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Karie (site owner) Written by Karie (site owner)
May. 15, 2009 | 1:20 AM
Interviews





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An interview with creature concept designer Neville Page

Neville Page is a “Concept Designer” whose rich imagination conjures up creatures and characters that often take center stage in films.  His impressive resume includes blockbusters such as The Hulk, Cloverfield, Watchmen and the new Star Trek.  He recently sat down with FilmRadar to discuss his work, his collaborators and his next big project.


How did you become interested in film?


Two Words: Star Wars!  Like so many in my field, George Lucas set our targets. Although, I may have been a little less informed than others, or just a bigger geek, as my dream was to be in the world of Star Wars. Yep, dress up like Luke, wield a light saber, have a droid or two and eventually save the universe from peril. I figured that, since this reality did not exist, it would be cool to be amongst the process. My rationale was that if I was an actor, I could wear the costume, could wield the saber, etc. After studying acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena (at that time), and then working as a professional actor in many restaurants, it soon dawned on me that I was not being sated in the way I desired. How could the geek be quenched? I discovered a school, The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena (still there), and was blown away by their gallery of “future” design. There was an epiphany. I realized that people actually have a career in creating this stuff. To some, this was obvious, to me; I had never been exposed to this. I was fortunate to go there, evolve a career in industrial design, and eventually find myself in film.


How did you begin working in concept design?


I have to thank Jose Fernandez for leaving his keys next door to my studio (amazing artist I am currently working with on Tron). Colleen Atwood (major costume designer in film) brought his keys over knowing he was a friend and discovered that we did industrial design, specifically helmets. Since she was working on phase one of Minority Report, she saw myself and business partner, Scott Robertson, to be great candidates for some of the gear in the film. We were brought on board and have been doing film since.


What films and filmmakers of the past inspire you?


Star Wars was the seed! Aliens, was the water (Niagara Falls more like it). I watched in terror, but the the experience was incredible. It was so much more than Sci- fi or horror. Since then I have been a Ridley Scott-a-holic. His storytelling, directing, and aesthetic sense are something that I aspire to. So many films we see today still refer to his artistry. Really, rent Alien right now! Tell me that it does not hold up!!!


Describe your creative process when you are working on a project?


First stop; listen intently to the desires of the client. Understand the needs and scope of the project. Second stop; answer the equation. Give them great design. Third stop; go beyond their expectations. Impress them with how far the design can be taken. Expand on their brief. This can sometimes be risky, but is often appreciated.


I typically start out with rough sketches; pencil and paper. Sometimes, real rough. Remember, there is a dollar value attached to your efforts. I try to avoid taking things too far in the event that I am going down the wrong path. Once you get a sense that you are on the right track, tight value illustrations are done; sometimes, proceeded by tight pencil illustrations. Following all of this, I may do a clay sculpture and follow it up with a digital version that I take to a fairly high level of finish including textures and colors.

All of these phases are to slowly show where it may be going. It allows the client to be involved in the creative process and gives them a sense of security to move on to the next investment, from one phase to the next.



You’ve worked with some very high profile directors.  You can describe what your working experience has been with each of them?



I will mention the two that stand out the most. James Cameron, and JJ Abrams. I refer to them simply because I have spent an atypical amount of time with them both (when looking at the usual scenario of a film illustrator.)


I spent the first few months at Jim’s house in Malibu working on Avatar. Keep in mind, that was the “real” first film job doing creature/character design and to be working with James Cameron…..at his house! It was amazing! Jim and the very experience changed how I do things. This is a man that knows exactly what he wants. Even if you give him what he wants, he may realize that, now seeing it, he wants something else. His prerogative. Yes, he is a tough man.  Yes, he is demanding. But once you understand him, the project, what needs to be done, it is an amazing experience.


I worked with him for over 3 years on Avatar. And it was a very close interactive experience. I feel that I got to know Jim, maybe just a little, as a person, not just a filmmaker and boss. Jim taught me the meaning of “specificity”. Know your goal; amass the people that can help realize it, and never waiver from your version of truth.


JJ. Another man I respect a great deal. I will not compare the two, as they are apples and oranges. I was fortunate to work with JJ on Cloverfield and then Star Trek. What I found so fantastic was how he invited all to be involved in his vision. By that I mean he welcomed opinion and ideas from not just the artists, but from most everyone. It was not as if he did not know what he wanted so anything was helpful. It was, or at least to me it appeared to be, that he recognizes that all opinions have merit from an individual’s perspective. And when a product is going out to the general public, you had better have a broad understanding of likes and dislikes.


Another thing about JJ is that he really afforded me a huge amount of education on set. Since I had to be there all the time, I could not help but wonder the how and why of things.  He welcomed my questions while filming. “JJ, why did you choose this composition?”, “JJ, why a crane shot?” Given the opportunity, you too would conduct yourself like a 5 year old at the zoo for the first time. Clearly, the man is also patient.


I lied. I would like to add one more director, Joe Kosinski (Tron 2)


When asked to be your best creatively, what better a scenario than having an environment that is conducive? Joe personifies just that. A delight to work with, light to work with. And yet, respectfully demanding.


I am grateful to all 3!!!


What are you working on right now?


Right now I am finishing up Tron 2. Been doing specialty costume design with Christine Clark of Watchmen. Ironically, did the helmets too and am working with Jose Fernandez and his company, Ironhead, doing the fabrication. Also wrapping up Piranha 3D (can you guess what I designed?), and I am now moving on to some pretty amazing productions that, typically, I can’t mention.

What are your goals for the future?


It really is a privilege to be doing what I am doing. Having my designs realized by some of the most talented people and having the distribution of the motion picture industry to share with a very large audience the experience of these designs is an amazing privilege. But, I admittedly crave something else. I would love to be the person at the helm of many creative people crafting the film itself. Is that directing? Is it producing? Either. Both! That is the goal.



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