Magazine article American Cinematographer

Visible Invisibility for Predator

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Visible Invisibility for Predator

Article excerpt

R/Greenberg Associates of New York was responsible for the creation of the invisible alien terrorist who battles Arnold Schwarzenegger throughout The Predator.

R/Greenberg's job was to create the creature's cloak of invisibility, its heat-sensing POV and various glowing blood and electrical spark effects. The first effect was created by filming the actor who played the creature in a pre-fabncated bright red Spandex suit, possessing the exact same shape and dimensions as the sculpted rubber monster suit worn while in its visible stage. Even though red is the worst color from which to pull separations for traveling mattes (it possesses the lowest gamma on color negative), the suit had to be a brilliant red since this is the farthest opposite spectral color from the predominant green masses found in the jungle or the blues in the sky overhead.

Working closely with producer Joel Silver and director John McTiernan, visual effects supervisor Joel Hynek and Eugene Mamut developed the look of the "camouflage effect" incorporating contour lines, like age rings in a tree, which allow the Predator to be invisible yet defined by a distortion of the background he moves past or through; as if looking through a fluid lens which changes shape with the moving subject rather than a hard lens.

Greenberg's Elicon Motion Control Remote System was used on location in Mexico to provide the necessary background footage to distort and composite the image of the predator. The distortion in 70% of the predator's scenes comprises a reduction of the background used as camouflage, 20% of the scenes use an enlarged background as camouflage and 10% of the scenes use a panning camouflage, each according to the emotional effect required.

During the initial 6-week shoot, the suit's redness was often enhanced with red-colored lights to reshape itself into this totally unearthly being resembling a crablike sunflower on top of a torso and allowing it to blend further with the scenery. This was to be filmed as an insert shot. The following live set-up would use a positionable stunt head on the actor which corresponded with the mechanized head for scene continuity.

At the first stage in the filming, the actor who played the creature was photographed wearing the red suit in the jungle exterior. Next, the actor left the frame and an identical take was repeated, this time recording only the background. Finally, a third take was made using a 30% wider lens on the camera. These three negatives were later optically combined, resulting in a composite which revealed a vague outline of the creature moving through the greenery as the background bent around its shape. When it stopped, it vanished completely.

The effect desired was that of a "Fresnel lens" look where the light appeared to bend around the creature. This is why a 30% larger background plate was filmed. This created a wider environment than was originally seen in frame. "It was as if you were taking a Fresnel lens and moving across the environment," said Joel Hynek, visual effects supervisor at R/Greenberg Associates. "As soon as he moved, we'd get all these weirdly distorting shapes and textures of the jungle.

"We worked out a program between the Computer Generated Imagery department and the CompuQuad printer [a four-head Academy Awardwinning optical printer computerized on 17 axes]. We put in parameters for the size of the (red-suited) man, how big he was in the beginning and how small he got at the end, what part of the frame he traveled to, how long he took to get there, etc."

After pulling a set of mattes off the red creature (using a process similar to blue screen), Hynek took the silhouette and divided it into anywhere from eight to 15 concentric rings. The size of the man determined how many of these concentric slices were needed. Depending on where he moved in the frame, if he reduced three times his motion control cameras, and notes their limitations."

Making the concentric mattes required at least ten steps to finally obtain an automatically aligning set. …

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