualised how it would move,” Giger said. “The fingers would retract, so that it would crawl just under the water’s surface.”


The new Chestburster, labeled as the ‘Bambi-Burster’, was conceived by Fincher as a gangly, fawn-like newborn Monster. “That was the idea of Mr Fincher,” Giger said, “to have a Bambi-like [creature]… it shouldn’t be like the Chestburster, [an] ugly thing; it should be [like] Bambi — so, a creature you like right away, but [that’s] not too nice. My first design was too nice, it has been like a little bear, so I [gave] it long, long legs, like bambi is a little helpless.” The design in fact featured long and thin limbs, based on newborn ungulates such as fawns.


Regarding the adult stage of the Alien, Giger had not been wholly satisfied with the results seen in the first film. “This time around it had to be more animal-like,” he said, “more elegant. You shouldn’t get the feeling that it was a man wearing a suit.” The first foundation of the design was in fact that “the head had to remain unaltered, but the body had to change.” Though he remained in Zurich, Giger sent several sketches to the director. The designer followed Fincher’s initial instructions, which conceived the new Alien as a feline, lethal creature. “In his mind was a kind of puma,” Giger said, “or a  beast like that.” The original creature, as it appeared in the first film, had initially been intended to be transparent, but technical limitations did not allow it to display such trait. In addition, it had a tail that “resembled too much a crocodile’s,” and “useless pipes” on its back. “These tubes on the back,” Giger said, “I did them [to balance] the long skull, if [the Alien has to stand]. But if he’s like a beast, then the long head is just over the shoulder — he doesn’t need any supporting.” The pipes protruding from the creature’s back were completely removed, and the tail was made thinner, with a long blade-like barb on its tip. Its chest and limbs were lengthened — “like a spider.”

The hands now featured long blades that could be everted from sockets between its fingers. “The hands now had very sharp blades between the fingers, which could shoot out, allowing the Alien to cut its victim. This is in keeping with the new dog-like look of the beast, which is very fast and devious.” The shoulder guards were given a ridged structure, which could “open up and be pointed like a saw” when the creature attacked. The new Alien would also have a ‘second skin’ that “was designed to produce tones,” Giger said. “It had valves on it, like a saxophone.” The artist also said that its purpose was to produce sounds that would reproduce the Alien’s mood. “You should hear how he feels,” he said.


Fincher specifically wanted the Alien to have lips based on Michelle Pfeiffer’s — more voluptuous and feminine. The director recalled: “we did give it Michelle Pfeiffer’s lips. That’s what they’re based on. It always had these little thin lips, and I said to Giger, ‘let’s make it a woman when it comes right up to Ripley.’ So it has these big, luscious collagen lips.” Giger wanted the new creature to be “more sensuous” as opposed to repulsive. “The lips and chin on my new model are better proportioned, and give the creature a more erotic appearance,” he said. “When the mouth is closed it looks very voluptuous, beautiful.” In addition, inside the creature’s dome, Giger introduced a series of elongated, vertical structures. According to him, it was a “finger-brain, which should move like when wind is blowing over the grain.”


As Giger had not been wholly satisfied with the Alien’s tongue in the first film, he redesigned it. “The tongue of the first Alien was, in a way, not organic,” the artist said. “It was a tube with these teeth in front. It was really not [the best].” The new tongue was conceived with the appearence of a sword, or a spear. “When it opens its jaws the tongue inside the mouth is more like a spear — also very suggestive — which penetrates the head with greater velocity, snagging bits of brain. From Beauty to the Beast.” The creature’s jaw structure would literally transform for a ‘kiss’ — with its tongue penetrating the skull of the victim and, upon returning, dragging shreds of its innards.

What Giger initially did not know was that ADI was concurrently hired to design the creature, not only to construct it. “David Fincher neglected to inform me that Woodruff and Gillis were also contracted to take care of the redesign of the Alien,” he said. “I found out much later. I thought I had the job and that Woodruff and Gillis would work from my plans. On their side, they were convinced that it was their job and accepted my ‘suggestions’ with pleasure. They believed that all my effort was based on a huge love for the matter, because I worked hard even after my contract was over. Today, I am convinced that it was a game by Fincher to keep both sides happy and obtain the maximum for his movie.”


