Monster Trucks trailer and set visit report!
We visited the set of Paramount Pictures‘ family sci-fi adventure story Monster Trucks and with the trailer debuting today, we’re presenting our rundown of what we saw. Check out the Monster Trucks trailer, then read the set visit below! The Chris Wedge-directed film is set to open on January 13, 2017 and stars Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Holt McCallany, Barry Pepper, Tucker Albrizzi, Danny Glover, Amy Ryan, Rob Lowe, Frank Whaley and Thomas Lennon.
“I wanted to make a live-action movie for awhile,” said director Chris Wedge. “I thought about this idea for a couple weeks and came up with a take for it that really appealed to me. It’s a big adventure movie. It’s a fun, crazy concept, but I wanted a grounded story. I know from animation that you can have all the crazy color and design and motion you want out of it, but at the end of the day all the audience wants is character. We found a great character story at the center of this thing. It’s basically the story of a kid and a monster, which may be the first and only friend he’s had. So it’s got a lot of heart, a lot of comedy and a lot of surprising action.”
In June of 2014 we made the trek to Bridge Studios in Burnaby, British Columbia to visit the set of one monster of a family film. Monster Trucks is the first live-action feature from animation maestro Chris Wedge (Ice Age, Robots, Epic), and follows a young, automotively-inclined teen named Tripp (Lucas Till of X-Men: Apocalypse) as he makes a connection with a mysterious creature, ala E.T. The Extraterrestrial. Oh, and did we mention that monster has a knack for controlling cars? Specifically trucks?
“He’s trying to get away from his crappy life,” Till says of Tripp. “He wants to go find his dad and get away from his stepdad, and what he’s searching for isn’t what he thought it would be. He really wants an engine for his truck, and the monster turns out to be exactly what he needs.”
The first thing we’re shown is raw, unedited 2nd unit footage from the film’s finale. It’s black mercenary trucks versus red and green hero trucks, with the heroes being half truck/half monster hybrids that use trucks as casings/armor. The mercs deliberately have no guns in the movie, just tazers. Once all the visual effects are completed, the scene will show monster tentacles reaching out of hero trucks to flip merc trucks over. There are a lot of overhead shots captured with a helicopter.
The team that did the Fast & Furious movies is doing the practical action for Monster Trucks, with over eight cars (including a Mercedes) destroyed… so far. We see another action shot where the monster trucks are able to go up a steep mountain face and the mercs can’t, so they wind up falling down the cliff in a spectacular wreck.
These amazing creatures that inhabit the trucks don’t come from the sky, but rather the deep depths of the Earth. They are discovered in an underground world (to be teased at the beginning and end of the film) when oil drillers dig too deep. The mom and dad creatures are taken away, so the child has to hide in an abandoned truck hauled to a junkyard where Tripp discovers him. Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon) owns the junkyard, and acts as a surrogate father to Tripp. The creature ultimately acts as an engine for the truck, not only helping it run but allowing it to do amazing things.
But that’s not all the soft/water-based/octopus-like creature – nicknamed Big Ugly – does in the film. He also helps bring Tripp together with the movie’s female lead Meredith, as played by Jane Levy of the Evil Dead remake fame. Meredith is a Type A student in need of an adventure, who meets Tripp while tutoring him in detention.
“Meredith is the sidekick to our hero Tripp,” said Levy. “She’s a young, smart girl who is there to tutor bad kids and Tripp is a bad kid. She has a soft spot for cute boys and has a crush on him. She gets pulled into this adventure because she’s a little pushy and invites herself to hang out with Tripp when she wasn’t totally invited. I have a joke with the director that Meredith is Samwise Gamgee to Tripp’s Frodo, where I don’t think he could do any of this without her.”
Another important human character is Bill Dowd (comedic actor and screenwriter Tom Lennon), a scientist who aids Tripp and Meredith to get the Ulaform creatures home and save their underground colony.
“Someone said, ‘Hey, they’re making this movie called ‘Monster Trucks,'” and I said, ‘Oh my God that sounds so stupid,” said Lennon. “The whole concept, it’s not my milieu. Then I read it and it’s much more clever than I expected. It’s really an ‘E.T.’ kind of movie. Lucas’s character meets some monsters. (laughs) As far as I can tell they’re going to look really neat. I’ve seen a lot of the movie and it’s sort of pre-visual effects.”
