[caption id="attachment_4328" align="aligncenter" width="192" caption="Martian 8 - A personal project of creature/character designer Neville Page. Photo courtesy of and copyright of Neville Page"][/caption]
Like many Sci-Fi fans, creature/character designer Neville Page sat in a darkened movie theater when he was a child and watched in anticipation as the opening credits for the original Star Wars feature film began to roll. Having seen the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca, his mind wandered in a direction that would forever change his life.
"I began to wonder what people did in order to make a movie like that," recalls Page. "I didn't understand that they went to school to learn how to be creature designers, sculptors or artists for that matter, and could then go work in films. Then, however, I began to collect all sorts of Star Wars magazines - I was really addicted to the film - and in one of the magazines there was this article on [make-up artist] Rick Baker. When I saw a picture of him with a lump of clay and a sculpting tool, it suddenly occurred to me that, 'OK, people actually do this stuff,' and that's where my interest [in the craft] first began."
When he was 17, Page moved to Hollywood and, after trying his hand at acting and stand-up comedy, enrolled in the Art Center College of Design where he studied industrial design. "I did that for several years, but all along I craved to work in films," says the designer. "The more seasoned I became as an industrial designer, it became more apparent that if I wanted to make monsters and do animatronics, it would require a huge career and lifestyle change.
"At that point I thought, 'Well, that dream is dead,' but the very next day, literally, something happened that changed my mind. Colleen Atwood, who's a major costume designer, was working next door to my studio on the Steven Spielberg film Minority Report. A buddy of mine had left his keys there and she stopped by my studio to drop them off. Colleen noticed that my business partner, Scott Robertson, and I do industrial design, including helmets, and she needed a helmet for a police costume. That's when she asked, 'Hey, do you guys want to work on some film stuff?' and I haven't stopped since. You can't plan something like that. It's like sitting at a cafe and being 'discovered.' You can only hope you're in the right place at the right time, and mine was my buddy forgetting his keys.
[caption id="attachment_4331" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Squidleyflat - a personal project of Neville Page. Photo courtesy of and copyright of Neville Page"][/caption]
X2, The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, The Hulk, Cloverfield and James Cameron's Avatar are just a few of the big screen projects that Page has worked on. "With Avatar I was kind of stretching my skills at creature design," he says. "James Cameron is a very specific guy and you can just imagine how many portfolios were being thrown his way when it came to his movie. Four people were selected, myself being one of them, and I thought, 'You've got to be kidding me. There's a mistake here, because I don't have much of a portfolio.' I had a lot of industrial design stuff, but I guess that's what Jim wanted. He wanted a very different take on a creature design and I've told him many times since then how incredibly grateful and indebted I am to him because he allowed me almost a year to become educated in what he needed to be the best, well-thought out creatures in film. So he afforded us the time to really do it right.
"I'm a huge fan of doing the research and understanding the subject matter, which includes buying animal bones and things of that nature to better understand a creatures' physiology, and Jim really dug that we were coming in fully armed with all this knowledge. You can't pull the wool over his eyes. He's bright on all levels, and it was our goal to help crack the design nut. There were occasions where I would present an anatomical solution to a problem that would genuinely impress Jim. That's a good day at work! Jim is a strong man who knows what he wants, and if you're strong enough to survive that, you come out a better person and definitely a better designer, that's for sure."
While still working on Avatar, the designer took on yet another new creature challenge in J.J. Abrams' Cloverfield. "When I met with [producers] J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles to discuss Cloverfield, I knew nothing about the project other than J.J. said, 'I want to make a monster movie,'" says Page. "They explained to me that this film was a big experiment as far as how they were going to shoot it, with handheld cameras and not a whole bunch of other cameras set up for secondary or tertiary shots. They also explained that the overall budget was next to nothing.
