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Interview: Amalgamated Dynamics’ Tom Woodruff, Jr.

Tour the creature shop of Aliens vs. Predator

In the interstellar battle between Predator and Xenomorph, Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. chooses no allegiance.

Amid the foam and latex denizens populating ADI’s FX showroom – outfitted to look like a chamber on LV-426 – one finds an array of Predator helmets and killing accoutrements adorning one wall. By another, tucked close to a life-size version of the Newborn from Alien: Resurrection, is a row of malformed Sigourney Weaver clones – all naked flesh and gnarly teeth, a veritable freakshow sans the carnival barker. But the piece de resistance, standing well over seven feet and locked into an eternal struggle: the Predator and Alien. Towering titans of terror.

Founded by Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., the Oscar-winning ADI has had its mitts in the Alien franchise since ’92 with David Fincher’s Alien 3. The pair are Stan Winston alums, each having worked on James Cameron’s Aliens and John McTiernan’s Predator. It wasn’t until Fincher’s film that ADI made the Alien its own. Later, the Predator, with Paul W.S. Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator. For that cinematic smackdown, ADI created a pack of teenage, dreadlocked hunters amongst a grocery list of Alien goodies. They returned to the fray last year in Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem by Colin and Greg Strause.

In anticipation of the film’s April 15th DVD release, Fox Home Entertainment invited ShockTillYouDrop.com to the ADI shop to gaze upon the sundry creatures, humanoids and aliens Gillis and Woodruff have created for The X-Files movie, Wolf, Mortal Kombat, Tremors, Evolution (remember that one?!), Starship Troopers (“To fight the bug, we must understand the bug.”), Spider-Man and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. (Tour our ADI photo gallery HERE!)

Struck silly with drooling fanboy glee, Shock sat down with Woodruff to discuss his part in the seemingly endless war between the Fox franchises in which he sits on the creative end and inside the Alien suit.

ShockTillYouDrop.com: How would you compare the size of the demands of this film next to the Alien pictures you’ve worked on in the past?

Tom Woodruff: In terms of scale, AvP: Requiem was about the same size as the first AvP which was, by far, the largest of the shows. The only thing that’s different was we were not dealing with the Queen Alien this time, which by sheer mass and size requires a lot of work. A lot of technology and a lot of work. But we did have a new creature – the Hybrid, Predalien – which was as much of a design challenge, more of a design challenge than the Queen. The Queen had been done before and we were just doing some tweaks to make her a little bit different. The Predalien was completely new so there was a lot more attention and focus in the design aspect of the build than anything else.

Shock: You must have been slightly relieved that you didn’t have The Queen, which means a trek to Bob Burns’ house where she resides…

Woodruff:
Every time there’s an Alien vs. Predator movie, it means a trip to Bob Burns’ house to see whatever we can rifle and pillage out of his collection.

Shock: Regarding the Predalien, how many permutations did your designers create? I see in the making-of book there are a number of concept pieces. Did you look back at the comic books as well for reference? Because they did dip into that territory.

Woodruff:
We’ve always said this on every Alien movie, when we get into our design aspect, there is a certain amount of respect that’s due to the fans because the fans are keeping it alive. But we don’t want to be a slave to the designs for two reasons, first of all – they have seen them, I know we’re talking about a really small window of what really changes from one movie to the next. But the other thing is there are certain design aspects that are just not practical to do in our world or in the CG world – which is not exactly was we do, but it’s all cohesive. It’s all one thing. It’s just not practical to do what was envisioned in some of the comic books. There’s a little mix of both, but we try to steer away from what’s already been done and more within the realm of what we can achieve successfully in terms of practical creature FX.

Shock: The Strause Brothers have stated in the past that they wanted Aliens in their film to emulate the look of the creatures in James Cameron’s film – how cool was it to go back to that design?

