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SCENE STEALER

How 'District 9' aliens express themselves

Digital interlocking plates that shifted on the creatures' faces to signal emotions helped give the 'prawns' a more soulful look.

August 20, 2009|Patrick Kevin Day

The visual effects team at Canada's Image Engine had a challenge in making the "prawns" of director Neill Blomkamp's "District 9" look alien yet sympathetic. No easy trick for creatures modeled closely after the not-so-cute Goliath beetle. Actor Jason Cope, who played most of the alien roles, provided the movements on set to be digitally tracked and replaced by an animated alien body. But the creatures' faces needed to emote more effectively than that process allows. "The . . . eyes were too insect-like," visual effects executive producer Shawn Walsh said. "They looked soulless." The solution was a series of digital interlocking plates that could shift on the alien's face to simulate emotion. "When they slid over each other they gave us an idealized form of the human face," Walsh said.

-- Patrick Kevin Day

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