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Feature: Patrick Tatopoulos

Creature Concepts

Tatopoulos and his Saint Sinner creature We look at the work of Designer Patrick Tatopoulos, who created memorable monsters for Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla and Pitch Black

His creations have featured in some of the biggest genre films of the past decade, from the nocturnal denizens of Pitch Black to the alien invaders of Independence Day, to his ambitious 1998 revamp of the famous Japanese H-Bomb metaphor Godzilla. And for prolific designer Patrick Tatopoulos, the best is yet to come... In the coming months, his work will feature in such eagerly-awaited Sci-Fi and Horror features as I Robot, Van Helsing, Underworld and The Chronicles of Riddick.

“I started years ago as a conceptual artist,” he explains, “so people call me in the early stages of movies, not just as a fabrication person who builds creatures, but also to conceptualize them. Because I get called in very early, I work on some projects that might not happen, but it also gives me the opportunity to build new relationships with people that I’ve wanted to work with for a long while.”

Not too bad for an artist who’d hoped to work in movies someday. Born and raised in France, Tatopoulos was working in Greece when he picked up a magazine that changed his life. “I had a pretty decent position doing illustrations, and life was pretty easy, but I saw an issue of Cinefex and thought, ‘These people are making a good living creating those characters!’ So I bought some clay and sculpted a few creatures, did a few concept drawings, put them together and came here.”

The big break for Tatopoulos came about during a week’s visit to LA, where he met the crew of Makeup Effects Lab, who quickly spotted his potential. “They said, ‘’We love your work, and if we can find a job for you, we’ll definitely give you a call and help you get your green card’. That was the technical problem; getting a green card was a big deal, and those guys helped me with that. Once you can start showing your work and hopefully impress a few people, you can get started.”

A month later, Tatopoulos got that call and moved to California. After working on a number of small projects, he moved up the production ladder, designing props, costumes, sets and creatures projects that included Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Demolition Man and Universal Soldier. The last film led to a long relationship with Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, and collaborations on Stargate, ID4 and Godzilla. It also meant that Tatopoulos had pretty much established himself as a designer on blockbuster-level films. “That happens a lot,” he concedes. “When I came here, I got stuck on big shows for a while, so that was weird, and there are still people who won’t call you because of budget reasons: ‘This guy does big-budget movies, so he’s not going to be able to do this,’ which is crazy. A big show often requires big FX and they have the budget, so you build more and charge more at the end of the day. I’m also working on commercials, I do music videos; I do every type of work. They’re all different budgets but we still pull it off. I don’t like to just work on big projects.”

by Joe Nazzaro

Get the full interview in
Shivers #103

Photo © Patrick Tatopoulos
Feature © Visual Imagination 2004. Not for reproduction

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Shivers #103
March 2003
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