Woodruff:
When we got around to the Alien Warriors – the basic backbone of the Alien franchise, the Strause’s wanted to return to that look in Cameron’s version. It’s ironic because that was the film that Alec and I were working on at Stan Winston’s when we got together early on. And I actually sculpted the original Alien head for Cameron’s version, so I think what we’ve done this time has been more expertly sculpted than what I did last time, because the guy was better. [laughs] But also, it was just more interesting shapes. Cameron’s whole approach to the Aliens was they were shot in such low-light, contrasty situations that it really was important to have contrast in forms showing through. The “old skeleton costume on the body” thing where you have painted bones, the costume’s black and it works. That was Cameron’s approach. In [AvP: Requiem] we’re seeing things a little bit better so we couldn’t go with quite as stripped down a feel as what worked then. So there was a little fleshing out of those designs. We had no time, we ultimately used the same molds to generate the Alien suits as had been used on AvP and had also been used on Alien: Resurrection. Aside from the head and neck which changed in this movie, predominant body pieces have not changed much over the last few films.

Shock: Can you talk about your acting process acting as the Alien?

Woodruff:
It’s funny, my acting process inside the suit – I’m smiling because it seems a bit ridiculous to talk about – but the truth is, and Sigourney Weaver made me think in these terms on Alien 3, I need to approach this as an actor or I’m just a guy in the suit making a rubber suit move. So, my process now is as much physical as it is mental, probably more physical than mental, but I do get into a Zen state of disassociating all of the pain that goes with it. It sounds like a simple enough thing to put on a rubber suit and dance around as the Alien, but it’s miserable. The head’s probably between eight and ten pounds, it’s way up on the top of my head, so there’s a lot of weight up there with the animatronics to make the lips and the mouth and snarl moving. And there’s the constant barrage of questions, “Are you hot? Is it hot in there?” No, it’s freezing cold because the foam rubber suit lets the air through and once it’s coated in slime, the slime acts as an immediate coolant and it sucks all of your body heat out. The worst thing of all, on AvP: Requiem was that we were shooting outdoors, at night, in Vancouver, in the winter, under a 24-hour rainstorm that was manufactured by these rain towers. I had to disassociate myself because there were times I was very uncomfortable in the Alien suit, rain was coming down freezing on the set around me…I remember one point I was getting so cold my hand was starting to shiver. I called Alex over and told him, “Look, I can’t make this stop.” And we were bringing over propane heaters to blast the fire in. But it was easily, physically the most excruciating thing. I’ve done the Alien so many times, I’m able to pull out those moves and general persona that seems to work on the screen.

Shock: You’ve played so many creatures to date, which one has been your favorite?

Woodruff:
You know, James Lipton asked me that same thing. [laughs] The first creature I played was the Gill Man from The Monster Squad which was just a blast because I was young and stupid. I stayed glued into the suit for a record 13-hour day. There was a big team building this stuff and I didn’t want everyone to have to un-glue me because it adds wear and tear and things start to look bad. So, I’m standing in this thing all day. I didn’t drink any water, I didn’t eat anything all day – actually I had a little bit of bread – but it was a cold night out here in October. I went into this heated pool, and you know what happens when you into heated pool and you haven’t gone into the bathroom all day. That was major self-control. I’ll never stay that long in a suit again. We’ve finally been able to design the Alien suits, on AvP and AvP: Requiem, so we can get in and out pretty quickly without much gluing like we used to do. Certainly, the most fun character has been the Alien because I’ve gotten the character down over the years. It’s more comfortable for me to do than to come up with a new creature.

Shock: Out of the action set pieces on AvP: Requiem, what turned out to be the most challenging for you?

Woodruff:
The Strause Brothers were smart, as was [screenwriter] Shane Salerno, in bringing the classic elements of the Alien movie which always has corridors. There are always the corridors of the ship or the corridors of the prison planet in Alien 3 or the ship in Resurrection. Here we have the sewers or the electrical power plant, the grids and walkways. It’s all conducive to the feel of an Alien film, but the most difficult was certainly the rooftop scene. And the Strauses are great, they came to us as fans of our work which certainly starts to make us feel old that there these young, energetic guys saying, “I remember watching your movie when I was just a kid. They wanted to do as much practical work as they could. The rooftop scene, because of the elements of the rain and freezing cold and also just the physical elements, that was just a really difficult shoot.

