Back in 1987, brothers Jim and John Thomas wrote a film directed by John McTiernan. It was the very first in a franchise featuring four sequels, comic books, video games, toys, and two crossover films with the Alien franchise. Starring Carl Weathers and the exceptional bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Predator was produced by Alien parent company, 20th Century Fox.
The Thomas brothers were first-time screenwriters so they had no reputation with which to sell their script. They put the script under the door of Michael Levy, who brought it to producer, Joel Silver. Silver brought Lawrence Gordon on to co-produce and McTiernan was hired soon after. Silver served as producer on Commando, a film starring Schwarzenegger, and he was asked to come onto the film.
Action star, Jean-Claude Van Damme was the original choice for the alien but when compared to the other, taller, bigger actors, he was removed and replaced by Harry and the Hendersons actor, Kevin Peter Hall. In comparison to Van Damme’s five feet, nine inch stature, Hall stood at seven feet, two inches. In addition to his height, Hall had formal training in martial arts and ballet. This training is evident in watching the Predator’s calculated movement and fighting style.
“Most people think that when you prepare for this,” Hall said in a behind-the-scenes feature. “It’s mostly just physical, it’s mostly just jogging and push-ups, and movement. There was also a lot of thought into what kind of movement, what kind of planet he came from. You work on the inner things that are going on with the character, just like you would in any character, in the suit or out of the suit.”
Created by Richard Edlund from Boss Films Studios, the Predator design was helped along by Stan Winston. Having worked on The Terminator, Winston began working out details for the character. While on a plane with James Cameron, he added mandibles. Cameron told him, he always wanted to see a creature with mandibles.
R/Greenberg Associates created the optical effects, including the alien’s invisibility effect. A person the size the of the Predator, in a bright red suit, was filmed against the contrasting green of the jungle and blue of the sky. When chroma key techniques were applied, this left an empty area in the scene. Using a wider lens, the scene was redone without the actors. The two takes were composited and the jungle from the second take filled in the empty space of the first one. The “bending” was a result of the dual-take process.
An Inframetrics thermal video scanner was used for the creature’s thermal vision. This gave much more accurate heat images of people because infrared film did not register in the range of body temperature wavelengths. Even though computer technology was improving, the simpler route to greater effects was deemed the best.
Another example of simplistic solutions, the Predator’s blood was a combination of the liquid from a glow stick and personal lubricant.
In the opening title, effects were supplied by Dream Quest Images, a visual effects company co-founded in 1979. They would also work on The Abyss and Total Recall.
Predator was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
For the inevitable sequel in 1990, Schwarzenegger declined to return because of salary disputes. Steven Seagal had his own ideas about the character he was asked to play so he was not cast. Joel Silver opted for three actors he worked with in Lethal Weapon. Steve Kahan, Gary Busey, and Danny Glover signed on for Predator II.
In an attempt to upgrade the Predator, it was given tribal ornamentation on its steeper and shallower forehead. Many more fangs were added and it was given a brighter coloration. The designers wanted to make certain to distinguish this being as different from the one in the original film. Along with the changes in the creature, the ship was also altered. Lawrence Paull decided to design something unlike what had been seen before, a sort of mix between technology and the reptilian.
Stanley Winston, also on board the design and effects team, decided to add an Alien head among the trophy skulls on the Predator’s ship. This would become very relevant later in the future of both franchises.
One of the effects is a stunt scene in which the title character hangs from the side of a building. Kevin Peter Hall returned to play the Predator opposite Danny Glover. For this scene, however, stuntman R. David Smith would be in the role. Using a descender, Smith was dropped almost thirteen stories after the protagonist cuts his hand off.
This scene was an excellent way to showcase the advanced medical kit. Because this movie takes place ten years after the first one, it makes logical sense that the gear would be advanced, as well.
An interesting side note, Smith was without his left hand.
In the movie’s climax, the audience sees an underground ship. Paull made certain to incorporate bits of different Earth cultures, including Mayan and Aztec, to give the ship a sense of age. It also created a quiet question about the predatory aliens and what their purpose was for coming to this planet for as long as this implied. Dry ice and lighting gave the ship a smokey, eerie quality and made it look even more surreal and alien in the shot.
For the scene in which the group of predators (or Yautja, as they are known) is seen, each of the different versions of the predator had to be shot against a blue screen. Because they needed tall, athletic people, some of the people in the suits were members of the Lakers basketball team. Director, Stephen Hopkins brought an expansion of the universe with this scene. Not only did the audience get a glimpse of other predatory aliens, they each had their own decorative pieces and personalities. This expanded the origin of the Predator, making for a richer sequel.
At the time, there would be no Predator III.
In 2010, 20th Century Fox would put out Predators. In a chronological sense, this was the third of the Predator franchise, even if two other Predator-based films preceded it.
None of the previous effects teams returned for this film. Howard Berger, a special effects creator known for his work on The Chronicles of Narnia, and Greg Nicotero, best known for his special makeup effects on Day of the Dead (by George A. Romero) came on to build the creature suits. They stayed very close to the original design of the first Predator film. They also designed and constructed many of the film’s newer creatures, the ones the Predators hunted.
John Debney, an American composer and conductor on Sin City and Spy Kids, composed the original score for Predators. In itself, the score could have been considered an effect, as the custom sounds and instruments were used to create screams and other odd sounds. Debney also used metal scrapes to highlight the primitive Predator world. As a callback to the original film, Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally appears in the opening credits of the film.
