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    Effects Artist Howard Berger on Creatures and Makeup

    Academy Originals continues to kill it with its profiles of the craftspeople and artists behind Hollywood films. KNB EFX co-founder Howard Berger walks us through his work as a special makeup effects artist, giving a demo of the sculpting, molding, casting, painting, and application of a prosthetic makeup.

    Knowledge and Expertise - Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project - 6/28/16
    Adam, Norm, and Simone chat about how to approach acquiring new skills and expertise, as well as Simone's trip to the Shenzhen electronics market. Plus, our thoughts on the Seveneves movie announcement. Place your recommendations for what bits of American culture that Simone should know about in the comments below! (Thanks to TunnelBear for supporting Still Untitled!)
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    Browning It Up With Doug Stewart - Episode 42 - 6/17/16
    We welcome SFX special costume designer Doug Stewart to this episode of Creaturegeek. We chat about adding brown to a costume and how to age a garment to look realistic. It's a fascinating discussion with another seasoned pro! If you are enjoying the show, head over to and support us with a few bucks. We are short of our monthly goal that brings you an extra show every month. So head on over to our Patreon, pledge a few bucks and help us get to three or more shows per month. Thanks for listening!
    00:00:00 / 58:46
    Tested at the Star Trek Beyond Fan Event

    Recently, Adam hosted Paramount's Star Trek fan event, which brought us up close with some of the costumes and props from the upcoming Star Trek Beyond film. Adam and Norm talk about the new costumes and what it's like to sit in the new Captain's Chair. Plus, a bonus interview with three of the cast!

    Rebooting and Remaking It - Episode 41 - 6/10/16
    On this episode of CreatureGeek, Frank and I talk about a variety of topics first and foremost the argument to reboot and remake in Hollywood. We chat about the trend of making costumes cosplayable. And how editing can make or break a trailer. If you are enjoying the show, head over to and support us with a few bucks. Thanks for listening!
    00:00:00 / 47:01
    Sweet Revenge: Kill Bill, Vol. 2's Special Effects

    It took more than 400 gallons of fake blood and hundreds of severed limb and decapitation gags to supply the grist for Quentin Tarantino's stylish revenge tale Kill Bill Vol. 1 and its sequel Kill Bill Vol. 2. KNB EFX Group, frequent contributors to Tarantino's films, accepted the grisly assignment with enthusiasm and delight.
    Though six months separated the releases of the original Kill Bill and its sequel, both movies were shot simultaneously – Tarantino having initially envisioned them as one before deciding, in the eleventh hour, to split the story into two parts. For KNB, that translated into a monumental effort, begun in June 2002 after just a few weeks of prep, when KNB supervisor and co-founder Howard Berger, along with Chris Nelson and Jake McKinnon, joined the production in Beijing, China.

    The five-week location shoot soon turned into fourteen, followed by six months of filming on soundstages in Los Angeles, during which time Berger found himself on set nearly every day. "We handled all of the gore and body chops in the first film, which involved hundreds and hundreds of gags – and none of them were digital," Berger recalled. "Quentin said: 'I don't want to do any computer animation stuff. I want it all to be live, in-camera.' That was a huge task for us. We'd walk on the set, and the stunt team, the actors and Quentin would run through the action for that morning. We'd watch it, and from that learn what we had to do. 'OK, this guy gets his arm cut off, these five guys get their legs cut off, and there's a decapitation.' Then we would have to chop-chop and put together whatever we could."

    Electromagnet technology, adapted by Berger, proved especially useful whenever the action called for limbs and heads to be severed during the bloody swordfights. Berger and his crew made fiberglass cup sections that attached to the actors. These held magnets that were hooked to a power source, with a battery and trigger switch. They then fashioned fake limbs containing metal pieces that would bond to the magnets when the electricity was turned on. When the crew killed the power, the limbs would fall off. "We did a lot of those gags," recalled Berger. "Everything was a magnet – legs, arms, head, torso. We even did some full standing bodies with electromagnets – we'd hit the button, and the thing would collapse realistically."

    Thematic Differences Between Jurassic Park and Jurassic World

    Spielberg's Subtext - Mike Hill from Trojan Horse was a Unicorn on Vimeo.

    If you can forgive the audio quality of this video, it's a great in-depth analysis about the thematic differences between Jurassic Park and Jurassic World. Designer Mike Hill presented this talk at the THU conference in Berlin in April--his interpretation of the fundamental differences between the films' thematic foundations. Worth the 30 minutes!

