The Old Tricks and New Technologies of Movie Effects

By Wesley Fenlon

3D printing now leads to fast prototyping of models in the movie business.

Who needs messy, sticky fake blood in the movies when you can add clean and easy digital blood in post-production? Who needs hundreds of decaying zombie faces when you can add them to the background with CGI? These days, computer generated effects are often cheaper to add to movies than elaborate makeup and props. But as LiveScience illuminates in a recent story, there are still special effects and makeup artists out there doing their thing, and they use a combination of new technologies and creative homebrew solutions to make our movies look real.

When it comes to horror movies, makeup still reigns king, and fake blood still finds its way into plenty of movies. The remake of Evil Dead splashed more than 50,000 gallons of fake blood onto its sets and actors. LiveScience talked to Andrew Clement, who runs effects shop Creative Character Engineering; he talked about how many movie effects still have to be done without CGI.

In World War Z, for example, his studio did around 5000 bits of make-up, because often a hundred extras in a shot would all need to be zombified, just in case the camera caught them for a second.

His uses of technology to pull off seemingly simple effects are especially interesting. Using silicone to create a cast of an actor's face or body is a standard technique, but what do you do when that actor is only going to be seen upside down? LiveScience writes:

"For one scene in 'Let Me In,' a murder victim needed to be hanging upside down from a tree. Flipping upside down completely changes the way gravity acts on a face, Clement said, so he and his team got creative: They had their actor get on an inversion table, a piece of equipment used to relieve back pain by turning a person upside down.

"The team placed the silicon, waited for it to gel, and then, as it was still slightly soft, flipped their silicone-coated model at a 45-degree angle. The resulting cast captured the upside-down effect perfectly, Clement said."

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3D printing has its uses in the movie business, too. Clement now does some sculptures digitally and prints them, instead of making them by hands. Digital prototypes can be shown to filmmakers before anything is created, saving time and money during the revision process. It might seem like 3D printing wouldn't have the resolution to create props as convincing as something hand-made from clay.

Then again, the Aston Martin in Skyfall was, in some scenes, actually a 1:3 scale 3D printed car. Did you notice?