Predators opened with $10 million on Friday and third at the box office. Ireland and the United Kingdom would be its largest success markets with $6.8 million. In all it grossed $52 million in the States and $75.2 million internationally. Response to the film was mixed with some fans liking it and some fans hating it. Lou Lumenick of the New York Post said, “Predators finally delivers a solid sequel.” He also said it was a “fun ride.”
At this time, in the Predator franchise, it looked as though the “ride” was over.
The following year, The Predator was released by 20th Century Fox. Director and co-writer, Shane Black worked with Fred Dekker on this film.
There is no doubt this film hoped to capitalize on nostalgic elements of the franchise. Jake Busey, son of Gary Busey (from Predator II) played Sean Keyes, son of Peter Keyes (the character Gary played). Other elements of the previous films found their way into this one.
The predator creatures have a different look, most of them being larger and much fiercer. In a fight scene, one towers over the other. The most obvious difference is the look of the armor. Most of the faceplates are shinier, newer looking. Underneath them, however, the creatures are just as horrific and grotesque as in any other film. The primary Predator in the film was played by Brian Alexander Prince, a stunt performer standing six feet, ten inches. He also did work in Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther, along with The Walking Dead and Lovecraft Country.
Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime, did some of the vocalizations for The Predator.
MPC, Atomic Fiction, Raynault VFX, Proof, and Rising Sun Pictures provided visual effects for The Predator.
The Predator grossed $160.5 million worldwide and ranked fourth-highest behind its predecessors. Reviews on the film were mixed.
For the Hollywood Reporter, Jordan Mintzer said the film was “bigger, meaner, gorier, funnier than previous installments. Whether the world actually needs (a sequel) and whether this reboot was necessary at all, is probably a question worth raising.”
Dennis Harvey, of Variety, said the film was “an exhaustingly energetic mess in which a coherent plot and credible characters aren’t even on the cluttered menu.”
Katie Walsh, a writer for Nerdist, said it was “messy, chaotic, and convoluted. Characters spew rat-a-tat quips while tussling with Predators and their pets, essentially neutralizing the effect of both the humor and the action.”
Billed as a science fiction action film, Prey was released in 2022. Having started under the name, Skulls, the film would feature a Comanche woman who “goes against gender norms and traditions to become a warrior.” Directed by Dan Trachtenberg, the film had a lot of the same creative team as Predators.
A different sort of actor was sought out for the predatory alien in this film. Trachtenberg wanted someone with a more athletic, “feline” body. Effects artist, Alec Gillis said this change would allow for “some elegance and fluidity of movement as opposed to the Hulking Stuntman School of Suit Performance.” This seems to negate Kevin Peter Hall’s performance, as he did not seem to fit the body description of “hulking,” even if he was tall and fit. Either way, Dane DiLiegro would portray the predatory creature in Prey.
DiLiegro was a former basketball player, playing for teams in Israel and Italy for a total of eight seasons. He then went on to work as a stand-in on Free Guy. He also played Muscle Monster in Sweet Home on Netflix. After an Xbox commercial in 2021, he appeared on the fifth episode of American Horror Stories as Ba’al. Before filming Prey, he lost twenty-five pounds and started taking martial arts and attending mime school.
DiLiegro’s listed height is six feet, eight inches.
Jeff Cutter, the film’s cinematographer, decided on an anamorphic format to capture the different locations. He also decided on a more naturalistic approach in terms of lighting, “to respect nature and to respect the landscapes.” To this end, night sequences used torches and underexposed blue lights to replicate the light of the moon. LED strips inside the torches allowed for additional illumination on the actors. The most difficult of Cutter’s sequences was the scene in which the French trapper encounters the Predator. It took eight days, one hundred scenographic trees, and three smoke machines. As with previous Predator films, a thermographic camera was used to show the Predator’s thermal vision.
ADI (Amalgamated Dynamics Inc.) returned to tackle the challenge of the predator creature. The new design took advantage of DiLiegro’s leaner frame. Changes to the face also gave it a scarier feeling. Its smaller eyes were spaced farther apart. The head was an animatronic device which the actor wore atop his own head. This reduced his sight to the two holes in the neck piece. The suit for the creature weighed eighty pounds, even though it was made from foam latex. As the actor perspired, the suit grew wetter – and heavier.
MPC came in to do the post-production work, as they were the film’s primary contractor. Included in their work was a full digital recreation of the Predator for use when the creature was invisible or parts of the suit needed to be replaced. Blood, arrows, and even some animals were CGI effects. Industrial Light and Magic provided some additional visual effects, as did Track VFX and Pixel Light Effects.
Native American illustrators provided animated pieces for the Plains-style hide painting. These are seen I the opening and closing credits of Prey.
The demographics of this film show the changing landscape of cinema, in general. Prey debuted at the San Diego Comic-Con in July of 2022. It was then released on Hulu as an original film by 20th Century Fox in August of the same year. According to the studio and Whip Media, Prey was the most-watched premiere across all of these platforms (including Disney+) during the week of August 12th.
Comic book writer, Marv Wolfman said, of Prey, “Beautifully conceived, filmed, and acted.”
SpFX part 16: Predator
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