BB-8 replicas continue to impress us! We meet up with droid builder Mike Senna to take a look under the hood of his newest BB-8 robot replica. Mike, who first made a fully animated BB-8 in time for Star Wars: The Force Awakens last year, has now built a static model that is more practical for display and convention appearances. Here's how it works!
Like most aspects of visual effects, the art of movie matte painting has been transformed by technology, to the point that 'before digital' and 'after digital' techniques and end products seem only distantly related. Today, a matte painting can be a full environment – a three-dimensional collage of images and textures over, through and around which a camera, without film or lens, can be flown with total freedom. Not all that many years ago, a matte painting was … well, a painting.
Matte paintings were among the earliest visual effects tools; and for decades, filmmakers used variations on the theme to affordably alter and expand movie settings, both interior and exterior. The era of traditional matte painting was comprehensively and elegantly chronicled in The Invisible Art, by Mark Cotta Vaz and Craig Barron, published in 2002, a must-have volume for anyone with a love for the art and history of visual effects.
A companion volume now exists. Peter Ellenshaw, one of the Michelangelos of matte painting, has produced Ellenshaw Under Glass– a mammoth coffee-table book filled with photographs and artwork and recollections spanning the entirety of his 80-plus years. Ellenshaw suggests that his love of painting dates to his World War I childhood, when he and his sisters were hustled under a kitchen table, with paper and crayons to amuse themselves, whenever German zeppelins made bombing runs over London. Having taught himself to paint by copying the old masters, Ellenshaw eventually approached the only artist he knew of – pioneer matte painter and effects artist W. Percy Day.
Ellenshaw spent seven years with the curmudgeonly master, learning the art and craft of visual effects on high-profile Korda productions, before setting off on his own. Eventually his work caught the eye of Walt Disney, who hired him to do matte paintings on his first live-action films, produced in England. The artist recalls creating 62 matte shots in 27 weeks for one of them. With no firm prospect of employment, Ellenshaw moved his family to the United States, where he soon made a career for himself within the Disney organization, working closely with the studio's gruff patriarch, who took an almost fatherly interest in the ambitious young artist.
Ok, this is super cool. Phil Tippett just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund his version of Holochess, the fictional game he created in stop-motion for Star Wars. It's called HoloGrid, and is an augmented reality collectible card game played with tablets and a boxed set of cards, with creatures designed by Tippett (including some sculpted for Mad God) and scanned with photogrammetry. I just backed it, and hope that it'll reach its stretch goal of getting a HoloLens and Magic Leap release!
From CNN's Great Big Story youtube channel, a visit to special effects studio ADI: "Meet Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis—they've been making movie monsters for Hollywood movies for the last 35 years at their company, Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. But you won't find any computer-generated effects at this studio. Tom and Alec design and create REAL creatures with their own two hands—and they also perform them." Find more behind-the-scenes videos of ADI's creature and animatronics work on their YouTube channel!
This is a rare treat: we get up close with the helmets and armor made by Ironhead Studio for films like Batman v Superman, Captain America: Civil War, and Tron: Legacy. Ironhead Studio founder Jose Fernandez, who has been designing and making film costumes for decades, chats with us about how superhero costume fabrication has evolved over the years.
We return to Monsterpalooza, one of favorite conventions to meet sculptors, painters, and makeup effects artists who share our love of creatures. Frank and Norm walk through the convention floor, catch up with friends, and share some of the awesome art on display at this year's show!
For this week's One Day Build, Adam digs up a garage kit that he's been looking forward to putting together for a while: a bolt from The Iron Giant! We get to assembling the electronics of the kit, and then Adam and Norm each take different approaches for the painting and finishing. Watch a bonus video from this build here, in which we tour Adam's electronics station!
From Wired: "A tour from veteran Foley artist John Roesch of the Skywalker's custom built soundstage. Roesch reveals some of the strangest audio props that were used in films like 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit,' 'Back to the Future' and 'Braveheart’."
As you're probably aware, Guillermo del Toro has been amassing a collection of film props, replicas, sculptures, and other art pieces in his famous cave, known as the Bleak House (some of Adam's props live there!). This summer, part of that collection is going on tour in a travelling museum exhibit, starting at Los Angeles' LACMA. The director calls it "an exhibit of my movie stuff", and the show will be organized by themes that inspire his films and creative process. After showing at the LACMA until the end of this year, the exhibit will travel to Minneapolis and Toronto, and possibly other cities. While we wait for the the exhibit's July opening, you can find some glimpses of the Bleak House in del Toro's wonderful Cabinet of Curiosities book.
The word "dinosaur" was coined by Victorian naturalist Sir Richard Owen in 1841. Derived from the Greek, it means "terrible lizard". The modern meaning is, of course, "humongous slavering monster that tramples the getaway car, eats the supporting actor and fills the IMAX screen from top to bottom."
