Alec Gillis Interview

Posted by Darkness on June 13, 2019 (Updated: 02-Aug-2019)

 Alec Gillis Interview

Alec Gillis & Tom Woodruff

Adam: Fans were hoping to see an alternate cut of The Predator that would have restored more of your work but it seems like that’s not going to be happening. In terms of our community the assembly cut of Alien 3 did a lot to turn around people’s opinions of that film and there’s certainly an appetite for an alternate cut of The Thing Prequel to see ADI’s practical work restored. What’s your take on alternate cuts and would you be as eager to see expanded cuts of some of the films you’ve worked on?

Yeah you cited Alien 3 and it’s a great example because people did seem to really respond to that. I’m glad it got out there and I’m not against any version. As I say it but I’d love to see different versions of things out there and I think it’s good for cinephiles. The only thing is that there’s an economic model to it that I think isn’t as workable as it used to be. I did a very low-budget feature film and when I was making the deal with a distributor, I was saying and of course we’ll do blu-rays with extra features and they said “No, blu-rays are dead”. “What do you mean they’re dead?”. “People don’t buy blu-rays”. “Well that’s ridiculous. I know people that buy blu-rays.” “Yes, in your limited circles” which they mean the fans of creature effects. “That may be true but Walmart doesn’t want to sell them so we’re gonna make DVDs just to have a few out there…” and I was like dumbfounded.

They believe that there is no economic model for blu-rays with additional features. For my film I did my own and I’m not supposed to be selling them but you can get one if you go to my website. When you look at like The Thing, people ask that. “Can we see a cut? Will there ever be a cut of The Thing that has your P-FX in it?” And I say “I can’t imagine that ever happening because everything that we designed in the film had a digital component to it”. What we wanted to do was to within a frame or within a shot we wanted to have an animatronic creature that had additive digital aspects to it.

Maybe it would be rig removal or something like that but more likely it would be adding limbs to it or that’s why when you look at our YouTube video of all of our stuff that we built for The Thing and the stretching neck and the faces are sticking next to each other… well there’s no limbs supporting that character because those were going to be added digitally and they were going to be morphing and changing while it kind of like moves in a hurky, jerky fashion. So, in order to do a completed version of that, you have to spend millions of dollars on digital effects. Still you could ask the studio: is it worth spending let’s say eight million bucks to do another cut of a movie that didn’t make any money? So, I think they’re probably not interested in that. It’s not like all the footage is just there ready to go and now you got a complete movie.

Aaron: Everything seems to be converting to this at age of digital ownership rather than physical stuff.

Adam: I think a good portion of people still prefer to have physical media. I think there’s still a place for it at least for a while and even though with digital media people have always liked special features and movies.

It’s such a great learning tool. Like just to go watch a movie with a great director talking about what they were thinking when they were shooting something. To not have it is really upsetting. I agree but everything is based on the economics of it unless you get some charitable organization or USC film school doing something for the purposes of education. If it doesn’t make money or if they don’t think it’s gonna make money, they’re not going to put the money into it.

Aaron: That’s just the reality isn’t it. It’s just cold hard truth.

We’ve had a net gain of behind the scenes because you do have YouTube with so much behind the scenes footage. I watched a great thing like 45 minutes long on the behind the scenes of the newest Mission Impossible and I have no idea so much was practical. I thought they were doing face replacement on Tom Cruise when he riding the motorcycle through Paris and it’s him. It’s absolutely insane because my assumption is well, they won’t let him do it because they can’t ensure that right.

Like if he dies or gets injured and can’t shoot, the movie’s screwed. I don’t know how they get around that insurance issue unless he just says “I won’t do it unless you let me hang off a frickin’ building at least or something”. He’s really unlike any other producer star I think that’s ever been. Maybe on YouTube there’s a lot more stuff. Like you wouldn’t have that kind of thing. I don’t think is it as an additional feature just like to be able to sit and watch 45 minutes of unnarrated raw footage.

 Alec Gillis Interview

Alec Gillis & Tom Woodruff

Adam: I hope they studios start to see the value in that more because I just think back of like how happy we were to get the original Alien Quadrilogy on DVD and then Alien Anthology on blu-ray. Like we had two cuts of each movie.

