Not exactly sure about the source of these photos, but here's a large gallery of photos of modelmakers and miniatures from the ILM model shop, circa The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The photos show the making of some iconic vehicles like the Republic fighters and cruisers, the Super Star Destroyer, and even Death Star 2. Most of these models reside in Lucasfilm's precious archives in Northern California, and some went on tour in the most recent exhibition of Star Wars models and props. You can find my photos from that exhibit here.3
From the inspiring and informative Soundworks Collection of mini-documentaries about the people and technology behind Hollywood audio production: "We feature Leslie Ann Jones, who is the Director of Music and Scoring at the legendary Northern California Skywalker Sound. Leslie Ann Jones has been a recording and mixing engineer for over 30 years."
Bonus weekend video! Norm shares a new sixth scale collectible figure set he just received: the highly-anticipated Batman Armory set from Hot Toys! This set not only has the armory display, but Batman, Bruce Wayne, and Alfred figures as well. Norm analyzes the quality of these sculpts and paint jobs, and compares this newest Batman model to past versions. No detail goes unnoticed!
Tomorrow's a big day for prop collectors and replica prop makers. As we mentioned in our video of Adam's new Samurai armor from 47 Ronin, London and LA-based Prop Store is gearing up for one of the largest film prop auctions in recent memory, and easily one of the most important. The auction is mere hours away, and will be held live in London at the Westfield Mall's Vue Cinema. We were fortunate to see some of those props in person at Comic-Con as well, where Prop Store had iconic items like Marty's hoverboard on display (I touched it!). For those of us who can't make it to the auction or are curious about how much these props end up going for, we'll be able to follow along online at the auction website.
Since receiving it earlier this month, I've been spending lunch hours poring over the auction catalog and admiring the lovely photos and cool production info associated with each prop. Here are the props from the auction that I'm the most excited for, either because of their significance to film and effects history, their personal resonance, or because they're just so cool.
"A 1⁄4-scale puppet of the Alien Queen from James Cameron’s action sci-fi sequel Aliens. This puppet was used for the model miniature shots during the scene in which Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) drops the beast into the Sulaco’s airlock, only to be dragged down with it.
Conceived by director James Cameron and brought to life by Stan Winston Studios, the puppet is made of multiple components built around a metal armature for strength and was designed to be dropped to accommodate the shot. The head, crown and body of the puppet are made in dense urethane. The Queen’s teeth are cast in translucent resin to match the detail of the full-size creation. The arms are made of foam latex with urethane used for the tail, while the legs are made from latex and polyfoam. Due to their age, the outer limbs have deteriorated. Wire runs down the length of the tail and down the arms in order for the limbs to hang freely for the fall. The Queen’s carapace is finished in black with blue highlights to match the lighting of shots within the Sulaco hangar."
Remember a few months ago when I spent time obsessing over Quicksilver’s audio gear from X-men: Days of Future Past? I thought that exploration was enough to get it out of my system--until my friend Hadley told me that she would be cosplaying as Quicksilver for New York Comic Con. Without missing a beat, I proclaimed that I had to build her an accurate Stereobelt prop. And so my obsession began anew.
To recap: the Stereobelt, a little-known predecessor to the Walkman, predating Sony's portable cassette player by seven years and cobbled together from existing tech. Only one picture and a patent document of it can be found in all of the interwebs, yet the savvy production designers on Days of Future Past based Quicksilver’s unit on the Stereobelt, therefore giving him probable audio gear for 1973.
Setting out to create my own Stereobelt, I ran into an immediate problem: a lack of good reference material. Other than the magazine cover of Quicksilver, which showed only one side of the belt, I was unable to find any good reference of the other side or back. At this point, the Blu-ray hadn’t been released and unlike every other Marvel movie, there was no “Making-of” book. So, I started work on what I had reference for, figuring that I may have to improvise the opposite side and revise it when I could get ahold of the movie. I didn’t have a lot of time to build the Stereobelt, so my original intention was to keep it simple and print it as one solid piece. The front and back caps would cause some print issues since they were both tapered and would have to use supports to print as one piece. The caps would also print better if the slopes were oriented upwards, so I decided to compromise and print the body and caps separately and assemble using simple square pins and glue.
Unlike the Hellboy Millenbaugh Motivator, for which I took meticulous measurements using Photoshop, I totally eyeballed the size and proportions of the Stereobelt on paper. Once it looked right, I started building in 3D and quickly realized another issue - if I built this as one piece, painting and finishing would be difficult since it had a lot of trim pieces. I also liked the idea of being able to print this out in two colors, assemble with no painting and still have it look good, so I decided to break it up into more pieces.
Joey Shanks of PBS Digital Studios' Shanks FX show shoots a short video using 1/24th and 1/15th scale models of the Back to the Future Delorean to recreate effects scenes from the film. Shanks gives some tips for using forced perspective to make his models appear as if they're driving on a real road, and explains why using a smaller model might be better than a larger one.
Ten years ago, Richard Crudo, the current president of the ASC (American Society of Cinematographers), went through a deep depression, and he’s certain most cinematographers went through the same. The reason? Film was coming to an end, and trying to stop celluloid’s demise would be like trying to hold back a tidal wave.