Giger, Woodruff and Gillis also spoke through phone calls. “The Alien is Giger’s baby,” Gillis said, “and he was calling to find out what we planned. After we stayed in contact and he faxed through drawings and ideas that proved very helpful when we were deciding how the Alien was going to develop.” The artist also invited both Woodruff and Gillis at his home in Zurich, where the sculpture of the new design was being made. Due to the hectic production schedule, they unfortunately had to turn down the offer. “We had a couple of phone calls where we actually spoke with Giger,” Woodruff said, “and at the time he told us he was working on a sculpture, he was working on a full size maquette of the Alien in his studio, so he invited Alec and I to come to Switzerland, and at the time we were so under the gun schedule wise that we — you know — respectfully said ‘you know, we can’t do that right now,’ and that is the one thing I always regret to have done, to have had the invitation, you know and just kind of put it off for now and say, ‘maybe when the film is done, maybe afterwards’ — and then of course by the time the film is done, he wasn’t involved at all and the offer was no longer there.”


In a combination of miscommunication and rapidly quickening production schedule, Giger’s involvement in the project faded. The artist offered the Alien sculpture — sculpted along Cornelius de Fries —  and reference footage of it to Twentieth Century Fox; the company declined and severed contact with him. In an interview with Outpost31, Woodruff said: “people often look for the drama in this event, but the simple facts are that we designed the Alien effects (the method and mode of how each effect was achieved) while at the same time inventing a couple of new evolutions of Alien creatures. We returned the approach to the Alien after what had worked for Aliens in providing dozens of warriors in very simple ways. Our approach was to recreate the art of the Alien as we saw it in Giger’s own work in a form that worked for a man inside the suit. Someone along the line quoted us as saying we were improving Giger’s work rather than properly conveying that we were improving what had been done before to look more like Giger’s work in his own original art. His publicist ran with this ‘affront’ and it took a number of letters from us to Giger before we finally heard that he understood the miscommunication.”

Giger was, regardless, disheartened for the situation. “In the contract it stated exactly how I should be credited. They [are breaking] the contract because they’re saying in the movie that it’s only ‘original design by Giger’ and not Alien 3, so it looks like I didn’t work on it. Mr. Fincher never gave me any credit. That did not just happen; it was made to happen. I never heard from the man responsible, and I don’t know why he did it.” He also attributed some of the shortcomings to the budget. “I read in the papers [that Sigourney Weaver] got something like $5.5 million for playing Ripley again. Imagine what could have been possible if all that money had been spent on the creature design! It could have been ganz toll! After all, the star of an Alien film should be the Alien itself, right?”


For more images of the unused Alien³ designs, visit the Monster Gallery [COMING SOON]. Previous: Part IIb: Aliens, the Alien Queen Next: Part IIIb: Alien³, the Dragon


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Monster Gallery: Tremors 4: The Legend Begins

Main Article: Subterranean Terror — Part IV: Tremors 4: The Legend Begins

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Subterranean Terror — Part IV: Tremors 4: The Legend Begins


The fourth — and as of now, final — chapter in the Tremors series depicts the Graboids first attacking the city of Perfection (then called Rejection) in 1889, 100 years before the first film. When discussions about the projects began writer Steven S. Wilson met with Universal executive Patti Jackson. “I told Patti that we were really in a corner,” Wilson told Cinefex online. “The fans were going to want a new creature, but we had no idea where to go. We couldn’t just keep doing the same movie over and over.” He then added: “we’d have to do something wacky this time, like set it in the Old West.” Jackson’s response was concise: “that’s fine.”


Whilst Amalgamated Dynamics did not return to provide the effects, Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. supervised the creation of the new Graboids. Several special effects crewmembers from the original film did collaborate on Tremors 4, including Robert Kurtzman and the miniature artists Dennis and Robert Skotak. The practical effects were provided by Greg Nicotero’s KNB Efx, who had already worked on Tremors: The Series. “We’re definitely going back to the old school,” Nicotero said.


An imperative for the film was not to use digital effects extensively. “The decision was primarily financial, but also partly aesthetic,” Wilson told The Official UK Tremors. “Tremors 3 was the first film in which we used CGI to create Graboids. While we had excellent people doing the work, we found we did not have the money to keep redoing the shots until we got them really looking perfect.” He also added that “Graboids are particularly difficult because they kick up so much dirt and dust, which are chaotic elements very difficult to create in CG. When we ran the budget for Tremors 4, our FX expert, Linda Drake, determined that we could do more shots with miniatures than we could with CG. That suited us fine, because the Skotaks — our Academy Award winning miniature artists from Tremors 1 — were available and wanted to work with us again. That made it a no brainer. Tremors 4 has the most active, aggressive Graboids yet, and they’re all done the old fashioned way — with full scale puppets — from KNB — and tentacles and miniatures.” Listening to the series’ enthusiasts in regards to this matter was a primary concern. “We really listened to the fans,” Wilson related. “The only negative comments we’d ever heard about our special effects — as low-budget as they’d been — concerned the CG Graboids we did for Tremors 3. They were faster and much livelier than the big, heavy puppets we’d used in the earlier versions; but, although the effects were first-rate, fans said that they didn’t ‘look right.’ And, of course, they were also more expensive.”