Aaron: Could you imagine being an Alien fan without those features and those insights. Charles de Lauzirika did so much for the fandom with those documentaries and how in-depth they were. Even in terms of Prometheus.

Would it be the same if they released the film… well if you just had to go to YouTube to get all that stuff, do you think the impact the same? Is it different having it on a disc or a collection of discs?

Adam: I think so. I think there’s just something about being able to just dive into a movie, get immersed with not only the movie itself but everything that went into making it and I think the Internet is just so distracting that having that on a disc and having that physical media really adds to the value in my opinion.

Yeah, I agree. I grew up with it.

Aaron: There’s also the sense that that the digital stuff could just be taken away, it could just go. If YouTube went down, deleted the video.. that kind of thing. As long as you’ve got a perfectly working DVD player and you’ve got your DVDs.

Aaron: I know you’re gonna be able to say very little about this but it would be remiss of me not to bring it up and that is that Neill Blomkamp recently shared a sculpt that ADI did for his Alien 5 and it’s of an Alien with two pairs of arms. Now back in October of last year Tom did an ask-me-anything and he mentioned a maquette that ADI worked on for Neil. I’m assuming this was that piece? Can you just tell us a little bit about it? It looks like there’s a deliberate recall to the original Big Chap and it also seemed to follow the multi-limbed, mutated appearance that we also saw in Carlos Haunte’s concept art for the film that he released.

Carlos was doing stuff for us. That’s right. Neil came to us. There were a few different projects that being one of them but a few different character design things that while he was writing the script, he had us working on simultaneous to that. Yes he very much was interested in recapturing the 79 Alien with some modifications and that sculpture was done by Tim Martin for us. We’ve just kept it under wraps until Neil instagrammed it and then we re instagrammed it but he takes the lead. I’m just not going to say much or show much from the project but as Neil releases it, I get excited. I got very excited when I saw that he released that one because we were quite proud of that nice little maquette.

 Alec Gillis Interview

Xenomorph Sculpture for Neill Blomkamp’s Alien Movie

Adam: You’re kind of sticking to the topic of biomechanical. After Alien 3 the Aliens took on a more organic appearance due to the nature of Alien Resurrection’s story. Since then ADI haven’t had the opportunity to create an entirely new Alien warrior design something which we understand was largely due to budgetary reasons for AvP and Requiem. Requiem did feature some biomechanical elements, most notably added to the neck but it was as far as we know a re-use of the Resurrection AvP molds. While some fans expected the prequels to return to the biomechanical Covenant’s Alien, it again retained a much more naturalistic appearance. Do you feel it’s about time to return to those original biomechanical designs from the first three films?

I think people definitely miss it and I would like to see a return. I’d also like to see a seven-foot-tall 160-pound guy wearing a suit as well if such a guy exists. It’s funny because Alien 3 definitely had less of a biomechanical aspect to it and in our conversations with Fincher the rationale was that not only does the Alien take on some characteristics of its host which is why in the 79 Alien it’s got two arms and two legs but it also has a chameleon-like ability to mimic its surroundings. So, if you look at the art direction of the Nostromo and you see all that mechanical kludgery, that’s why the creature reflects that so that it can blend into those surroundings.

When you got into Alien 3 it was born of an ox or a dog depending on which version you watch but it’s born of an animal so it was on all fours and it did not have a surrounding, an environment that was giving it all the high-tech stuff. So, what we did was we took some of the sepia tones from the walls and used it in the Alien whereas in 79 it was more blacks and metallic Silver’s with some blues and things. In this case it became more like the color of the concrete which was the sepia tones which is also in Giger’s artwork. Giger has a lot of sepia tones in his artwork but if you notice I skipped over Aliens. Aliens really departed… probably I feel like Aliens is a greater departure in design from Alien than Alien Resurrection.

 Alec Gillis Interview

Xenomorph

I think Alien 3 and Alien share more of a similarity and creature design because of the dome because of the spin leanness of the creature and sculpturally as well I think they share more of a link. Aliens, if you look at those suits, there’s some bio mechanical stuff in the head but like rib cage… very bone like. The suits are very sparse as well. There are appliques of pieces on black spandex which is the only time that technique has been used in an Alien film and that relies on a lot of slime to make the black spandex disappear so it’s kind of like a skeleton suit but like if you look at the hands of those Aliens not nearly as biomechanical certainly as 79 but in a way they’re less kind of biomechanical than Alien 3 as well.

