Alec Gillis may not be a household name to as many fans of film as he is to DVD and Blu-ray collectors, who enjoy spending their time watching special features, but the movies he's worked on throughout the years, most certainly are. He has made major contributions as a special effects artist to just about every iconic science fiction and horror movie within the last 30 years, including Terminator, Aliens (and every sequel after) Predator, Pumpkinhead, Tremors, Starship Troopers, and Death Becomes Her, which won him and his partner Tom Woodruff, Jr. their first Oscar for best special effects in 1992.
So, why is now the time to start paying extra special attention to this master of the craft?
Last year, Gillis along with Woodruff funded a Kickstarter for their all practical effects sci-fi/horror film Harbinger Down, an homage to such classic films as the original Alien and John Carpenter's The Thing. It was the most funded movie of this genre on Kickstarter, ever. It remains so, until this day. With Aliens actor Lance Henriksen in the lead and model builder Robert Skotak bringing the magic that he did to the James Cameron classic, Gillis and Woodruff along with their company Amalgamated Dynamics Inc, which is also known as Studio ADI, set to work, for the next year, producing and filming their movie.
The Kickstarter was more than just a success. It was what felt like a movement within the community of independent film makers. This movement has followed the project, every step of the way, ever since.
...but to get a better appreciation for the scope of just how amazing this fan fueled phenomena is we must go back in time, just a little more to the release of the highly anticipated prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing, which Studio ADI had been commissioned to do the practical effects work for. If you've seen the now classic 1982 version, you'll know that its stature among hardcore horror fans is legendary, and this is mainly due to the work of one Rob Bottin, who not only provided jaw dropping makeup and puppet effects work for the film, but also a level of realism and terror to the story that has yet to be matched by CGI. Needless to say, the idea that great pains were being taken to hold true to that tradition for the new film was met with as much enthusiasm as it was with disappointment, when Gillis, Woodruff, and fans alike were shown a movie, that had all of its animatronic and in camera FX, painted over by rushed computer generated special effects, that wouldn't even hold up to today's video game standards. This led to wide speculations that ADI had somehow botched the job, but nothing could be farther from the truth. A year later, they released a behind the scenes look at their work for The Thing, that laid to rest all rumors and started an unprecedented outcry from fans that THEY HAD BEEN ROBBED.
To the surprise and delight of Gillis and Woodruff, their You Tube channel lit up with words of support and encouragement, not only in regards of the lost Thing work, but also unused Green Goblin effects for the Sam Raimi Spider-Man, giant babies, and animatronic gorillas, just to name a few of the marvels on their channel. This led them to consider a possibility they'd never taken seriously before. If they made a movie the way they thought that it should be made, would the audience be there?
As you've already read, the answer is yes, and on Monday, June 9th, 2014 12PM Pacific, the first online trailer for Harbinger Down will debut to an international audience of supporters, who have watched as the project has been adopted by trend spotters such as Comic Book Girl 19, (who has an interview with Gillis on her channel that took the FX community by storm) broke all attendance records at the world famous horror convention Monsterpalooza, and spawned several fan pages.
It's not often you see someone from the old school reinvent themselves, and I challenge you to find enough examples that you can count on more than one hand, that do it by bringing old school techniques into the new and ever changing era of digital film making. Not everyone likes to admit it, but technology has not done anything to bring artistic quality to the screen. Those are simply tools. The artist paints the picture.
Alec Gillis comes from the community whose innovations have shaped and solidified what most deem to be the best of sci-fi and horror, today.
Personally, I'm really excited to see Harbinger Down, because that's where I feel we're going to get a new beginning. That's why Alec Gillis is a director to watch.
Here is the trailer for Harbinger Down: