The Oscars: Kaufman, Muyzers and Habros Talk District 9
BD: What's all this acclaim for District 9 been like for you over at The Embassy?
Robert Habros: It's quite a treat. It's also funny, in a way, because if you're working hard at your job, it doesn't always get noticed. But to be part of a project that people like really helps. And I was a fan from the beginning because I actually knew Neill from before.
BD: It's interesting how popular the exo-suit has become in recent years.
RH: It's becoming a staple of sci-fi and it reminds me a little bit of Aliens, and I know Neill is a fan of retro sci-fi and he'd always bring up RoboCop. Maybe it's because it's pre-digital and it just feels more physical. But things were different.
BD: And what was the particular challenge for you?
RH: Well, the devil's in the details, and they spent months and months working on the texturing of the exo-suit. On the UVs, we had guys working on the rigging. And you had to make sure that, because it's so faceted, the lines didn't intersect. I mean, it's one thing to come up with a design in drawing. But how does that translate into 3D space? And how do you make it move and do all the stretching and reaching and running? Do you have to re-engineer it and all the gears to make it make sense? The guys did a fantastic job, but they had to redesign the whole suit when we did reshoots, so any of the old design work couldn't be used. So it always slows things down.
BD: And why the redesign?
RH: I'm not really sure. It had more skin to it and was more of a combination of something organic and mechanical. And in the redesign it became taller and more ominous and more of a fighting machine in scale to the aliens. From an audience standpoint, you have to believe the relationship between the characters, and that responsibility fell on Image Engine's shoulders. But a lot of the work we did with animating the suit was to make it feel like it was Wikus inside: it had to retain his body language and it had to take on a bit of the performance of the actor, Sharlto [Copley]. It's like the movie itself: it has to relate to the story of these characters. When you get the chance to help tell the story, it makes the work better.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.