Alec Gillis Interview

Posted by Darkness on June 13, 2019 (Updated: 15-Feb-2021)

 Alec Gillis Interview

Fugitive Predator

Adam: So now that The Predator has just wrapped up its theatrical run with its Chinese release, we were hoping that this time around you could chat to us in a little more detail about the film. Have you had the chance to I see the finished film and what did you think of it?

I enjoyed it. I I’m a huge Shane Black fan. He’s a great guy. He’s very calm and even keel. He listens. He’s collaborative and what I love most about his writing is that I think he has a great handle on what makes 80s films so great because he was one of the guys that created that which is ensemble which is repartee buddy films and I like it. I know that the film might have read people online and reviews and things. Some people say “Oh it’s hilarious. The jokes are great and the characters are fun” and other people hate it for exactly the same reasons.

I fell on the side saying I love this because the original Predator to me and you got to remember I was a working professional when I saw the original Predator. I thought it was a… it’s not a comedy but it is tonally. There’s a lot of comedy. The original Predator and Shane Black is the wisecracking guy and he writes those types of characters so I thought that this film had more tonally in common with Predator than perhaps some of the AvP movies. If this is the first solely Predator movie I’ve worked on since the original Predator but I thought it tonally had more in common with the original Predator than some of the more recent efforts so I did enjoy it.

Aaron: From when Adam came to visit you guys last year you mentioned ADI’s involvement with the film had a lot to do with your existing relationships with John Davis and Fred Dekker. I was wondering what those first meetings with the head honchos were like when you first met Shane to talk about what he wanted you to do with this film?

Yeah well you mentioned Fred Dekker. He is a huge supporter of practical effects as well as us so he’s another guy. Him and Shane – they’re just great guys. Fred in particular was very interested in promoting a heavy practical effects build list and Shane was as well but sometimes particularly with studios when all the other players get involved and you start breaking down a list of what’s a VFX shot and what’s a shot, things don’t necessarily evolve the way that we wanted to or that that Fred wants it to and sometimes even the way we want it to because there are realities of the machinery that kind of forced the hand and send it in a certain direction like for instance the big Upgrade Predator.

We were actively designing that character and our hope was if you make him about 9 or 10 feet tall, we could potentially do something practical that might need some compositing. You can have something on set but you’d have to shoot it cleverly etc and when you start getting into more in-depth meetings you realize okay the style of the movie or the flexibility that’s desired really demands that this thing be CGI. The way they are conceiving of the action sequences and the way the cameras moving and like we could say “Yeah let’s do a guy in a suit and comp him in” and if everyone was super thrilled with that idea and said “Yes, we like the tactile presence of a man in a suit. It’s always been that way with the Predator so let’s keep it that way”.

 Alec Gillis Interview

Upgrade Predator

Then you would go through whatever steps would be needed to support that technique but when you have a more about the style of the film and the style of the action and that’s going to be shot, then the technique becomes subservient to that. Like for instance if you want to have the camera racing across the ground from a distance up to the upgrade and then swirl around him in a Michael Bay style while guys open fire on it – that’s a little tough for a composited thing because tracking of objects and planting that 3D CGI object into a plate is a lot easier to do with CGI than it is to plot a do all the math and plot that move where you first you shoot your plate and then months later on a green-screen stage you match and scale adjust and use motion control to lock your composited character.

That’s a different animal altogether and I think studios get a little worried about that at some point. An executive says “Wait, why so we can have a man in a suit? Oh, that’s dumb, let’s just do this thing digitally and then he can leap 30 feet”. That’s a long-winded answer to say that I think that Shane, Fred, Tom, and I were very excited about the practical possibilities for the film and not surprisingly that practical approach became limited down to three characters. Two of which were cut from the film ultimately and then so it’s ultimately one character.

Aaron: So, the idea of a practical realization of the Upgrade was dropped really early on then?

Yes, and in fact here’s another thing the way things go in movies is that when that was dropped then the fault was well now it’s a digital creation so the design of it should go to the digital department so our design work with was stopped and it was taken over by the digital department.

Aaron: What about the practical half size standing that they used on set? Did you guys not make that either?

That was Todd Masters, I believe. It was half of the Predator but it was full size.

Adam: That was just for lighting reference I assume?

Yeah so this is a big heavy thing. It was a big like a nice silicone prop but it was kind of like as I recall it was maybe down to the waist.

 Alec Gillis Interview

Upgraded Predator Concept by Shane Baxley

Adam: But you guys still did the conceptual artwork for the design of the Upgrade?

No. I would say that is not our design. We did other designs. The dog was more of our intact design although they did change it. When you’re just designing things for strictly digital use, it’s a little bit different. You don’t build it so you finish the design. You turn over the ZBrush files and you’re not sure how it’s going to be used or whether or not it’s gonna get changed and they did in fact change the design of the dog but there I can look at that and go “Oh yeah I see there’s art – 70% of that is ours.

Adam: Since ADI last worked on a Predator film, Greg Nicotero’s KNB Effects worked on the most recent film before that – Predators. Did anything they did in terms of suit construction on Predators influence your approach with The Predator?

Not really because Shane wanted the Fugitive Predator… it’s funny because the name Fugitive Predator came about after the film was done. It’s a good name but we were just calling it the original Predator or Pred One. Shane wanted to make sure that it harkens back to the original Predator so we changed facial features a bit. Just did what we thought would look cool but his color scheme is very much the original. We darkened him down a little bit more than the original but there are differences but he’s definitely supposed to look like… we built three characters – one Fugitive pred and two Emissary Predators.

