(Creature Effects, Mechanical Department Unit


- How did you get involved in PREDATOR?
- I had been working for Stan Winston Studio for just over three years when we got the job. I remember Stan showing up on the set of MONSTER SQUAD one evening, as we started a long night shoot. He had been drawing and meeting with the producers and already had his concept sketch in hand. The whole Stan Winston Studio crew stood around, as he showed it and told us it would be our next creature.

- How long did you work on this project?
- My recollection was that we started the last week of november 1986 and went to set the first week of february 1987. Actual build time was between six and eight weeks, depending on when any one individual began their work on the show. There was also a Christmas break, which was virtually nonexistent for many.

- And what did you do exactly on this show?
- I built the mechanical head of the Predator. 13 servos drove the facial functions : four (two for each side) on the brows; two for under the eye muscle pulls; one on each upper mandible; two for both of the knuckles on each lower mandible; and one to open the spreading action of the lower mandibles. The actor inside the suit (Kevin Peter Hall) used his jaw to open the jaw of the creature when it roared. A difficult and even painful thing to do, since the mask would pull down on his eyes as he opened the jaw! The eyes ot the creature blended in very tight and close to his own eyes, which had contact lenses in them. The lenses were thick, due to the artwork and the fact that he wore a corrective prescription. Other mechanics on the project were David Kindlon, who built the shoulder cannon, and Wayne Sturm, who mechanized the wrist knives.

- I read that Rick Baker was approached before they contracted Boss Films, then Stan Winston Studio...
- I don't recall ever hearing Rick's name associated with the project!

- I also read that stop-motion was considered at one time, before finally choosing the costume way, for the Predator...
- That would be an early pre-production question. By the time we were involved, it was a man in a suit. I can't imagine the hand to hand battles that John McTiernan was so adamant about being possible in a stop-motion effort (even [Ray] Harryhausen's skeletons were only sword strikes). I don't know the real story behind the Boss Films' creature not working. I have heard a few second and third hand versions, but can't speak from direct experience on the truth of any of them. But the original creatures' lack of mobility was the reason I heard it was cut and we were called in. I clearly remember the usually quiet and focused director loudly exclaim "YES! My Predator can really move!" when the effects rigging team put Kevin on a long drop line with bungee cord in it so he could jump in more than human leaps and bounds from rock to rock.

- Anything else you would have heard about the unused Predator costume made at Boss Films?
- Unconfirmed stories I had heard stated that the suit was designed by a studio production artist and what was built matched the art. I think too many cooks was probably the problem with the first suit. That, along with a little miscommunication, is a tough obstacle to overcome!

- Did you ever see it? I heard that it had backward-bent satyr-like legs (apparently, Steve Johnson's idea)...
- I saw the head, that was all I ever got close to. It reminded me of a dried steer skull, like one might find in the middle of a desert landscape. It had fiber optics in the eyes. The ones near the nose were to light up if looking forward, the back ones if to the rear, etc. I had also heard that it had centaur like legs, but never saw artwork or pictures to confirm this.

- Did Stan Winston draw any inspiration from this first suit?
- Stan has always drawn from his own original inspirations, as far as I have ever seen. He starts with the script and makes sure the look and functionality of the creature design satisfies the needs of the film and adds his spin on the direction of the look from his imagination. I'm sure he is inspired and influenced by the world around him, but he is also a powerful concept and development artist.

- So, the "new" Predator had to do certain things that the first one couldn't achieve, right?
- Running, jumping, hunting! He needed to sit on a tree limb, while cleaning and sharpening his weapons. His face needed to be covered by a mask that he would remove for the final battle. In fact, we created two masks for the Predator. The producer Joel Silver looked at both with his director. The first one was a highly detailed mechanical sculpture, to look like armor, and an atmosphere filter, so the Predator could breathe. When Joel saw this busier mask, he said "I love it - we're going with the plainer one though. This looks like it could be what the creature actually looks like. We want the audience waiting from the first second they see him for that mask to come off." The director agreed fully.

- Aside from that mask, do you remember any unused design or idea?
- The original design Stan brought to show us that first night was very close to what was built. I get the impression that he narrowed the selection down himself.

- Stan Winston often says he creates "characters" rather than "monsters". Was this a concern when working on the Predator?
- Monsters can have a broad and well developed character. There is no conflict in definitions or intent there. The alien Queen was a very clearly defined character - ask any ALIENS fan what her life cycle and habits are, they'll tell you! The same with the Predators in PREDATOR II, a tribal structure, rules of engagement and honor in their code of conduct. The Predator was smart and showed it in his actions as well as his facial reactions. If these considerations are lacking in the script, the artists at Stan Winston Studio are encouraged to design and pre-think along similar lines to enhance the character design.

