Jan 07 2013

Seven Great Creature Designs From the 2000′s

Published by at 11:00 am under Editorials,Lists,Movies

I realize there have been many “creature designs” posts on Unreality up to now, but I noticed a great deal of them focused on 80′s and 90′s movies, and most the mainstays. In other words, all the lists had all of Stan Winston’s amazing and titular science fiction and horror creations, but little beyond that. So I decided to hone my attention on the last thirteen years. Now I, like most of the Unreality staff, am not a huge fan of CG creatures in film. To me, they end up looking like Roger Rabbit, sort of cut and paste into a film, post production (side note, Roger Rabbit is awesome, but you get my point) but there are a few cases of CG actually working surprisingly well. And that often has to do with the creature design.

Was it created with the idea that it would move like an animal, or an all new species? How does the mouth open, and what do the eyes look like? I even factor in its method of communication in instances where I can. But rest assured, I am an old school guy, so there will certainly be some non-CG on the list was well. Just want to make sure all alien races are represented fairly on Unreality. If you have some you love, that I missed, please, by all means, toss them up in the comments. You guys give us enough good ideas, we write articles around them and shout you out. We are all a mutant filled, extended Southern family like that.

The Faun and The Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth

He was so pissed TMZ took there through his bathroom window when he was getting ready to shower.

The reason I have a tie for both of these is because the designs on the creatures are stunning, and the performances are breathtaking. Not only that and the fact that they are in the same film, but the fact that Doug Jones plays both characters in the film, and plays them both marvelously.

I had to start the list with this creation because, lo and behold, he is absolute proof that old school prosthetic still work marvelously on film, and a brilliant physical actor can do things in makeup that CG still only dreams about. The Pale Man, from Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the greatest creatures designs of, not only the 2000′s, but cinema in general. He is as captivating as he is creepy, and his movements, when paired with his story, just truly lodges him into the subconscious of the audience. Pale Man is a character you never forget.

I want to Photoshop an ACE OF BASS cd into his hands here.

On the other extreme you have Faun, a character who is just as memorable, but for entirely different reasons.  While Faun wasn’t as outwardly threatening as Pale Man, just by Del Toro using the same actor he has said he was trying to imbue a sense of similarity between these two creatures. The idea that Pale Man may have been something Faun created, or perhaps, was another version of faun itself. But all in all, I listed these together because of both the stunning design and Doug Jones’ amazing work as both characters, who helped define this modern epic.

Now, on the other extreme…

The Prawn from District 9

I hate to say what everyone is thinking, but I bet Prawn scampi is bomb.

Normally I hate CG, especially when a movie intends to use it as heavily as District 9 uses their prawn characters, but even with their constant screen time, there was no part of me that didn’t process the Prawn as believable characters, visually and otherwise. Let it be known I do think District 9 is a damn near perfect film, and that bias may have helped land the Prawn on the list, but regardless, most people walk away from the film impressed at just how well  the species did work on film, especially considering the budget the film had, which was tiny when compared to a movie like Wrath of the Gods, which has CG monsters that look like bosses out of a God of War game, tacked onto a movie.

Yet, there was something undeniably real about the Prawns, from how they looked to how they acted. Little details, like the cat food addiction, really helped to further sell the creatures as actual, living, feeling things, which was also essential to invest us all in the story. And they’re language was a compelling train wreck of sounds that only further cemented them as a species to me. Huge props to Jason Cope who played the prawn, Christopher Johnson, in this film. Another example of a performance really helping the sell the illusion of the creature. Here, have some prawn.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZExHYou54k

The Host from, um, The Host

As much as it looks like it may turn hentai quickly, this is a shot from The Host, I promise.

I hope, with The Host 2 set to land really soon, that you have familiarized yourself with this wonderful film.

The host is the concept of Godzilla, mixed with the heart of King Kong, and then mashed up with the  zany humor of a movie like Shaun of the Dead. It is fun, and exhilarating, and sad, and scary, and really just an overall kickass movie. But the main reason this film works so well is because the awesome and original creature design of The Host. He looks like a mutant fish-lizard, but not in a silly Godzilla sense. Somehow, The Host works on a “realistic Godzilla” sense.

Wow, did I just use the term “realistic Godzilla?”

Well, no turning back now.

Here is a better look. The Host looks like a fish that banged a lizard, and then got knocked up by Gary Busey.