Small Graboid.

The hatched Graboid.

In Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, a silver mine owned by Hiram Gummer — an ancestor of Burt — is attacked by recently awakened Graboids. Following the concepts introduced in the precedent film, the Graboids are first presented in a smaller stage, having just surfaced from their eggs or chrysalises. The first task in the production was designing and building the small Graboids. “We took the original design,” Nicotero said, “and then we kind of said what would these thirty foot creatures look like if they were four and a half feet long? They were kind of the cherubic infant version. Ultimately, what we ended up doing was a couple, like four or five different sketches. So we made them look like grubs, they had these infantile little mandibles and little tiny nubs of teeth growing in and little sort of feelers, so that that you get the impression that this was the precursor to the adult.” KNB built the small Graboids as full-sized remote-controlled animatronics and hand puppets used on set with artificial dirt for the scenes where they burst from the ground or drag their victims under it; puppets were additionally composited into shots for the scenes where the creatures are seen springing from the ground “like some demonic trout.”


KNB’s precedent work on Tremors: The Series, for which a full-sized El Blanco puppet was built, proved useful. The new full-size Graboid animatronic head sections, 12 feet long and built based on the original moulds, featured the structural innovations of that puppet. The new models were cable-operated, and were installed on four-wheeled dollies, which enabled greater maneuverability compared to precedent versions; they could perform wide ranges of movements based on a single pivot point. Mechanically, the Graboids featured an additional articulation point in the neck, as well as a different structural design for the mouth interior that enabled actors to actually slide down the creature — for scenes such as Black Hand Kelly’s death — through the use of collapsible panels. Four puppeteers were needed to maneuver the creatures. Full-size tentacle animatronics and hand puppets were also built.

Full size Graboids on set.

Preparing one of the full-scale Graboids for the sequence of Black Hand Kelly’s death.

Budget restraints did not allow Tremors 4 to be shot in the original locations chosen for Perfection (Lone Pine); as such, the film had to be filmed in a more affordable place, which was found in Acton, California. For most of the bursting scenes, previous films had employed the full-size animatronic heads, installed on elevating rigs and buried in the ground, with a destructible covering. Such a stunt could not be performed on the location of Tremors 4 due to the composition of the ground. Wilson recalled: “the town was half-built, and I went out and selected where I was going to plant our eight-foot puppet. But then, production designer Simon Dobbin came to us and said: ‘Guess what? To dig holes out here we’re going to have to blast.’ The area was solid rock underneath. It caused our visual effects producer, Linda Drake, to go back to the drawing board very quickly and come up with an entirely different approach.”


The full-size puppets were in fact filmed only above ground, and were never seen bursting from it — with the exception of the Graboid trying to devour Juan in the muling station, which was filmed in an elevated set. “That was a very complicated shot, and we only had one chance to get it right,” Wilson said in the Ultimate Tremors FAQ. “We duplicated the entire telegraph room on top of two steel shipping containers (the big ones they put on ships) so we’d have space to work underneath. The entire floor was made of super delicate balsa wood. You couldn’t stand on it. You could barely touch it and it would break. So we had to ‘fly’ Brent Roam’s stunt double on cables above the floor. When the puppeteers smashed the Graboid through from below, the stunt crew tried to yank the double up at the same speed so it would look like he was carried up by the Graboid. Unfortunately, the Graboid got a little hung up and our Juan double flew up faster. Linda Drake’s visual effects people worked really hard to try to blend the action together — by adding dust and boards and trying to digitally move Juan and the Graboid closer together.” He also added that “in all the closer shots that’s really Brent Roam doing his own stunts. He loved riding the Graboid.” The same sequence used miniature tentacles filmed against greenscreen and composited with the full-size Graboid by Kevin Kutchaver’s HimAnI Productions.

Like the first two films, quarter-scale Graboid miniature puppets were built. KNB Efx provided the models, which were inserted in miniature sets and puppeteered by the Skotak brothers of 4-Ward Productions. Quarter-scale hand puppets inserted in miniature landscape sets were in fact used for the scenes where the Graboids bursted from the ground; they were filmed at varying increased frames per second to enhance the sense of their actual mass. Certain shots composited the small scale Graboids, precedently filmed against greenscreen, with live-action footage. “Compositing in the computer allowed us to do very complex composites,” Wilson said. “We could take advantage of image steadying and tracking, and we could do camera moves. It really gave us the best of both worlds to shoot miniatures and then composite them digitally.”

One of the quarter-scale Graboids going through the bridge miniature.

One of the quarter-scale Graboids going through the bridge miniature.

