Interview: AvP-R’s Colin & Greg Strause

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A visit to Hydraulx FX

3rd Street Promenade. Santa Monica. A strip of consumerism prone to attracting tourists and misdirected teens dropping mommy and daddy’s hard-earned bread in one of the many shops lining the street. At lunch, the restaurants here are flooded with studio and corporate types. Little do they know that, but a mere few blocks away on 2nd avenue, a race war of universal proportions is unfolding within the halls of Hydraulx, one that could decimate mankind if siblings Colin and Greg Strause have their way.

They are putting the finishing touches on their feature directorial effort Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem, a follow-up to 2004’s $171 million worldwide-grossing Alien vs. Predator. The brothers Strause have been operating Hydraulx for years, utilizing this FX facility to contribute to the “Fantastic Four” films, 300 and, most recently, The Invasion. Born and raised in Chicago, the duo has shown their desire to direct larger projects through a successful music video career. Now, with “AvP-R” they’re getting their shot at the big time and making their mark on two lucrative sci-fi/horror franchises.

ShockTillYouDrop.com meets the brothers at Hydraulx which has become, essentially, “AvP-R” central. They have kept most of the post-production in-house. With a staff of 110, the Strauses’ edited and completed an estimated 470 CG FX shots featured in the film (that’s not counting the 50 or 60 for “cleanups” – wire removal, etc.) here. Greg, suffering from a cold, informs us that today the Hydraulx team has moved on to completing scenes for the “AvP-R” extended DVD release.

Following a quick trek through the facility – which puts us face-to-face with a life-size metal Alien (Santa Claus hanging from its maw) – they preview a few minutes of the film for us (read more about that here). Later, we meet in the conference to chat about the sequel, its return to “familiarity” and making the Alien and Predator scary again…

ShockTillYouDrop.com: We recognize a lot of sound effects and music cues from the clips you had shown…

Colin Strause:
When we first got on the movie, we told Fox we wanted to digitally remaster all of the original movies. So they actually went to the salt mines and pulled out all of the original negatives and remastered all of the original sound effects for us. We got the Alien squeals straight from the dub stages – that peacock-elephant noise when the Aliens die. Except for Predator vocals, those were the only thing that we did new.

Shock: Is this completely re-inventing the storyline?

Colin:
We see this as fitting in continuity with the Alien and Predator franchise.

Shock: You had mentioned there’s additional footage for the DVD, is that going to lead to the next film?

Greg Strause:
All of the new stuff is going to be in the middle of the movie. There’s a little more character development stuff. And then there are some creepy scenes that didn’t make it in the theatrical cut but we brought back.

Shock: But nothing is meant as a tease for the next film…

Greg:
I think that’s satisfied with theatrical cut, actually.

Shock: How does it feel to go from music videos and CG work to taking over a franchise? Do you plan on continuing on with making features?

Greg:
Directing movies is the way to go. It was a good learning experience. The biggest eye-openers is what an overwhelming amount of work that goes into making a film, it’s insane. All of the different departments, the amount of man hours that goes into every second of making the film is quite overwhelming.

Shock: How much say did you guys have in casting?

Greg:
We were very happy with the cast we got in the end. We would sit in with John Davis in casting sessions just down the block here. It was interesting because we met literally hundreds and hundreds of people. It was important for us to find the most convincing, most believable people considering we were not a huge budget film, we weren’t going to spend bank on big stars. It was a long process, some of the casting went right up to a week before we started shooting.

Colin: At the end of the day, the Alien and the Predator are the stars. And they’re also, technically, the most expensive characters too, because they cost millions of dollars to build the suits.

Shock: The first “AvP” changed the mythology to suit its own needs, have you removed some of that and gone back to the original films?

Colin:
Some stuff’s been moved over. Like, we redesigned the alter that Scar’s body was on to make the ship look more Predator-ish, you know. We tried to stay as close as we could but there are a few things we had to massage a little to kind of make the movie more what we wanted it to be.

Shock: So this is immediately following AVP?

Greg:
Shortly after.

