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PAUL

Build An Alien
When Mottola was first approached about directing Paul, he admits he was nervous to helm a project in which the main character was wholly CGI. "Now that I'm done with the animation,” he admits candidly, "I didn't know how scared I should be. It's hard to pull off full-on, complete animation. You're deciding every time your character blinks, every time it smiles, what kind of smile it is and whether its Adam's apple is going to move or not. It's a long way from the stop-motion animation I did as an eight-year-old with my Super 8 camera.”

Though Paul is purposefully intended to resemble the classic alien ingrained in our collective psyche, it was still crucial to make him as human as possible. "We had to create an alien that for all intents and purposes is a human being in his behavior and just happens to look like an alien with certain abilities,” Mottola states. "But for 90 percent of the screen time, he's just a guy in a car hanging out. We wanted to try and make a guy that the audience cared about who was still irritating at times—human, surprising, emotional and difficult.”

Fortunately, he had the brilliant assistance of the team at Double Negative, who worked on the effects for Big Talk and Working Title's last two collaborations, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. As did their director, they knew that crafting an entirely computer-generated character who is on-screen for so much of the film would be vastly challenging.

As his crew began to imagine Paul, Mottola and his team attacked it from a few different directions. He says, "We designed a CG version of Paul that was not completely satisfying, so we brought in a practical effects company that has this talented sculptor who sculpted Paul out of clay first. He created a miniature size of Paul until we got a rough design we thought was good, and then he did a life-size version.

"The idea we talked about was how Paul was the evolutionary product of human beings a billion years from now,” Mottola continues. "As our brains get bigger, we have less and less of a reason to be physically stronger because we're smarter and can utilize technology. Our bodies would shrink in proportion, and we would evolve into this thin creature. This sculptor cracked it, got into the details and improvements of our CG version. From Paul's little cranial depressions to the shape of his chin and the way his eyes sat in his head, it was perfect.”

From there, the team created an animatronic Paul that was beneficial in determining what the wiseass humanoid would look like whenever he moved. After that, they built a puppet incarnation (complete with hands) that would be used for close-ups. They knew they needed this version because every time Mottola and cinematographer Lawrence Sher would physically be shooting a scene in which the character was included, they had to have a practical double for eye-line reference and movement purpose.

According to visual effects supervisor JODY JOHNSON, creating this unique character was a multipronged effort. Johnson begins: "First we worked closely with Greg to get inside his mind and find out how he saw Paul, and then with Seth, who voiced the character and with whom we did a lot of performance and character work.”

During the motion-capture (mo-cap) stage of preproduction, Seth Rogen spent several weeks giving a performance as the alien that the team recorded. He ran each of the scenes multiple times in rehearsal to ensure the animators had all the physical references they needed to craft Paul. To ensure that the follow-up movements during production were flush, the stand-ins that were used based their actions, mannerisms and inflections on the filmed references of Rogen. Then, Rogen returned for days of ADR. The actor offers his take on the first stages of production, noting that he didn't want Paul to have a stereotypical stiff personality of a stereotypical alien. He says, "In the motion capture, I thought it would be funny if Paul moved as much like me as possible. I tried to make it extra casual, like he was a little drunk and stoned all the time. I was amused by the fact that we were taking this insane technology and applying it to something so casual.”

To act in a bubble was initially a challenge for the comic performer. But he was up for it. "I like that you can keep working on the performance and keep refining it,” he says. "I appreciate that it's different than live action. We looked at every scene in the movie and would say, for example, ‘Paul needs to make a noise there.' We tried to make every little sound or action he has seem more genuine. It helps sell the illusion that much more.”

The lion's share of Double Negative's efforts would be the team's translation of Paul to the screen—and putting this CG character in a real environment so that he would be completely convincing throughout the film. "It required lighting Paul in a very naturalistic way so he would be integrated with everyone else's performance,” says Johnson.

Sums Johnson's colleague, visual effects producer HAL COUZENS: "This is a film that can't look like a visual effects film. It has to look like a film with three guys in it and supporting cast and characters.”

Not as easy as it sounds, since Paul utilized much handheld camera work, Steadicam and crane shots. The first stage required working closely with director of photography Sher to get just the right shots. "We had a lighting puppet of Paul [created by Spectral Motion], and every scene we shot we put the lighting puppet in. Larry set up the lighting to give Paul a framework and make him appear realistic among the other characters,” says Johnson. "Then I shot a reference of the lighting puppet that I took back to Double Negative so it could be used to base the CG lighting on.”

In addition to his day job as Agent O'Reilly, Lo Truglio would be enlisted for another, no less important assignment on the film. He served as a performance stand-in for Paul when the alien was needed on set for reference purposes (and when the lighting puppet was no longer required). Many actors have stand-ins on a movie set; that's nothing new. But a CG character?

"What concerned us at the start,” reflects Park, "was that it's important in comedy to be able to react off someone. At first, we couldn't quite work out how to do it. We realized that it was essential to have a comic performer for Simon and Nick and the others to act with. When Joe's name came up, we thought, ‘Why would he want to hang around to do that?' It's slightly schizophrenic going from playing O'Reilly to getting on your knees with kneepads and delivering Paul's lines. But Joe said yes and was just absolutely perfect for it.”

Lo Truglio recounts his time on set as a little green man: "Paul was a tricky character because we needed to have the same empathy and compassion for a CGI character that we would have for a human. There were quite a number of people needed to make that happen. The first, of course was, Seth, who is Paul and had to wear the motion capture suit. Then afterwards there were the visual effects guys over at Double Negative. I was there for Seth's rehearsal and watched what he was doing. During production I tried to combine what Seth did to get a reaction from Simon and Nick, so they weren't talking to someone who wasn't there. It was a challenge as an actor because the whole exercise was about creating this alien that is an amalgam of everyone's input. It was quite amazing. And I got a lot of mileage out of my kneepads, too.”

While Lo Truglio served as

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