The Review
Home - Who - Review - How - Pics: Bugs, Space, More


Reportedly containing over 500 visual effects shots, STARSHIP TROOPERS could easily be the largest visual effects film in motion picture history. The film's effects range from herds of attacking bug aliens, to the most elegant of space sequences, to laser blasts eminated from training guns, to countless of bluescreen composites. The collection of effects for the film is staggeringly enormous, and the illusions created by the effects artists are of the highest caliber.

The film was originally slated for an August release, but was pushed back to November for various reasons - mainly because the studio, Sony Entertainment, already had released a bevy of science-fiction/action films during the summer. The extra time afforded to the effects crews shows in their work. The shots are polished, crisp, and are beautiful to watch.

The first image of the film, part of a FedNet sequence, created by Banned from the Ranch.
The Federal Network
The film's first image is that of a Federal Network broadcast; the sometimes full-screen animation of the FedNet chronicles the Federation news network's point of view of the hostilities between Earth and the Klendathu arachnids. The animation of the flying text logos is a cross between contemporary CNN graphics and cheesy trailers from 1950's low budget sci-fi movies. The FedNet sequences, produced by Banned from the Ranch, act as visually stunning interludes within the film.

The shiny, metallic logos that whip in and out of the frame are humorous without being totally over the top. The text's beveled edges give the FedNet sequences a "Hard Copy", tabloid feeling, and cleverly stylize the overtly propaganda-filled messages. Each broadcast ends with a clever wipe--my favorite being the digital iris wipe that transitions from picture to black in a circular wipe, while the image becomes increasingly pixellated.

Warriors and Tankers and Hoppers, Oh, My!
The filmmakers waste no time introducing the audience to the Warrior bug-alien. A FedNet cameraman is on the scene at Big K, covering the war effort. The shot is from the POV of the camera's lens, and as a human soldier is commenting on the war effort, a massive, 18 foot tall Warrior attacks him from behind. The camera is moving all over the place--panning, tilting, moving around the ground, as the Warrior bug, shrouded in darkness, makes its debut in STARSHIP TROOPERS with force--it's a mean, nasty, nightmarish creature.

Neil Patrick Harris brutally kills a Warrior behind bars.
The Warrior is just one of many types of bugs that are featured in the film, all of which were produced by Tippett Studio (with on-set animatronics provided by Amalgamated Dynamics). For all the species, the bugs were created as computer generated models, and animated using numerous techniques, such as the Tippett Digital Input Device, realtime motion capture, and keyframe animation.

The Warriors, who probably have the most screen time of any of the bug types, are absolutely stunning. With their sharp, spindly legs digging into the dirt on a charge, they are terrifyingly menacing. The shots that feature the Warriors attacking humans are inspired--many shots contain action that looks remarkably like documentary footage, with the live action occuring in front of the camera, and the cameraman adjusting the frame to film the action.

"Because of the terrific attention made to the creation of the bug shots, it's quite easy for the audience to forget that they're watching CGI effects."

Because of the terrific attention made to the creation of the bug shots, it's quite easy for the audience to forget that they're watching CGI effects. The character animation in STARSHIP TROOPERS is so real, so believable, and so natural, that after the audience adjusts to accept the shape and character of the bugs, they simply believe them and regard their presence as hungry animals, raging in an attack. This is an enormous credit to the entire TROOPERS team at Tippett Studio. The bug animation is filled with character. The Tanker bugs, which appear later in the film, lumber around like fat beetles with attitudes. The Brain bug, a huge, disgusting creature that sucks the brains out of its victims, waddles around like Jabba the Hutt (with a lot more goo). Although the flying Hopper bugs make brief appearances, their strategy is simple: to rip the heads off of soldiers quickly and disgustingly.

So much of today's character animation is blank and devoid of actual 'character.' The massive proliferation of CG animation in today's commercials and films has diminished the power of CGI to an extent. However, the CG bugs in STARSHIP TROOPERS proves that great character animation can live again. Their work is reminiscent of character-filled animation of the classic work of Ray Harryhausen, and even Tippett's own work on the AT-AT's in 1980's THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

The look on this Tanker's face, after it swallows a grenade, is priceless.
Tippett Studio's excellence isn't limited to the models and animation--critical to the believability of the creatures are the matchmoving, lighting and compositing of the creatures. Whether it is sharp daylight scene or a moonlit, evening scene, the bugs look like they are a part of the background plate, even more convincingly than in such herculean CG efforts in DRAGONHEART, MARS ATTACKS! and THE LOST WORLD. Explosions occur in front of and behind the bugs, human warriors cross in front of the bugs, muzzle fire from human weapons appear in front of the bugs, dust, fire... the camera cranes up a dozen feet in the air... the camera is handheld and moving all over the place... the camera is aimed directly at the sun as a Warrior enters the frame... whatever happens in the frame, the bugs are still there and look as if they were simply photographed on the set.

Some of the specific shots that could be considered the finest of all the bugs shots:

  • the introduction of the first Tanker bug features a terrific 'over the shoulder' shot from above and to the left of a Tanker bug. Accurate focal length depictions (the portion of the Tanker closest to the camera was slightly out of focus) added to the believablity of the shot
  • A soldier whips a grenade inside Tanker's mouth on Planet P. The Tanker looks around in a daze for a moment, when his head blows up in an explosion of fire and bug. His slight head tilt, as well as the fact that the shot was wide and uninterrupted, make this shot memorable
  • As the humans make a stand at Whisky Compound, the exterior walls are filled with hundreds of dead Warriors. A massive crane shot taken from outside the compound climbs up and above the pile of dead bodies, showing the Warriors climbing over their dead comrades to infiltrate the compound
  • In a shot of sheer inspiration, a Warrior bug is blasted by human fire, and a chunk of bug guts flies toward the camera and gets stuck on the camera lens. It only is visible for a few frames, but it was a terrific moment in the sequence

  • The horrifying shot of two soldiers getting swallowed by Tanker's fiery spray.
    Not easily overlooked is Tippett Studio's use of digital actors for certain sequences, namely when Rico jumps on top of the Tanker's back, when soldiers are burned alive by Tanker, and when various soldiers get ripped apart by swarming Warriors.

    What could easily be my single favorite shot of the entire movie doesn't feature a bug, or a space vehicle at all. It is a wonderful shot of a soldier's arm getting burned off by Tanker fire. It is a short shot, but it is deadly realistic--the actress has a horrified look on her face as she watches her entire arm disintegrate--another brilliant effect by Tippett Studio.

    go to page 2 of the review

    Home - Who - Review - How - Pics: Bugs, Space, More

    . . VFX HQ Produced by Todd Vaziri . . . . e-mail: . .
    All text Copyright © 1998 Todd Vaziri, unless otherwise noted