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— by Larry Carroll

BURBANK, California — The first thing you notice is that there is nothing to notice. You're in the middle of a quiet Los Angeles suburb, on the edge of a residential neighborhood, staring at a nondescript, one-story brick building with no exterior signs whatsoever. Walking inside, the nearby sounds of school children at recess recede, overtaken by drills, saws and occasional outbursts of brotherly laughter.

Check out clips from "Underworld: Evolution" and see Kate Beckinsale discuss her sweaty love scenes with Scott Speedman, on Overdrive.

Werewolves are created here. And so are vampires, robots, aliens and dozens of other monsters who aspire to haunt your nightmares. When creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos recently finished his work on this month's "Underworld: Evolution," however, he imparted that his experience was less a nightmare and more like a dream — one that had finally come true.

"I've watched many movies," grinned Tatopoulos, a T-shirt-clad film veteran. "I saw 'The Howling' many years ago, and I've seen 'An American Werewolf in London.' All those movies have inspired me, and ... I go to the zoo and check out wolves. I think they're really cool, but the day you design, you forget all that and you start from scratch. You take a white piece of paper and you draw something that flows and feels good — you don't worry too much about things that you've seen before. [New ideas] just come into your mind. Once you come up with something interesting, you start sculpting."

 MTV Exclusive: Behind-the-Scenes Photos of "Underworld: Evolution"

With that mindset, the half-Greek, half-French Tatopoulos has gone to work crafting creatures from the past ("Stargate"), present ("Independence Day") and future ("I, Robot"), including the revolutionary, gothlike werewolves and vampires of 2003's "Underworld." Over the last few months, he and his small team have slaved away in this unremarkable building, making sure their creatures bring justice to the sequel's "Evolution" moniker.

"On the second movie you have the same werewolves that you saw in the first one, but there is also a different generation," Tatopoulos explained, walking over to a table with wolves — or Lycans, as they're called in the "Underworld" flicks — laid out in various states of readiness. "You also go back in time [for some scenes]. The werewolves you're going to see in this one have the same faces. Most of them."

 "Underworld: Evolution" Photos

 Photos: Kate Beckinsale In Focus

 Photos: Scott Speedman In Focus

A devilish smile grows on Tatopoulos' face as he shifts attention to one of his most beloved creations, a new, differed-colored werewolf called William (played by Brian Steele). Another son of immortal forefather Alexander Corvinus, William is the source of the Lycanthropy disease — the prototype for all the wolves who have followed. Sporting a highly infectious bite, the Lycan Elder takes the form of a monstrous white creature that rises from centuries of imprisonment to join the battle being waged by vampire warrior Selene (Kate Beckinsale), hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman) and Marcus (Tony Curran) — William's twin brother and vampire equivalent.

"He's a hybrid creature, like Scott Speedman," Tatopoulos said, walking over to a horrifying model used in close-ups to portray the deployment of Marcus' wings — something most "Underworld" vampires lack. "It was the choice of [director] Len [Wiseman] to push on to the next generation. We wanted to show what would be the ultimate vampire, the same way you have William as a werewolf."

Marcus' movements promise a battle that aims to take the "Underworld" story to the next level. A member of Tatopoulos' staff moves a lever on a remote control, popping wings out from the creature's discolored back, unfolding wickedly.

"Underworld: Evolution: Inside The Action" premieres on Tuesday night, January 17, at 8 p.m. ET.

" 'Underworld' has two types of vampires: You've got the standard ones, which are the sexy, Kate Beckinsale-type ... nice little teeth, beautiful eyes ... gorgeous," he said. "Len talked to me about a vampire with wings, and we've seen that many times [where] the wings are sometimes CG, the guy lands and then you got a couple of big wings dangling, and they look fake very often, because it's hard to make wings standing behind you look good. I thought maybe it would be great to make those wings fold back in such a way that you don't see them when they're folded, and that's what we did with this design."

As popular as CG creature effects may be nowadays, Tatopoulos explains that his old-school techniques inspired Wiseman to do something with the half-unfolded wings that wouldn't have come up had they been able to disappear with the aid of CG. "When they first unfold, they look almost like spider legs," he observed. "So what we did was use those and work practically — whenever the vampire wants to attack someone, he uses those arms and just bludgeons the guy, grabs people and kills. ... Sometimes with limitations on things, you discover the ideas that are actually much more interesting."

 "The sexy, Kate Beckinsale-type [of vampires have] nice little teeth, beautiful eyes." — Patrick Tatopoulos

"Interesting" understates what happens next as a muscular, 7-foot stuntman comes over and introduces himself as Brian. The redheaded man with the warm smile has an odd bounce to his step; attached below are a set of leg contraptions that look like jai-alai-baskets, welded on to the bottom of ski boots.

"You need a keen sense of balance really," he said, modeling his leg extensions by casually bouncing around the room. "Just being comfortable and trusting that it's there. The biggest thing is to really just forget that you're not walking on your own feet, and just that you can lean out way over your own feet and you're not going to fall forward."

With that, Tatopoulos hands Brian a mask, and when he puts it on, there is no doubt that a werewolf has just entered the room. Fully assuming the persona, Steele puffs up his chest and lets out a deep exhale, then runs at full speed while swiveling his neck to give the illusion that the creature has just taken sight of his next kill. The persona is instantaneous, but disappears just as quickly when Steele's voice reappears underneath, laughing about the possibility of taking a run at those noisy school kids down the street.

 "You need a keen sense of balance [to wear the Werewolf costume]." — Brian Steele

"Every time you see a wolf close-up, even full size, it is pretty much a practical beast," Tatopoulos said. "In a town where everyone uses CG, it is very refreshing to be able to see real things like this. That doesn't mean there is no CG in the movie, however — whenever the motion becomes too crazy and the wolf leaps from one side of the castle to the other, we use CG. Sometimes we combine both together."

Referencing the eye-popping shot of a Lycan jumping in the film's trailer, Tatopoulos explained: "It basically starts with a CG wolf that morphs into a real wolf. So you never quite know what you've seen. Is it CG? Is it real?"

It's a question audiences will be asking themselves come January 20, if this talented crew has done its job right. Leaving the building, taking one last look at the simple brick facade, one can't help but realize that its appearance says more about Tatopoulos Studios than any sign ever could. There is nothing to be noticed here — and they wouldn't have it any other way.

Check out everything we've got on "Underworld: Evolution."

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