behind the scenes at StrangewerksFilms

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Cyber Brain Machine Props…

Recently I got a call from Drew Bellware at Pandora Machine. For his latest film–starrring one of my favorite actresses–Kate Britton— he wanted some type of consciousness transference device, that would enable a person to download themselves into an android body. Not having one on hand, I was forced to construct said device from scratch–with no time or no real budget–as usual! Fortunately, I had a bunch of vacuum tubes laying around that I’d bought on ebay years ago and never had the chance to use. I love vacuum tubes, they add an arcane tech feel, especially when used in conjunction with new sci fi tech. Just feels French for some reason–there’s a certain “je ne se quois” about it, which means “I would like my croissant toasted and dipped in curdled goat’s milk.” So after a trip to the Depo for parts, I came up with this. Hope you like it:

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I had to make two of them, one for the user and another for the android to wear….

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We also had to have some kind of control base–which I had no idea for. No clue. As I was wracking my brain and walking down Third Ave, I looked down and saw a big, disgustingly dirty fan someone had unceremoniously dumped in the street–lighting struck. That was what I’d build the thing around!  I carted it home, threw it in a plastic bag for fear of BEDBUGS and eventually got around to taking it apart. Threw some parts on it including popsicle  molds, a spark plug cleaner, a base from a Babylon 5 doll, some volume control knobs, etc., along with some lights I rigged  on the inside and –voila! A conscious transferral device. Looks great in moody lighting, don’t you think?IMG_2687

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Video

Tentacle action

Hazzah! Here’s a first-ever attempt at Blender animation on my part. It’s a tentacle that’s going to be used in our feature film Lifeform. (Still in Post!) It’s not perfect, you can see a light panel in back and the thing goes out of sight at the end, but I think it looks pretty cool. I have to thank a number of people for helping me get to this point, including Nathan Taylor, who rigged it, Kevin Hays, who was the modeler and Drew Bellware, who actually told me I had to skin the darn thing with the texture files and showed me how to do it. Couldn’t do it without them and their impressive talents!

Various animations of the tentacle will the composited into scenes with Virginia Logan as she “monsters out” and attacks people with tentacles coming out of her…back–just her back, I swear. What do you think this is? Species?

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I wish we had their budget, or Natasha Henstridge. Heck, I’d settle for a 8 1/2 by 11 glossy of H.R. Giger at this point. Probably give me nightmares though.

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One neat tutorial I looked at, regarding working with the Cycles render engine is located at Blender Guru. Andrew’s site has many great tutorials wherein he takes his time to actually show you how to do things and he’s a really nice guy as well. One of the neat things about Cycles is that you can use a mesh plane as a light. He says it works better than a regular lamp object, as a light source. So, I used a few planes to light it.

Nate is rigging a few more models for us and I can’t wait to see how great these things animate! Thanks guys!

Here’s my test animation:

Playing With Monster Models…

Below, you can see a 3D Blender model that was created for our new film by Kevin Hays, of the Colorado Hays. Kevin took a few concept sketches that I threw at him and came up with this great design. We really appreciate all the hard work and effort that went into its creation.  We’ll be adding the creature to the film shortly, after we have it rigged, then animated, lit and composited…whew! Can’t wait to see this thing wrecking havoc onscreen.

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Here are some other views of the creature. We decided to go with Blender after Andrew Bellware convinced us about it. It’s free to download!
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Additionally, here are some of the sketches I gave to Kevin…

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Kevin’s model will really accentuate all the practical effects we did in the film and take it up a few hundred notches or so. Many thanks Kev!

Tentacles

We’re well into post on Lifeform, halfway through the second edit and just beginning the CG effects work. The first step of course, is getting the actual models. (We’ve decided to work in Blender because it’s a free, open-sourced 3-D animation program.) Below you can see a picture of the silicone stunt tentacle that we actually used on set when strangling any and all recalcitrant actors, God love ’em!

However, we still need shots of the tentacle doing things we couldn’t get an actual physical prop to do, like emerge from a mutant woman’s back, flail about in midair, pour a cocktail, do transwarp drive computations, all kinds of stuff like that, so that’s where a computerized version comes in. Below is a picture of our brand new CG tentacle model, which was created by Kevin Hays, a very talented young blender modeler, who hails from Colorado. Don’t know how he had the time to do this between all the wildfires and shootings, but he did and he did a magnificent job! Once it’s rigged, animated and lit, it will be composited into footage so it can properly terrorize our ensemble.

Babes And Blood on Long Island…!

Not. Safe. For Work–I warned you.

Okay, so in-between actually editing our film “Lifeform,” we’ve been putting together two shoots, for additional scenes. Now, the reason for this, I could say, is to add an additional layer of narrative in order to make the film more complex and add more dramatic depth, but the truth is, I just wanted to add more crazy, blood-curdling monster-lovin’ mayhem! Also more beautiful women. Hey, Shakespeare wrote for the groundlings folks, don’t kid yourselves. There’s more stabbings in his work than the average episode of CSI. You know you love it…I just deliver the goods, okay? So, no mea culpas coming from this part of the neighborhood.  But I digress…

Yes, in order to add a denser layer of narrative complexity, we went ahead and sculpted a scalping wound for our aforementioned beautiful actresses’ to wear. You can see a few shots of the piece after it was created and we were in the process of  adding hair to the gelatin piece–oh yeah, I cast it out of gelatin, the same stuff Bill Cosby used to sell on TV. The great thing about this stuff is that it’s cheap, it looks good on camera and you can re-melt it in your microwave to use it again. We all had Jello Puddin’ Pops after the shoot!

