Visual effects artists Colin and Greg Strause have toppled digital elephants in "300," aged Brad Pitt backward for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and cloned one actor into twins for "The Social Network."
The brothers’ task on “Skyline” is even more daunting: proving themselves as full-fledged filmmakers.
Visual effects designers occasionally graduate into directing jobs, but 35-year-old Greg and 33-year-old Colin aren’t just migrating from sitting at computer workstations to standing behind cameras. The pair also developed and financed the $10 million “Skyline” themselves, eventually selling it to Relativity Media, whose Rogue Pictures will release the alien attack drama on Friday. (The movie was not previewed for critics.)
“Skyline” unfolds in and around Marina del Rey, Calif., where a group of young adults awakens in an apartment (Greg’s own residence) to discover that Los Angeles is being ransacked by some unfriendly intergalactic visitors. Using a massive, seductive blue light beam, the interlopers suck up countless thousands of locals into their hovering spaceships, where worse things await.
Led by Jarrod (Eric Balfour), the group of thirtysomethings in the apartment scramble for cover, watching the U.S. military struggle to drive out the invaders.
The dialogue in the screenplay by Joshua Cordes (who has worked as an animation supervisor for the brothers) and Liam O’Donnell (a visual effects consultant) is unlikely to attract much critical praise. Typical lines include “Oh my God!” “I can’t believe this!” “It just doesn’t seem real!” and “Like it or not, this is happening!”
But given the film’s limited budget and a mere 42 days of principal photography, audiences should be impressed by “Skyline’s” elaborate visual tricks and effects shots that include rocket-firing stealth fighters, crashing helicopters, a nuclear explosion and aliens that look like flying metallic squids. The film is not the first time the Brothers Strause, as they officially are credited, have directed together. They also made “AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator — Requiem” for 20th Century Fox three years ago, but say they did not enjoy the process (which required them to yield creative control to the studio) or the outcome. The $40-million movie grossed nearly $130 million worldwide, but was trashed by critics. “We were in directors’ jail,” Greg says. “So we had to do our own jailbreak.”
With visual effects jobs increasingly being shipped to countries such as India, the prices dropping for minor special effects work such as wire removal, and several U.S. companies closing their doors, the brothers decided it was exactly the right time to transform Hydraulx, as their effects shop is known, into a mini-studio.
So they bought camera and lighting equipment and built an editing suite. Now, they own pretty much everything necessary to make a movie except a catering truck and a costume shop.
The brothers say they were partially inspired to become filmmakers by some of the directors they have met doing visual effects. “We get to work with the bad and the good,” Greg says. “We work on a dozen movies a year, and you sometimes say, ‘How is this guy in the business?’”
At the same time, the brothers have not given up serving as an effects vendor for other filmmakers. Their company is now working on “Gulliver’s Travels” and “Battle: Los Angeles.”
“There are reasons to keep both businesses going,” Greg says. “But there are advantages to doing our own stuff.”
After working on projects such as “The Nutty Professor,” “Black Sheep” and “The Stupids, the brothers’ big breakthrough came in 1997 when James Cameron asked the brothers to design shots of an iceberg for “Titanic.”
When the blockbuster came out, visual effects jobs came pouring in: “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” “Avatar,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “2012” and “Fast & Furious,” among them.
With only themselves to please, “Skyline” was conceived, written, shot, edited and released in less than a year. “It’s been the least stressful thing we’ve ever done,” Greg says.