Before becoming the president of the ASC, Crudo worked as a cinematographer for many years (American Pie). “I was born, raised and worked in the film era, and I still think it represents the gold standard of visual imaging,” Crudo says. “However, one must be realistic. Film is essentially dead. And to try and keep it going on some rarefied level is certainly admirable, but it really has no application to the rest of us. Clearly we live in a digital world and it’s going to be a digital future. You shoot film, where do you get it processed these days? So many labs have closed. And a laboratory can’t be a boutique operation and be expected to operate with any level of efficiency or perfection.”
For a long time now, the writing’s been on the wall for cameramen and film fans alike. Once esteemed cinematographers like Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption), and Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters, The Deer Hunter), as well as directors like Martin Scorsese (GoodFellas), made the switch to digital, you knew it was all over. Then again, you also knew that as long as directors like Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, and JJ Abrams kept working, film would still be around, at least for a little while.
In fact, this summer Nolan and Abrams helped keep Kodak in business. The CEO of Kodak, Jeff Clarke, said in a statement, “After extensive discussions with filmmakers, leading studios and others who recognize the unique artistic and archival qualities of film, we intend to continue production. Kodak thanks these industry leaders for their support and ingenuity in finding a way to extend the life of film.”
Still, cinematographers today are long past the denial and anger phases of celluloid’s death, and they’re now in the acceptance phase. “The digital image that we see today is as bad as we’ll ever see, and it’s only getting better all the time,” Crudo says. “There’s a couple of developments around the corner that I think are going to cause it to exceed film. This coming from a person who would never dreamed he would be talking like this ten years ago. If I heard myself talking this way back then, I’d have chopped my own head off!"
“The scale has tipped 180 degrees from what it used to be,” Crudo continues. “Early on, you’d be very suspect about shooting digitally, and you wanted to shoot film because it was the established standard. Today I’d be very dodgy about shooting film vs shooting digital.” But it's not just about the manufacture and use of film stock that needs to be maintained. There's another side to the equation.
One of the coolest things I saw at New York Comic Con was NECA Toys' new Nostromo Spacesuit figures from their Alien toy line. (It's the costume Adam wore this summer at Comic-Con!) We take the fragile sculpt and paint master for this figure out of the display case and scrutinize its details to examine what NECA's artists got right. This is a gorgeous piece!
Just a brief note to let you guys know that we're stoked to announce that we're hosting a brand new podcast on Tested. The show is called CreatureGeek, and it features Frank Ippolito (who you know from many Tested features) and Len Peralta (from the Geek a Week podcast and tons of other things) discussing creature effects, monster makeup, and everything in between. Expect the perspective of a pro makeup artist (that's Frank) and a well-informed fan (that's Len). They've got a roster of incredible guests in the SFX world scheduled to stop by Frank's shop to chat, and I'm really excited to have them on Tested. I hope you guys will give them a warm welcome. If you'd like to know more, you can post in the comment thread, or reach out to them on Twitter.4
Here's something you never learned in the history books: the Martian War that engulfed the world in conflict from 1913 to 1917. But it's something that you will find on the History Channel (Canada). For the show "Impossible Factual," UK-based Plazma Design produced these three and a half minutes of footage documenting the fictional war, using a combination of archival war footage and CG. The designs of the Martian invaders' mecha is pretty great--you have the iconic hulking tripods, walking spiders, and even "Lice" tanks that harvest the spoils of steampunk war. Come to think of it, I'd be totally down for an "Alternate History" channel on cable TV. Make it happen, hollywood executives!
Adam invites us to the Cave to join him in opening a package from Prop Store, a movie memorabilia company that collects and sells props and costumes from our favorite films. Sometimes, the props from lesser-known films are the best deals, like this awesome octopus-themed samurai armor from 47 Ronin.
Years ago, I interviewed a number of film editors, which was a fascinating experience for me. You can learn a lot about the storytelling process from editors; they're in charge of one of the most important and under-appreciated aspects of filmmaking: choosing not only what shots to leave in, but what to leave out. The collaboration between director and editor on a movie is crucial, because having complete freedom with no outside guidance can ruin a film just as much as having no freedom at all.
Over the history of cinema, film editing went from physically cutting celluloid on flatbed moviolas to editing digitally on Avid machines, but the most important pieces in an editor’s arsenal have always been the same: timing, instinct, patience, and personal chemistry.
Steven Kemper’s area of expertise in the editing room is in the action genre. He has cut a number of films for John Woo, including Face / Off and Mission: Impossible 2. Woo’s action sequences are tight and well constructed, yet surprisingly Kemper says Woo gives his editors “tons of leeway” in the cutting room. Woo storyboards his action sequences, “but very often he wings it on the set if he doesn’t get a shot, a shot isn’t working out the way he hoped or he ran out of time. None of the scenes look like the storyboards when you’re done, but you do get an idea of what he’s going for, there are focus points in the sequence that we make sure to hold on to. You end up doing much more than John originally intended. That’s what I really enjoyed about working with him, is he’s totally open to stuff.”