"For whatever reason, J.J. won me over because of his passion for the work and his loveable personality. I thought, 'I don't know quite what it [the film] is either, J.J., but sign me up.' The hardest part of Cloverfield, though, was that I was also in my last five or six months of Avatar, and the last months of any project are the toughest because you have to deliver all the final elements. I told myself, 'I'm working with James Cameron and J.J. Abrams simultaneously. Am I the luckiest man in the world or what? You've got to make this work, Neville, no matter what.'"
[caption id="attachment_4332" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Up close and personal with the Cloverfield creature. Photo courtesy of and copyright of Neville Page"][/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4333" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Another angle of the Cloverfield creature. Photo courtesy of and copyright of Neville Page"][/caption]
Clearly, Abrams was pleased with Page's contribution to Cloverfield because he subsequently asked him to provide creature effects and much more for the new Star Trek film. "I was tasked with two creatures right out of the gate, which were the ones on the ice planet Delta Vega," notes the designer. "J.J. was very specific about what he wanted; he wanted one of the creatures to be red because it would look cool and be a great contrast to the white snow. The second thing he wanted was for it to have several eyes just so it was kind of freaky and scary. J.J. also wanted the creature to have a month that was extremely off-putting, not because you'd be afraid of being bitten by it, but that it might touch or dribble on you.
"If you study enough about biology and animals you can kind of reverse engineer a number of things into a plausible organism. That's where it's helpful to have a pretty broad understanding of several different animals as well as zoology and physics, because you'll be able to take some really wacky concept and make it work by having all these other reference points. So I didn't have much trouble with the color of the red creature because there are plenty of things in the ocean that are red, such as crabs, lobsters and the Humboldt squid. The creature is actually a cross between a crab and a squid, and it wasn't necessarily that I thought of that as a means to hybridize something, but this thing just evolved to a point where it started to look like that. So I thought, 'I can reference those two animals and tap into a little bit more of their physiology.'
"There are those who question the red color, but the important thing to remember is that this creature is most comfortable in the water, much like a squid would be. It only breaks through the ice for the occasional desperate feeding. That was my rationale, and it actually does make sense; animals do occasionally breach or leave their normal habitat when they're incredibly hungry. However, there have been a lot of fans of the film that really objected to the fact that it was red, but when you know what its origins are, then it potentially makes sense.
"The fact that this creature doesn't have fur is also another [deliberate] choice. A lot of whales don't have fur, but rather excess blubber. It might sound as if I'm justifying things, but I'm trying to explain the fact that it's an alien planet, so anything should go. But we have a critical Earth audience looking at the movie, some of whom saying, 'I don't know if I'd buy that [creature] because it's red, doesn't have fur and it's skinny.' Well, crabs somehow get away with it, and so do lobsters. There's no fur on a lobster, so who's to say that this creature isn't some sort of hybrid endo-exo-skeletal thing. The most important thing for J.J. is that he just wants it to be cool for the moment so people enjoy the ride. My job is to make sure that it [the creature] is viable enough so fans and other people who may scrutinize it don't feel insulted or gypped. But I must ask, why does no one question the survivability of the passengers on a ship that leaps instantly to warp speed? It's all simply entertainment."
[caption id="attachment_4334" align="aligncenter" width="205" caption="The Polarilla creature from Star Trek XI. Photo courtesy of and copyright of Neville Page"][/caption]
Those who saw the Star Trek film and also, coincidentally, have an aversion to insects, probably had to look away when Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) is tortured for tactical data by Captain Nero (Eric Bana) of the Romulan mining ship Narada, and forced to swallow the mind-controlling bug. Page was the brains behind the look of that particular creepy crawly.
"That little bug was kind of an homage to the earwig that was in [the second Star Trek film] The Wrath of Khan, in that something bug-like is being put inside you that's going to mess with your mind," he says. "I felt it would have been far creepier to put it into an orifice that you wouldn't normally put something in, but we were limited to orifices that were PG [rated]," jokes Page. "So ears and nostrils would have been it. I just thought that putting it in the mouth was, maybe, more like eating it, and not as unnerving.
