io9 Talks To Cloverfield Monster Designer Neville PageS

We've showcased Neville Page's conceptual artwork and designs before. Now we're psyched because he's finally allowed to talk to us about his design for our favorite recent movie monster, "Clover" (as he calls it) from Cloverfield. Right now, Page is working on James Cameron's Avatar, the movie adaptation of Watchmen, and J.J. Abrams' new Star Trek. But with the new Clovie toy out, all we wanted to do was talk monster. And we got some good answers. Did you know Clover has more than one way to eat? Find out everything you want to know about the Cloverfield monster in our interview with Page.

Can you let us know what other scifi projects you've worked on? How did you get started?

My education was at the Art Center College of Design in Product Design (Pasadena, California). Upon graduation I started a design Consultancy with Scott Robertson and we went down many different paths creatively. One of which was products for the disabled. Now, although this was a very satisfying experience, I still yearned for the world of entertainment. So, I will cut to the chase with some of the first experiences. I worked with Rhythm and Hues on many "pitch" projects and a number of films, X-Men and Chronicles of Narnia to name some. A fantastic break, however,was working for James Cameron on Avatar. Started off as a few months and went on forover 2 years. Amazing experience. That then rolled into Cloverfield and Watchmen and currently Star Trek.

How were you approached to work on Cloverfield?

It is kinda funny. While I was in the last few months of Avatar, I received an email from someone who has seen my educational DVDs with the Gnomon Workshop and they liked the way I worked. They said that they were working on a monster movie and would like to see if I could be involved. As mentioned, I was in the last moments of Avatar and overwhelmed with work. Sadly, I did not even respond to the email. Then I got another. Again, I was terrible at responding to them (think of how long it took me to get to answering these questions). Eventually, Gnomon called me up and said this guy is trying to get in touch with you, can you please deal with it. So, I thought, "who is this guy, and what does he want"?. I went online and googled J.J. Abrams and could not have kicked myself harder. Not just for being so bad at responding to the emails, but to be so clueless. Anyhow, it all worked out.

How many iterations did the monster go through? Were there different versions with it walking upright, etc? Were you told specifically to avoid any Godzilla-esque designs?

If an iteration was a sketch, then maybe 50 or so. I really did not have the time to invest in this as I had wanted to, because I was still wrapping up Avatar. So. weekends and evenings were all that was available. With that, I had to be very efficient with my time and the process of development I chose. There were many different versions that we explored as we were all looking for what it could be. There were tentacles, there were fewer limbs, more limbs, no limbs... big, broad strokes in search of Clover. I am not recalling being told to NOT do Godzilla like designs, it was more implicit. Since it was not a Godzilla movie, it would have been a huge mistake to do things like it. However, it still needed to be huge, have a head full of teeth, arms and legs, and, because of it coming out of the water, I felt it needed a tail to justify an aquatic potential origin or existence.

Did you also design the smaller parasite creatures?

Yes. But, not without major help from the talents of Tully Summers. A fantastic creature designer and sculptor. We worked together on Avatar and many a project in the past.

What inspired your design? What sources did you draw from?

Well, once we had a direction the inspirations were definitely aquatic. Especially with the head. There is a very complex skeletal structure in there for eating, but you don't see it at all in the movie or toy. Clover also has a complex breathing system and more than one way to eat. But, again, it is hardly obvious in the film nor toy. Honestly, the biggest inspiration is less about one or two other animals, but rather inspired by biological plausibility in general (ignoring the fact that something that big could never live on land). Sometime the cart has to lead the horse and you make it cool first then justify it later, but I always try to give the creatures I design a "good reason" to be. As for the parasite, I knew that I wanted something thin and vertical and light. Kinda like a flea.

What's a favorite of creature of yours, that you didn't design, in another film or tv show?

A favorite still is Alien. HR Giger is one of the few people out there that did something really new and fresh. Granted, it still had to be a man in a rubber suit for all sorts of other reasons, but Giger has such a unique style, that he even made those challenging parameters work. It would be incredible to one day achieve such a unique style that does become iconic. I can only try.

Was the scale of the creature always the same?

Not sure really. I know that often times the scale changes to suit the particular moment or narrative, but I think Clover was around 250 feet?

The monster looks ungainly and J.J. Abrams has said in the press notes that it's a "baby". Was that also part of the design? For it to look a bit clumsy?

I would have preferred that it be even clumsier. But then it can get comical. Yes, it was the intention that it is a baby and it is not only developing its strength, but also its land legs. The proportions are intended to feel a little like a new born deer or horse. Long, thin and slightly awkward.

How involved were you with the final, CGI version of the creature?

Very and not at all. Phil Tippett's group has way more knowledge in the realm of bringing this stuff to life that I ever will, so they would have no use for me. The "very" part is that the sculpture that I did in "Z-Brush" is essentially what they used. There is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done when you hand over a digital model, but the sculpture part of it usually remains intact.

Have you seen the finished film? If so, what did you think about it?

I have. A couple of times at Paramount and once at the Mann's Chinese Theater with friends. I was real impressed actually. I had no idea how they were going to pull the whole thing off and it was defiantly risky. But, I was engaged from start to finish. Sure it is a little difficult to be completely objective as I was aware of how it was made, what was to happen next, etc. But what was telling for me was that my palms were sweaty from the experience. And I did not throw up from it.

Do you think there will be a sequel for sure? We know they've said that they are working on one.

I am only speculating here, but I do think so. There are so many other movies that have sequels that make you wonder why. So, if a motivation to make a movie is based on the box office success, then it seems very probable. I have asked, and I still don't know yet. Regardless, I am designing Clover 2 in my head.

You can check out Neville's impressive portfolio of work at his website.