- Who designed the Stan Winston costume, finally? Several sources mention Steve Wang...
- Steve was in charge of the body sculpt on the project. He was given the fiberglass body cast of Kevin Peter hall and, from that, the costume was to develop. Before he began the sculpture, he did several concept drawings for Stan's approval. He also designed the backpack/shoulder cannon and the look of the other weapons. Once his designs were approved by Stan, he started with a full muscle sculpture of the Predator without armor on the form. He then sculpted all the straps, permanent armor and shoulder cannon mount directly onto the body. Later, when the foam latex was run in the mold, very dense foam was brushed into the mold, to fill the armor, and softer foam, where the flesh was exposed. The edge between the two was constantly tearing in normal were and tear, but that was far easier than dressing the Predator in several layers of costume and accessories. Matt Rose was given similar responsibilities on the face. He worked from Stan's design and he and Stan discussed minor changes on a regular basis. The interlocking necessities, along with unchangeable aspects like Kevin's eye spacing, all contributed to the final outcome.

- Did you do a lot of tests with the costume? I have seen behind-the-scenes footage with some man in the suit (not Kevin Peter Hall) apparently testing the movements of the costume, running or falling from a table... But maybe he was simply working on how the Predator would move in the film...
- I'm not sure what footage you mean. There was a stuntman, by the first name of Dexter, I do not recall his surname, who filled (or more accurately "swam in") Kevin's shoes. Kevin Peter Hall had to return to the US when we had just over a week of shooting left. We had been scheduled to be in the southern tip of Mexico for only two weeks, we were there for six weeks! Kevin had another commitment and stayed until the last possible second he could. There was also a fair amount of optical work done for the chameleon look (his invisible effect). Kevin Peter Hall did about a half of this; the rest was done, after he had left, by a young stunt player named Brian Simpson [see photo below], in a red spandex covered copy of the body suit.

- Were some parts of the costume (like the head, mouth, arms, etc.) made in bigger scale for close-ups, like for the first Terminator?
- Nope, one of each, no backups due to time. I think there were two countdown devices, as a safety for breakdown.

- In his first real appearance, the Predator comes out of a lagoon (hence, comes out of water). So, I was wondering, was water(proofing) a concern when working on the costume?
- No waterproofing was done! We put Kevin in the suit, put on the stunt head (for the one with the face shield mask, there was no creature face - only the actor's face covered by the face plate. This aided his ability to hear and see). Safety divers were in the water with him. The first three times, he had to be pushed down: the whole suit was so buoyant that he wanted to float like a cork! Then, we got three or four takes in which he was able to walk in and out of the water fairly easily. The suit had soaked in enough water to be fairly neutrally buoyant. The take we actually used was about number nine: he walked up out of the water with his purposeful, powerful stride, slowly scanned for Dutch (Arnold), they called "Cut!" and he fell onto his back - totally unable to move! We rolled him over onto his stomach, unzipped the costume, and Kevin Peter Hall struggled up to his knees, leaving the costume on the ground. We let it drain for about twenty minutes before we tried to lift it. The three guys it took (myself included) estimated the foam of the costume to have soaked up around two hundred pounds of water. It drained and dried in the exhaust if the giant generator that provided power for the film shoot. It took well over twenty four hours to dry enough to begin repairs and repainting it! [Note: Below, on the first "lagoon" photo, are Steve Wang (on the left side of Kevin Peter Hall) and Shane Mahan, on the other side, in a yellow rain slick.]

- Tell me about the alien gadgets of the Predator... On the Stan Winston Studio official site, amongst them (breathing apparatus, first aid kit, detonator, laser weapons, thermal vision) is listed some "fighting disc" (?) but I do not remember having seen such a thing in the movie... Well, at least, in the first movie!
- Breathing apparatus, fighting disc and extending spear are all from PREDATOR II. The med kit (with different contents) is in both movies, the shoulder cannon is different in the second, and the thermal vision is shown to have more modes than just the infra-red of the first film. I still think the med kit is the coolest of the gadgets. Stan went out to a few medical supply companies, got the nastiest things he could find, and brought them to me. He said to make them look like they're not designed for human hands, so I heavily altered the handles, bent teeth to look meaner, and added a strong spring to do the closing action on the leg wound.

- What was the idea behind the Predator's helmet? To help him breath on Earth?
- Yes, the atmosphere is different on the Predator homeworld. The tubes spraying gasses shows us that, as they are disconnected. We are also shown that it is the equivalent of a modern fighter pilot's heads-up display. The laser triad that projects from the helmet is a target lock for the shoulder cannon. He is a warrior and a hunter. The final battle - after removing the slower and weaker (commando team members!) of the group - is one on one, and face to face. There is a strong sense of pride in the hunt among the Predator tribes.

