Alec Gillis Interview

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

 Alec Gillis Interview

Emissary Predator

Adam: Of course, we were going to ask about the Emissary so it’s really well-known that ADI designed the two additional Predators that ended up being cut from the film. I’ve seen some behind the scenes stills and the odd comment from you guys. We were hoping to ask you a little about those guys because it sounds like there was a great deal of exploration into what you were doing with the Emissary Predators. Tom mentioned something about giving them the Predator equivalent of a lab coat? I was wondering if you could elaborate on that at all?

Yeah so Shane’s initial idea for the Emissaries were that he said like “We see the movies. We see the warrior, the hunter warrior Predators but they arrive in these spaceships that don’t necessarily seem like the kind of things that these guys themselves built so his logic was there must be different classes of Predators just like there are different classes of insects or human beings. So maybe there is a science class of Predators. A scientific class of the top minds that can actually design and build invisibility cloaking devices and interstellar spaceships and things like that.

Who are those guys? Could we meet those guys and maybe those are the guys that if there is a civil war happening on the Predator world, maybe those guys have felt that they need to reach out to Earth to kind of like prepare Earth to become a battlefield or that things are gonna go south soon. So, our marching orders were “Design me a couple of guys that look like they’re Predators but they are the intelligencia and the technical guys”.

So, Tom’s comment about like “haha a lab coat, pocket protectors”. Like you go there. You think of those as the kind of like stereotypes and then you’re like okay now we can free our minds of those stereotypes and start thinking about what they might wear or how they might act, what they might look like and the thing that excited me about the Emissaries was that Shane said he wanted to make them two older people, older characters so like if one was like 70 and the other was like 60.

So, these guys are aged and wise and smart so what does that look like? So, we started doing design and we were designing them as if they were naked but we’re also doing a bunch of potential costume work as well. Some looked very tribal elders. Others looked like there was a tribal look but a combination of high-tech kind of plastic, kind of fabrics and things like that. They were pretty interesting and I think the notes that came back from the studio were “These guys look old.” Right like it’s funny that you’ll do that right. The director will say “Give me two old guys” and you draw two old Predators and the studio’s notice “they look old”.

 Alec Gillis Interview

Emissary Predators

This is typical of the way a studio works and this is why Shane is a success is that he masterfully can deal with the concerns of a studio because the studio execs are not necessarily deep into the fandom and the lore and the mythos of Predators. They just go oh they’re kind of a sort of a broad stroke reaction right and you definitely have to pay attention to that because they’re the ones funding the movie and you have a contract with them etc but Shane’s very diplomatic.

So, they had said their concern was these guys look frail. They look like they can’t fight. They are not threatening and that is the essence of what a Predator is so that’s where we go “Okay, now the job is to start layering in some threat and some physicality capable-ness or lethal-ness or whatever so that you feel like even though they’re scientists, they’re badass scientists right”.

So the challenge is to layer in those things so what we came up with was well let’s think of like who’s an old guy that you can imagine could still be intimidating or if you saw him in a fight scene you might… and well what about Clint Eastwood or maybe Clint Eastwood from the era of Gran Torino? He looks kind of like a badass right. It’s his scowl.

It’s his attitude. He’s tall. So maybe we do that so you give the guys a little more muscle mass. You take out the dowager’s hump and the bad posture and you make him a little bit more upright and you make him a little bit more badass. We settled on something with the studios but to me it was they still like the purity of what Shane was asking for was the most interesting jumping-off point and then it gets pulled back by the studio and maybe that was a good thing. The fact that they didn’t end up in the film is less about the characters or the success of that storyline I think and more about wanting to keep the momentum moving and not be distracted by these two other guys. I don’t want to say I agree with them being cut from the film but I can see why they were cut from the film.

Adam: Some of the photos that we saw of them, they have like a human military design. Did you guys do those or was that also Quantum?

No, we did not do those and I don’t believe it was Quantum either. I think that was strictly a Canadian costume department effort.

 Alec Gillis Interview

Brian Prince & Kyle Strauts

Adam: When the actors performed as those Predators did you guys kind of have different ideas for their character or was it down to the direction?

It was Shane’s directing and it was more about like we’ll look at the way the two actors perform in the suit and then we will kind of quietly between us start… like Kyle had a good moment with I think it was maybe Olivia Munn. Kyle had a couple of good moments. Certainly one with Trevante Rhodes where Trevante offers the Predator a cigarette and there were a couple of takes of it where the Predator takes a drag off of it and then there was another one where the Predator takes it just throws it away in disgust but Kyle had a nice kind of gesture, cocked his head so we can like play with the eyebrows and have him looking and give him some expression that way.