As well as giving dinosaurs their name, Owen was one of the first to recognize their entertainment potential. In 1852, following London's Great Exhibition, he oversaw the creation of 33 life-size concrete dinosaur sculptures. After the giant models had been artistically placed in parkland surrounding Crystal Palace, Owen hosted a flamboyant dinner party inside the hollow mold that had been used to make the Iguanodon.
After that, dinosaurs swiftly rampaged through popular culture, including early cinema. In 1925, Willis O'Brien – one of the earliest visual effects practitioners – chose them as a subject for his revolutionary stop motion animation techniques in The Lost World, a film which took Owen's Victorian concept of the dinosaur tableau and made it live and breathe.
For nearly seventy years, stop motion remained the technique of choice for bringing extinct creatures to life. In 1953, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms saw Ray Harryhausen using O'Brien's methods to resurrect a long-dormant Rhedosaurus – a fictional dinosaur awoken from its slumber by an A-bomb test.
More Harryhausen dinosaurs followed in 1966, when One Million Years B.C. showcased his Dynamation process in glorious Technicolor. Three years later, he repeated the trick yet again with The Valley of Gwangi. Impressive though Gwangi's dinosaurs were, the film ultimately lacked the box office bite of its prehistoric predecessor (perhaps because it swapped Raquel Welch in a leather bikini for a bunch of cowboys).
From British Pathe, a YouTube channel repository of 20th century archival footage, a 1967 short educational film about the making of dinosaur puppets for stop-motion animation. It covers the sculpting, molding, and casting of the models--some things just haven't changed! (Though the use of a skeleton for the puppet armature is suspect.)
We spent this past weekend at Monsterpalooza, the annual creature and makeup effects convention in Pasadena. It was an awesome place to meet sculptors, painters, and other artists showing off their personal projects, and in many cases, selling resin kits (I picked up a few). The event was one big mutual appreciation society--the place to put faces to Instagram art accounts and discover many new ones to follow. Frank and Len recorded two episodes of Creature Geek there, too! Here are some photos from the show, and we'll have videos and interviews we shot there on the site in the coming days!
Prop maker Bill Doran (aka Punished Props) visits our office this week to share one of his recent builds: a replica of Rey's blaster from Star Wars: The Force Awakens! Bill shows how he designed the blaster to be assembled as a kit, and we put one together! (Find Bill's blueprints and other fabrication guides here!)
Watch how the 3D-printed ghost trap project comes together in this step-by-step build tutorial! Sean puts together his ghost trap kit, explaining the design of each piece along the way. You can download the files for the print here, and buy hardware kits here. Thanks to Dremel for providing the 3D printer and tools for us to build this project! Learn more about the Dremel 3D Idea Builder here.
We're excited to announce a new collaboration with Alamo Drafthouse cinema in San Francisco! On April 17th, the New Mission theater will host a special double feature screening, starting with Neill Blomkamp's District 9 and followed by a to-be-announced movie chosen by Neill--who'll be joining the Tested team in attendance! In between the films, Adam and Neill will take the stage for an interview, along with a surprise that Tested fans will love. The event is open to the public, but Tested Premium members got an early notice for tickets--join the community so you won't miss out in the future. This will be the first in a series of screening events we'll be doing, and not just in San Francisco.
You can find tickets to the screening on Alamo Drafthouse's website here. We'll also be filming the conversation with Adam and Neill and putting it up on the site soon after the event.
Everyone knows what a puppet is. Or do they? Just so we're clear, here's Howard Berger, co-founder of KNB EFX, with his definition: "A puppet can be anything you want it to be. It can be a paper bag with googly eyes drawn on it. It can be a sock. It can be a million-dollar mechanical T-Rex. It is whatever the puppeteer wants to bring to life."
What a puppet is not – for the purposes of this article at least – is the kind of cunningly-jointed figurine used by stop-motion animators. Our topic here is real-time performances created by manual or mechanical means.
Puppets in the Past
Puppetry is ancient. Greek historian Herodotus was writing about it in the 5th century B.C., and you can bet your life that puppets are a good deal older than that. Certainly, by the time the motion picture industry took off at the start of the 20th century, puppetry was deeply embedded in cultures worldwide, with a dizzying range of techniques on offer, from hand puppets to marionettes, Japanese bunraku to Java's shadowy wayang kulit.
Hollywood embraced puppetry from the beginning. Georges Méliès, grand master of stage illusions, conjured countless fantasies that relied on large-scale puppets for their visual effects, including his 1906 film The Witch, which features a bizarre menagerie comprising a giant frog, an oversized owl, and a sinuous fire-breathing dragon.
An even bigger dragon puppet roared onto cinema screens in 1929, when Fritz Lang unleashed Die Nibelungen, featuring a 50-foot-long mechanical serpent called Fafnir. Concealed inside the puppet's head was a can of gasoline hooked up to a pair of bellows, a basin of burning acetylene, and a generous supply of lycopodium powder. When this health and safety nightmare let rip, the result was a burst of flame 30 feet long.