- There is this Hamlet-like moment in the film, when the Predator is looking at a human skull in his hand, and we can see tiny (alien) skulls on his costume... But wasn't there supposed to be some full trophy room scene (I mean, in the first film)?
- The whole interior of the ship, with trophy room, was conceived, but cut before being shot. The whole scene as in the second movie played almost exactly as it was to have been in the first film.

- Could you elaborate on the Predator's fluorescent blood? What product did they use for this effect? Was it an hommage to the Alien corrosive blood?
- Cyalume sticks - those plastic sticks that you break and shake to get a glow were new items then. There is no relation to Alien acid blood I ever heard of.

- Did Stan Winston Studio work too on the Predator's spaceship seen in the opening shot?
- No - that was a pure optical.

- Tell me more about the red suit used for the chameleon effects...
- Red can be optically removed from a jungle background easier than the traditional green or blue used in studio optical shoots. We made one from an extra full costume and covered it with the red spandex, for Kevin Peter Hall to use when close to Arnold. We made a second one out of spare pieces while down in Mexico for the stuntman. There was no comparison to anyone in many shots, so the different size didn't matter. Once the red was removed, the optical company "stuffed" the rest of the frame information in multiple times - in concentric layers.

- Is it true that Jean-Claude Van Damme was supposed to be the man in the red suit? He reportedly said he worked on this show during the first three weeks of shooting...
- I had heard he was in the first suit. I think he went away with the first suit.

- I have read that they actually shot 7 scenes with the Boss Films costume but that none of them made it into the final cut. Yet, seems to me that it is not the Stan Winston costume which is seen in some shots of the movie, like in the scenes where the Predator is invisible...
- I didn't keep close tabs on the optical scenes, but I too heard that a few invisible shots were the original red suit (same process, same general look).

- You worked on the PREDATOR sequel. What were the main differences between the costume from the first film and the one(s) featured in PREDATOR II?
- Spiny ridges on the skull above the dreadlocks. A hip socket plate for the flying disc to mount to. A totally different shoulder cannon and new look for the mask. The script also called for different functions out of the med kit (his arm gets chopped off, so he needs to melt a puddle of ceramic goo to cauterize the wound). And a heck of a needle full of pain killer!

- Was any stuff from the first film recycled (or re-used) in the sequel?
- Everything we had went into the tribal costumes for the group of Predators at the end. The old Predator was exactly the same as the one from PREDATOR - just aged. Shoulder cannon and all. Everything for the star Predator was new. We even used the other face plate that was made for the first film as a background mask.

- Finally, what was your biggest challenge on PREDATOR?
- After getting the highly complex creature done with all his accessories in so short a time, the challenge of supporting and conquering obstacles while shooting were as rewarding as they were difficult. Creative constructions were an every day event. The shoulder cannon was blown up at one point, by a little more than expected black powder, the soaking suit I've described, and all the tools and gadgets we had to tweak, repair and maintain... If you notice, for example, the wrist knives are only an inch and a half apart, yet when the Predator uses them to trap Dutch for a moment, before the final duel begins, they are wider than Dutch's head! That was an on the spot build, that had to look as logical as the rest of the tools. Stan wouldn't allow a cheat, it had to look like they did that on purpose. Personally, I think the construction of the mechanical head was the one focal point for my energy. It was my first animatronic creature head - I've built many since, but it was quite an honor for Stan to trust me enough to build such an important effect.

- Were you creatively satisfied with the Stan Winston costume as shown in the film?
- It is one of the most iconic characters in the history of character and creature effects history - I am quite proud of the final film!

- Did you work really hard on details or things that were barely (if not) seen in the final cut?
- Few, if any things were cut. In fact, additions were the way that film was made.

- Have you ever heard about deleted scenes on this film? There is some persistent rumor about one sequence involving Arnold Schwarzenegger and some leeches!
- We saw some real leeches! I don't know about them really being in the story...

- Last but not least, what did you think of the movie?
- One of my personal top five.

- Anything you would want to add?
- What else can I say? It was quite an experience! One of many at Stan Winston Studio that I enjoy reflecting upon...

"On this photo, you have, from the left, Kevin Peter Hall (the Predator himself), stuntman Brian Simpson, myself (somewhat low and in the background), Matt Rose, Steve Wang and Shannon Shea. If Shane Mahan had been there at that moment, it would be a full Stan Winston Studio crew shot (less Stan, of course). Stan was actually there for the first two weeks; once things settled into a rythm, he felt comfortable leaving the work to us." (Richard Landon)

© 2003 The John McTiernan Central
All behind-the-scenes photos
© Stan Winston Studio