    Inside Adam Savage's Cave: Prop Shop Kylo Ren Helmet

    Adam adds a new prop replica to his collection: Kylo Ren's helmet from Star Wars: The Force Awakens! This is actually Adam's second Kylo Ren helmet--he has a modified Black Series Voice Changer helmet and now this high-end model by Prop Shop. We examine the prop to admire its fabrication and detail.

    Batting The Biz Battles - Episode 40 - 6/3/16
    On this our 40th(!) show, Frank and I take a break from talking about the art of makeup and SFX and talk about the art of actually running a successful business. This is a must hear if you are thinking of striking out on your own creatively. There is a lot of talk about getting paid, contracts and the overall self-doubt that pervades every creative person's mind. If you are enjoying the show, head over to and support us with a few bucks.
    00:00:00 / 49:57
    Building a Studio Scale Death Star Laser Tower Model, Part 4

    This month, prop maker David Goldberg shares with us his build of a studio-scale replica of the Death Star laser tower from Star Wars. Previously, David covered sourcing his reference, fabricating the structure, and adding the details. We finish with painting and weathering!

    The time has come to paint and weather the model. This is one of my favorite parts of the whole modelmaking process. The time when everything comes together visually as a unified whole. Before painting I disassembled the laser cannons and curved tracks in order to make them easier to paint. The first step is to give the model an overall coat of grey primer. This gives the model a uniform base color, seals the MDF and aids in the adhesion of subsequent paints to the plastic and brass parts. I used a spray can Filler Primer from Rustoleum, applied in several light coats until the model was a uniform shade of grey. It's amazing how just a simple coat of primer can tie everything together!

    There was a little bit of over spray (it was a particularly warm weekend) so I went over the whole model with an extra fine scotch bright pad to knock off any dusty overspray. The next step was to "pre-shade" all the panel lines and around some of the detail features with flat black water based Tamiya acrylic paint sprayed with an airbrush. This pre-shading will subtly show through the base paint layer to be applied next giving a little bit of visual depth and variation to the overall look. Its okay that the pre-shading is a little rough and sloppy, it actually looks a little better in the end not being too consistent.

    Next was an overall base coat of Tamiya Acrylic Royal Light Grey sprayed on with an airbrush. I thinned the paint almost 1:1 with water and built up the opacity with subsequent coats until I had the amount of pre-shading showing through that I wanted. The thinned paint dries more transparent so it usually takes more coats than you originally think. The end result is a subtle dark shading around the edges of the panels. The effect will be further reduced with the washes and other weathering yet to come.

    Next came a little fine overspray of a darker grey applied with an air brush. The overspray doesn't really show up in the pictures but does add a bit of variety to the surface of the model. Once the overspray had dried the whole thing was sealed with a coat of Pledge Liquid Floor Finish, which is basically just a water based clear varnish. This will prevent the wash coming next from staining the base color too much.

    In Brief: For the Love of Soothing Spaceship Sounds

    Have you ever pulled up YouTube videos that sample and loop the ambient sounds of sci-fi spaceships to just listen to in the background? Chances are you loaded videos created by Star Trek fan Spike Snell. Snell, along with sound effects editor Peter Lago, are interviewed in this Atlas Obscura story about the appeal and making of ambient engine noises for film and television. Lago explains his approach to designing a spaceship's soothing rumble, and also breaks down the characteristics of some of sci-fi's better known vessels.

    In Brief: Editing Comedy for Movie Trailers

    Tony Zhou (Every Frame a Painting) doesn't just make fantastic videos analyzing various aspects of filmmaking, he also occasionally writes about it on his Medium blog. The latest entry is an on-point comparison between the recent domestic and international Ghostbusters trailer, which handle a comedic bit in slightly different ways. Zhou explains how editing and the addition/omission of just a few frames changes the comedy.

    The Work of a Creature Performer

    The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences' YouTube channel has been producing some great profiles of artists and filmmakers. This recent interview with ADI's Tom Woodruff Jr. (previous featured here) has some great behind-the-scenes stores and footage from memorable creature films like Alien 3.

    Favorite Movie Pairings - Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project - 5/31/16
    We start the podcast this week chatting about a recent movie marathon Adam hosted for his family, and the screening of three classic 80s movies that fit well together. We also talk about the new Strandbeest exhibit in San Francisco's Exploratorium museum, and Adam's meeting with artist Theo Jansen!
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    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind's Surreal Effects

    In director Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman plumbs a consciousness-bending story about a man, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), who attempts to ease the pain of a breakup by undergoing a procedure that will erase all memories of the relationship from his mind. Joel's attempts to interrupt the erasure mid-procedure – all from within his subconscious – set the story in a world that is part reality, part waking dream.

