We recently profiled the work of Chris Walas, who created the incredible animatronic creatures for Gremlins. Walas other memorable works include effects on films like Enemy Mine and David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly. His make-up effects for The Fly were wonderfully sick, and with Walas's help, Cronenberg gave us a sci-fi horror film that blew away the original. We were fortunate enough to get Walas to talk about that project.
Walas had a hell of a learning curve on Gremlins. In the days of practical effects, effects artists had to reinvent the wheel to make something come to life, and it was a hard process to make an army of animatronic creatures. As Walas recalls, "I should say that I was personally terrified for the entire show. It was a gigantic project for me, beyond anything I had done before, and time and the schedule were not on my side."
Once he got Gremlins under his belt, "It was a very empowering experience for me," Walas says. "I think I gained a lot of confidence out of it. The Fly wasn't really that much of a leap so much as it was a journey down a different path. The Fly was all about the make-up and the emotional reality of the work. It was less crazed fantasy and was less puppets from start to finish like Gremlins was."
For Walas, one of the most important lessons he learned from Gremlins "was the fact that there is always more than one way to do an effect. There's always another option. We developed a lot of our own technology for Gremlins that we adapted to The Fly, particularly along the animatronics line, so we had an existing library of hardware available. That became critical on The Fly as we had to rethink some effects due to the tight schedule."
As far as his creative relationship with Cronenberg, Walas says the director "is fascinating to work with. He's very intelligent, observant, and understanding. He's also challenging and supportive. He has a very clear idea of what he wants and how he sees things, so the design phase tends to go quickly. His design directions also tend to be more emotional and psychological than most directors. Most directors will describe what they want physically. They'll say, 'It needs to be bigger; make the eyes red; add more horns.' David's descriptions were more like, 'It needs to be in more pain, and I want to see confusion in its eyes.' I would say David's style is much fuller and covers a wider design approach than most directors."