Acknowledging the blood, sweat & tears that went into making a head explode on film, among other things.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Strange Invaders (1983)

An odd little film from 1983 that pretty much homages 1950's small town paranoia sci-fi films. I remember renting this a few times as a kid at the local video store. I dont really remember the plot as much as I remember the effects. This film has some great borderline gore effects that stayed with me... sometimes in nightmare form.

Latex faces being ripped off exposing slimy animatronic alien heads, shriveling bodies getting their life force sucked out of them. Pretty intense stuff for a PG rated film, but then again, this was 1983. A great time to be a kid. Movies got away with a lot more back then, and I've always been grateful to have my impressionable years exposed to all these early 80's practical effects heavy productions.

Critically and publicly, this film was mildly received. I think it gained better legs through home video by kids like me. Siskel & Ebert were divided on the intention of the film. I love how Siskel decries the annoying "gloop & glop" effects that the "kids" love these days. It makes me wonder what he would have thought about the massive CGI infestation that has clogged modern cinema.

I guess we'll never know.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Great Pre-CGI Transformation Scenes

The Beast Within(1982)

One of the greatest. Paul Clemens really sells it in this one. It's also Tom Burman at his most air-bladderific!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Baby: Secret Of The Lost Legend (1985)

I remember this being quite the big deal in animatronics when it came out. I saw this in the theaters many times. Maybe that's why Jurassic Park did nothing for me. The Brachiosaurus scene in JP looked really bad in my opinion. These brontos had mass to them. even though they were scale, when they fell, they FELL. The physics were real, not rendered. The head movments still were a little tight, but it didnt matter, because they were real objects that interacted with their real surroundings.

I think when you're dealing with "unreal" things such as dinosaurs, it's better to create them in the real world so the actors have something to work with instead of a green screen. Much more effective.

Have a great CGI Free Pot Pie weekend!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Throw me the Idol

There’s something about this picture that almost makes me weep tears of nerdly joy.

Maybe it’s the simplicity of rubber bands and tape. Maybe it’s because there was a lot of thought and work going into something that really was never in the final film. Maybe it’s because this was one of the films that shaped my view of action and adventure and the imagination of filmmaking. Maybe it’s because I never knew that they tried to make the damn idol’s eyes move!

Whatever it is that I love about this picture, I guarantee you this much work wouldn’t have been done today. All this would have been reduced to, “We’ll CG the eyes in post.”

Photos courtesy of the P.E.G. Practical Effects Group page

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Multi-Tangent Observations

Some CGI is not completely crap. My big problem is the disregard and or utter lack of knowledge of physics when making a CG character move. They never seem to get it right. The whole basis of CGI is to make the unreal blend with the real. If it wasn’t, then we’d still have stop motion and cartoons with live action. So why all the fakey jumping and flying around? (I’m looking at you Spider-Man & Transformers)

When a well done CG character is still, it seems more effective, but when it starts jumping around, the realistic illusion is completely shattered. The best example for me was Gollum from the Lord of the Rings films. The facial detail was marvelous. His expression was very well rendered. Even when he crawled along the ground he almost seems to have some mass to the image. When he started jumping around, that’s where the flaws became apparent.

Look, CGI is never going to look 100% real. I know that, but the artists that use it for the sake of wanting it to be “more realistic than a puppet or stop motion” are just fooling themselves. Nobody watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit for the graphically accurate depiction of cartoon and real life co-mingling; they saw it for the fun story told a creative way.

CGI added for the purpose of creating something unreal real, is not creative. It’s a lazy illusion that seems hollow to the viewer. We get nothing from it. It’s like eating a pot pie full of air.

So next time you young filmmakers want to add a giant monster in your shot, set the mouse down, got to the hobby store, get some models, get your hands dirty and read up on forced perspective techniques.

Us the viewers appreciate seeing hard work up on the screen.

Monday, April 12, 2010

They Don't Make Them Like This Anymore...

No one can deny that "Audrey 2" from 1986's Little Shop of Horrors has to be some of the best animatronics ever perfomed on film.

The fluid mechanical movement done on such a large scale is pure art. Presumably when Audrey 2 was at his largest, they slowed the filming speed down to get the right effect movement wise.

I always wondered how noisy he was to operate on set.

If you havent seen the "everybody dies" ending yet, you're in for a hell of a treat...

part 1...

part 2...

part 3...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Stop Motion Vs. Computer Animation

Having a rather busy Friday so I thought I'd just post something fun and NOT whiney...

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Effects Artist Vs. DP

Director of photography Dean Cundey and effects artist Rob Bottin apparently were at constant odds with each other when it came to how to film the effects for 1982's The Thing.

Bottin just finished The Howling and thought his work would be better showcased in shadow and backlight. Cundey preferred that all the alien shots be shown in stark spotlight. Bottin finaly won, and I think we all benefited from the result.

Maybe that's why the "dog transformation" scene work so well and can be viewed so many times. Each viewing gives you a little bit more of the creature.

Was that an eyeball???

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

CGI Acceptance Indoctrination of the Young.

