The Men in Black are Back!
Animation supervisor explains how the coolest aliens in the universe were created
It has been 10 years since Agents J and K fought alien bad guys to keep the Earth — and universe — safe from destruction. The wait was worth it. Men in Black 3 opens in theaters on Friday, and it's an exciting sci-fi action adventure.
In the film, J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) try to stop the evil alien Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) after he escapes from a prison on the moon. But Boris gives the agents the slip, travels back in time, and changes the future. To fix the damage Boris caused, J goes back in time, too — all the way to the year 1969! In the past, he teams up with a younger version of K (Josh Brolin) to stop Boris.
Like the other two movies, some of the coolest parts of Men in Black 3 are the amazingly detailed aliens and awesome special effects. To find out how the coolest aliens in the universe were created, I spoke with Spencer Cooke. Cooke is the animation supervisor for Men in Black 3 and was responsible for the team of animators who made the aliens. He even made some of them himself!
Cooke's team worked on animating creatures that would otherwise be too hard, expensive, or time consuming to make in real life. One of those creatures is the alien fish J and K discover in a restaurant. This is one of Cooke's creations, and there were a lot of details that went into it: its size, its personality, what it's thinking, and what it's feeling. He needed to work on all that (and more) in order to make it realistic.
The fish and another alien, the "weasel," which is a deadly little creature that lives inside Boris' hand, are Cooke's favorite creatures in the movie. The thing he loves about these creatures is that they were fun to make, and the creatures seem believable because the animators focus so much on the creatures' personalities and behaviors.
Cooke told me he was inspired to get into this kind of work by watching sci-fi and horror movies and cartoons as a kid. He was also inspired by the work of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen. Cooke said he always wanted to find out how to make movies. He learned most of that by learning about stop motion animation. And when he was 11 years old, he attempted to make his first animated movie.
Animation has come a long way from hand-drawn characters and stop-motion creatures. Today, animated movies are done on computers using powerful programs that allow animators to realize their craziest ideas. As an aspiring animator myself, I wondered what kind of software they used to make the aliens in Men in Black 3. Cooke told me they used a program called Maya. It's what many Hollywood studios use.
But Cooke said that animation is about more than just the software you use. Ultimately, the animation program doesn't matter as much as the type of ideas you want to bring to life. Computers make animating easier, but the idea is where it all begins. A great idea is a great idea on a computer screen or in a pencil sketch.
There are a lot of great ideas in Men in Black 3, and Cooke and his team worked some kind of magic to bring them all to life.
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