So, it’s interesting to me because I think that Aliens is such a great film that people don’t really make too much. As far as I can see. You guys would know better than me. As far as I can see they don’t make much of a thing about the departures of design of Aliens and I don’t really hear people complaining about it. Maybe I’m wrong. Am I wrong?

Aaron: Well that is still as sort of divisive as any of the others to be honest. Like my first experience in the fandom was coming online and seeing people bitch about the Queen.

If you look at that, that’s a very organic looking character. I think the Queen is one of the greatest monsters all time and to me I think that the Aliens are… it’s a xenomorph. It’s changing. It has a great ability to change and to hide itself and to morph into one thing or another so I like remember those toys. A Gorilla Alien or whatever. That’s what’s fun about it. It’s not to say that you should just trash what Giger did. Lord knows we’ve been accused of that as if we have to ever have the authority to just trash what Giger did but I don’t want that because I still think that the most brilliant design of all of these creatures is what Giger did in the first film. It is genius but at some point, you have to go somewhere where it.

I think that’s where the controversy starts is that you go somewhere but it’s inevitably not as great as Giger’s because that was the pinnacle of a career of a lifetime of developing a language of this biomechanical imagery that he did that was already in place before Ridley Scott even saw the script before Dan O’Bannon wrote it. That look was in place and had been developed. You just don’t get that in movies because everybody sits down with a blank piece of paper and says what are we doing and then you try to come up with something that looks that way. I have tremendous respect for that. So far, I’m not seeing anything that rivals it. Again, the Predator’s design comes very close. Certainly, there are those who prefer the Predator over the Alien. It’s a tough thing to beat what Giger did in the first film.

Aaron: In your reasoning about that, I’ve never really considered that was all developed so much longer than the film’s production. That was a really interesting thought on that.

Well it’s like Ridley Scott… we worked with him on his unproduced version of I Am Legend. We did makeup tests. We did work for maybe about six months with Ridley when he was going to get that movie off the ground starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and it came in ten million dollars higher than Warner Brothers was willing to spend. He took off and did Gladiator so that was my one opportunity to work with Sir Ridley and it was fantastic but we were asking him questions about that. Asking about Giger and how things went and he said that Giger was constantly frustrated by the creature effects crew.

 Alec Gillis Interview

H.R. Giger Painting

Like the crew that was brought in were more traditional creature guys that had worked on whatever Doctor Who or whatever they had done. Roger Dickon is a genius by the way in my opinion but they were more of the kind of conventional mindset where they would be like “Why aren’t we sculpting scales or warts right” and Giger would have to say “Look this is biomechanical”,  show the artwork, convince people that it was going to work. This is what I say about like political battles or behind the scenes travails that I find fascinating.

I can’t imagine the soft-spoken Swiss guy is used to working by himself as a fine artist has to now work with a crew of people who don’t necessarily share his vision. I don’t know this for sure. Maybe they were all smitten by him and they were like blown away by his artwork but I have a feeling he probably had to step into a world of people who had work together and he was probably an outsider. I know he had a diary so maybe he talks about that and you guys are aware of it. I’m not but I find that stuff very interesting.

Aaron: So, thank you once again. I know we’ve robbed you of two hours of your time and probably your dinner to come and talk to a bunch of nerds on the Internet and we do really appreciate it and we hope everybody who listened has enjoyed it as well. So, Alec I think you have one or two places that people might be interested in?

Yes, absolutely and I want to say thank you very much for letting me come on the show. I do like talking about the stuff especially the passionate people and for passionate people but if you’d like to follow Studio ADI, we are on the old Instagram and Twitter there’s @thestudioadi on Instagram and my Twitter and Instagram handle is @alec_gillis. Tom’s is @Tom_WoodruffJr. Of course, you may or may not have heard me plug my YouTube channel but we are on YouTube StudioADI’s Channel and then if you want to check out our store if you go to www.studioadi.com, you can cruise around our website. I look forward to chatting with you again soon.

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