His name may not be as instantly recognisable as SFX peers like Rob Bottin and Rick Baker but, rest assured, Neville Page will soon be a household name – especially if, like us, you live in a house filled with monster memorabilia. He’s been J.J. Abrams’ designer since Star Trek. He was creature creator on Super 8, worked on Falling Skies and Star Trek Into Darkness, and is a possible pick to follow in the footsteps of Stuart Freeborn, Ralph McQuarrie, Bottin and Baker and help put flesh on the bones of Star Wars’ creature-filled galaxy. “I’ve no idea if that will be my next job,” he laughed, “I’m hopeful!” Empire’s Owen ‘The Wereman’ Williams cornered the man in his underground lair (okay, studio) to get his key steps to creating the ultimate movie monster.
"I create a checklist early in production for the different elements of a movie monster. It all stems from the demands of the narrative, because there are always certain milestones to hit for the character and those decide the brief. For me, what I always try to do is make the creature beautiful, even if it’s ugly or grotesque. Capturing that beauty is number one, for me - gore and disease aren’t my cup of tea. I’m fortunate that I’m usually briefed with making 'a unique-looking creature', which gives me the opportunity to make it 'sexy', no matter what. Having a really good sense of anatomy is everything, whether it’s an exoskeletal insect or something fleshier, because using the planet’s physics enables you to show the beauty of that animal. A horse, a lion, a great white shark: they’re all beautiful animals. Actually, there are certain fish that fall out of that category. They were God’s experiments that just didn’t work out. Even he makes mistakes."
"A creature has to have history, personality and motive. I still use the tools I learned at acting school to this day: filling in the backstory, understanding motivation. You have to apply the same philosophy with creature design. J.J. appreciates this too. The Cloverfield creature is a good example. That big, gnashing Cloverfield creature was a baby, as opposed to a big, mature animal, and it was frightened, like a scared, penned elephant, and it was looking for its mother, and screaming out for her the whole time. It wasn’t rage, it was just frustration and fear. The little parasites were necessary for the story too, so we had to backwards engineer the reason for them to be there. Coupled with the fact that the creature was a newborn, the idea was that these were essentially parasitic creatures feeding off the placenta of its skin, and as it was walking about New York, that food source was sloughing off and getting less and less, meaning they had to look for food sources elsewhere. Again, whether anyone in the audience got that almost doesn’t matter, but as animators and designers it allowed us to make choices that aren’t arbitrary or contrived."
"You don’t always need such a thorough backstory, though. On Cloverfield and Super 8 we had the time and money to dig our heels in and do it the right way, but on something like Star Trek, although there was time and money, there were many more creatures and fewer staff to design them, and we didn’t need that level of detail for a lot of background aliens. It would have been a little self-indulgent for an alien 50 feet from the camera to have a long back-story!"
"I’ve watched Legend so many times and the casting choice of Tim Curry [to play Darkness] is extraordinary. In fact, it must have seemed like an insane choice: let’s take the guy who played a transvestite and have him play the devil! But Darkness is still one of my favourite demons ever. Tim Curry was not a butch guy but the level of practical make-up Rob Bottin executed on it - the horns and the hooves – is just so good. Most importantly, his prosthetics and design allowed the performer to come through all the prosthetics."
"It doesn’t really matter what the tool is – digital or practical – it’s all about the ability to come up with a huge concept and execute it. Rob Bottin’s work on Legend, Explorers and RoboCop proved that it’s never about the tool so much as it is about the inspiration of the ideas and the design. He built that suit in RoboCop! During the Rick Baker, Dick Smith, Bottin days it was all just trial and error – usually trial by fire. I went to school at the Arts Centre College of Pasadena, where they taught how to design telephones and toasters and refrigerators – products that aren’t necessarily glamorous – but it made me realise that the things that are all around us are conceived with a pencil, by an imagination that knows how to delineate form coupled with function. That fascinated me and became my passion."
"The thing that really sticks in my memory about John Carpenter, apart from his vision and direction, is the command of tone. The tone of The Thing was so good. I remember the anticipation of the big reveal at the end too, and the make-up effects – all the flapping, bloodied tubing in the dog’s guts just scared the shit out of me! Aside from Alien, it was one of the most successful films with an isolated team of people being picked off one by one. Carpenter made that tangible. Rob Bottin was another huge inspiration to me, on so many fronts. The work is never about the tool so much as it is about the inspiration of the ideas and the design. When RoboCop came out, it didn’t really say to me exactly what my career should be, but it certainly lent credibility to the fact that an individual has the capacity to do not only creatures but also hard surface and robotic stuff. That’s a pretty unique individual. There aren’t a lot of guys out there that can handle both worlds..."
EMPIRE PRESENTS THE J.J. ABRAMS ISSUE
To read more on Neville Page and his love for Rob Bottin's work on The Thing, pick up the latest issue (with an exclusive collector's Star Trek Into Darkness fold-out cover) or download it now for your iPad.