"We did our level best to make it look upsetting, but I think most people are so bug-phobic that just having a bug near someone's mouth was frightening enough. I really did want this one to be more like an earwig, which is why I made the tail earwig-like. J.J. was very specific, though, about wanting these claws and little tentacles that would make it look as if it has the capacity, once inside the body, to engage with the spinal cord or lower brainstem.
"So the design challenge was partially just arriving at the appropriate esthetic, but on top of that, we knew that we didn't have the funds to do a full digital effect and that it had to be a practical on-set one. That meant we had to have something we could actually control animatronically, and that dictated a certain kind of body mass to fit the electronics into. A Japanese gentleman, in fact, made a robot that was tiny enough, or should I say microscopic enough, to go inside a rubber version of our bug. That's what you see on-screen, this little remote-controlled bug on the end of barbecue tongs. It was quite incredible."
Fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation are well aware that its Klingons as well as Romulans looked very different from those seen in the classic Star Trek series. An effort was made in Star Trek: Enterprise to explain the change in the Klingons' appearance, and the same thing was done in the new Star Trek movie with regard to the Romulans, including Eric Bana's Nero.
"The Next Generation Romulans had the V-shaped prosthetic on their forehead, but in the original show, they had absolutely no prosthetics," explains Page. "So we had to come up with a way to justify how it is that over time, some of them developed the V and others did not. For that, I worked with Joel Harlow, who did a lot of the make-up for Pirates of the Caribbean, and was the head make-up artist for the Romulans specifically. The idea I had involved a bald head and therefore shaving it completely, but in order to convince Eric Bana of this, we needed to do a make-up test first. We didn't have the budget to hire another actor or a model for this, so I 'donated' my head to the cause. We would shave my head, Joel would then do the make-up test on me, and if J.J. liked it, we would move forward and create the look for Eric.
"As far as the concept of getting that V-shape to work, I went with tribal scarification," continues the designer. "If you scar yourself over and over again in the same place, over time it turns into a keloid mass. I thought it would be interesting if we could use that to create the natural V justification. So we put together an array of designs that Harlow sculpted to replicate that look, and we had a number of tattoo and hair ideas as well. In the end, what you see in the movie is not unlike the basic concept that I wore in our presentation to J.J. The final design, however, has more character nuances in it; there's a scar on Nero's face, because I always liked the idea of chopping his ear off to make it look like he's even half of the Romulan he used to be. Ultimately, J.J. decided to make it more of a bite that Nero probably got while he was imprisoned with the Klingons."
The original scarring went through a bit of a metamorphosis before filming began, but Abrams liked the design that Page first tested, so much so that he asked him if he would like to play a Romulan in the film. The designer wasted no time in accepting the offer. "I joke with people that that was my plan all along as a child, that I wanted to be a movie star. However, I had a whole different way of achieving that. It would be through the backdoor. I'd study design for years and work and work and then finally get my break while testing the make-up. It was a very strategic and circuitous path," he says with a laugh, "but now that I am a huge celebrity, wasn't it all worth it? Although J.J. did say, 'Keep your day job.' What could he have meant?
"Seriously, the best part about doing it was two-fold. I had to go through the make-up process many times, including having to wear full scleral contact lenses. They aren't just the small lenses that cover the iris, but the ones that extend over the eye in all directions. I can't stand the idea of contact lenses, but I thought, 'If I'm going to be designing this stuff for people, I should at least know what I'm asking them to subject themselves to.'
"So seeing the sculptors interpreting my designs and then seeing the make-up applied step-by-step was, for me, not only fun, but also a wonderful education in the hope that I do more work like it. The other get part was getting to be on the other side of the camera. I've been around long enough to know what that's like as a designer, but being 'an actor' on-set and watching them direct me and everyone else was another amazing learning experience."
