Jabbar Raisani took a break from VFX supervising on Game of Thrones last year to direct his first feature film, a documentary-style sci-fi romp called Alien Outpost, which is available on VOD and iTunes this Friday, accompanied by a premiere at IFC in New York. In the film, a race of massive alien invaders called Heavies hulk through Pakistani desert like bipedal tanks. Shot from the perspective of a news crew embedded in a military outpost, most of our information about the invaders comes from the vitriol of angry soldiers or from actually seeing the aliens themselves.
These creatures drive the plot of Alien Outpost, so Raisani and co-screenwriter Blake Clifton had to put a lot of thought into how they would look and act. "Everything is based on what the Heavy did on Earth, how they invaded, how they lost the war," Raisani told The Creators Project. This makes even the most minute details, like decals on armor, illuminate the story.
To handle this important responsibility, Raisani built a star-studded effects team to bring these aliens to life, including Eddie Yang, whom he worked with to build the Marvel's Iron Man suit and Steve Wang, who designed the infamous aliens from Predator. The whole team gathered inspirational images from animals and other aliens, which eventually lead to the Heavies' reptile skin, wicked rows of shark teeth, and armor partly inspired by the aliens in Halo.
Once they'd agreed on some of the basic concepts, the team had to conduct a barrage of trial and error tests in Zbrush sculpting software and Photoshop to get the basic shape of the aliens' heads and bodies, which was enough to "get a feeling for it," according to Raisani. His personal technique for picking a winning designs was simple: "When you look at the finished design, you kind of squint your eye so you're just looking at the shapes, then you can see if the shapes feel like the shapes that you want."
Wang's experiences with the reptilian Predator alien emerged in the clay model they built next, which adapts the Heavies' final Photoshop form for the real world. "Steve's really a master sculptor," Raisani says. "The way he sculpted the scales, I was like, man, this stuff is awesome. Keep doing this stuff." He was already prepping the film in South Africa at this point, so the designs were flying back and forth between him and the practical effects team to get the alien just right in time for their first.
The back and forth continued as Wang and Yang cast the clay model cast in film rubber and painted it into lifelike detail, and then they could ship out, slowly entering the film's Restrepo-inspired chaotic war zone that sets the middle and explosion-filled climax of the film.
Now that he's directed his first film, Raisani has a lot on his plate. "It's going to be a trilogy. When you see the end, just know the next one's coming," he hints. "Don't feel like it's over when the movie ends." When not developing Alien Outpost 2 & 3, Raisani is hard at work supervising the VFX for Game of Thrones Season 5. "Expect very big, very cool effects that Game of Thrones has not done. I don't think anyone has done before," he hints. "There's some very, very cool big sequences this year that people are going to love."
Now take a behind-the-scenes look at how Raisani's team built a Heavy in the images below.
Find out more about Alien Outpost on the film's IFC page.