Colin: Yeah. We re-do the Scar [chest-burster] scene and then there’s some extra stuff on the ship. Which actually, we just released on Yahoo.UK the first five minutes of the movie today. Slightly cut down, there’s a few shots missing out of it.

Shock: And we get our first look at the Predator home planet…

Colin:
Yep. There’s an exterior of the planet. The big wide on the planet with the Wolf ship flying away and a big hole inside this temple thing where he receives the distress signal and watches all playback on that.

Shock: Would you say this is a tease for another film that will take us to the Predator planet?

Colin:
Yeah. Well, we kind of told them, this is kind of, to us at least, the end of the Earth story. The next one’s gotta be in space, you know. We kind of end this one like, we’re kind of done here. It’d be nice, the next one, to be before “Alien” but definitely kind of needs to be more of a space epic.

Shock: Could we get to a point where there is a movie that’s just monsters?

Greg:
[laughs] That’s a hard sell.

Colin: We pitched on the first one and our pitch was like “Dances with Wolves” and we had like forty-five minutes where there was gonna be like no spoken language at all in the movie. Needless to say we didn’t get the first movie.

Shock: Can you talk about getting this one?

Colin:
It actually went pretty quick. We met on the first one, so we had met all the executives over there. Our effects company, we’ve been doing a lot of work for Fox. Because we got “The Day After Tomorrow,” we did all the “Fantastic Four” movies, “X-Men 3,” just a ton of stuff over the years. And we pitched on “Wolfenstein” and got really close to selling that at Fox. When this thing came around, it was all the same executives and everyone. We got our hands on it. We had about a week or so to put together a visual presentation our ideas on how to take the script they had, where we wanted to kind of put the movie. We had one really good meeting with them and then we had like two other meetings after that and then we basically had the job booked.

Shock: Can you talk about the design of the Predalien? How many incarnations you guys went through? Was it one of the tougher things to crack design-wise?

Colin:
It was definitely one of the trickier ones. I mean, it was one of the harder things. There are so many other people that have to see stuff and have to approve and try and get everyone on the same page. One of the cool things was with ADI, the guys have – like even for the Predator – they must have had 60 or 70 different concepts painted together of all different Predators. I mean, some of them were from previous movies they didn’t use, a bunch were new ones they did. Like the whip was something that one of the concept artists just happened to have, this huge bullwhip, and as we were over there in the first meeting, we saw that and we were like “Holy shit, that’s about as cool as it gets, we gotta put that in the movie.” It was just really good working with Tom [Woodruff Jr.] and Alec [Gillis] on that, because what they would do is, we did our initial designs in Photoshop with our designer. We showed the guys from ADI what we wanted to do. They would start doing their paper designs and get something kinda close and they would start building all these maquettes. Then we’d start with the head maquettes and then they’d start with the full-body maquettes. We probably went through…

Greg: I remember going through some of the artwork and it was like, Predalien version 65 and you’re like, “Ah, Jesus Christ.” You just naturally go through a lot of iterations but there were some concerns. We wanted very much to keep her very much an Alien, so there was some back and forth in terms of how many Predator characteristics should come through, so that’s what much of the back and forth was about.

Colin: One of the trickier things too was, its one thing when all the geeky fans who know everything watch the movie, like, “Oh, I know that’s obviously a warrior alien, I know that’s the Predalien,” but the biggest issue we had with the design is because were going so dark with the movie, and there’s a lot of rain and atmosphere and everything. Does a normal fan, is a normal person going to be able to watch the movie and tell the difference? That was like one of our biggest tricks. We knew the hardcore fans would get it instantly but a good design also has to appeal to people who really don’t give a shit about the franchise, they just go to see a movie and they actually like it. We had to make sure we included all those people in it as well. So that was one of the things, making sure…that’s why we cheated the pigmentation a little bit more yellow on her. And just things so that even if you just see flashes of her, at least a general audience member will be able to track it. But at the same time, not water it down with design or anything and make it kind of generic.