One particularly complex composite shot involved one of the Graboids bursting through the wall of a river bed under a bridge and then ramming through the other side. A miniature version of the bridge and surrounding landscape was built by the Skotak brothers, with a track hole cut into the surface and holes in the river bed walls. A full featureless miniature dummy of the Graboid (about six feet in length) was suspended under the bridge through a rod, which connected it with a moving dolly mechanism on tracks above the bridge. The dolly, itself pulled by a rope, drove the Graboid through the miniature set, making it move from side to side. In the final shot, the dolly was erased and the carriage (precedently filmed against greenscreen) was composited in. The last touches included digital debris at the Monster’s passage, simulating its breaking through dirt and rock. The last Graboid’s death scene was another miniature shot, achieved with a miniature city portion, a miniature locomotive, and a quarter-scale full Graboid dummy, filled with guts, which was dragged against the locomotive with graphic consequences — which were digitally enhanced.

“For me my goal always is to challenge the audience,” Nicotero ultimately commented. “I want to be able to do gags or shots where people will walk out and go ‘okay, how did they do that? Wow, that was cool. I never expected that.’ That’s the fun, that‘s the fun part.”


Special, great Thanks to Tom Palleschi, an avid Tremors enthusiast, who provided a considerable number of quotes and pictures for this part of Subterranean Terror.

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

Previous: Part III: Tremors 3: Back to Perfection
Next: Part V: Tremors: The Series

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Subterranean Terror — Part III: Tremors 3: Back to Perfection

General note: to avoid repeating the term “Assblaster”, the article (and further entries featuring said creature) will mostly use abbreviations such as “AB” or “Blaster”.

ABgoino The success of Tremors 2: Aftershocks led to the production of another sequel in the series — Tremors 3: Back to Perfection — that would mark the return, as the title says, to the original town in Nevada. Unlike the two predecessors, the project was rather quick-timed, with a short pre-production and production process. In particular, budget restrictions forbade an extensive shooting schedule. “To fit  this very ambitious movie with three different kinds of Monsters into our budget meant we had to restrict our shooting days,” Writer S.S. Wilson said. “So we ended up with a 22 day schedule.” Graboidchills Amalgamated Dynamics once again returned to provide the special effects for the film, this time accompanied by HimAnI Productions, which created digital versions of all the stages of the Graboid lifecycle.

Graboidmews The return of the Graboids also meant the return of a small portion of the original props — restored for the production. One of the full-scale animatronic head sections, as well as the tentacle hand puppets were used to portray the Graboids seen early in the film. An insert upper jaw was also used for close-ups. Stock footage from Tremors was also sometimes used. One of the scene features a recently-swallowed Burt Gummer being saved from the Graboid’s stomach. Michael Gross was buried in a hole underground with creature guts made of lathex and orange methocel simulating blood. The actor defined the experience as “a pain in the butt,” and compared it to “being in a grave.”


Tremors 3 introduces an albino Graboid, unable to reproduce, nicknamed ‘El Blanco’ by the production crew, as well as characters from the film. The concept of an albino Graboid actually fares back to a proposed Tremors series during the production of the second film. One of the animatronics was repainted with a pale color scheme, something also reflected in one of the hand puppets, to portray the creature. Digital effects were also used for the first time to bring the Graboid to the screen; the digital model was built based on reference photos provided by ADI, but still presented discrepancies in design when compared to the practical creatures — due to rushed pre-production time.

The Shriekers are only briefly seen in the opening sequence of the film, where a massive pack is exterminated by Burt Gummer’s caliber 50 guns. ADI originally refurbished the animatronics from the previous film, but they were ultimately not used in shooting. Based on the original moulds, the special effects artists also created a new stunt Shrieker to be destroyed by Burt Gummer’s 50 caliber hits. During the scene, the creature was hung by cables, and pre-installed explosives inside of it were set off. Tippett Studio’s digital Shriekers from the previous film were actually not recycled, with HimAnI building a new model from scratch. Over 300 Shriekers are seen in the scene. ADI also built shed skins of the Shriekers in urethane for the sequence where they are discovered.


Writer Steven S. Wilson once more wanted the characters to face an unexpected turn of events — another stage in the Graboid life cycle. “When we started Tremors 3,” he said, “Universal told us that there would be no more Tremors films after that. So we decided to “close the loop” on the life cycle of the Graboid.” Wilson thus conceived the Assblaster, a further stage that acts as intermediary between the Shrieker and Graboid. In conceiving the Blasters, Wilson made reference to Valentine McKee’s speculation in the first film as to whether or not the ‘snake things’ — the Graboid tentacles — and the Graboid themselves could effectively fly. The new stage is thus able to take flight in order to reach longer distances, and lay a single egg (or chrysalis) carrying what would grow into an adult Graboid. The introduction of the Blasters retroactively erases the precedent ideas regarding the life cycle of the creatures, which conceived the Shriekers as direct infant stages, growing into Graboids after enough time.