[caption id="attachment_4335" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Caudal luring - a personal project of Neville Page. Photo courtesy of and copyright of Neville Page"][/caption]
[caption id="attachment_4336" align="aligncenter" width="250" caption="Carnivor glow - a Mattel concept illustration. Photo courtesy of and copyright of Neville Page"][/caption]
Besides Star Trek, Page's other recent work includes Watchmen and Tron 2.0, the sequel to the 1982 Sci-Fi film Tron. "I started off designing a bit of everything [for Tron 2.0] with everyone else, but I quickly gravitated towards the costumes," he says. "From there, I ended up moving from the art department to costumes and developing the hero and specialty costumes. It's something I've always wanted to do but it's a hard thing to break into because it's a totally different department.
"I recently came back from Vancouver where I watched some of the shooting [for Tron 2.0] and, my God, it looks really good. From the last script I read, I think it's going to be an interesting film with some neat twists, and aesthetically it's looking phenomenal. It's right up there with James Cameron's Avatar in terms of delivering really fresh and new imagery on-screen. If you watch the original Tron now, it's important to note what a major achievement that it was then, and at the helm of it all was Steve Lisberger. He was the original director and conceiver of Tron and one of the producers for the new movie. Lisberger is very involved in the production and it was cool to see him and the new director, Joe Kosinski, brainstorming. It's one of the more exciting projects I've ever been on."
While some people who work in film and/or TV might take it for granted, Page sees his involvement in the business as very much the opposite. He is also happy for the chance to give back something to audiences. "When I sat watching Star Wars as a kid, my parents were going through a divorce, and the movie was an amazing escape for me," he says. "It's sad to say that R2D2 was my therapist at age 12. Having said that, whenever I meet someone who is moved by something I've done in the same way I was moved by Joe Johnston [Star Wars effects illustrator/designer] and Ralph McQuarrie [Star Wars production illustrator], that's when it really hits home that what you do is relevant. And it's such a priviledge to be able to do that."
Steve EramoAs noted above, all photos courtesy of and copyright of Neville Page, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!
[caption id="attachment_782" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Greg Ellis treks into the future as Chief Engineer Olson of the U.S.S. Enterprise in STAR TREK. Photo courtesy of and copyright of JSquared Photography"][/caption]
Professional jockey or attorney - those are the two careers that Greg Ellis considered pursing while growing up. Then, however, he set his sights on the entertainment industry and never looked back. Born and raised in the small town of Wigan, Lancashire, Northern England, the-then budding young actor joined a children's drama group and, at the age of nine, made his TV debut singing for a very special individual.
"I was doing a summer season at a theater in the North of England and me and five other kids sang live on TV for Princess Diana," recalls Ellis. "That's my first memory of performing in front of a camera. It was around 1980 and I remember being amazed by how many cameras there were and how few people were actually in the studio. Everyone was either tucked away in some booth high up or in another room. Talk about an unforgettable experience."
Back then, Ellis never imagined that he would one day be soaring through outer space and making his mark on an historic TV and feature film franchise. The actor portrays Yorkshire-born Chief Engineer Olson in the new Star Trek movie. Although he is one of the good guys, it almost turned out to be the exact opposite.
"I originally tried out for the part of a Romulan," says the actor. "A couple of weeks went by and I didn't hear anything, so I thought no more about it. At the time I was working on a TV show called The Riches, and one morning I got a call saying that J.J. Abrams [Trek director/producer] wanted to see me about the role of Chief Engineer Olson, the original engineer onboard the Enterprise. So I spoke to the director I was working with and he said it didn't look like I was going to have a full [shooting] day and would make sure I got out on time. When I arrived at Paramount Studios I was given the pages for the scenes I was reading for and had to learn them on the spot. I auditioned and the following day found out I was up for the role.