Shock: What were the key characteristics you needed to retain in the design? Was it stuff like the mandibles…

Colin:
For us, it was keeping the alien teeth, because that’s such a distinctive feature. And having the dome, that’s why we went back with putting the skull underneath the glass dome, so it has a real Predator skull under there. In the original Alien you could never really see it because the photography was lit so dark. We have a couple shots in the movie where you actually can see the whole skull through feature and everything underneath. Then with the mandibles, basically with the egg laying scenes, we wanted to match the mandibles on there so she could actually wrap around almost like a face hugger in a way, and grab people’s faces as she’s doing the impregnation. That was kind of an important design thing. It also just looks, I mean, in the battle sequences I think she looks pretty fearsome when she has the mandibles closed she looks more predator. But when they open up, you see the distinct alien teeth and everything so.

Shock: Alien fans have been waiting a long time to see Aliens on earth. How much fun can you have with this in context of the AvP story?

Colin:
Well the thing that we were trying to be careful of, is we didn’t want to have Aliens dancing in front of McDonalds. A lot of people were worried that here on Earth, it’s like, what are the locations gonna be? That’s one of the first things in our pitch, we said the movie has got to take place and power has got to be knocked out and we want it raining the whole last night. Because seeing an Alien in broad daylight or just plain view is gonna look stupid no matter what you do. The reason why it worked in all the other movies is because you have dark spaceship, you have flashing, blinking lights, steam coming out of everywhere. I mean you had all these great elements to cover them up basically. If you don’t do that, they’re going to look like guys in suits. So that’s why we made sure that, first we wanted to get all that atmosphere and then picking cooler locations. The first big battle takes place in this huge underground sewer network. The next battle takes place in a power plant. Then you’ve got the big rooftop battle and then there is a National Guard battle on the street in the rain. So we tried to pick locations, that were Earthbound, yet they still are reminiscent of you know…like the power plant is gonna look very much like Alien. It’s got all the yellow warning beacons and a lot of steam and everything. We are trying to give it that space sort of feel so that even though it is Earth it doesn’t…we tried not to make it feel cheesy or anything. Give it much more, gritty kind of environments.

Shock: Do you have other films conceptualized that are in space approaching the time line of the series?

Colin:
Yeah, we’ve been talking very loosely with the writer and all that, and what could be the next one but we’re gonna wait and see how this one does and we’ll figure out what the deal is. But yeah, I think the next one needs to be in space.

Shock: This may obviously be a fanboy’s dream – but what is in store for general audiences?

Colin:
Well, the big thing we did with the movie is try and make a good scary film. We tried to treat it not like as a “versus” movie because I think sometimes I think “versus” movies get a little cheesy. Like “Freddy vs. Jason,” which is entertaining but there’s a little bit of a funny cheese to it. We tried to keep it as serious as we could with the creatures and just make a good, kind of scary, dark movie. You know, basically the idea was to do like a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” with creatures.

Greg: That was kind of the tone.

Shock: Given the complexity of the film, what was the hardest part to pull off that you’re very much proud of?

Greg:
I’m trying to think of the most complex [scene] without a total spoiler. One of the hardest scenes is still…not completely been spoiled yet and we’re trying to not spoil everything because it gets really easy with every interview you give away one little hint in each one and all of a sudden there is nothing left to find out in the theatre. So we are always trying to dampen ourselves on that.

Colin: Well, the big thing was just that there were a lot of shots.

Greg: The ship crash stuff in the beginning, was actually some of the more intense stuff as it’s plowing over a whole forest of trees. All the fire and that stuff is pretty involved.

Colin: Every tree had to be completely 3-D and we built these simulations so that when it actually hits the trees, they bend over and start snapping and breaking as the ship kind of plows over them.

Greg: The trophy room is pretty involved too.

Shock: Can you tell us a little bit about the significance of “Requiem” in the title…

Colin:
It’s kind of two things… One, it was trying to show more of the adult theme…

Greg: The real answer we can’t give you on the record. [laughs]

Colin: But it was also supposed to make it more adult which is basically the big thing with the movie. The last one was more just kind of a normal sci-fi, this ones much more [of a] darker tone. As you saw from that clip it’s a lot meaner of a movie.

