Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tagruato Interview: Cloverfield Lead Creature Designer Neville Page

The secrecy surrounding Cloverfield coupled with its innovative online marketing appealed to virtual sleuths and puzzlers as well as longtime Abrams fans and monster movie devotees. As a result, this diverse group of enthusiasts spent the better part of 6 months analyzing, debating, disassembling and reassembling every clue, hint, leak and fragment they could find during the lead up to the film's release. Cloverfield's viral marketing was such a success that it will undoubtedly replace Snakes on a Plane as the new standard by which all future crowdsourcing campaigns will be measured.

But when Cloverfield did finally premier, Cloverheads weren't treated to the all knowing reveal you might expect. Instead, Cloverfield was just another piece of the alternate universe they'd been meticulously cataloging and assembling all those months--to wit the DoD evidence tag that Cloverfield opens with: Case Designate Cloverfield. It was in this context that I turned to the accidental experts in Unfiction for help in determining which questions to ask Cloverfield's Lead Creature Designer Neville Page.

Tagruato: How would you categorize the symbiotic relationship between the "parasites" and the creature?

Page: The parasites are, first off, not the offspring as some have speculated. They are definitely a parasitic arthropod like creature that seems to be feeding off of the surface of Clover. Are they dropping off of Clover as a result of the "food source" being depleted? Or has a new food source presented itself? Although they seem to be useful from a cleaning standpoint, like a cleaner wrasse, they appear to be opportunistic feeders.

Tagruato: Aside from the color and translucence of the skin and the long, thin limbs, are there other physical characteristics that identify the creature as a newborn?

Page: The other characteristics would be its awkward movement and quadrupedal orientation (like a newborn child). Is it supposed to walk on all fours? Perhaps it will mature to be bipedal. Additionally, it can be speculated that the roars are actually screams of terror and/or calls to its parent.

Tagruato: The appendages on the creature's underbelly have been a source of great speculation. Hasbro's description of the toy includes, "creepy people-sucking underbelly." Director Matt Reeves also made reference to "feeding tubes". You mention the creature has more than one way to eat. Can you shed some light on the form and function of this or any other aspects of the creature?

Page: The "feeding tubes" are basically elongated, and articulated external esophagus with the business end terminating in teethlike fingers. The reason for this feature was actually driven by the need for more personal interaction from a story standpoint. If Clover's hands were to reach down and grab someone, it would not be unlike someone reaching down to grab an ant. The scale is so disparate that there would almost be no connection to the horror. So, we felt that there needed to be a feature that would be "relatable". Sadly, the scenes for this were cut.

Tagruato: To maybe get a sense of the complexity of the Cloverfield Universe, can you compare or contrasts it with that of the Star Trek Universe that you're currently working in?

Page: Hmmm? Is this a trick question to reveal something of each? The only thing that I will say is that there was more time to develop the biology of the new creations in Star Trek, however, Clover was pretty well developed. What does that mean? A greater attention to detail perhaps. I also did not have to concern myself with having to mill about Manhattan in the Star Trek Universe.

Tagruato: Do you get the sense that "Clover" is simply a placeholder for the name of the creature, or is Clover it?

Page: Well, the secret name for the project was "Cloverfield" (Matt has already commented on how this came to be) and I got tired of referring to the big creature as...."the big creature". So, the inhouse code name was Clover. Simple as that. Is it a placeholder? Sort of. But again, I should refrain from elaboration(*).

Tagruato: While a creature of its size requires some suspension of disbelief, did your design address any of the unique challenges that were specific to the scale?

Page: Barely. This answer could go on and on as there are many ways to justify (defend) scale. I did think about bone densities and muscular mass. But still, technically, there is no way this could be. I also considered the requirements of cardiovascular issues. It really would not work. But what if the creature was of a very unique morphology. A morphology mutated, perhaps. This would allow for all sorts of justifications.

Tagruato: JJ Abrams said that he "wanted something that was just insane, and intense." What about your design fits that bill?

Page: Honestly, the scale is the most insane thing. The rest of the design features are not really that crazy. With that, the reason for the intensity and insanity is how the story is told. That's what makes Clover a success, the madness is in what is going on around him.

For more about Neville Page, visit his website:

You can also read his other interviews about Cloverfield at VFXWorld and io9.

(*) Among the questions Page could not elaborate on were those regarding Clover's age and origins.


Anonymous said...

GJ Neville now let's see you do that things parents

Nick said...

Are the cut scenes of people getting sucked up in the feeding tubes going to be available on the DVD or online?


Gryph said...

Regarding the idea that "clover" might actually bipedal, I would have to say not. My reasoning for this is the greater length of the forelegs over the hind legs. This indicates that "clover" is made to walk on all fours, but can stand upright for short lengths of time.
In general, the body shape is reminiscent of a Giraffe.

Edward said...

nick: Deleted Scenes is on the list of special features for the 2 disc DVD, so my guess is DVD.

Gryph: Good point about the long arms, but then again, long arms aren't just for walking any more than a long tongue is just for eating bugs. Another point--whose implications also impact the "collectibility" of the Hasbro toy figure--is the simple fact that a full-grown Clover could look substantially different than the newborn (read: longer legs, bigger torso in relation to his gangly adolescence).

Anonymous said...

I thought the monster looked a little like Orga from Godzilla 2000. There were a number of subtle nods to Godzilla films in the movie.

Anonymous said...

There are a couple of "physics" issues that need to be addressed. One is the size/mass versus Earth gravity. There are physical laws that simply cannot be undone. Regardless of the beast's origins, the frame & muscle mass requirements simply are not met. Second, whereas small weapons fire surely would be ineffective; being unphased by repeat direct hits from a M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank and hell fire rockets is a little too much to believe. These weapons can defeat any modern ablative armour or hardened defensive position with relative ease, yet are ineffective against flesh and blood??? unrealistic.