Blaster concept art.


Concept art of the thruster.

Not wanting to give the new stage literal wings (as in limbs), the filmmakers found inspiration in the Bombardier Beetles, members of the Carabidae family and divided in various Tribes. These insects are able to produce a hot noxious chemical spray from the tip of their abdomen as a form of defense. The chemical is derived from a reaction between quinol (hydroquinone) and hydrogen peroxide, which are stored in separate chambers in the beetles’ abdomen; when threatened, the creatures send the chemicals in a third chamber with water and catalytic enzymes. The heat of the reaction creates a gas that aids the ejection, which is accompanied by a characteristic popping sound. “Building off that idea,” Tom Woodruff Jr. said, “was the notion of wanting to give the new creatures something that we hadn’t seen before.” The Blasters are able to launch themselves in the air through the ejection of unspecified mixed chemicals in their tail — through two thruster-like orifices. The creatures then glide using ‘wings’ composed of membrane supported by long and thin spines on their sides.

The overall design of the Blaster reflected its purpose of gliding through the air: the body became longer and more stremlined, as did the head — which now presented an elongated beak and mandibles. The heat sensor was also modified in two simple side plates that rear, revealing the sensory organ. Some Shrieker traits were kept, such as the two jowls on the throat. The Blasters made quite the impression on the cast. Shawn Christian recalled: “you’re reading the script and say, ‘okay, Graboid, I saw it. Shrieker, I saw it. Cyclone — oh, that’s funny. Okay, then they turn into an Assblaster.’ You flip back, ‘an Assblaster? What?!'”


ADI built several practical versions of the Blasters, which were abbreviated on set as ‘ABs’. One hero animatronic head section was built, with fully articulated jaws and sensors. A stunt head section and stunt bodies (which could be hit or damaged) were also constructed, along with full dummies (such as the one used to portray the comatose Blaster). The animatronics were frequently installed on carts on tracks in order to be able to ram against walls or doors. A complete Blaster dummy was also built and suspended on a cable to simulate the creature’s gliding, but was ultimately not shown in the final film. Creature guts were cast in latex and reused some precedent molds (such as the Shriekers’ tongues, recycled as intestines).


The unused “flying” Blaster.

Another full dummy, used in combination with the El Blanco animatronic, was used to film the scene where the last Blaster is killed and devoured by the Albino Graboid. ADI’s practical effects were accompanied by HimAnI’s digital Blasters, seen most prominently in the film — although they present some noticeable inaccuracies in regards to the animatronics: the wings start at the base of the neck (as opposed to shortly after the jowls) and the interior of the mouth lacks the characteristic red color.


For more images of the Blasters, Shriekers and Graboids, visit the Monster Gallery.

Previous: Part II: Tremors 2: Aftershocks
Next: Part IV: Tremors 4: The Legend Begins

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Monster Gallery: Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996)

Main Article: Subterranean Terror — Part II: Tremors 2: Aftershocks

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Subterranean Terror — Part II: Tremors 2: Aftershocks


Universal expressed early interest in making a sequel to Tremors — which had achieved a near cult status on the video market since its release. “We didn’t take it too seriously at first, because we couldn’t come up with any good ideas,” writer and director of Tremors 2: Aftershocks, Steven S. Wilson, told Cinefex. “We really didn’t want to deliver the same thing over again; and it wasn’t until some time later — in one of those literal bursts of inspiration — that I awoke in the middle of the night thinking, ‘what if the worms fragment into little creatures?'”

Many of the artists that had worked for the previous film returned for Tremors 2. Wilson recalled: “people wanted to work on this show, and that was a fundamental part of pulling it off. Department head after department head came on and agreed to very painful cuts in their budgets. We joked about the fact that I was one of the few people on the team who hadn’t won an Academy Award. I was surrounded by all these incredibly talented people who agreed to do this because they loved the first film and they liked the new script.”

Among the returning crew was the special effects company, Amalgamated Dynamics — again headed by Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr., who had become committed to the series. Woodruff said: “Tremors was our first project, and a real labor of love with a great group of people. We had said that if ever there was a sequel — no matter what we were doing — we would make ourselves available.” Principal photography for Tremors 2 coincided with location shooting for Jumanji, another project ADI was working on at the time. Keeping the promise, the duo signed to work on Tremors 2, assigning Andy Schoneberg to direct the special effects work on the film whilst they supervised it from Vancouver. ADI only had a modest budget and six weeks to build all of the incarnations of the Graboids and their offspring.

Graboid rises!

