Now that our horror feature film Lifeform is about to be released, I thought it would be cool to show some of the many horror special effects makeups we created for it. (Too many if you ask my wife!)
We figured we’d have at least two creatures in the film–one is the main creature played by Virginia Logan and the other is the son of the villain, who is played by Adam Cerny. For him, we thought we’d have some crazy face mutation as well as a mutated monster hand. In this piece, we’ll show some of the steps involved in creating the face prothetic.
Here’s a shot of the face sculpture, you can see where we tried to work some tentacles in. Everyone knows tentacles are what’s best in life, after laying wasted to your enemies, listening to the lamentations of their girlfriends, etc. etc.
After sculpting it, I had Anthony Jones cast it in Rebound from Smooth-On and make the mother mold for it. Then he casted the piece in silicone, also from Smooth-On. Don’t remember which one. He did a great job. All the details were perfectly transferred to the piece.
After that, Christine painted it with silicone paint. She’s an artist, so of course she did a smashing job of bringing out the fine details (and she has not coerced my admiration for her work in any way!)
Here it is on Adam. He did a great job of acting out the part of a mutant freak! Though he really doesn’t look that happy, in fact he looks a little annoyed. The things you have to do for showbiz…
The top shot is from the film set…looks pretty awesome especially with creature contacts. He gets to strangle people with his mutant tentacle hand too, a pretty standard horror movie convention, but still delicious!
Presented for your edification: a partially completed tentacle attack scene featuring Virginia Logan suddenly sprouting mutant monster tentacles from out of her back and
molesting attacking Peter Alexandrou–and who can blame her really? It was a long day on set, afterall. Everyone was cranky!
Actually, we’ve been using Blender to create 3D animated tentacles for these shots. Then we bring them into AfterEffects and combine them with a matte created in Mocha (sounds like we’re making boozy drinks here!) and, voila: instant monster tentacles! Actually, it’s not that instantaneous, but it’s very gratifying to see one’s vision of tentacular (is that a real word?) homicide come to life before one’s eyes.
We combined the computer tentacles with some practical ones on set. For these, we actually had to do reverse shots, which involved wrapping the silicone prop tentacle (made from Smooth-On’s Dragon Skin silicone product) around the actor’s wrists or ankles, greasing them up with KY (who says sets are no fun?) and pulling them off while filming. Then in Final Cut Pro, we reversed these shots so they looked like the tentacles were wrapping around his limbs. I was pleased with how seemless these shots turned out.
What do you think?
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…
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….
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…
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?
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…
This past Sunday we pulled a crazy twelve hour shoot wherein we tortured cast and crew not only with numerous takes, but also mucho monster makeup. You can see some pics here of the great work that a team of people pulled off the other night. The scenes all involve our heroine struggling to come to grips with her shapechanging, her identity and also why the heck she was on-set until 5 am. I sculpted the face and spikes, along with Christine who also painted them. The very talented Meraly Lopez applied them. Virginia Logan brought the makeup to life! It was a fantastic time and the makeup looked great. We want to bring as much high-level prosthetic work to the film as possible. More pictures of our great cast, including Peter Alexandrou and Kate Britton, to follow!
When we began planning the effects for our new film, Lifeform, we decided we’d try to do as many practical effects as possible–meaning makeup effects, as opposed to computer graphics. There are two reasons for this. First, CG is prohibitively expensive if you can’t do it yourself. Second, computer effects don’t always look as convincing as actually having a creature on set. The problem is, where do you find a creature? Short of journeying to Oz, Ringworld, Narnia, or your nearest recombinant geneticist’s lab, you have to make it. And, because low budget filmmaking means by definition you only have enough money to make your film with a Fisher Price camera and some stick figures, you have to figure out how to make said creature….you guessed it…yourself.
Well, we pretty much knew from the start that we couldn’t afford a full creature suit and quite frankly, such suits can sometimes look pretty “Octaman”-like (look it up, though Rick Baker doesn’t want you to). So the decision was made to show parts of the creature instead. We’d show the legs, some claws, maybe the eyes, but not the whole thing in one shot if we could avoid it. Hey it’s Hitchcockian, keep the mystery, keep people guessing. I think one of the problems with films today is that because they can show anything–say fifty thousand glowing, multi-headed pygmies performing a synchronized swimming routine–they should show it. This is probably why we have the bad films we have today.
When we went to design our creature’s legs, we started out with a few sketches. Here’s one of them. Now, we already knew we couldn’t afford to animate these legs on one of the Victoria Secret’s model, but we could make prop creature legs, ala the ol’ fake Bigfoot footprints gag, have a PA walk them across the screen and walla, instant creature.
From there, we began the build. First, we created a wire armature that we fastened to a board by means of screws and an upright PVC pole and began to sculpt on the armature in wet clay. This is the stuff that you always have to keep moist or it cracks and falls apart. But if it’s too moist, the clay won’t hold the details. Also, your rags start smelling like mold after awhile and you begin to hallucinate. I remember visiting the Temple of Mu with Bob Marley and JFK, but that’s another story….
After we’d sculpted the leg, we had Anthony Jones, an excellent moldmaker and makeup guy, cast the sucker. Anthony has a lot of experience in this kind of mold-making so we knew he’d be the guy to tackle the leg. He did an excellent job. It’s a huge two piece mold made of Ultracal and it’s taking up half of the bedroom at the moment, serving as an obstacle to both human and cat traffic alike. (Cat inserted for scale.)
Following that, Anthony cast two legs himself. The final creation has a latex skin and foam interior and also takes up a heck of a lotta room in your typical square footage-challenged NYC apartment. (But hey, what about all the museums and shows one can take in anytime one wants? That makes it all worth it! Oh wait, we’re making a movie, those $200 tickets for Spiderman will have to wait!)
We ran into a major problem because we only cast one leg, I think it was the right one. There’s an inner toe, like a dinosaur’s, in the design, which meant we ended up with two right legs. I wanted a left leg, so I had to sculpt, cast and pour an opposing left toe. Then I had to cut off the right toe and patch that, as well as graft the left toe to the proper spot. It actually turned out very well. You really can’t tell it’s a patch job. (Note to self: next time design a leg with no inner toe.)
Following this, we painted both legs with PAX paint, which is acrylic paint mixed with prosaide. They look great and should prove to be very spooky in the right light. When we go to use them in the film, we’ll stick PVC pipes in the offscreen ends and have a PA walk them past the lens.
Great, we’re done, instant monster!
If only. Things got much more complicated later….
Hi, welcome to a new blog which will deal specifically with a couple of things–micro budget indie film making and monster makeup special effects. I’m going to show the process by which a low budget film is created, in every agonizing detail. You’ll be there as I gripe…I mean “blog” about putting it all together from scratch, with the help of some very talented people…from creating and designing makeup, pre-production of the actual film, post-production, selling the finished product, dealing with distributors, sales reps, etc. It’s film making boot camp and they’re not using blanks, people!
We’ve been in this murky, labyrinth before and sometimes it can seem deeper than the Mariana Trench, which by the way is 35, 994 feet deep, so that’s saying something. Our first film, The Shriven, made it all the way from idea, to script, to finished film, to a DVD that got released in a few territories (some legally, some bootlegged, but that’s another story) and we lived to tell the tale! Attached are the Japanese and the US covers for the film. I don’t remember making the film in the Japanese version, but it looks kinda cool, like an acid trip/Jenna Jameson porno film.
Also, we’ll blog about all the great people we work with on this stuff, because out here in the Bermuda Triangle, we only got each other, don’t ya know!