EDITORIALS

Creature Designer Neville Page on Creating Avatar's Banshees

by
December 6, 2009
Source: Hero Complex

A Banshee From Avatar

We're down to the last few weeks before James Cameron's Avatar arrives in theaters everywhere. I'm seeing it later this week and I'm sure early reviews will start hitting around then as well. But before we get into that, I wanted to feature this great interview that Hero Complex did with creature designer Neville Page. You may not recognize him yet, but Page is a engineer / artist / designer who has worked previously on Cloverfield, Watchmen, J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, James Cameron's Avatar, and Tron Legacy. He's the guy responsible for designing the creatures, worlds, and vehicles in pretty much all of those films. Read on!

Before getting to Avatar, Page explained that he's been inspired the most in his life by Star Wars as well as other films like Blade Runner, Ridley Scott's Legend, and James Cameron's Aliens. And speaking of Aliens, Page actually says it was Cameron himself who designed the queen. "At his house he pulled out the original design … I think to remind us he was quite capable… I had no idea he was that much of an artist." Never knew that, but it's definitely cool to know. As for Avatar, Page was primarily responsible for designing the banshees, the flying creatures on Pandora that you've probably seen before. He explains the process:

"The banshee is what I spent the most time on. We knew it was a flying creature. What made it so incredibly challenging, with a bird you have to design it flying, perching, everything has to work. You can’t just draw it one view at a time… The hardest thing of all was having a Na’vi on top of it and flying it. You had to backwards engineer it. It was like designing and engineering an aircraft. And that’s without the beauty and aesthetics of it."

That wasn't all that Page did, though. He was part of the original design team in 2005 that was brought in to work with Cameron. "We worked on the Na’vi, the plants, the environment… Jim, like few others, is so tuned into the plausibility of organisms. He wanted them to look as real as possible, and work organically as well." He didn't even realize what it would look like in the end until he saw the footage at Avatar Day ("I thought to myself, 'Wow, Jim pulled this off'"). Page was also asked about the comparison that many people are making between the tall blue Na'vi aliens in Avatar and the characters in the animated movie Delgo.

"I thought the choice of the color blue, you only have a few colors to go with. Alien colors are greens and blues or pale whites. Jim had a palette he wanted. Do I think there is much of a comparison? Clearly there is. I think [the video and side-by-side comparisons] was too literalized. I think it’s easiest to do with many films. You can take a bunch of stuff and spin it to whatever you want. It’s like any love story. There can be parallels drawn to any love story. It’s who can tell it better, with more compelling imagery. That’s definitely what Jim has done here. People are going to get it."

Page is dead on with that explanation. It happens all the time. Almost every week we hear about another lawsuit from someone claiming that they wrote a story similar to some movie and that the screenwriter stole the idea from them. I think it was just mere coincidence that these designs seem so similar. They obviously designed the Na'vi way before Delgo had even been released. I'm glad that Page could even agree that they look the same, but that's not the point, that doesn't really mean anything. I doubt this will change the mind of anyone who is already opposed to Avatar, but I'm glad someone is addressing this pointless "concern."

You can find the full interview with Neville Page over on Hero Complex - it's worth reading even if you're not overly excited for this. Avatar arrives in theaters worldwide in only 12 more days on December 18th!

