Battle for Terra Director Describes Turning Humans Into Aliens” width=”560″/>
Digital artist Aristomenis Tsirbas describes designing aliens on a shoestring budget for his first directorial feature and defying the rules of special effects for Star Trek.
Q: Terra began as a short film. How much did it change when you turned it into a feature?
A: Well it’s about 80 minutes longer [Laughs]. There are actually three scenes in it that were almost verbatim transferred to the film. The character designs made it through the film almost unchanged, mostly because it was such a low-budget film that we needed to use whatever assets we had. But the short was a distilled and simplified version of this movie, and it had a simpler, on the nose ending. It was more shocking, whereas in this movie it’s completely different — it’s not as simple, or as political actually.
Q: You’ve said you made this because you wanted to tell a reverse invasion story, so the humans are the aggressors. What movies inspired you?
A: There was War of the Worlds, because it was one of the first invasion movies. That inspired me and frustrated me, because the aliens were just a little too simple and evil. I wasn’t satisfied with that. Seventies science fiction in general also inspired me, because it was a little more allegorical and political than any other time in scifi film history — films like Planet of the Apes had interesting themes in them. And of course you can clearly see the influence of Star Wars.
Q: The final battle does bear a remarkable resemblance to the Death Star run.
A: Yeah it does. I wanted to have a battle at the end, and I went through a lot of different types of battles and decided an air battle was the most economical. If there was a land battle with hand-to-hand combat, the sheer volume of character animation involved would have been utterly impossible with our independent budget. Imagine having to animate hundreds of articulate creatures — each one being very complex — as opposed to have a single hard-surfaced ship fly by. So we ended up with an aerial battle, which seems to be the most doable and works well.
Q: Where did the designs for your aliens, the Terrians, come from?
A: Initially the designs really came from the concept that they needed to be very different from humans. But the limitations of the film also helped dictate what they would look like: We didn’t want to use hair, because actually that’s very expensive. I thought let’s not give them legs and have them be buoyant, because to show someone walking takes a lot of time and money. I wanted their faces to be relatable, so I made their eyes very large, but actually human eyes zoomed in. So the main Terrain character and the main human character share the exact same eyeball — it’s the same image, so there’s an unconscious connection between them.
Q: The animation in Terra is a lot more cartoon-y than other CGI movies.
A: Right, especially for the Terrians. I wanted to present an alien culture which initially felt naïve, but wasn’t. So in doing the design of the film, we present an infantile, idyllic world, and then it deepens and darkens, and as that happens the Terrian world gets a little more realistic looking and edgier looking. If you look at the way the film progresses, it starts off kind of cartoony, and then it deepens. I wanted the look of the film to progress with that idea.
Q: You’ve done a lot of digital effects for the various Star Trek series. Did that work influence Terra in any way?
A: Not influence as much as it allowed me develop the skill set to do animation with a rapid turnaround and a tight budget. I was able to develop shortcuts and capabilities to get things to look good at a fast turnaround.
Q: What was your favorite Trek series to work on?
A: I really appreciated working on the last shot of Deep Space Nine. I had a bit of a crusade to prove to the visual effects community that digital animation could look as good as shooting real models. And the space station was always a model. But the very last shot on Deep Space Nine is a pullout from inside the station all the way out, which is impossible to do with the model because if you’re in that close the detail just isn’t there. So I was tasked to build a digital version of the station and then create this cosmic zoom from inside the station then out through the galaxy until you see a nebula. And that was pretty cool.Read More