Shock: You guys obviously speak as fans – can you talk about what the Alien and Predator franchises mean to you? Did these films influence your decision to get into this line of business?

Greg:
It’s funny, Colin and I said this before, we’ve done a lot of movie pitches and a lot of times you don’t just talk about the project you’re there to talk about. You talk about things you like and what your tastes are, where we were always like, “Predator” is the best “mission movie” ever made, bar none. And then “Aliens,” just from a horror standpoint, it scared the piss out of us when we were eight years old. You know, just loved that movie. Also though, it’s a scary action film but it’s got a real heart to it. The whole Ripley-Newt dynamic and her starting as a mom and having her become a soldier, just great character writing in there.

Colin: Also, [James] Cameron was a big influence on us when we moved out here. We saw “Terminator 2” and that was like…we were already doing visual effects in Chicago and it was like, once we saw that movie, we were like, we gotta get to L.A. You can’t work on toothpaste commercials forever in Chicago. We had to get out here. When we first saw “Aliens” it was a Pay-per-view in a hotel room. Our parents went into a crafts show or something and we kept flipping on the channel, would watch if for a few minutes and if we thought we would hear them in the hallway we’d flip the channel back. We didn’t realize every time we’d go back, we kept getting billed like fifteen bucks. [laughs] So we had like a $200 bill that our parents almost killed us over. That was our first time seeing it. We’re just huge Cameron fans. To me, the favorite ones are “Aliens,” “Predator” and “Alien.” That would be my top three.

Shock: You guys have been involved in so many landmark effects films, what do you think is the next step?

Greg:
Stereoscopic.

Colin: 3-D stuff is going to be the future.

Greg: I don’t know if you guys have seen “Beowulf” or not but the 3-D… the stereoscopic aspect experience, I thought it was awesome.

Colin: I wouldn’t bet against Cameron either. It’s gonna be the future I think.

Greg: It brings you into the picture more.

Colin: I find myself, with my home theater – I’ll just wait for the DVD. But stereoscopic, you kind of have to get your ass off the sofa and get to the theater to watch. It’s a cool thing, because going to the theatre should be an experience. It shouldn’t be a chore. And having something like stereoscopic, it’s something you can only experience there. I mean, 3-D TV, 3-D plasma’s probably won’t be out for another eight years or seven years or something, realistically, so I think that’s going to be an experience that’s going to be unique to the cinema for awhile which will keep people going there.

Shock: You had mentioned earlier about using the different foley, remastering the sound effects of the original films. Could you elaborate on that?

Colin:
Yeah, that was a big thing. Especially, like in the last movie, I think the Predator vision didn’t sound quite as full because it didn’t have all the heartbeats and all that stuff. So we made sure that we pulled all the original sound effects. Like when the Aliens get killed, that squeal that you heard in “Aliens,” they call that the peacock-elephant. It was a weird one off recording in a zoo where they happened to be recording a peacock and in the background, a baby elephant squealed at that exact time. And that’s the exact noise. They just literally used that same sound effect every time. So we did the same thing…

Greg: The sound of Mother from the original “Alien,” the type hitting the screen we used that. In certain places some of the recordings kind of showed their age in their quality so we would layer new recordings on top. So a lot of the sound effects can be twenty, thirty, fifty layers of sounds all mixed together at once. A lot of ours, the foundation of them will be the original.

Shock: There were also music cues you’ve brought back…

Colin:
Yeah, when we had Brian [Tyler] do the score, we told him the idea was that we wanted kind of a blend of “Aliens” and “Alien 3” Keep it familiar but we also really wanted the bongo drums from “Predator.” Make sure on all the key moments on all the Predator shots that you get that. Again, that’s just to give it a little nostalgia and make it feel familiar because we really wanted to get back to that old sort of feeling with it.

The Strause brothers say they’ve got a pair of projects waiting in the wings – one of the sci-fi variety, another one more in the fantasy realm. Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem opens on Christmas day.

Source: Ryan Rotten