The Mary Sue Interview: Game of Thrones Effects Supervisor and Alien Outpost Director Jabbar Raisani
Spoiler: We talk about dragons.
Even if you’re not familiar with Jabbar Raisani’s name yet, you probably already love some of his work. In his role as on-set visual effects supervisor for Game of Thrones, Raisani has helped craft much of the show’s most iconic imagery; when not in Westeros, he also found time to direct his first feature, out this Friday from IFC. The dragon-lover took a moment out of his busy schedule as an effects wizard to talk to us about the inspirations behind Alien Outpost, his contributions to the Marvel universe, and Game of Thrones Season 5.
The Mary Sue: What attracted you to working in the found footage genre specifically?
Jabbar Raisani: I would say this film is a documentary style film rather than found footage, meaning it’s told from a filmmaker’s perspective even though the filmmakers are fictional. We really wanted to—we being the co-writer Blake Clifton and myself—allow these guys to have a narrative. They’re trying to tell their own story, they have their own agenda within the world, as opposed to found footage, where the footage doesn’t necessarily have its own narrative.
TMS: Were there any particular sci fi or post apocalyptic films that you found yourself inspired by while you were writing?
Raisani: I think we found more inspiration in modern military stuff. My favorite sci fi stuff is Alien, I love Aliens, I’m a fan of Transformers, you’ll probably see little hints of all that stuff in Alien Outpost.
TMS: You’ve worked extensively as an effects supervisor on other projects. How heavily involved you were with that aspect of Alien Outpost?
Raisani: I was very involved. I worked as an effects supervisor on the movie, so I was on for all of post, I tried to do as few as possible myself, but I wound up doing about a dozen shots once all the money ran out.
TMS: How did your design for the Heavies [Alien Outpost‘s titular aliens] come about?
Raisani: The design started with the script. Blake and I really were figuring out what they were as characters, and to us they were like walking tanks, and from there we put that concept to Eddie Yang, he was my lead guy on Iron Man, he did the digital sculpting, and the Mark III suits, and from there he and I just kept in touch. He actually hired me to work on Man of Steel with him, and the first time I was actually able to hire him was on Alien Outpost.
He came on in preproduction, and he actually helped get the movie funded and get interest in it, he was doing lookbooks and digital reels and stuff like that from the time Blake and I were working on the script. He really helped package the film and come up with the look, not only of the Heavies, but he also served as the production designer. He came over to South Africa with us, and he production designed the entire film. Steve Wang is most famously credited with designing the Predator, they both formed the studio together, and together they designed the Heavies, and were responsible for creating the suit. It’s a live, practical on-set suit that was there every time we filmed the Heavies.
TMS: So it was definitely a tactile experience on set, having that there?
Raisani: Absolutely, that was really important to me. I wanted to make sure that the actors, the camera guys and myself all had something to look at and react to that was real and there. You know, I come from a visual effects and a practical effects background, and I think any time you can actually have something real, on set there on the day, it just helps everybody. And you know, a lot of the shots were actual Heavies and some of them are fully replaced and some of them are in between.
TMS: You talked about what the experience was like writing the script. I was wondering if any of your earlier drafts included more prominent female characters?
Raisani: No, it was one of those things where we were drawing from the modern military and the front lines, looking at movies like Restrepo and Armadillo; but, you know, it’s all males, it’s all guys out there on the frontlines. As we get into the prequel which follows the first invasion and as we get into subsequent films, there’s a lot more female characters as it opens up outside of just the outpost. But we really felt it was in the modern warfare outpost scenarios.
TMS: Is there a much different creative mindset that you need to transition between to go from directing and writing to working on effects?
Raisani: On set I just work as a director. I’m also the visual effects supervisor, but it’s all at the back of my mind, it’s all been planned out ahead of time. I’m very familiar and comfortable with what I’m going to be doing, so I really focus on working with the actors. Blake worked a lot with the first AD, and the schedule, and where things were going to go and what we were going to start shooting next, but I focused a lot on the actors. And in post, you’re still thinking about directing, but editing is much more hands-on when you’re a visual effects supervisor, and there were 322 visual effects shots.
TMS: I know that you’ve worked on Game of Thrones before, which is hugely popular with our readers. In your entire body of work, is there one creature or effect you’ve designed that is your favorite?
Raisani: I was not responsible for the design itself, but Iron Man. I was at Stan Winston Studio while that was being made, so I oversaw the digital sculpting of that character. After it was digitally sculpted, you could actually print it out into the real world. It was one of if not the first film to use that process, so it was a very interesting and exhilarating experience. And rewarding.
TMS: Have you read A Song of Ice and Fire?
Raisani: I have, I read them years before I worked on the show. Once I heard they were going to make a show, I spent a season and a half figuring out how I was going to get on it, and then was able to get on it by the time the third season started.
TMS: Is there anything from the books that hasn’t appeared on the show yet that you really want to help bring to life?
Raisani: You know, my favorite stuff is dragon stuff. I can’t say specifically, but I suspect there will be some cool stuff in Season 5 with dragons in it, so that’s my favorite kind of work on the show. Before Season 3, The Wall was something I was very excited to work on, and thankfully I was put on to cover the set on that, so I was there for shooting that whole sequence and really loved it.
TMS: So you were physically there the whole time they were shooting?
Raisani: Season 3 I was in Belfast and the subsequent countries that we shot in for 8 months. This year I just did Spain and Croatia, so it varies year to year based on what the needs are.
TMS: What’s next for you as a director or writer? Do you have any new projects on the horizon?
Raisani: I do, yeah. Blake Clifton and I are working on a new script, Tracer, that we’re developing now. Depending on the performance of Outpost we may dive right in to Alien Outpost 2, and then I’ve also optioned a series of books called the Jack Sigler series by Jeremy Robinson, and I’m working on adapting a first novel now which is called Pulse.
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