Tremors 2: Aftershocks marks the return of the Graboids — “the mexican variety of the creature, and it lives in southern Mexico on verdant plains,” said Wilson. The subterranean Monsters, whose origin was deliberately left ambiguous in the first film, are revealed in the sequel to be ancient creatures from the Precambrian period.

Filming the ill Graboid scene.

Filming the ill Graboid scene.

ADI refurbished the full-size animatronic head sections used for the previous films. The Graboids bursted through the ground with new rigs devised by physical effects supervisor Peter Chesney. Wilson recalled: “the underground rigs we used in Tremors were powered by air rams, which often jammed and never really moved the worms fast enough. I told Peter early on that one of the things we desperately needed was to see a worm come out of the ground and lift someone in the air.” Ivo Cristante’s physical effects team built a 18 feet tall, 20 feet wide platform in which to place the burst rig — an uneven parallelogram crane on which the creature was installed. A spring-loaded device was employed for the Graboid’s fast movements. Chesney explained: “we vbuilt a nine-foot-wide steel track with skateboard-like guide wheels, and added a lot of counterweight on cables to power it, including a huge amount of bungee cord. We actually had to use a block and tackle to pull it down, like loading a catapult.” The creature’s head was close to a breakaway ground surface, which was easily destroyed. Chesney continues: “we were trying to duplicate the energies of an eight-ton creature with the ability to plow through brick walls, but the puppet had to be light enough to perform properly — which meant it wouldn’t have the strength for a big breakaway. So we prepared the platform surface by layering hinged pieces of plywood in jagged sections, laid out like the scales of a fish. At the intersections we used small sticks — and even finer sticks in the crosshatch. On top of that, we laid peat moss and sod.” For the prologue scene — the most expensive of the entire film — the spring mechanisms had to be precisely calibrated in order not to injure the stuntman contained within the Graboid’s jaws. Movements underground were replicated with a method already used in Tremors, with a wood-lined trench covered in layers of rubber and dirt — under which a cart was moved.


A key scene of the film involves one of the Graboids above ground, in a severely weakened state. The first scenes involving the creature were achieved with the full-scale animatronic head section. At night, the Graboid is seen convulsing in its final moments. For this sequence, a 1:4th scale puppet was built based on the moulds of similarly-scaled puppets from the first film. Where the armoured head was casted in fiberglass, the body was not moulded in latex — like the previous miniature creatures — but in a new hot-melt material ADI had first experimented with on the set of Santa Clause. “It was so jiggly and lifelike,” Woodruff said. “We were able to get some really good blubbery movements to show something we really hadn’t seen in the worms yet — the conveyance of great mass and weight.” The puppet was maneuvered from a puppeteer below the miniature landscape set specifically built for the sequence, which was filmed at 96 frames per second in order to further increase the sense of mass.

Dead Graboid on set.

Dead Graboid on set.

The creature is later found dead, with its side bursted open and three sacs hanging inside of it. The Graboid carcass was the first model to be built for the film. It was constructed as a wood and wire armature, with polyfoam skin (as well as fiberglass beaks) casted by Marc Tyler — who also painted the creature — based on moulds from the original film. The internal organs and sacs were cast either in latex or in silicone, and once again orange methocel was used to simulate the blood.


…Sure ain’t no damn ostrich.

It is revealed that the Graboid has given birth to its offspring — a baby stage labeled in production as Shriekers, based on the loud sounds they make when they locate prey. Wilson once again wanted to stray from usual genre tropes and audience expectations, as he told The Official UK Tremors that “the obvious thing then is that there’s a graboid queen, five hundred feet long — we just didn’t want to do that.” In his own words, he wanted the characters of the new film to “be behind the eight-ball” once again, not knowing what to expect or how to counter the new creatures. Wilson said in a Cinefex interview: “normally, movie Monsters are indestructible; and that’s what’s scary about them. However, what was scary about our Monsters was that you couldn’t figure out how they worked. Once you knew that the Graboids traveled underground and hunted by picking up sound vibrations, they became less dangerous. But it only took one movie to realize that. So our idea for the new creatures was that they would hunt by infrared instead of sound. We thought: ‘that will be fun. Everybody will be going around trying not to make any noise, when that’s the wrong thing to do.'”


Early Shrieker concept art by Alec Gillis.

Designing the Shriekers proved to be a longer process compared to that of the Graboids years before. “The Shrieker designs went through a number of variations before we finally hit on the right look,” Wilson said. “Partly it was a size thing, and partly it was the fact that these creatures are supposed to be babies — something Tom and Alec and Andy Schoneberg worried about right from the start. There’s an inherent cuteness to babies — but we knew the Shriekers had to be scary; otherwise audiences might start feeling more sympathetic toward the Monsters than the humans.” A key element of the new baby creatures was their heat-based vision that detects the bodily heat of organisms and objects.