Those two Emissary Predators were more farther afield from the original design. Fugitive Predator was meant to be the thing that kind of anchors you and makes you feel like “Hey, I’m looking at a direct descendant of the Stan Winston Predator”. Then the other two guys were the variants and when those two guys left, then you were left with something that looks like the original Predator and whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing that’s how it shipped down.

Adam: Yeah, it’s kind of an interesting juxtaposition because the Predator did as far as the body goes, did look like a very classic style Predator but the armor was a lot more modern, a lot sleeker than we’re used to seeing on Predators.

Yes you’re right and I will say that this was another unusual situation on the previous AvP films and on every Predator movie at K&B, we did the same but we would design and create the Predators as well as their armor and their weapons and in this case all we did was create three naked Predators and the production designer and his team designed the masks and the armor. Weapons were created by the props department. Anything that had to do with cloth in the costume was done by the costume department so it was very much a fragmented and spread around.

Aaron: So, what was the reasoning behind that splitting responsibilities? Was it just division of labour?

It was a division of labor but I’m not sure what the reason was. I think initially I thought… you have to understand the economics of this. We shot in Vancouver. When you shoot in Canada there’s tax incentives so they get something like 27% or 30% or 33% back for every dollar they spend in Canada. So, every dollar they spend in Los Angeles is undesirable. They’re stuck because there isn’t really exactly the talent pool in Canada to do exactly what we do but they can get armor makers and get props makers. They can get costumers so they take that off our plate and send it up that way.

 Alec Gillis Interview

Wolf Predator

This commonly happens even on the big shows like AvPR for instance, they did not think it was a good idea… they never broached on AvPR taking armor and weapons away from us but they did say things like “Well, look gore how about gore. Can somebody up here do the gore? What about like finishing pieces” so what happens is… we will either say yeah okay or have a local person do all the gore. Take that off our plate and you guys have some number of dollars that you’re that you’re getting your tax incentive for. In in the case and AvPR we did leave some of our work unfinished and we set up a shop up there where we brought in talent and we supervised the finishing using Canadian artists.

What we do is we reduce our build budget in Los Angeles and move that money and the projects and do that so that’s the kind of thing that we are always prepared for but this one went even further than that which was to really just split the character up into multiple groups. I don’t love that idea because I think that you end up with a lot of redundancies. Like for instance to dress Bryan Prince I think we had five departments standing around him so you get this gaggle of people like whereas you can go online and you can watch a video called “Dress a Predator” and it’s two guys in a truck and it takes two people to dress a Predator but in this case with this division of labor, when you have props people standing back waiting with shoulder cannon and somebody else waiting for the mask and someone else with it, you end up with about eight people standing around dressing a Predator.

That’s not efficient but perhaps the tax incentive dollars that they got back in the overall scheme of things perhaps that was a money saver for them. By the way just to clarify I’m not necessarily complaining about that. I would rather do everything on the character and have complete control over it and design, give the director design options that maybe other people would not give him. However, I can completely understand since this is a business. I can completely understand why a producer would say let’s split it up and doing the bare minimum work.

Adam: As far as the concept art goes are you sometimes getting concept art from outside sources that you kind of have to build your designs based upon?

Sometimes. It didn’t happen in this case because they just totally took the work. We didn’t have to make an armor mask that someone else designed because they hired someone else to build it. All that talk about tax incentive by the way is only a partial explanation because ultimately they went with Quantum FX which is based here in Los Angeles to build the armor parts so I’m not exactly sure…well if I wasn’t a battle-hardened scarred veteran like the Wolf Predator I would be like well “How come you didn’t come back to us with the mask etc”.

We didn’t have a chance to bid on that so I don’t know but it’s all economics. That’s what it is and what you realize after being in the business for a while is not to get offended or upset about the way the economic shakedown. Now sometimes you can you can have issues with whether or not the economics actually do work the way a producer thinks they do or sometimes there are things behind the scenes I’m not privy to that have to do with convenience and other deals and things like that so this is not a complaint or a bitch session about. It’s just meant to explain to your listeners.

Aaron: With The Predator Shane Black wanted to make the Predators more agile than the previous incarnations and went as far as to hire dancers and parkour performers with Brian Prince and Kyle Strauts to bring that sort of agility to life. Those guys were who Shane went to. In terms of creating the actual suits, did this focus on mobility, did it make your construction differ from the approach that was taken in AvP films?

It really did not. Everything that we do – our techniques are all designed to maximise mobility anyway. I think that a lot of that is a performance issue although I will say that on AvP, Paul Anderson really wanted these guys to look heavily-armored. He said that he wanted them to look like American football players. Those kinds of proportions. He said that if you were fighting unarmored human beings you wouldn’t need to be in this kind of armor but you’re fighting steel skinned biomechanical acid blooded Aliens so you better show up with battle gear.

 Alec Gillis Interview

Chopper & Celtic Predator

That was that concept for that but by the time AvPR rolled around and we were back in the realm of kind of a specialized kind of ninja guy like the Wolf, we were able to get back to a little bit more the original intent of the McTiernan film and we were able to slenderize them and layer them less with bulky armor and all that kind of stuff so that was our M.O. On this film was to create nice slender flexible suits that fit the performers snugly and inhibited their movement as minimally as possible.

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