CREATING A NEW SPECIES

"What I liked about this project," says producer Frank Mancuso, Jr., "was the opportunity for all of us to be as creative as we wanted to be. It also presented the challenge of walking that fine line between believability and pushing something as far as it can go. After all, there has never been anything quite like Sil on screen before."

Producer/writer Dennis Feldman's original script offered the possibility of creating a screen entity like none before--a half- human/half-alien creature armed with a unique array of natural defenses. The initial idea for SPECIES evolved from an article Feldman saw about the insurmountable odds against an extraterrestrial craft ever locating and visiting Earth.

"I read in a scientific report that the phenomenal distances between stars made travelling here in a spaceship virtually impossible," Feldman recalls. "So, I hypothesized that contact more likely could be made via information. In order for 'them' to find us, however, we had to give out directions. It occurred to me that, in nature, one species would not want a predator to know where it hides. We've become so dominant on this planet that we've lost sight of the fact that we're a species, like any other. Maybe we shouldn't be so freely broadcasting where we live to lifeforms that might prey upon us."

Thus was born the premise of SPECIES, which then captured the imagination of director Roger Donaldson. "I've always loved science fiction," said Donaldson, who has previously guided such diverse films as The Bounty, No Way Out and The Getaway. "But there was a particular quality to this one that interested me on another level as well. It's also a terrific thriller, with plenty of good scares, lots of tension and unpredictable twists and turns as the story unfolds."

Donaldson adds, "This is a story-driven movie that has a really great cast and fantastic special effects. We were fortunate to get the best people on both sides of the camera."

To create Sil, the filmmakers first contacted famed Swiss artist H.R. Giger, a renowned artist and sculptor and the Oscar-winning designer of the nightmarish title creature in "Alien."

"We wanted her to be scary," Mancuso notes, "but, at the same time, have a sensuality that isn't lost when she appears as the creature. There needed to be a constant level of elegance and grace to the character, and H.R. Giger was the only person we could think of who could accomplish this.

"Roger and I flew to Zurich to meet with him face-to-face," recalls Mancuso. "English is not his first language, so we thought his reading the script would not be sufficient. It was like discussing the structure of a building. We outlined her functions and worked closely with him by phone and fax during her creation. He was an extraordinary man to work with, and his design is superb."

Giger conceived Sil in his "biomechanical" style of design that melds flesh with machine. He envisioned this new being as a unique creature, far from the lifeform of the "Alien" series, but possessed of the same surreal terror inherent in that famous movie monster.

Once Giger had achieved the genesis of Sil on paper, his work became the blueprint for visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund and special effects makeup and animatronics designer Steve Johnson to commit her image to film.

Heading the ingenious team from his own Boss Film Studios, Edlund created and produced the computer-generated visual effects for Sil using a revolutionary new form of puppeteering called "motion capture." Though motion capture is, in itself, a new technology, Boss Film Studios has taken it to the next level, having developed a new motion capture system that is beyond state-of-the-art. SPECIES became the first film project to benefit from this amazing technique.

Edlund, a four-time Academy Award winner, has consistently pushed back the edge of the envelope in the field of visual effects. He notes, "This is past anything that has ever been done before. It is like building a new violin and learning to play it. With today's equipment and technology, we can do things we couldn't have dreamed of even two years ago." The team from Boss Films built a high-tech, two-foot high, electric puppet, which is attached to an overhead armature. Like a skeleton with transmitting sensors at every joint, it is manipulated by the puppeteers-- or digiteers, as they have come to be known--to do anything required for the scene.

This action is "cybergraphed" by a virtual camera in cyberspace, which is programmed to match the production camera's point of view. Boss' high-speed computers could then instantly translate the movements of the puppet into a detailed image of the alien Sil, using computer graphics to add texture, facial features, etc., and composite her into the actual scene from the film--all in real time.

This astounding innovation allowed director Roger Donaldson to watch the composited scene on the monitor and actually direct the actions of the puppet as he would any actor. Even more extraordinary was that this new motion capture system allowed the visual effects team to achieve in one day what would have once taken as much as three weeks. Edlund offers, "The process is so facile that for one difficult shot, calling for the creature to jump and climb with amazing agility, we did 130 takes in one single afternoon! It is this kind of innovation that keeps me interested in the business of illusion. Audiences today are very smart; we have a responsibility to convince them that what they are seeing on the screen is indisputably real."

In addition to the motion capture sequences, the wizards at Boss Films created and produced all of the visual effects in SPECIES. In all, there are over 50 CGI (computer generated imagery) shots seen in the film. Despite the innovation of motion capture, there were sequences in the film that required a physical model of Sil. Steve Johnson, founder of XFX, Inc., was brought onto the project to realize the life-size images of the alien. Having previously worked with Giger's designs on Poltergeist II, Johnson was familiar with the artist's style.

He comments, "Giger's designs are fluid, marked with raw motion on the canvas, and they are incredibly erotic. When you're asked to bring one of his creations to three dimensions it's a difficult thing to achieve, because you have to take a loose fluid approach to it.

The most unique and challenging characteristic of the creature to capture on film was that its body is translucent, as opposed to transparent. This posed a particular problem to solve for both Johnson and Edlund.

"Our creature has a complex skin process that allows light to penetrate, as well as play across the body structure. It is a unique and horrifying being, yet a thing of beauty as well."

Johnson's most complicated and involved sequence, however, was that in the lab when the creature is reproduced in its "pure" state. "We used over 20 different puppets to create a two-minute sequence. It was one shot after another, with each shot requiring a separate strategy: gravity tricks, different puppets, opticals... We were very excited about it--and very nervous."

"The effects process on this film was fascinating," remarks Mancuso. "From the Giger design to Steve Johnson's clay renderings, from Boss Film Studios' computer work to robotics, and finally to digitizing the creature in order to build it within the computer, it has been a complex and groundbreaking experience in filmmaking."

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