Anyway, of all the mutated monster movies, The Host is definitely one of my favorites. Here, have some Host and see for yourself.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHEvaD9Xk4A

The Trolls in Troll Hunter 

I would look up at its taint while driving under it, just to see what troll taint looks like.

I know what you must be thinking. He says he doesn’t like CG, then gives us a list a CG creatures. That revelation is sort of my point. Even I, an old school cinemaphile, who got INTO special effects and creature design because of guys like Tom Savini and Stan Winston, can openly admit that, when done correctly and effectively, good CG work is pretty fucking fantastic. Troll Hunter being a perfect case in point. But even I can admit it is a rarity.

Because of the hand held camera aspect of Troll Hunter, and the filming at night angle, the directors themselves figured out they could make wonderfully realistic creatures, mainly because of the lack of light and the shaky cam reactions. While these may sound like gimmicks, it is actually a brilliant response to working with what you have, and learning how to maximize that.

For me, the scale of the trolls, and their old school design, is what sold me. Here, take a gander:

And the scene of the first troll getting turned to stone is one of my favorite CG scenes in a long while. Didn’t include it because I didn’t want to ruin it.





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8 responses so far

  • David R

    I thought the Cloverfield monster lacked personality, as a creature. Abrams and his clan have a tendency to just stick appendages and mouths onto their creatures until they feel they’ve made them scary enough.

    For designs I dug:
    - Del Toro should just have his own article. Wink/Angel of Death/Night Elves/Tooth Fairies from Hellboy 2, the Reapers from Blade II, Kroenen from Hellboy… the man knows his fables and mythology.

    - You kind of cheated by throwing everything from LotR into a postscript. Specifically, the Balrog is a brilliantly designed monster that could have looked so, so stupid. And the Uruk-Hai are great, too.

    - You know I have to bring up the Star Wars Prequels, particularly Attack of the Clones. Geonosians, gladiator pit monsters, Kaminoans… great stuff. Episode I missed out by a year, otherwise I’d have to go down that laundry list, too.

    - The Engineers in Prometheus. That opening scene might be my favorite five minutes of any movie this year.

    - The “low-fi” award goes to Attack the Block.

  • http://remycarreiro.com/ Remy Carreiro

    The LOTR creatures deserve their own list, and rather than do that, I figured I would just give some props to them all, and leave the list to someone far nerdier than myself, who knows a bit more about the series and can incorporate the prequel into it, too. I, personally, think the Cloverfield creature was the only BIG creature to work on film since the golden age, so though the design may be dull to some, I enjoyed just how far outside the box it is, extra limbs or not. As for Star Wars, I know you adore that stuff, but I am purely old school on that, and nothing will ever beat Jabba, Boba, or Rancor to me, but that is just me. I loeave those neo Star Wars lists to you, my friend. And regarding your last two choices, couldn’t agree more. Actually had Engineers and Attack the Block furballs on my blueprint for this, but didn’t feel like catching Hell for it, so I backed out.
    Sell out move, I know.

  • wevs

    I really liked most of the creatures and their respective movies in the list, but what really rubs me the wrong way is the addition of the cave dudes from the Descent. They were cheap as hell. They were practically mole people, but without any reason given for their existence. And the movie as a whole was bad for a number of reasons, but the most irksome one in my opinion is that the whole plot is made possible by a series of retarded choices. And I’m talking pants-on-head-crayon-in-butthole retarded.

    The issue could be in me, because I watched the movie high as a kite and I tend to over-analyse movies when I’m in that state, but more often than not it improves the experience. I didn’t even get slightly startled, because the movie relied so heavily on cheap scare tactics like the “peekaboo”.

  • David R

    Whoa whoa whoa.

    Whoa.

    The Descent is awesome.

    (Also, Remy, I forgot to mention that this — and a couple of other similar things I’ve encountered lately — is really making me want to watch Troll Hunter)

  • http://remycarreiro.com/ Remy Carreiro

    @ Wevs, the crayon in butt hole visual is so humorous to me, I can’t argue. You win the point there.
    David R, DEF check it out. It has a charm missing in most similar movies.

  • http://saraclemens.com Sara Clemens

    Troll Hunter. Troll Hunter. Troll Hunter.

    Also The Host.

  • http://saraclemens.com Sara Clemens

    As in, you had me at these things.

  • Korky

    Correction: it’s “lo and behold.”

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