behind the scenes at StrangewerksFilms

Posts tagged “sci fi

Giving Life to Lifeform…

We’re in the midst of creating 3D animations for our film Lifeform. The software we chose was Blender–a free and open-source 3D computer graphics software product used for creating visual effects. Here at our studio we’re doing the animation, lighting and compositing. Modeling and rigging were handled by talented Blender vets Kevin Hayes and Nathan Taylor, respectively. At last count there were forty–odd (and we do mean odd) 3D fx shots in the film, which, while it doesn’t sound like a lot, is a HUGE amount of work, not to mention render time. Currently we’re averaging a day-and-a-half to two days of render time per shot, so you can imagine how long it’s taking to wade through the list. Still, it’s worth it when you see the results…   One of the more interesting facts is that you actually output the animation as a series of still images, .pngs, which you then import into Aftereffects, in order to create an entire animation, who’d have figured that? When we designed the actual creature, I was looking to invest attributes from actual creatures in nature, in order to give it a more authentic feel. Some dinosaur plating here, some praying mantis there, a scorpion tail over here… Now we’re trying to emulate some of the physical movements these creatures make in the real world to bring the illusion home.


One tip I would give to any fledgling animators: don’t forget to use the animation curves to smooth out the model’s movements. You can use the bezier tools to make them less “roller-coaster” like–some of mine were looking like the Cyclone at Coney Island before I smoothed them out!
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The goal is to finish all the 3D shots in the next few months and then on to color correcting and sound mix! Ugh…

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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


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…


Medical MisAdventures

So Sunday we had a crazy day shooting in Voorhees, NJ at a plastic surgeon’s office. We braved a two hour drive through the pouring rain, Burger King breakfast food and hospital booties (the ones you pull on your feet,okay?) in order to shoot some complicated hospital scenes. Also, there was a life signs monitor that Virginia Logan was attached to that keep beeping and telling us she was no longer respiring. I think it was a malfunction because as of today she was still walking around and making lascivious comments! Anyway, we made most of our day and then we nearly hydroplaned on a sharp turn into two other cars that had already spun off the road. Somehow I was able to channel my mad driving skills and turned into two skids, all the while holding one cup of coffee, thereby avoiding the upset-looking Hindu woman we were skidding towards. The gods of filmmaking were with us on the that day, I can tell  you! All in all, adventures like this are the thing I like least about filmmaking. Still, it does build nerves of steel, if one survives the ordeal. Indie filmmaking is rarely pretty, rarely glamorous and always an adventure….


Monster Makeup Madness

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!


She’s Got Legs…?

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….


Making Movies 35,994 feet below sea level.

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!