After seeing the footage, special effects supervisor J.D. Schwalm shows us the practical hydraulic hero truck. There are eight hydraulic computers in the bed, which help J.D. control the car’s animation, such as lifting its wheels off the ground. This large vehicle runs on electricity. There’s a chair built into the engine compartment so stuntmen can do the driving for the actors, looking through the grill which is, coincidentally, also where Big Ugly looks through. The truck is situated in Meredith’s family barn set where Tripp keeps the vehicle. It will eventually be surrounded by greenscreen when the truck’s actual “transformation” takes place.
“When you see it in the movie I swear it already looks animated,” Wedge says of his star truck. “Just the design of it, the way it sticks out from the rest of the environment and trucks. It already looks like a character, which is what I was after.”
We also see some of the containers that Terravex – the movie’s evil corporation – uses to contain/imprison the creatures.
Outside the soundstages they’re doing process shots of the final battle scene, with the merc truck driven by character actor Holt McCallany (Alien 3) on an elevated gimbal platform in front of a bluescreen. They’re using a special rig that is connected to the hydraulics operated remotely from a miniature version of the platform. McCallany, playing the villain Burke, is in the cab of the truck yelling at someone, then pulls out a tazer rifle and begins firing out the window.
Holt is very careful to look at the road while he’s firing (he is supposed to be driving, after all). Wedge tells him the gun has jammed, and then asks him to show the camera that the gun has jammed more clearly, after which he tosses it down in disgust. The camera is also operated remotely from video village using a system of wheels.
Toy company representatives are also here to assess future Christmas presents to be made from the heroes and villains. We look on at the shooting from video village. Despite being on a gimbal at least forty feet in the air, Holt is not wearing a harness or even a seatbelt, presumably because he is a badass. The actor even slates his own shots, the title on the slate reading “Formula M.”
The following day we’re given another look at filming, this time in an active limestone quarry. Equipped with steel-toed boots, hardhats and protective goggles, we entered the Jamieson Quarry in Abbotsford, BC, easily one of the world’s largest active mines.
Next to a deep oil drilling machine there are steaming rock vents, the biggest one with a large greenscreen tarp inside it where creatures will crawl in and/or out. These vents are the entrance to the underground lake where the creatures are living. There’s also an overturned oil tanker in front of a greenscreen.
This is the ultimate destination where the final battle between Luke and Holt’s characters takes place. A random crew member whistles the theme from “Sanford and Son” as they prep for the first take.
Jane and Tom are in their red and green trucks, which they rush out of and head over to a set of valves to turn them off. They’re trying to stop Terravex from pumping poison in the water to kill the creatures.
It’s lightly raining and between takes the actors hide under an umbrella. Tom wears glasses, dressed in typical geeky scientist attire. Jane is blonde with jeans. Crew members apply more dust to the trucks before calling action on a second take. The actors pause for creature interaction. Tom then flips a switch.
“Flip!” yells Wedge. “Tripp is still in trouble.”
This being Canada, we’re told an actual bear comes up over the ridge every afternoon around 11am. Another unit is shooting plates in the Yukon to be comped into the surrounding valley.
Chris directs some more: “Creature one… Creature two… Creature three… Burke’s arriving, they’re shooting at the creature… here comes the flip! Tripp’s still in trouble.”
When Chris yells “flip” Tom Lennon ducks. Apparently they tackle the tanker full of poison, only to realize there’s a second one.
“He understands character,” says producer Mary Parent of Chris Wedge. “It may sound cliché, but he really does. He understands how to create characters you relate to. Those characters might be prehistoric animals, but you still recognize and identify those characters. He’s a wonderful guy, he’s very human and he wants to tell positive stories about people you care about and relate to.”
Finally we see some pre-viz featuring the creatures, who look very fishlike, with multicolor skin and long tentacles. They’re getting shot with tazer darts, electrified, then fall into the pit. The monsters tear apart a tower and throw a metal girder into a bad guy truck, spearing it onto its side. Monster Trucks will be pure heaven for five-year-old boys, that’s for sure.