How those creepy ‘War of the Worlds’ aliens came to life on Epix

How those creepy ‘War of the Worlds’ aliens came to life on Epix

It was no easy task creating the creepy half-organic/half-mechanized aliens in “War of the Worlds,” which wraps its first season  Sunday at 9 p.m. on Epix.

“That [organic element] side of it came from the [series] writer Howard Overman, and we were left to develop it as a visual element,” says “War of the Worlds” production designer Richard Bullock of the alien creatures, which look like a cross between a giant insect and a large dog, with a metallic exoskeleton protecting human-looking internal organs. The creatures were developed by Boston Dynamics, a mobile robot company based in Massachusetts.

“It’s something that hadn’t really been tried before, something that’s very much a robot but has physical, organic elements as well,” Bullock says. “It’s a different take on the whole idea of aliens.”

“War of the Worlds,” starring Gabriel Byrne, Elizabeth McGovern and an international cast, is based on the eponymous H.G. Wells novel about an alien invasion of Earth. Most of the series’ action unfolds in France and in the UK with diverging plotlines leading into Sunday’s season finale.

"War of the Worlds."
“War of the Worlds.”Jo Voets / Urban Myth Films

“While [‘War of the Worlds’] was being developed, an episode of [the Channel 4/Netflix series] ‘Black Mirror’ came out called ‘Metalheads’ that included [a robot] inspired by Boston Dynamics,” Bullock says. “We kind of had to move away from that and it forced us to look at different ways to approach this. One thing I was pushing for was to make [the aliens] … smaller and not that intimidating as the drone creatures in the original ‘War of the Worlds.’ These are insectoid-type creatures and they’re creepier in that respect.”

Before shooting began, the alien creatures were sketched out and, once a design was agreed upon, two full-sized robots were made by a 3D printer for in-camera shots and lighting purposes. “Virtually none of what you see is metal,” Bullock says of the creatures. “It’s a very robust 3D printing process, with their exteriors made out of some kind of glass composite mixed with resin.

“The visual effects guy took [the robots] and photographed them from every conceivable angle,” he says. “The robots didn’t run around — that was created using CGI (computer graphics) — and we kept adding new elements to them like the internal organic pieces and the bolt-gun in their heads that they use to kill people. That was inspired by the [2007] film ‘No Country for Old Men,’ where Javier Bardem’s character (Anton Chigurh) uses a bolt pistol to kill.”

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Urban Myth Films Ltd.

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