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Part 3, The Making of Predators: Meet the New Predators & About the Production

In the final installment of this look at the making of Predators, we look at the new take on the creatures as well as go behind the scenes on the production itself.
Having lined up an impressive cast, it fell to the filmmakers to make their other-worldly "stars" worthy of the legacy of the original film. "I believe what really made 'Predator' great was that the human characters went hand-in-hand with the alien Predator, because they are the audience's entry point to the movie," comments Rodriguez. "They have to identify with the human characters enough so that if the humans show fear then they would show fear against what they're seeing. So, we really had to nail the human characters in order to make the Predator character actually stronger. One without the other doesn't work. So, we really concentrated on not just having human characters that were great, but then making our Predators actually also have terrific and distinct personalities so that they weren't just the 'others.' They are actually characters in their own right."

While the human stars bonded during the early weeks of shooting in Hawaii, the cast of Predators and other creatures were prepared by an extensive team of artists and technicians for shooting in Austin. Longtime Rodriguez collaborators Greg Nicotero and his partner Howard Berger, partners in KNB Effects Group, Inc. - were charged with creating the alien creatures and the special make-up effects. "This is a really exciting show for us. We're actually creating the title characters of the film, and multiples of them," comments Nicotero.

The surviving humans make the stunning discovery that the "original" Predator has fallen victim to this new "upgrade," whom they realize is out to be the supreme hunter... and the ultimate Predator. So, in addition to bringing back the affectionately-called "Classic" Predator, KNB created three new Berserker Predators - Dog Handler, Falconer, and Mr. Black. These represent bigger, longer, leaner, and deadlier versions of the species that audiences remember from previous films. Other creatures that expand the Predators mythology - including the alien Ram Runner and the Predators' Hunting Dogs - were also devised.

Rodney J. Brunet, Chris Olivia, and Alex Toader of Troublemaker Digital (TMS Digital), plus conceptual artist Joe Pepe, began early drawings that were fine-tuned by the designers at KNB. A team of sixty-two people at KNB - designers, artists, sculptors, mold-makers, and painters - worked for approximately 13 weeks at their 25,000 square foot facility in Los Angeles.

"Every single one of those people were 100% dedicated to bringing the best possible creatures to life," states Nicotero. "Shannon Shea, who was basically my lieutenant on this movie, had worked at Stan Winston's company on the original 'Predator,' so he was really invested in this project." (Shea and property master Tommy "Tom" Tomlinson were the two "legacy" crew members, who had also worked on the original film in 1987.)

"The time frame was pretty insane if you really think about the level of work," explains Nicotero. "Every single piece of about sixteen total creatures (including doubles) had to be created from scratch. Every single dreadlock, piece of jewelry, mandible... every single element of these creatures had to designed and manufactured and fit together."

The classic and new Predators are humanoid aliens who were created largely by practical state-of-the-art creature suits. "Being able to see the original Predator in our story had a nostalgia factor, because you hadn't really seen him like that since the first movie," comments Rodriguez. "We just wanted it to feel like it evolved - to bring back the original, plus a new updated, nastier, meaner breed."

"Robert and Nimrod were really specific about our Classic Predator being the 'cassette tape' version and the new Predator being the iPod version, so [the latter] needed to be sleek and elegant and fierce," comments Nicotero. "So instantly I had ideas of bringing the armor closer to the body and sweeping the dreadlocks back and elongating the head a little bit so that it wasn't quite as square-looking. It's not always 'bigger is better'; the new Predators are elegant-looking because they're tall, long, and lean."

Nicotero elaborates about the features of the new creatures: "We see their masks for most of the film and they have a lot of personality. The Dog Handler had tusks that he had taken off of one of the hunting dogs, The Falconer had a very specific mask design, and then Mr. Black had this weird alien jaw. Each has a unique personality. In addition, we also painted them a little differently so that they would stand out and you'd be able to visually differentiate between the different Predators." All the Predators feature the cloaking ability established in the first film, but the new ones also have high tech weaponry, including an airborne Predator Falcon and new Plasma Caster.

While many of the Predator effects were practical, the film's visual effects team provided key enhancements, including muzzle flashes, set extensions, a digital space ship, elements of the opening freefall and parachute sequence, as well as the iconic cloaking effects. "We're taking a new riff on the cloaking - we've made it a digital effect and it's more pristine than it was in the original film," says on-set visual effects supervisor Jabbar Raisani. "It's as if their technology's been updated now in the future. So it's a more invisible effect in this film."

In the Predator universe, timing is everything - especially the creatures' first appearance in each story. "In the original film, I think the way the Predator is revealed was such a success because they took their time and they made a meal out of it," comments Antal. "The terror was supported by the slow burn of the Predators' reveal. It was something that you hadn't quite seen. You don't see the Predator for the first half hour. In this film, we've tried to replicate that slow reveal."

Because the Predator characters would be performing stunts, Nicotero worked with stunt coordinator Jeff Dashnaw to cast the performers who would wear the Predator suits. Dashnaw also gave Nicotero some feedback on the designs to keep the performers safe. "The plasma gun and blades and such stick out from the suits, which could be dangerous during the fight performances," says Dashnaw. "So, Greg designed them so they could come off the suits when necessary and visual effects adds them back in during post."

Six-foot-five Derek Mears, who portrayed iconic screen monster Jason Voorhees in last year's hit "Friday the 13th" reboot, plays the Classic Predator, and Brian Steele and Carey Jones portray the three new Predators.