Here’s the effect on the very talented Tatyana Kot–she’s the new screen queen on the block. Our shadowy beast tracks her down and for some reason feels the need to rip her dress off and then pull her scalp off. Hey, it happened in Macbeth didn’t it? Or was it The Merchant of Venice, I can’t remember… All kidding aside, the scene worked like a charm. Tatyana was a consummate professional and Miranda Kahn, who played the creature did a great job. Both are wonderful actresses! The end effect is absolutely chilling.

The next weekend, we shot more mayhem, this time with Tatyana and Jacklyn Sokol in an earlier portion of the scene, as drunken debutantes on their way home, before the assault. Both women were great and…Jackie got to wear a similar headpiece as well–the beast apparently hates blondes. Who can blame it? Thanks to makeup artist Meraly Lopez and Christine Russo for painting and applying the pieces. Also, thanks to Josh Barbour, for helping me crew the shoot!

We also shot scream queen Christina Wood and Tom Rowen’s sequence. They play a pair of lovers caught in the beast’s crosshairs–just like in Hamlet when…aw forget it…

Insect Attack!

One of the problems with having downtime between shoots is that your mind has time to wander down crazy little alleyways and come up with incredible special effects you’re going to actually find a way to implement somehow. For instance, when we decided we had throw in another monster effect because, gee, the film only has about five hundred-or-so scenes of monster disembowlment, we thought: “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if our mutating heroine grows a giant bug arm and kills a hooker with it?” Of course it would be cool!

But…how to create said bug arm for our actress–the talented Virginia Logan–to go haywire with? Why the Old School Way, of course! The following shots give you an idea of the process….

First we sculpted a likeness of a bug arm out of plasticene clay, on top of an arm cast of an actress we had in the workshop…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, I cast the sculpt in a two-piece ultracal plaster mold….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The key to a successful casting is keeping the first coat of Ultracal thin enough to get all the crazy detail sculpted into the  piece–after that you can go crazy with the burlap and Ultracal…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next step involved slip casting the mold, once it was strapped together tightly. We used rubber mask molding latex–I think it’s #8–which is readily available at The Complete Sculptor here in NYC.

We ultimately did three layers of latex in the mold and used a blow dryer to dry each coat. The picture shows the piece after it was removed from the mold.

 

Finally, it was painted black, with bug green highlights. For the actual shoot we slathered onplenty of KY jelly, which brought out some nice highlights once it was lit properly. You can see the arm below,  on-set, ready for crazy, bugf*ck action…

 

 

 

 

And here it is, poised for hapless victim slicing action…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the final shot, Virginia is bringing her chitin insectoid arm to vibrant “life!”

Interestingly, we found an actual praying mantis on set late in the summer and I took a bunch of snapshots of the creature. The actors gave it a pet name at the time, but I can’t remember what it was. It wasn’t too happy to have me pointing the camera lens at it, I remember.  I wonder how much this influenced our thinking processes?

It’s Alive!

Recently we had the opportunity to create a monster suit for our newest production, Lifeform. The actual application was the culmination of many months of work. First, we started out with some pre-production drawings like the one attached here.

You can see in the illustration that the creature’s head is actually pretty beastial and less humanoid than the final product–due to the fact that we had to fit it to the actresses’ actual face–oh well…!

After deciding on a general look, we broke the design down in our brains–how were we going to end up building this thing and getting it on the actress? We decided to go with a multi-appliance approach–crafting numerous pieces out of silicone or latex and gluing them right on her. There were gloves with claws cast from resin, there were arm pieces that would attach to the top of her arms, there would be a chest piece, a head piece and finally, upper and lower face pieces.

First, I sculpted each and every piece from plasticene, using body casts we had taken of an actress, as the base on which to sculpt them. This took a little while, since there were numerous pieces that were going to be required, but it turned out to be worth it when we saw the final product.

After the pieces were sculpted, we cast them, sometimes in Rebound, in the case of pieces we were going to create in silicone, such as the arms, hands and face, or in plaster, for pieces we were going to create in latex, as a cost-cutting measure. These were the chest and head pieces, which were huge.

We had Anthony Jones, a very experienced mold maker, cast them in Ultracal plaster.(I still don’t know where I’m gonna put these monster molds. They’re doubling as a coffee table and a futon in my tiny apartment!)

Then he slip molded the pieces, creating a top layer of latex by pouring mask making latex #80 in the molds, gradually building up several layers. Once that was done, he  created an inner layer of foam to give the pieces shape and definition. He did a great job as you can see below.

After that, Christine painted them, doing a boffo job as usual!  She used PAX paint on the latex pieces and FuseFX and Psycho paint, Sil-Pig brand pigments on the silicone pieces. She really brought them to life by painted on a dark base and lighter-colored highlights, as you can see in these pictures.

Finally, the day of truth–shoot day. If anyone really believes making movies is a glamorous past-time, let me shatter your misconception for you. We had to bring the actress in SIX HOURS early, so that Christine and Ciara Rose Griffin, another talented makeup artist, could put it all together and turn the very talented Virginia Logan into a hideous creature.

They painstakingly glued everything to her with Skin-tite and Prosaide, skillfully blending all the pieces together as they went along. It was a torturous process for Virginia to undergo, but she held up like the complete trooper she is!

Finally, here she is, along with FX contacts and monster teeth, wrecking mayhem on the set!

We’ll probably add some CG enhancements to make her even more horrible, twitching tentacles, that sort of thing.

See the gallery below for more pictures of the whole process…