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  • Dim_one
    James Cameron RULES!....so far...
  • samuel j
    i really hope cameron does good with this, for his sake.
  • Peter
    Uh, Neville Page does NOT design the vehicles. He's a creature/character artist.
  • name
    Interesting, I don't really like the creature design for Cloverfield, Star Trek or Avatar. I didn't realize the same guy worked on all of them. There is something about them. They don't feel right. They all feel very unnatural.
  • #3 - You're right... But I know for certain that he designed some vehicles on Tron Legacy. And he was also a vehicle designer for a German car company before getting into Hollywood. #4 - Really? If anything, the creatures in those 3 movies were AWESOME. Better than almost anything I've seen in recent years. You want terrible creature design, watch The Mist. Stupidest looking creatures I've ever seen...
  • name
    #5 I don't really remember the creatures from the mist. I remember liking how they did the tentacles. As for Avatar, Cloverfield, etc, the creatures seem really designed. they don't seem like living things, they look like cartoons come to life. I think that's my biggest problem with Avatar in general, they keep talking about trying to make you feel transported to another world, but to me it just looks like a cartoon. Just to clarify, I'm not referring to the technology or strength of animation, I am strictly talking about design. Pandora seems like a world designed to be a Saturday morning cartoon, with a cartoon color pallet and cat people riding dragons. That's fine for what it is, but it certainly doesn't make me believe in it.
  • Spock
    Avatar the video game errrrrr movie looks splendid....I can't wait for this to hit dvd.....or bit torrents..
  • Almartva
    This clip shows Neville Page talking about designing the Banshees. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLIN5Yvt30Q Funny how everyone seems to criticize the movie but everyone seems to want to go see it. Spock, the only way to truly experience this movie is in IMAX.
  • As much as I have slated 'Dances with Smurfs' I think I will definitely go see it, the story will be generic, but I think visually it'll be great to look at.
  • It's not the story guys...it's how you tell the story.
  • Brad
    I'd like to see some concept art for this movie.
  • Shawn
    Alex, I don't think you've ever disappointed me as much as you have this time. Where you're clearly entitled to your opinion your remark about the creatures in "The Mist" I feel was harsh. Creature designer and comic illustrator Bernie Wrightson was the mastermind behind those designs and where you may not have cared for them your statement felt dismissive of his talents being he's been designing creatures well befor you were born I'll wager. I'm not trying to be disrespectful to you but I just believe a statement like "You want terrible creature design, watch The Mist. Stupidest looking creatures I've ever seen…" needs a little discussion.
  • Paul
    Neville is an amazing artist, I think he teaches at the Art Center in Pasadena. I thought the mechanics behind how the Cloverfield monster worked, especially it's jaw, were amazing, and it's clear Page puts a lot of thought and science into these creatures.
  • Peter
    Alex, no Neville did not design the vehicles in Tron. That would be Daniel Simon. http://www.danielsimon.net/
  • #14 - While you're right about Simon doing most of the vehicle designs... There's a lot about Tron Legacy you don't know yet. I'm pretty sure Neville did more design work that you might not know about. 😉
  • Sumit
    "I had no idea he was that much of an artist." Never knew that, but it's definitely cool to know. " James Cameron is indeed a great artist - the sketches of Kate Winslet in Titanic were done by him and the Aliens DVD has some amazing illustrations of the Alien Queen by him. If he didn't become a director he could have easily become an artist. As for the Mist I loved the design of the GIANT creature near the end it was so unworldly! Reminded me of Shadow of the Colossus.
  • Kesiri
    What was the name of 'last shadow'? (the big red 'bird' that tried to kill Jake)
  • thomkon
    #17 that was Turok
  • Noah Cross
    Guys. This Neville Page character is a shameless self-promoter.  He only found himself a career as a creature designer just recently.  Before that he was an industrial design guy.  He design ed products like backpacks and wheelchairs.  His creature designs are poor impersonations of a far superior creature designer who gets less press named Jordu Schell.  In fact Neville has elbowed Jordu out of the limelight and taken credit for some of his work on Avatar.  But we will no doubt be hearing more and more of Neville's name in the future as he is the only so-called 'creature designer' who actually has a full time publicist pushing his name out there.  Please do not be fooled by press and internet noise.  Look at the great designs that have inspired you in the past and take that into consideration. And yes, Cameron is a good artist, and he makes his own design drawings that often his illustrators simply flesh out for him.  It's his vision, and he art directs things until they are what he wants.  That is why most of those creatures look good in that film. 

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