Concept and creature designer Neville Page may not be a name you recognize right away, but undoubtedly you’ve enjoyed some of his work since his career skyrocketed in 2005. Page has worked on some of the biggest blockbusters in modern cinema including Star Trek, Avatar, Watchmen, Green Lantern, Cloverfield, TRON: Legacy, and Chronicles of Narnia as well as a certain little naughty 3D killer fish flick from 2009, Piranha 3D. Safe to say, when it comes to creating fantastical creatures, Page is the go-to guy.
Dread Central recently caught up with Page to discuss his approach to creating the iconic alien for Abrams’ Super 8 (Blu-ray / DVD review here), how he balanced his work on this film with doing extensive creature work on Green Lantern (another summer blockbuster) and teased a bit about his work on Ridley Scott’s upcoming Prometheus as well.
Page is no stranger to coming up with large scale monsters for director Abrams. They previously collaborated on Star Trek together as well as on Cloverfield which Abrams served as producer on. Page discussed his early involvement on the iconic filmmakers’ latest. “I got involved with Super 8 before there was even a formal script. J.J. definitely had the story in his brain at that point, just not on paper. I was working on TRON: Legacy at the time and J.J. called me to tell me that he had an idea for a new film and wanted to know if I’d be a part of it. Of course, you can imagine what my response was; anything J.J. is up for ever, I am totally up for too so of course I said yes immediately.”
“Our first kickoff meeting was between J.J., Steven and myself on the Tin Tin soundstage which was something I would consider as one of the biggest moments in my entire career. But it was really a fantastic start to our collaboration on Super 8 because Steven came in with ideas on what the alien should look like and J.J. came in with ideas on what the alien should look like and I came in with some initial ideas of my own. But once they told me the story and explained some of the key set pieces we’d be working with in this story, it was my job to then take all of our ideas and figure out how to make them work within the context of J.J.’s world in the movie,” added Page.
Even though there may have been differing ideas at the beginning between Spielberg and Abrams, Page quickly put to rest any ideas that there might have been any conflicts between the two iconic filmmakers.
“The bottom line is that even though initially Steven and J.J. may have had differing ideas about what the alien should look like, it was Steven’s job as a producer on Super 8 to help support J.J.’s ultimate vision and make it a reality,” explained Page. “That’s the beauty to working with someone like Steven- he knows when to come in with ideas, like he did early on here, and then he knows when it’s time to step back and just let the director work so it was never like at the end of the day either one of them had compromised any part of their vision to get Super 8 made.”
Page went on to talk about how he had to change up his usual design approach while working on Super 8 and how he had to balance out his time on that project alongside another blockbuster that hit theaters this past summer. “What was unique about my experiences working on Super 8, this movie where we’re creating this entirely new alien creature, was that at the same time I was on Green Lantern which has some similar things going on in it but had this ‘rulebook’ so to speak that we had to work within. It was hard to be juggling two vastly different alien metaphors at the same time; usually, I wouldn’t be on two huge projects like this at the same time but when Green Lantern was offered, I was still only working on Super 8 casually. But of course, as soon as I get on the one movie, then the other one starting moving ahead full steam so I definitely had a lot on my plate then. My life was Green Lantern and every other waking moment I had was completely devoted to Super 8, and both were absolutely worth it.”
“The design process on Super 8 was what I would call the ‘cart leading the horse’ approach. We had to design the creature at the same time our production designer Martin Whist had to be creating these environments for the alien, like the underground lair, without even knowing yet what we were designing,” added Page. “Then there was this wish list of things the alien should have that were juxtapositions in design- the creature had to be extremely large but it had to have dexterity within its limbs to grab things like car engines and microwaves and then assemble them so that was a design challenge in itself. What was amazing though is that the first time I visited that set, Martin had created these beautiful ‘dirt’ walls that just happened to incorporate the kind of digging feet I had designed already for our alien, so that was somewhat serendipitous I must say since Martin and I had not even spoken about the creature design at all.”
And even though every aspect of the alien in Super 8 had to be perfect, Page said there was one aspect that Abrams was adamant had to be absolutely perfection for the movie to work at all. “The design element that was probably the most important to J.J. was the alien’s eyes. They had to be heartfelt and convincing and had to really be able to connect with the characters and audiences, which is something I feel like we were successful in achieving in Super 8. Ultimately our alien had to be completely original, organic in nature and have an iconic feeling to it. The jury’s still out on that last part but I’m hopeful that time will prove eventually that we did just that here.”
Another widely anticipated flick that Page recently worked on was Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, which he described as the ultimate dream come true for him as Scott’s original Alien was a huge influence on him as an artist. “I would have been happy if Ridley Scott hired me to take out his garbage every day if it meant that I could say I worked on Prometheus; that’s how amazing it was to be working with him. I was such a huge fan of the original Alien when it came out in theaters originally that I couldn’t have imagined to have ever had the opportunity to work within the world he created over three decades ago.”
And while Page couldn’t offer up too many details on Prometheus, he was able to give a few hints about his work on the project.
“There isn’t much I can say about the aliens or creatures on Prometheus other than that I can confirm that there ARE beings in this world that are not human in nature,” Page answered coyly. ” I also can’t say what aspect of production I worked on for the film, but I’ll tell you this little tidbit: I’m an industrial designer as well so my work on this film could involve anything from that kind of character design, it could also be creature design or it could involve costume design since I do that kind of work as well. Who knows, it could even involve all three.”
“But in all seriousness, I’m like a lot of the fans out there; I still want to be surprised too when I finally see a movie I worked on so there is a lot actually that I don’t really know about Prometheus, and that was intentional on my part. But I am looking forward to being surprised when it does eventually get released because I know it will be nothing short of amazing,” Page added.
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