Aliens Vs. Predator 2: Making of a Sequel

In “Aliens Vs. Predator 2,” the iconic creatures from the two film franchises wage a most brutal battle.

The sci-fiction-action-thriller tries to capture the magic of the Alien vs. Predator comics, novels and videogames that established the AVP brand, while paying homage to the hallmarks of the film series that preceded it: Ridley Scotts Alien; James Camerons Aliens; and John McTiernans thriller about an extra-terrestrial warrior wreaking havoc in the jungle, Predator. AVP2 introduces an intriguing element to the franchise, by having the Aliens and Predator wage war in a small American town.

Bringing these elements together are directors Colin and Greg Strause, whose visual effects house Hydraulx is renowned for its computer-generated wizardry on films such as 300, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Fantastic Four.

Its no accident that the Strause brothers are making their feature film debut on a story about Aliens and Predators as theyre unabashed fans of these series. Colin and Greg live Aliens and Predators, says John Davis, who produced this film, as well as the original Predator and 2005s Alien vs. Predator. Theyve seen the movies countless times, know the AVP comics and played the AVP videogames. They really understand these characters. Adds screenwriter Shane Salerno: The Strause brothers live, eat and breathe these films. Theyre passionate about this material.

The brothers passion extends to the films central notion of placing warring creatures in the midst of a small American town. This idea heightened the stakes and the scares. Whats more frightening–a menace happening millions of miles away, or a threat in your own backyard, says Greg Strause. We thought it was time to bring the Predator and Aliens into the thick of things here. It gets very primal; youve never seen anything like it on film. No one is safe in this movie!

The creatures are literally on our streets, adds Davis: The idea to set the story in Anywhere, U.S.A.–in a nice, recognizable town that is suddenly thrust into the middle of an epic battle and mounting carnage they cant begin to fathom. The town under siege is Gunnison, a real-life locale situated in the mountains of central Colorado. Its small, but not too small, says Shane Salerno who set the story in Gunnison after searching a U.S. map for a fresh take on the warring creatures. (Vancouver, British Colombia stood in for Gunnison.)

AVP2 exists in a familiar landscape–a towns dark sewers, its rain-soaked streets, the concrete jungle of its electrical plant, and a hospital maternity ward–that become battlefields beyond the townspeoples worst nightmares.

While writing the script, I was thinking about how regular people respond to the most extreme situations, Salerno continues. I looked at things like hurricanes and fires, where ordinary people firefighters, police officers, teachers become heroes. We wanted to explore the lengths to which people would go to protect their families, elaborates Colin Strause. Who would they fight for and die for

Introducing the Predalien

Another element new to the franchise is the Predalien. The Predaliens debut in AVP2 had been the subject of much fan speculation, and tight security surrounded the creatures concept and design. The creature is not a Predator/Alien hybrid. It’s an Alien that incubated inside a Predator, taking on some characteristics of the host body. (Its about 80 percent Alien, 20 percent Predator.) It has the Aliens exoskeleton, acid blood, scorpion-like tail and inner tongue/striking mouth. On the Predator side, it has an additional Predator-like mandible, and an Alien-ized version of Predator dreadlocks.

More significantly, its Predator DNA has changed the Aliens method of procreation. Forgoing the creatures traditional Queeneggface-huggerchest-burster-adult cycle, the Predalien has an even more aggressive and efficient breeding system.

The only thing stopping the onslaught of the Aliens and Predalien is a sole Predator. Unlike the hunter Predators seen in previous films, AVP2 is cleaner whose sole purpose is to erase any signs of an Alien or Predator presence on Earth. The Predator becomes a kind of eco-warrior. He doesnt want to leave any carnage behind on Earth that could upset the planets balance, says Davis. That gives the character a certain dignity. But this is not a kindler, gentler Predator; in fact, he is the most ruthless of that species. Unlike the cleaners predecessors, it does not follow the Predators hunters code of pursuing only armed prey; in AVP2, innocents fall victim to its relentless pursuit of the Aliens that have overrun Gunnison.

The Predator also differs physically from previous screen incarnations. It has a very different life experience from the hunter Predators, says Greg Strause. Its leaner and meaner. Creature effects creator and designer Alec Gillis, who with his partner Tom Woodruff, Jr. worked on several previous Alien and Predator films, elaborates: Our idea was that this Predator is a battle-scarred veteran who uses his brains more than his brawn. He carries scars of previous campaigns [of cleaning]–one of his mandibles has melted off from a previous encounter with an acid-blooded Alien. Adds Colin Strause: You can tell hes been through a lifetime of battles. And he wears no armor he doesnt need it!
The Predators cleaning tasks require an arsenal that surpasses that of its hunter predecessors. He carries not one, but two shoulder cannons; an implosion bomb that can disintegrate a crashed Predator spaceship; a canister of dissolving fluid that in seconds can turn an Alien into dust; and a bullwhip made from pieces of an Alien tail, with ultra-sharp serrated edges.

Working within the fresh setting of Gunnison, while adding intriguing variations on Aliens and Predators long familiar to fans of the series, The Brothers Strause strove to return to the gritty, horror roots of Alien, Aliens and Predator. Moreover, they were determined to respect the timeline established in the previous Alien and Predator films.

AVP2 serves as a bridge from the Predator franchise to the Alien films, says Colin Strause. Its set after Predator and ‘Predator 2, and before the events of Alien. Strause says the storys timeframe will pay dividends to the enthusiasts of the film series. There are a few treats in AVP2 that will tip off hardcore fans how we get to Alien.

The brothers love of Aliens led them to ask Fox to digitally remaster the original tracks of the creatures from James Camerons classic film. The directors used the remastered tracks for their Alien sounds in AVP2.