Gillis and Woodruff started sketching and sending concepts to the production from Vancouver. Gillis said: “we knew that they wanted two-legged little creatures that ran around, saw by infrared and emitted a scream upon sensing a source of food. One of the features of the original movie’s creatures was the big four-piece head, jaw and mandible assembly; and we wanted to mantain that.” The final design featured a body with infant-like proportions, the signature armoured head, as well as three-toed legs inspired by ostriches and a short, fleshy tail.

The Shrieker maquette, with Andy Schoneberg (left) and S.S. Wilson (right).

The Shrieker maquette, with Andy Schoneberg (left) and S.S. Wilson (right).

Being infant Graboids, the Shriekers were designed with several details that were reverse-engineered from the previous creatures. Woodruff recalled in our collaboration interview with Strange Shapes: “[the Shrieker design was] very much inspired by the Graboid itself.  The idea was to reverse-engineer the original creatures to establish the Shriekers as an earlier developmental stage, hence the translucent beak for example, as if it was still cartilage in development like a baby’s skull.  The growth pattern would eventually have them begin to pack on pounds and become so huge and lethargic that their legs (which were only intended to carry them to a new location where food and protection would be more plentiful) would atrophy and fall off.  They would then create a growth of spines that would propel them underground.” The skull in development was a key trait. Woodruff said in the Monster Makers website: “we designed [it] to look as if it was still in cartilaginous state before the beak shells hardened, like on the adult worms.” Another subtle detail in the design is the Shriekers’ tongue — which ends in three elongated bulb-like appendages joined together, suggesting the Graboids’ signature tentacles still in development.

Once again, the special effects artists wanted to bring to the screen creatures that would feel realistic and actually biologically plausible. Gillis elaborated: “what we liked about Tremors was that there was a logic to it, so Tom and I actually wrote several pages of backstory on the Shriekers, offering different scenarios of how they reproduce, how they communicate — that sort of thing. For example, we decided that they are pack animals; and the purpose of the food scream for a creature that can neither hear nor see is to raise its body temperature, thereby attracting its pack. That provided the rationale for incorporating several brightly colored spots — one on the jowls and one on the side of the tail. We reasoned that those spots, in particular, would heat up during a food scream and work as a heat signature, totally unique to the Shrieker. The pack members would recognize it — and that would prevent them from mistakenly attacking each other.”


A key element of the design was the heat sensor on the Shriekers’ head. This organ, when exposed, allows a better focus on the heat signatures of the surrounding environment. Several variations were tested, as recalled by Gillis: “we tried panels that lifted up from the head like gull-wing doors to reveal the sensory organ inside, but Steve was concerned that those might look like ears. He wanted something totally non-anthropomorphic. Then we toyed with the idea of a plate on top of the head that lifts up; but we were afraid that would look too much like a trap door — something you’d expect to see Thing from The Addams Family pop out of. Finally, Andy came up with a three-plate design that was more organic looking.” A central plate first rears, followed by two side plates — which in turn fully reveal the pulsating heat sensor within.

With the final Shrieker design approved by Wilson, ADI began building the full-scale creature puppets. The life-size sculptures — based on a maquette sculpted by Alec Gillis — were sculpted by Schoneberg, Jim Kagel and Brent Armstrong. The skins were casted in foam latex by Mark Viniello, whereas the head pieces were moulded in semi-translucent fiberglass by Steve Frakes.

Shriekers on set.

Shriekers on set.

ADI built two hero animatronics with fully articulated bodies, three hand puppets with articulated heads, and five stunt creatures whose purpose was to be hit, damaged or shot; they were in fact filled with orange methocel and pieces of latex. Their remains are thrown at the end of the film when Shrieker carcasses are scattered by the enormous explosion. Also built were three insert animatronic tongues for close-up shots.


One of the hero Shrieker puppets.

The mechanical systems of the creatures were designed and constructed by David Penikas; the hero animatronics featured the most complex, cable-driven mechanisms. Jaws and mandibles were fully articulated, and bladders inside the head suggested the pulsations of the heat sensor when the organ was exposed. Bladders inside the jowls also simulated the Shriekers’ breathing. The cables passed through the Shriekers’ feet and were buried in the ground area next to them, only to re-emerge next to the controlling mechanisms. 8 to 16 puppeteers were needed to fully maneuver one of the hero puppets. Producer Nancy Roberts and Tremors director Ron Underwood also occasionally collaborated to the performance.

One of the Shrieker hand puppets.

One of the Shrieker hand puppets.