Shock: Do you have any directing aspirations?

Woodruff:
It’s a little known fact, that we’re widely publicizing, that Alec and I…initially one of the reasons we left Stan’s long ago was to be able to create and pursue our own directing projects. We’ve done a little directing over the years, but it’s this monster, the Oscar-winning day job has swallowed us up. We love it. We love what we do and you wish you had enough time in your life for another thing. It’s been long-going, but we’ve been developing projects and finally, in the last couple of years, have started to get some hooks into some opportunities, hopefully that are coming up soon that will allow us to go into directing. For us, our forte is creatures, but Alec and I have come up as filmmakers, studying film and for us it’s all about the characters and the story, not just about the rubber monsters.

Shock: Over the years since Aliens has Stan ever given you any guidance on the series or given you any kudos after seeing some of your stuff?

Woodruff:
Stan was great. He was instrumental in sending Alien 3 our way. When he said he couldn’t do it, he said, “Okay, go to Tom and Alec.” Death Becomes Her was at the same time, he was busy. Both of those movies, right out of the gate we had Oscar nominations and we won for Death Becomes Her. Stan was very supportive and instrumental in getting us off to a good start.

Shock: Until AvP, ADI hadn’t been introduced or been asked to make its mark on the Predator franchise. Obviously you guys must have been thrilled to have the chance to make weapons and the masks and various Predators…

Woodruff:
The Predator world is a great world because it’s the antithesis of the Alien world, which is all kind’ve wild and insect. You’ve got these organic and flowing shapes. The Predator by virtue of the fact that he’s got armor, a very specific physique and anatomy, it’s nice on one show to combine the two. Normally, if you’re working on a show and if you’re doing something where you’re working on hairy creatures for six months, you’re like, “I would just love to work on something scaly and slimy.” Then you go do something like that and it’s “God, I wish I was working on a hair stuff.” So, it’s nice, on the AvP movies to cover both spectrums at once. But the Predator is such a solid creature design. The very little we did on him on [the first] AvP, we made him big and bulky, comic book proportions and on AvP: Requiem, the design dictate from the directors was we strip him down. Make him lean. Go back to a tough, hard, battle weary soldier. That was a great kick to see the subtle differences, and some of the more obvious differences, between the Predators.

Shock: What are the suit challenges?

Woodruff:
The Predator is a two-layered creature. His anatomy, skin and detailed finishes and then his armor and his weaponry. It’s a multi-layered thing. The Alien is just one thing and it’s a suit. It’s an animatronic head in various versions. Between the two, the Alien is more simple in the build, but the Predator is more simple in terms of performance because it’s relying the actor inside. When I’m inside the Alien suit, I’m reliant on the puppeteers helping bring the face to life.

Shock: Would you ever switch sides – play a Predator?

Woodruff:
Absolutely. If I had the kind of height that [Predator performer] Ian Whyte has…I was disappointed in AvP the Predator become the hero and the Alien was always the bad guy. Everyone says it’s more fun to be a bad guy, but it would be fun to play something different on the good guy end.

Shock: When you talk about FX, there are three names that come up: Jack Pierce, John Chambers and Stan Winston – what is it about these three that everyone wants to aspire to?

Woodruff:
Alec and I grew up of an age where we were aware of the pioneering work of Chambers – who designed the original Planet of the Apes makeup. To get a chance to come to know these people…Pierce was before our time so we never had an opportunity, still his work affected us all as kids. Watching his work on monster movies from the 1930s and knowing that when you go to Universal Studios today, you’re still seeing his work walking around, all of that iconic work. We ourselves it was nice to be touching that as well, working at Stan’s to be involved with the Terminator, the original Predator, and know that people are now coming back to us and saying, “When I saw Pumpkinhead, it completely changed me and made me want to do monsters.” It’s like the way Planet of the Apes or the work of Ray Harryhausen made us want to do what we’re doing today.

Source: Ryan Rotten