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Design And Locations
While Greg Mottola has won respect for his fluid visual style as a comedy director, a comedy-adventure such as Paul required an expanded vision. For visual reference, Mottola drew from the work of Steven Spielberg—everything from the director's film debut, The Sugarland Express, to his sci-fi masterpieces Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

But Mottola's vision, while containing the high-gloss elements of Spielberg, also incorporates a ragtag look that keeps this production true to his roots as an independent filmmaker from such productions as The Daytrippers. Such visionary ambitions would seem to be at odds with characterizations of "laid-back” and "easygoing,” which are how cast and crew describe Mottola. Yet, it fits precisely with the kind of confidence Mottola displayed in his overall vision.

The director's calm demeanor was even more remarkable in light of the fact that, despite the genesis of Paul as a film Pegg wanted to shoot anywhere but underneath England's rainy umbrella, the weather throughout the shoot remained unpredictable. "We had hail storms and lightning and far more rain than we had back in England,” shares Park. "The original idea came from wanting to shoot in America, where the weather would be good. Instead we were challenged every day by the weather.”

Pegg admits he traded the challenges of one inclement climate for another: "We wound up shooting in one of the most changeable places in the world. It would be blazing sunshine one minute and 20 minutes later there'd be hailstones the size of golf balls. Sometimes we had to take cover due to lightning storms. There was even a device on set to ensure we were a safe distance away from electrical storms, because apparently a lot of people get struck by lightning in New Mexico.”

Of course, a director's vision is only as good as the people who execute it, and Mottola assembled a crackerjack team of behind-the-scenes wizards to realize the deceptively complex challenges of creating the world according to Paul.

Though the film is set in various areas of the American Southwest—from Comic- Con in San Diego to the Devil's Tower in Wyoming (famously used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind)—Paul was shot almost exclusively in New Mexico. Concocting a convincing landscape that fit all the script's demands would be easier than one might imagine. In fact, within one hour's drive of Santa Fe can be found the type of harsh desert that feels like Nevada, as well as mountains that would make the observer swear he or she was in Wyoming or Colorado. The road trip was born.

One of the first steps in coordinating this visual sleight of hand began as Mottola, production designer Jefferson Sage and line producer/executive producer Robert Graf sat down with J. TODD ANDERSON, the storyboard artist who has worked for Joel and Ethan Coen for many years. A key part of Mottola's early process in conceptualizing the movie and translating the script into visual terms, Anderson worked with the director for approximately three months to storyboard the film.

Making the storyboards three-dimensional and bringing visual texture to Paul was the task at hand for Sage, with whom Mottola had previously collaborated on the cult television comedy series Undeclared. For a road-trip picture that covers a lot of territory, it is decidedly curious that one of his primary functions was to create the movie's main set, a battered recreation vehicle. Still, Sage explains: "The RV is where we spend most of our time and where most of the action occurs.”

Naturally, the look of the RV needed to match the eccentric characters driving it. "We agreed that it should be an older-style vehicle since these guys wouldn't go top-of-the- line and were probably on a bit of a budget,” explains Sage. "We started looking at RVs from the '70s and '80s.” The finished product, known in the script as a Beagle Traveler, was an amalgam of two models: a late-'80s vintage Winnebago (whose silhouette served as the vehicle's exterior) and another RV called a Bounder (the majority of which was used for fashioning the interiors).

Two functioning RVs were utilized for the road scenes, and a third was crafted for sequences shot on a soundstage. This final RV was known as the Hero RV because all its interior parts could be removed to allow the camera and crew to light it and shoot in it. A much broader challenge was re-creating the biggest comic convention on the planet, San Diego's Comic-Con, using the 100,000-square-foot Albuquerque Convention Center to serve as Comic-Con's double. Dressing the set to look like the real thing involved countless clearances from the many participants and stakeholders of the actual event.

Re-creating the behemoth annual convention was a labor of love for Mottola's cast and crew. He provides: "We all had fun with Comic-Con. We all grew up on comic books and science fiction and just wanted to get it right. We didn't want it to become a cheap joke, and we knew it had to look like the real thing.”

To stand in for Wyoming, regions of the small town of Las Vegas, Nevada, were used and a large, open meadow in the mountainous regions near Santa Fe served as the site of Wyoming's Devil's Tower, with the iconic tower later added by the visual effects team. This meadow was also where Sage built the bottom half of Paul's spaceship. Similar to the tower, the VFX team also later digitally created the top of the craft.

A different kind of visual trickery was required for Pegg and Frost to visit the Vasquez Rocks outside Los Angeles. Famously used in a classic Star Trek sequence, the geologic formation was a logical draw for studied geeks Graeme and Clive. Sage sent a second unit crew to capture exteriors of the Vasquez Rocks. Back in New Mexico, Mottola and DP Sher shot Pegg and Frost's movements as Graeme and Clive. Then, much like a composite photograph, the two scenes were married.

As well, Sage fashioned the mysterious White Mailbox that once stood on the road near the infamous Area 51 in central Nevada. To set the scene, he used a barren stretch of desert highway in New Mexico that closely resembled this region of Nevada. Sage found a kindred spirit in his efforts in Mottola, who went to art school before becoming a director. "With Greg's art school background, he was very involved in the visuals and the images he wanted in the movie and how they could also be layered with comedy,” the production designer notes. "We ended up with a modern concept of what science fiction is…a romantic version of it.”

Special-effects coordinator LARZ ANDERSON knew his work would be cut out for him after he finished Pegg and Frost's SFX-laden screenplay. "This was one funny script, but it had a lot of interesting challenges,” he states. "We had a house to blow up, which is always fun, and we got to set off fireworks in the middle of a national forest, which is problematic to say the least…but oh so interesting.”

Among his less exotic assignments was to make the soundstage RV move as if it were on the open road…with Paul, Graeme and Clive flying down the highway. "We built a two-axis gimbal on airbags so we could shake it,” says Anderson. "With pneumatic rams we added braking so when the characters slammed on the brakes, the whole vehicle went forward while we dumped out some cabinets so things fell on them. It was quite dramatic.”

Much more fun, Anderson admits, was the gas explosion at a farmhouse, a major set piece in the film. The stunt was broken down into two elements. On a soundsta

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