Working on a John Woo film, the editor has many options open to him considering Woo has multiple cameras rolling during an action scene, sometimes as many as 16 shooting all at once. Woo’s action sequences are famous for deftly blending together numerous camera angles and speeds, which breaks the monotony of typical action editing. “A lot of movies I see today, it seems gratuitous that they go to slow motion in certain spots,” says Kemper. “One of the things I worked particularly hard on, on all of Woo’s pictures is to carefully meld the over-cranked, under-cranked, and normal speed material. If you catch it at the right action, it’s almost seamless. It’s almost like you haven’t realized for a beat that you’ve gone from slow motion right back to a 24-frame shot. I found it not only challenging, but a heck of a lot of fun.”
In talking with Kemper, I learned that patience is one of the most important skills for an editor. In cutting the last forty minutes of Mission: Impossible 2, Kemper spent ten weeks--seven days a week, from seven in the morning to eleven at night--editing that portion of the film. For forty minutes, the editor sifted through 12 to 15 hours of film, which he cut down to what you see in the movie. “Woo shoots so much great stuff, to not sift through every frame is a crime!,” Kemper says.
From effects production house Digital Domain comes this awesome VFX breakdown for some scenes in the most recent X-Men movie. The amount of reference footage, modeling, rendering, and compositing required for an effect like Mystique's transformations is staggering, even if it's just for a three-second transformation. The demo reel runs through the production work on three sequences: Mystique's transformation (from Raven and to Raven), Magneto's lifting of a stadium, and White House battle scene. Fox had previously released a behind-the-scenes featurette about the memorable Quicksilver scene too. And if you have an hour to spare, here's a NOVA special about the magic of special effects, circa 1984. Visual effects have come a long way. (via io9)
Evil Dead 2 is one of my favorite movies of all-time; one that I may have bought more times than even Star Wars. (I own it on Betamax!) My wife even took me to the site of the original Evil Dead cabin near her home in Tennessee. For those who have not experienced this gem, at a pivotal moment in the film, Ash, played the amazing Bruce Campbell, replaces his severed hand (which he cut off because it was possessed) with a chainsaw. He then uses said chainsaw to saw off the barrel of his shotgun, holsters it and as the camera zooms in, proclaims, ‘groovy!’. Instant classic.
About three years ago, I find myself at the grocery store and look at a jug of Arizona Ice Tea. My brain connects the dots and I decided that it looked like the base of a chainsaw, which lead to me building an Evil Dead 2 chainsaw replica for Halloween. Unfortunately, that was also the same year Hurricane Sandy hit New York, so we were evacuated and Halloween was cancelled. But the year after that, I am even more ready with an exact costume that’s weathered and bloodied…and I get one of the worst colds ever which cancels Halloween again. Mark my words--this is the year that I will finally get to use my Evil Dead 2 chainsaw--and maybe you can too!
The parts and tools needed to build your own Evil Dead 2 chainsaw are all actually pretty reasonable. A key piece is 3D printed--I’ve provided the files for download--and we’ll discuss alternatives if you don’t have access to a 3D printer. To start off, I captured a bunch of screengrabs from the film for reference, but the best photos I found were from the excellent Evil Dead Chainsaws site, which makes amazing replicas.
The original prop was based on an actual Homelite chainsaw that was heavily modified and cast in plastic and rubber so Bruce could fit his hand inside and use it safely. I tried to duplicate key aspects of the original for my first version, which required some light metal work for the top piece and 3D printing the distinctive side-grill. For the version I’m presenting here, I’ve simplified the parts and process while still producing a killer chainsaw replica.
From the Criterion Collection, a supercut of actors gazing directly at the camera in Hitchcock films. Short clips looped in just the right way and extended to the edge of discomfort. Unsettling and beautiful! See more work from the editor of this montage here.
You may have seen this being shared around today in social media: director Steven Soderbergh's blog post about his appreciation for the staging and editing in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It includes an edited version of Raiders where Soderbergh removed all the sound and color from the film, adding his own soundtrack to encourage viewers to study the editing choices made by Spielberg and his Editor Michael Kahn for the film. The challenge: "watch this movie and think only about staging, how the shots are built and laid out, what the rules of movement are, what the cutting patterns are. See if you can reproduce the thought process that resulted in these choices by asking yourself: why was each shot—whether short or long—held for that exact length of time and placed in that order?"
For the past 13 years, one of science fiction television's more enduring icons has had a less-than-prominent home for public display. The original studio filming model of the Enterprise from Star Trek (not the motion picture refit) was mounted in front of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum's gift shop. The large wood prop actually spent several years hanging as part of a "Life in the Universe" exhibit in the Smithsonian's Art & Industries Building, but that method of display fractured the wooden frame of the ship, which was never meant to be hung from the ceiling. But the Enterprise is finally getting some respect--the Air and Space Museum announced that it has taken the model off of public view for an 18-month restoration (just in time for Star Trek's 50th anniversary!) and will have a new home in the Museum's ground floor, in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. I've never actually seen this model in person, so time to start planning for a trip a year and a half from now!5