After beginning production on October 12, 2009 in the jungles of Hawaii, cast and crew completed filming on PREDATORS in Central Texas. Director Nimrod Antal, along with his long-time collaborator director of photography Gyula Pados, HSC teamed with many of Rodriguez's regular crew at the latter's Austin-based facility Troublemaker Studios, including production designers Steve Joyner and Caylah Eddleblute, costume designer Nina Proctor, stunt coordinator Jeff Dashnaw, visual effects supervisors Jabbar Raisani and Rodney J. Brunet (the latter of Troublemaker Digital), and Greg Nicotero & Howard Berger of KNB EFX Group, Inc. Since the majority of the story takes place in a jungle, an unusually large greens department, led by Greens Designer Richard Bell, also became a critical component of the production.

The team is filled with unabashed fans of the original "Predator" film. "I think the fantastic thing about PREDATORS is this is a project that's been close to Robert's heart forever," says production designer Steve Joyner. "This is a film made by fans, for fans."

"We all were inspired by the original 'Predator,' adds production designer Caylah Eddleblute. "I've studied every frame of the original. It had great foreground images - always something between the character and the camera. Everything was really structured and had a great architecture to it. When you have that kind of challenge facing you, you want to rise to the occasion."

The filmmakers had only ten weeks of prep to ready a massive production that encompassed an ensemble cast and multiple creature characters in a stunt-filled, action-packed story; challenging locations in two states; and considerable site prep and elaborate sets construction. Making things no less difficult was their intent to do many of the effects practically or in-camera - everything from smoke to creatures to stunts to explosions. The visual effects team would take up the slack in post-production.

Producer Elizabeth Avellán attributes Troublemaker Studios' ability to produce a quality movie for a reasonable price to the talent and attitude of their regular collaborators. "We took most of our regular crew at Troublemaker to Hawaii because they're amazing. We just have a working environment that's comparable to none. Fox has been so impressed with the working process that we have here."

Much of the film's visual style was defined by its jungle locations and sets. "Early on, Gyula, Steve, Caylah and I sat down and we tried to think of other films that had epic jungle scenes that were really visually stunning and complemented what the story was trying to achieve," reveals Antal. "We all agreed that our jungle couldn't be the beautiful and lush; instead, it had to complement the Predator characters and the story. We achieved a lot of that through lighting and composition, but the jungle locations that we found were impressive."

To find the perfect exotic alien jungle location that would complement the sets and locations in Texas, the filmmakers considered locations in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and even China, before settling on multiple venues near Hilo, Hawaii. "Geologically, The Big Island is one of the newest islands formed so it has very rough terrain and a unique vegetation," says Joyner. "The locations were very alien, very extreme, and very difficult to work in."

The Hawaiian locations had to visually flow with the Texas locations, as well as the elaborate Jungle and Hunting Camp set that was under construction back in Austin at Troublemaker Studios. Following a brief hiatus to transport cast, crew, and equipment from Hawaii, production resumed in Austin, Texas on one of the biggest sets ever constructed in the history of Texas filmmaking. Additional multiple interior sets constructed on the stages at Troublemaker Studios, as well as at the neighboring Austin Studios, would provide cover for a variety of unusually bad weather including rain, extreme cold, and snow.

The back parking lot at Troublemaker became the home of a massive 150 foot by 100 foot exterior Jungle Hunting Camp set. "In creating our hunting camp, [production designer] Caylah [Eddleblute] and I physically walked through the beats as if we were the Predators," says Joyner. We wondered where would the Predators bring their kill? Where would they clean it? How would they preserve the hides and the bones and the trophies that they take? So, we designed individual areas within the camp for all of that, so if you were a Predator, you'd feel right at home. The hunting camp is terrifying; everything was designed to look dangerous."

"One of the big directives from Nimrod on Day One was 'I want The Hunting Camp to look like a [Hieronymous] Bosch painting - it had to be [a Bosch-like] Hell,'" explains Eddleblute. Also making key contributions to the set's hellish look was director of photography Gyula Pados. "The way Gyula shot the hunting camp, it's almost beautiful," says Rodriguez. "It's soft-lit, as if it's got this canopy of trees over it, yet mysterious with the smoke from the flames."

Since the story takes place in the jungle, the greens department began their work months before most of the crew. In July, they began gathering plant material in the Texas heat and worked through the dead of winter, caring for everything from small plants to big trees in every extreme. Local Austin landscape designers and nurseries helped the production source the living greens. Three fifty-two foot truckloads of approximately 4,000 tropical and exotic plants were initially shipped in from Florida, including 1,200 five-gallon pots of grasses.

Because it was winter, the greens department also used thousands of pounds of silks, some were mounted on portable bases. "We ended up stapling about 1.5 million leaves to the fake big trees," explains greens designer Richard Bell. "One of the first things we focused on was the main hunting camp. For about a month and a half, I had a crew of ten guys going out and harvesting material all over Texas that would later be used as dressing. Before shooting, we had about a week to dress the actual hunting camp part of the jungle after the construction crew had finished with all their elements. We had all kinds of burnt cedars and burnt oak trees and dead logs."

Weaponry is a big part of the "Predator" universe, defining both the human and alien hunters. Royce carries a machete that is almost identical to the one wielded by Arnold Schwarzenegger's Dutch in the first movie - it's even made by the same knife maker, Jack Crane. The weapons team also produced skin-pullers, spears, axes, traps, armor, and a shiv for Stans. Says Joyner: "Predators are about their hunting skill. They test their ability against other species. So, it's not about overpowering a species with better weapons or better technology. They're purists. We're trying to stay true to the legacy of the original film."
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