But because these guys kind of turn more into warrior scientists rather than scientist warriors, then it was just more about what’s the physicality that the actors bring through it and their secondary characters rather than trying to create individual characters that resonate with you in the brief time that they’re unmasked on screen.

Aaron: I find it really interesting that the exploration of these guys went so far field because when, at least in terms of the fandom and the films themselves but when the Predators are aged up they’re given more quills, their hair is greyer, bluer but with this one they sound like some really interesting explorations like the translucent dreads.

Somebody, you or Tom, mentioned that in one of the books and then to settle on this kind of forehead protrusion as well on the finished designs from what we’ve seen anyway so to branch out from the traditional sort of aged just look, I think some of the exploration ideas that we’ve heard are really fascinating and really interesting.

This is the way it always is in the franchises that we work on is that we try to push boundaries and try to present some things that are really unique and that they may not be thinking of and inevitably the process is… it’s always reined back in by the studio mostly. They’re always a little cautious. We may be a little more exuberant to change things up and give some variations because I look at things like KNB’s Berserker Predator.

That thing was bizarre and I think it’s because in that case Robert Rodriguez was given more authority to do what he wanted to do. I think he was bringing that movie in at a very reasonable price. They were happy to be getting that and they were giving him a lot of creative control and also KNB did a heroic job on that because they only had about eight or nine weeks to do all that work in that film. That was really almost a scary proposition for them. Rodriguez is an amazing filmmaker and the boys Howard and Greg and their team… they really came through in a short order man.

Adam: Like Predators, The Predator also featured its own Predator dogs. However, the new film didn’t use the existing designs from before so what was the reasoning behind doing a new design for this film?

Well once again, you’d have to ask Shane Black and I say that with all respect because that is a decision that’s made at the directing and producing level but I think that the logic that I applied to it personally is there’s different kinds of dogs. So, let’s see a different one. They don’t all have to be German Shepherds on the planet.

Aaron: What specific sort of design elements did Shane ask you to sort of look at with this new breed so to speak?

Yes, there was a conversation about the design of the dog from the Rodriguez movie and I think he felt that they look like battle weapons or they’re more terrifying and what he wanted was a faithful hound dog. He wanted a very alert erect… we’re looking at like different dog body styles and I think a boxer is one that he really liked and because of the character in the early drafts, the character that gets shot in the head had a little bit more to do.

 Alec Gillis Interview

Concept Art of Predator Dog by Daniel Edery

He got shot in the head with a bolt gun and the bolt was sticking out of his head and that kind of scrambled his brains and he became kind of part of the team or he was similar to what’s in the film but he became more of a good guy. I think he couldn’t imagine using something that looked like a monster dinosaur in that role. He wanted something that the audience would go like “Oh now it’s a cute thing or it’s a fun thing not cute but it’s okay it’s like it’s like a mastiff or something as opposed to a Komodo dragon”. So yeah that’s what we pursued. The head was changed fairly significantly from what we did. Dreadlocks were added. Its face was a little bit more… I think they modified the face and I wouldn’t be able to tell you what the thinking was behind it.

Aaron: You guys did a practical stand-in as well? I’ve seen pictures of a guy on stilts but I read somewhere that you’d done like the actual face of it for use on set as well?

All I ever saw was some foam like Styrofoam expanded bead Styrofoam carvings of the full dog that was sitting there that brought in for standing. That’s all I ever saw. We never created anything practical for it but doesn’t mean that there wasn’t something. Maybe Todd Masters did something.

Aaron: So, the dogs were actually what would have been one of many different types of hybrid creatures that the Predators have. Outside of some little body parts that we’ve seen in some of the leaked set pictures, we don’t really know anything about them other than that they would have supposedly had some relation to the Predators. I believe you were also responsible for designing those?

Yeah, I think that the ship crashes and it’s carrying specimens from all over the galaxy and these specimens… they’re using the DNA of these Super Predator lethal kind of creatures to juice up their own DNA and that went by the wayside. There was a caravan scene where a couple of armored personnel carriers with the loonies and the two Emissaries with machine guns which was a kick.