The hand puppets were operated with interior handholds; the puppeteers controlled the creatures through a backpack connected to “four-way jaw and neck mechanisms.” The performer could only see from a small hole located in the model’s throat area. Once on set, all the models were treated in order to be believably integrated in the environment. Gillis recalled: “to make them look as if they belonged in the environment, buckets full of dirt were rubbed all over the bodies and applied to areas in the corners of the mouth where the bony shapes meet. Then we squirted water in the creases behind the neck and dusted the high points so that it looked like oily sweat where the folds were contacting. We also spritzed the colored areas on the jowls and tail so that the color spots would appear shiny — as if there were extra body oils in them because they heat up.”


Despite being an infant stage of the Graboids, the Shriekers are also able to reproduce asexually: after having eaten enough nutrition, they regurgitate a newborn creature. For the sequence where this new feature is revealed, an almost amorphous fetus was sculpted by Marc Tyler and painted by Tom Killeen — and dubbed the ‘vomit baby’. The fetus was covered in a slimy membrane and pushed out of one of the Shrieker hand puppets — adapted with hyperextending jaws. The subsequent shot of the newborn breaking its placental sac and screaming was achieved with one of the hand puppets, puppeteered by Yancy Calzada and shot in an oversized cage section built by production designer (and original Tremors crewmember) Ivo Cristante.

Unlike the previous film, Tremors 2 employed digital effects for the sequences where the Shriekers perform actions — such as actually running — that the practical creatures could not act on set. Wilson knew from the beginning that the new technologies would eventually have to be used, and for that purpose he hired Phil Tippett to do early animation tests whilst the film was still in development. Tremors 2’s visual effects consisted only of a moderate amount of 14 digital sequences, and was one of the first independent efforts in computer animation for Tippett Studio. The artist recalled: “our goal on Aftershocks was really to generate a great deal of animation as quickly as possible. At the time, we were just beginning to make the transition to digital; so it was an ideal opportunity to take some of the input device work we developed on Jurassic Park a bit further, to get in there and start experimenting with other ways of puppeteering and moving characters around. Since the film would be going straight to video, we knew we could work in broad strokes and concentrate on refining some of our techniques.”

Digital Shriekers.

Digital Shriekers.

Tippett actually provided input in ADI’s designs, suggesting wrinkle areas. “Once we had some idea of what Tom and Alec were going to do, we could make a few suggestions,” Tippett said, “such as how to fit certain body parts together or where to put the wrinkles in the skin — things that would make our work easier.” Tippett Studio art director Craig Hayes supervised the creation of the digital Shriekers. He recalled: “we began by scanning photographs of ADI’s Shrieker maquette into our computer and tracing over it. As soon as ADI completed one of the full-scale puppets, they sent it to us for reference and we took our measurements from that.” The digital model was built by Peter Konig and painted and texture-mapped by Paula Lucchesi to be as accurate as possible to the practical creatures (something also aided by reference photos taken on location). Dusty textures were also added.

Animation was achieved with an array of different techniques, as recalled by Hayes: “anywhere from one third to two thirds of the animation was done through stop-motion input, using a Shrieker armature, built by Bart Trickel, and our own motion input software. It was very similar to the methods we used on Jurassic Park.” Said armature was a DID (Digital Input Device), a small scale model with motion sensors that transfer its movements to the digital model. A limited number of shots was also created with standard key-frame animation.

The climactic scene of Earl trying to reach Burt’s truck inside the warehouse was originally going to feature thousands of Shriekers; budget restraints only enabled the scene to happen on a smaller scale — with dozens of Shriekers. For shots of multiple digital Shriekers the model was duplicated, and each copu was individually animated. Tippett explained: “any time you get more than one character on the screen, it really complicates the animation. They have to interact, and the pantomime has to be staged in a way that makes the action clear. We basically built a room full of characters, then animated them individually so they wouldn’t all appear to be moving at exactly the same time. When you’re dealing with a bunch of things, the whole mass takes on a character of its own. You’re really animating an overall texture. Otherwise, the shot can turn into a can of worms (!), with audiences not knowing what to focus on.”

Crew shots.

A crew shot.

Lastly, the Shriekers’ heat vision was rendered with an inventive method. “To get the infrared effect,” Wilson said, “the actors were shot wearing red suits and yellow stockings so that in post-production the video engineers could render the faces and bodies in different colors. This effect was also shot on High 8 video tape and blown up to 35mm film, adding an additional grainy effect.”

Wilson ultimately commented on the experience: “what made it a delight was the tremendous support, inventiveness and professionalism on the part of everyone involved — from the producers to the creative team to the effects crew to the cast. Everybody, at one time or another, contributed some idea for how to solve a particular problem — and that always got us through the day.”


For more images of the Graboids and Shriekers, visit the Monster Gallery.

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Next: Part III: Tremors 3: Back to Perfection 

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Monster Gallery: Tremors (1990)

Main Article: Subterranean Terror — Part I: Tremors

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