It’s only inevitable that all great things go the way of CGI, and nothing proves that more heartbreakingly than the Jim Henson Company.

Founded as Muppets Inc. in 1958, it was the birthplace of all things Muppets. It spawned Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in 1979 where glorious works of animatronics and visual effects were created. The Creature Shop’s work is still being used today, notably for the suits and animatronics for 2009’s Where The Wild Things Are.

But it’s in the kids programming where the tragedy really unfolds. A lot of the shows that are being churned out are mostly CGI. One that particularly caught my attention was a show called Sid the Science Kid.

What makes Sid the Science Kid so odd for me is not the fact that it’s CG, It’s the way they approach it. The characters on the show are designed to look like Henson puppets. They have the same odd mouth movements as if a hand is inside operating them. They have somewhat glassy blank eyes as well. Basically, they are CG puppets.

Now, why would they go through all this? Everything on the show is motion captured as well. They have a set with PVC piping indicating where the CG furniture will be rendered. Actors are motion captured and it’s basically filmed live with multiple cameras. Then each frame is painstakingly rendered. They can complete about 2 hours of show in one year.

It seems like a hell of a lot to accomplish when puppets would be a million times easier. I know it’s an aesthetic choice, but why give them realistic puppet features? It’s all so very disturbing.

I guess I should just chalk this one up to: “Get with the times, old man! Kids don’t like puppets anymore. They like CG interpretations of puppets!” I wonder what Jim Henson would have said about all this?

God, I miss him.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Fantastic Effects Archive.

Probably the best use of Facebook I've seen yet has to be the P.E.G. Practical Effects Group Page created by effects artist Jason Barnett.

It's a gold mine of photographs (over 2,000 of them) that show many behind the scenes of make-up & special effects departments. Do yourself a favor and take a look. Most of the photos look like they were submitted from personal collections of other effects artists. They have everything ranging from 50's sci-fi to Muppets to many modern day effects blockbusters.

Now if you will excuse me, I'm only on pic 500...

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Big Insult.

The biggest mishandling of CGI is not the Star Wars special editions, although some would argue but I figure that dead horse has been beaten enough. The biggest crime to filmdom is the massive blunder of touching up E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.

Carlo Rambaldi, who designed the head mechanics for the Alien(1979) also designed the title character of E.T. He won an Oscar for both films. His Oscar winning work was literally taken out when, in 2002, Spielberg decided to replace some of his work in the film with a CGI abomination. Let me repeat that:


The only logic I can fathom from this is that George Lucas, high off his own CGI addiction; peer pressured his old buddy Spielberg into succumbing to this grotesque mutilation of cinema. Now, I know that he released the Special Edition as well as the untouched 1982 version, but that still doesn't erase the fact that he broke the one big filmmaker rule: Once your film is out and has become part of popular culture for 20 years, leave it alone.

I really though Spielberg would have wised up and not bought into this “keep retouching my work” disease, but the ease of CGI proves too tempting for some. In a 1996 interview, Producer Kathleen Kennedy had this to say about the film’s effects:

“I really think that a big part of the reason the movie hasn’t aged very much and it feels somewhat timeless is because in a sense it was never designed to be an effects movie… and so, even though we had to create that creature with the technology that existed then, Steven shot E.T. as a character in a way that he really existed. He wasn’t trying to call attention to the fact that, ‘Isn’t this a great effect?’ He was really trying to achieve something that would feel as real as possible.”

So, what happened Steve? Why were you led astray? I want to understand you but I can’t.

I hope Carlo has forgiven him. I know I wouldn’t.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Great Moments In Animatronics.

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) Rob Bottin.

Rob Bottin is in my opinion the greatest special effect artist of the 1980's. His creations defy logic and invoke nightmares. From The Thing to Robocop, he has taken prosthetics and animatronics to such a surreal level.

One of my favorites is the mutant bunny that Kevin McCarthy pulls from the hat in Twilight Zone: The Movie. I think what scared the crap out of me so much as a kid was not the way it looked, but the fact that it was quivering so violently. Pure adolescent trauma inducing euphoria.

I guarantee you that if this had been done with CGI, the effect would have been slightly less than stellar. Just sayin'.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Missing the Matte

Matte painting holds a dear place in my heart. There is something other worldly about it, even if it’s a rendering of a common setting. Digital matte art I really don’t have too many qualms about, but knowing the art is hand painted makes it a bit more special.

Matte paintings seem to stay with you more than any other establishing shot probably due to knowing that it isn’t real. It’s an abstraction. CGI strives so damn hard on achieving realism, that it misses the point of film as an art form.

They are at their most effective when placed at the end. Some of the best film endings conclude with a matte shot with the camera slowly zooming out to add to the dramatic punch. Planet of the Apes, Kingdom of the Spiders, Raiders of the Lost Ark and probably one of the last hand painted matte endings, From Dusk Till Dawn are some of the best around.

There is a book out there called The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Paintings which looks like it might very well be the coolest coffee table book ever. If I had $380.00 I would be able to find out.