 Alec Gillis Interview

Hybrid Creatures Concept Art

I have to say seeing a Predator shooting a 50 caliber machine gun was a hilarious image that I really enjoyed but that whole scene went by the wayside. I don’t know how far into the effects they got. I don’t know if that might have been part of the reshoot but the entire attack on the convoy went away as did the Emissaries so our design work… I think maybe we designed six or eight different creatures. A wide variety of different types of creatures that could be on the loose and creepy and weird and it all went away.

Adam: Before The Predator came out there were numerous false reports about the Fugitive Predator being a female. It turned out this was just some misreporting but the concept of a female Predator is something that’s often discussed amongst the fandom. Have you ever thought about how you two would approach designing a female Predator?

Yeah, we tried to convince them that one of the Emissary should be a female. I’d love to do a female Predator. It’s a challenge because what you don’t want to do is just fall into that trap of well… I don’t want to diss somebody’s favorite Marvel character she-hulk or something but where it’s just like a babe. It’s just like a Predator a hot Predator.

 Alec Gillis Interview

Female Predator by Michael Broom for 2010’s Predators

Aaron: That’s my issue when it comes to the sort of fan designs you see.

Yeah they’re just like “oh it’s a Predator with boobs” but if you look at like a Predator as we know it, is a pretty human looking masculine shaped thing with variations of human musculature. It’s not that far a field of the head from a human so it does stand to reason that you’d just have some athletic version of a female body with some tweaks to musculature but I would look for some difference in it I think and then you automatically go to… maybe it has six breasts maybe it has three… then you’re like why are we worrying so much about breasts and then I don’t know. If you want to get like really Alien and say are Predators androgynous or are they hermaphroditic.

There are certainly animals, frogs and things. I don’t know but it’s an interesting. The only thing I wouldn’t look forward to doing is dealing with all the executives’ reactions to it which will push it right back to a Predator babe with boobs because that will be the only thing they can conceive of and anything else will be too far afield and too frightening to them. So maybe what has to happen is that somebody needs to do fan art that really nails it so that you can just show an executive. Look at this and then all that design work is done and they can’t argue with it if it’s great or if it’s getting great reaction. Now that I think of it, I’m talking myself out of it.

Adam: The androgynous Predator idea is something that was explored a bit in one of the books they called them the Hish instead of the Yautja and they had like different cycles where they would switch from one gender to the other.

Yeah there are fish and frogs that do that.

Aaron: Yeah that one didn’t go down so well though but that book had a whole slew of other problems.

Where’s the first use of the term Yautja?

Adam: Steve Perry’s first AvP book which was an adaptation of the comic book AvP Prey

Adam: You mentioned your collectibles briefly before that you guys were maybe planning on one of the dog Predators but you have other collectibles you’ve been working with CoolProps in collaboration to produce a collectable bust of the Fugitive. I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about that and what other replicas ADI had in the pipelines if you can?

 Alec Gillis Interview

Fugitive Predator by CoolProps

The Fugitive is from our production molds and we’re doing what we have done with Sideshow just to provide CoolProps with a mold master and paint master that then they can match and give the fans something that is perhaps more accurate than… like I know to me I don’t collect a lot of things but I’m not all that interested in somebody’s version of something. I’d rather have the thing, the item, the object as close to it as I can possibly get so that’s what the studio ADI line the collection is and we’re treating them a little bit more like pieces of art than collectibles. The reason that they are costlier is that they’re not being made as replicas by faceless unnamed artists in far-flung places.

They’re coming right from the studio that designed these things, these characters for the original films and in many cases being worked on by the same artists that worked on them for those films so we can vouch for the accuracy. We picked the ones that we thought were most attractive to the fans. Fox was able to give us a merchandising deal but only on characters from Alien 3, Alien Resurrection and The Predator but within those titles there’s a fair amount of stuff that we could do but they are expensive. The collectibles industry… there’s a reason why these things are made in far-flung places by nameless factory workers and artists there and that is that it makes them cheaper and it makes them very affordable so I realize that have Studio ADI artists in Los Angeles do every step of this of this work is it adds to the cost.

It does for sure so we know that we’re not going to be selling tons and tons of them but what’s great is that the work goes to ADI artists and they get the benefit of it and it keeps people employed. It keeps artists who work in a volatile and unsteady business, keeps them able to pay their bills and that’s our goal. I think now that we have a direct line of communication with the fans through social media, people appreciate that and a lot of the fans themselves would love to be professional artists and that’s one of the things I say is that you got to be aware that you have to have multiple income streams if you want to survive. This is our attempt to kind of like keep our crew together in uncertain times.

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