"Not long after that I was on the Star Trek set, and what immediately struck me was how friendly everyone was. I got on really well with John Cho [Sulu] and Chris Pine [Captain James T. Kirk], who I had most of my scenes with, and Bruce Greenwood [Captain Christopher Pike]. He's a big chess player, and my first day on-set, within an hour he had me playing a game with him. So there we were, Captain Pike and Chief Engineer Olson trying to outwit each other on the chess board," chuckles Ellis. "It was all rather surreal. The thing is, I wasn't a huge Star Trek fan growing up, and I've since become educated about as well as respectful of the massive fan base that Star Trek has. That's something I kept reminding myself of while we were working on the movie."
Prior to the film's U.S. release last Friday, Ellis had appeared, albeit briefly, in the main trailer for Star Trek, which features snippets of one of the movie's main action sequences. "Kirk, Sulu and Olson have to go on a skydiving mission down to a Romulan orbital platform that is drilling down into the planet Vulcan, the home of Spock [Zachary Quinto]," explains the actor. "We were wearing these skydiving spacesuits with helmets, and the helmets kept steaming up, so they had to pump oxygen into them to un-steam the visors in order for us to see what we were doing.
"I had two costumes, my Enterprise uniform and the skydiving one, which was amazing, particularly the minute details. For example, the gloves we wore were personally fitted by this incredible glove maker. I'd never net a glove maker before. He measured my hands, then made a test pair of gloves, and finally added all the detail and piping to the end product. Again, the attention to detail, even down to the clip to keep our skydiving parachutes on, was so impressive. Michael Kaplan did the costumes, and I'd previously worked with him on another movie. It was as if you took [the designers] Gucci, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, mixed them all up and then times it by 10. That's what the spacesuits were like."
[caption id="attachment_784" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Greg Ellis. Photo courtesy of and copyright of JSquared Photography"][/caption]
While it may appear as if Engineer Olson and his crewmates are hurtling towards Vulcan at breakneck speed, the actual shooting of the skydiving scene was, in places, rather simple. "Surprisingly, there wasn't too much green screen involved," says Ellis. "J.J. Abrams and his crew were extremely creative insofar as filming. When it came to my character skydiving, they put mirrors on the ground, which reflected the sky. I was then lowered onto the mirrors, while J.J. and the camera operator stood on a raised platform with the camera pointed straight into my face. Imagine that and then invert the whole thing; it looks as if I'm flying through the sky, and it is the real sky, only reflected. So, again, very creative.
"Clearly J.J. Abrams is a talented guy. He has the Midas Touch when it comes to movies and TV. The thing is, there are so many people who work with him and for him, and they're fans of his as well and go from project to project to project. They're utterly loyal to J.J. and that's a testament to just how wonderful he is. He's a true collaborator who has a vision, and it's not only exciting but also fun to work with him every day."
It may surprise some Trek fans to discover that Star Trek is not Ellis' first time playing in this particular make-believe universe. Back in 1999, he guest-starred as a Cardassian named Ekoor in the two-hour Star Trek: Deep Space Nine finale What You Leave Behind.
"I went into that job looking forward to doing that particular incarnation of Star Trek but having no idea of the seriousness of doing the show's finale," notes the actor. "In one of the scenes I blasted two rebel Cardassians and, as I walked down some steps, said the classic line, 'That's Locarian City.' At the time, I didn't know where or what that was, and I later became quite educated in its history as well as what a Jem'Hadar, Bajoran, Romulan and, indeed, a Cardassian, was.
"I remember going through three hours of prosthetics every morning for this role, so when I did the Star Trek movie I was actually quite happy that I was playing a human being and not a Romulan. That said, wearing a 'mask' like that, I think, helps you get into character. It was the same when I did the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. It's just a great ride to be involved with something so iconic."
The X-Files, Bones, The Closer and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation are among Ellis' other TV credits. The actor is probably best known, though, for his performance as international arms dealer Michael Armador in season three of 24. "I had a terrific time on that show," he enthuses. "I had worked before with Kiefer Sutherland [Jack Bauer] in a movie called To End All Wars, which was about prisoners in a Japanese POW camp during World War II, and it was great to have the opportunity to work with him again.