    That surreal world was the stuff of visual effects, more than 100 realized by Custom Film Effects. Buzz Image Group took on only 16 shots, but each was a critical depiction of Joel's altered mind as, one by one, his memories of Clementine (Kate Winslet) are deconstructed, abstracted and, finally, erased.

    The memory abstractions are sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle. In a sequence early in the film, Joel – in his car – follows Clementine as she walks angrily down a sidewalk. "This was a hand-held, non-effects shot," said Buzz visual effects supervisor Louis Morin, "but in the scene, Jim Carrey says a line about everything falling apart – and Michel wanted to emphasize that feeling." To visually support the idea of a world falling apart, Gondry suggested removing one of Clementine's legs in the scene. "I said: 'Okay, it's possible – but this is a swish-pan, and it is going to be so fast, nobody will see it.' But he wanted to try it; so we replaced Clem's real legs with CGI legs, did 3D tracking and remodeled the sidewalk she was walking on."

    Determined to limit the number of visual effects in the film, director Michael Gondry used in-camera trickery wherever possible. For a scene in which Joel transports Clem into his childhood memories, production built a forced-perspective kitchen set to render Jim Carrey child-size.

    The first attempt at the shot bore out Morin's initial concerns. "Nobody could see it," said Morin, "because it was so fast. I asked if they had a longer take of Clem walking, and they did – but in that one, she wasn't turning her head properly. So we combined takes in the swish-pan, tracked the head from the first take onto Clem in the longer take, and put in a whole CGI background." In that background, a car crashes behind a fence, unnoticed by Clem. "That was a CGI car and a CGI fence. It was a shocking event to keep the audience on their toes, to say, 'Look – some pretty unusual things will be shown to you in this movie.'"

    Building a Studio Scale Death Star Laser Tower Model, Part 3

    This month, prop maker David Goldberg shares with us his build of a studio-scale replica of the Death Star laser tower from Star Wars. Previously, David covered sourcing his reference, creating a 3D model, and the core structure fabrication. Today is all about the finer details!

    The original models built for the Star Wars films were detailed with hundreds of little parts taken from plastic model kits. These parts were often referred to as nernies or greeblies. This was the first time this approach to adding detail for film models had been used to such a great extent and it was one of the defining characteristics of the realistic "used hardware" look of the film. There are photographs of the ILM model shop back in the day showing entire walls stacked high with hundreds of model kit boxes. Models kits of all types and scales were used for "donor parts" but it seems there was a fondness for models of military subjects, especially tanks and other vehicles.

    A great deal of time and effort has been spent by members of the Replica Prop Forum (The RPF), Studio Scale Modelers (SSM) and other online sites analyzing photos of the original models and tracking down precisely which parts from which kits were used for the added details. Some of these model kits are still in production and many more are available on EBay, although sometimes at extremely high cost! Other than purchasing the Mig 21 kit to use for the barrels, I decided I didn't want to spend what could amount to many hundreds of dollars purchasing all of the necessary donor kits, some of which are quite rare. Instead I decided to replicate many of the parts with 3D printing, laser cutting and scratch building. In the end, several 'authentic' parts were donated for use on this project by some of the very kind members of the RPF.

    Before applying detail parts some additional layers of plating were needed. Styrene sheet, cut by hand, was used for this plating on the original models but I wanted the benefits of precision and speed that could be achieved using a laser cutter, and styrene doesn't laser cut cleanly, the edges tend to melt a little. Instead I laser cut the plating panels out of a material called Polybak, a cardboard sheeting which has been impregnated with resin to make it water resistant. Polyback is often used to back cabinet panels in moist locations and as a backer for thin wood veneering. It laser cuts beautifully and takes paint well.

    I laser cut a series of panels to go on the top of the tower as well as a bunch of randomly sized rectangular panels that I could stick on the casework wherever desired. Before cutting, I applied double-faced adhesive tape to the back of the Polyback sheet so that to attach the parts all I would have to do was peel off the backing paper and stick the parts down. In additional to the plating, several custom parts were laser cut, some with partial surface etching to represent bolt heads and other details.

    In Brief: Movie Costume Design Blogs

    With Comic-Con coming up in less than two months, I'm wondering what new film costume will be the popular cosplay this year (my money's on the new Deadpool or Black Panther). The appearance of awesome new costumes from this year's superhero films has also brought two blogs back into my feed: Clothes on Film and Tyranny of Style. Both regularly go in-depth with interviews and analysis about the making of costumes for film, and serve as informative complements to detail-oriented fan forums. Where are you favorite places to read about costume design for film?