Similarly, Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. saw themselves being caretakers of the franchises, preserving key traits of the original Alien, designed by the legendary H.R. Giger for Ridley Scotts 1979 film, as well as some of James Cameron and Stan Winstons creature design work on Aliens, and Winstons work on Predator. The Strauses also integrated into the film some aspects from the comics and videogames incarnations of the creatures. Were standing on the shoulders of giants, Gillis notes.

The shared vision of the Strause brothers and Woodruff and Gillis was evident as early as their first meeting. When we heard that Colin and Greg were directing we hadnt met them yet–our first thought was, Oh, its going to be all-digital creatures, all the time, Gillis acknowledges, referring to the brothers formidable reputation as visual effects specialists. We were concerned that the creatures wouldnt be as tactile as they needed to be.

The fears of the creature creators-designers were quickly assuaged when the Strause brothers visited their shop, Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. We were thrilled when Colin and Greg came to our shop, and we saw how much they appreciated the previous versions of the characters. We all agreed that merging practical effects and digital technology made for better creatures.

While Gillis and Woodruff finalized their creature designs, the Strause brothers, producer John Davis, and the studio began the casting process and populating their version of a besieged Gunnison, Colorado. The townspeople are working class characters, unlike the millionaires, explorers and adventurers of the first Alien vs. Predator. You care when something happens to them, says John Davis.

Human Characters

John Ortiz (American Gangster), who portrays Morales, the towns sheriff, notes that the human characters, even in the midst of fantastical and horrific situations, remain recognizable and relatable. What drew me to Morales is that although hes an authority figure, he doesnt have all the answers. And though the stakes are extreme for him and everyone in town, at their core, the characters struggles are ones known to everyone survival and family.
Ortiz wasnt immune to the otherworldly designs surrounding him every day on the set. I remember the first time we shot a scene with an Alien. It was on top of a car, and Im watching it and thinking, What the hell! And my mouth just dropped open. I thought, Holy s**t, Im in an Alien movie!

For Steven Pasquale (Rescue Me), sharing the spotlight with the famous xenomorph was the fulfillment of a longtime goal. The original Alien was my fathers favorite film, he explains. One of the reasons I wanted to appear in AVP2 was because I knew hed be over the moon about it.

Pasquale portrays Dallas, an ex-con just out of prison. His reunion with younger brother Ricky, played by Johnny Lewis, is interrupted by the catastrophe shattering their town. Dallas sees right away that Ricky is headed down the same path that he was, says Pasquale, and he tries to turn that around. Hes always trying to protect his brother.

Dallas, like Morales, is capable and tough, but no amount of street smarts and inner strength can measure up to the threat posed by the warring Aliens and Predator. What I like about the characters is that they have no training that could prepare them for this phenomenon, Pasquale adds.

Pasquales on-screen sibling, Johnny Lewis, expects his role as a troubled high school student who battles and, at least for a moment, triumphs over an Alien, to be one of the more memorable of his career. No matter what I do in my life, the fact that I got to kill some of those creatures will be my little claim to history, he laughs. Not many people can make that claim.

Another family in crisis is a mother, Kelly, and her daughter Molly. Kelly has just returned to Gunnison from a tour of duty in Iraq. Shes trying to reestablish a relationship with Molly and must re-learn how to be mother, says Reiko Aylesworth (24, E.R.), who portrays the warrior-mom. But as shes trying to reconnect with Molly (Ariel Gade), Kelly must also return to combat-mode to deal with the escalating Aliens and Predator horrors. Kelly gets very Ripley-esque, says Aylesworth, referring to Sigourney Weavers heroic Ellen Ripley, the central character of the Alien film franchise.

Were paying homage to Ripley in that sense that both she and Kelly are strong female characters, Aylesworth elaborates. What I loved about Sigourneys work in those films is that she wasnt trying to emulate a male action hero. She was very female and very maternal. Molly shares those traits.

As if battling Aliens and a Predator cleaner werent challenge enough, the actors did so during six weeks of freezing nights and rain on the AVP2 set. Steven Pasquale sums up the experience of working in daily torrential downpours: In the first week or so of production, I was excited to shoot at night, in the rain, and battle Aliens. When we arrived on the set and got soaking wet for the first time, it was exhilarating and fun; we were laughing and having a good time. By two weeks into the filming, all that remained was complete misery and a brutal and constant struggle to stay warm. Pasquale celebrated his thirtieth birthday on-set with a case of hypothermia.

While posing challenges to the actors, the weather was a boon to the directors vision for the film. The grittiness, steam, rain, haze fog it all enhances the action, says Greg Strause. These elements reflect our philosophy of less is more. We didnt want to show too much of the creatures, so we hid them in the shadows and in the rain, a strategy employed by two of the brothers cinematic touchstones, Alien and Aliens. Additionally, the Strause brothers sprinkled subliminal elements throughout the film to amp up the scares. In their Gunnison, even a small pizza shop can look as threatening as a desolate planet.

After wrapping principal photography, the Strause brothers set up post-production headquarters at their Santa Monica, Californiabased effects house, Hydraulx. There, they worked on not only the films digital magic, but also on other critical post work. At the same time, Brian Tyler composed the films score, creating what he calls gritty, scary, adrenaline-pumping music that reflects the mood of scores from the previous films in the franchise.

The Alien themes use screeching strings, atonal furor, and wailing brass, explains Tyler. When I conducted the Aliens themes, the sound wave created by the orchestra nearly knocked me on my [behind]. Tyler contrasts these with the Predator themes: The Predators have an intelligence lacking in the Aliens, but theyre equally as brutal. For them, I merged tribal-style percussion and stern brass. It was important to have the music sound epic and true to its science fiction roots, Tyler concludes.