"The challenge of 24 really comes down to the fact that the story is told in 24 hours. My first day of filming was a night scene on-location. It was a meeting with Nina Meyers [Sarah Clarke] on one side and Jack Bauer and the Mexicans on the other. My character was holding an auction for a biological weapon, and when it's over, Jack was going to walk with the Mexicans to his car. However, we had to rethink the scene because it would have taken longer to do that than we had in real time.
[caption id="attachment_790" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="The dashing Greg Ellis. Photo courtesy of and copyright of JSquared Photography"][/caption]
"So it's a matter of thinking in a different mindset, which in this case is real time, and the hurdles involved with that. However, it's good to be challenged in that way and it makes you stay on top of your storytelling because that's what the show's fans expect. Kiefer is very involved and very professional about the details, and it shows.
"Originally I was only supposed to be in three episodes, and when I was given the script for my fourth episode it had a scene where my character's throat got slit. I thought, 'That's OK, I had a good time.' Then I got the rewrite and I was suddenly and miraculously alive. They [the producers/writers] had decided to kill off the Nina Meyers character instead. So you never knew from script to script and rewrite to rewrite how long you'd be alive for, and I wound up sticking around for, I believe, nine or ten episodes, which I was thrilled about."
Besides his roles in front of the camera, Ellis is also a much sought-after voice artist. His work can be heard on various video games including SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and Tomb Raider: Legend, as well as such cartoons as Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Ben 10: Alien Force and Phineas and Ferb. Not surprisingly, this type of work has its own unique set of challenges, some harder than others.
"A lot of times it's tough keeping a straight face and staying quiet when someone else is talking about because it's so much fun," says Ellis. "Typically, you're in a room with other like-minded, silly individuals and you all get to act like children, depending, of course, on the project, and enjoy yourselves. Things can move fast, though, and it's a matter of keeping up. Direction and notes are thrown at you and you have to quickly digest and incorporate them into your next take."
Does the actor have a favorite character to have voiced? "Growing up I used to read the comic Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, and years later that was my very first animated TV project, so I was pretty excited about that. As a child I also had an Action Man figure, who was like G.I. Joe, and I got to be the voice of that character, too. I did a few episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars as well and enjoyed being a small part of the Star Wars world. I've also done three of the Pirates of the Caribbean video games and, having done the films, a lot of the actors are my mates, so I've voiced most of their characters in the games. And I'm the voice of the Jack Sparrow doll, which I think is an interesting little piece of trivia."
[caption id="attachment_792" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Greg Ellis. Photo courtesy of and copyright of JSquared Photography"][/caption]
A couple of years ago, Ellis was one of the musical artists invited by Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber to perform for Queen Elizabeth and the Royal Family at London's St. Paul's Cathedral as part of The Best of Andrew Lloyd-Webber. "I got to sing two solo songs, which was pretty neat," he says. "First of all, singing at St.Paul's with its acoustics, history, architecture, etc. is just incredible, and to then have the Queen and the Royal Family there to meet afterwards made for a truly unforgettable night.
"It was many years later, but my childhood TV experience of singing for Princess Diana came around full circle as well," adds the actor. "It was, I think, the third preview of the musical Miss Saigon where I got to meet her backstage and found her to be a really lovely person."
Currently, this verstile entertainer is keeping busy with a few new projects, including the recurring role of Simon Cochran on the TNT series Trust Me, and a guest-spot on Nip/Tuck. "I've been back in the prosthetics chair again for that show, but only for a couple of hours," says Ellis. "I have a writing partner in England and we've written a couple of things that seem to be moving forward. So I've been very lucky work-wise and, touch wood, long may it continue."
As noted above, all photos courtesy of and copyright of JSquared Photography, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!