Friday, September 14, 2012

A few notes on Special Effects

When I first started my fascinations with movies, I wanted to be Ray Harryhausen.  Not just an animator, but  the greatest animator in the world, a man who captured the imaginations of three generations.  I wanted to make monsters that stalked city streets, and magical skeletons that could carry on an epic sword fight, and creatures from myth and legend that would interact with my human characters.  I wanted to BE Ray Harryhausen.

There was only one problem.  I didn't have the patience to be Ray Harryhausen.  I tried.  I did, but my animation was herky-jerky, my models began leaping around the set, teleporting rather than moving.  I just...I wasn't good at it.  Now, I can actually take the time, and add a little animated piece to a feature, but then, no way.

So I began learning about special make-up effects.  I'm not the greatest sculptor in the world, but I can still create an effect that works.  I can also create miniatures (left over from my wanna-be animation days, I suppose).  But somehow, while learning and working on effects, I got into acting, which led to directing.  I've always, through it all, been a writer.

So, I wanted to show off a little of those talents in our Cheapest Movies Ever! concept.  I decided our first movie would be a monster film set on a distant outpost hidden in some Godforsaken location.  I live in Dallas, TX.  I like it.  I don't consider it Godforsaken.  But I was going to need to show our distant outpost.

I built a miniature.  I built this miniature on four pieces of cardboard, to which I had taped down an interesting piece of plastic packing material.  I built up the landscape
using that home-haunters favorite, GreatStuff Foam, and then I also
added cheap dollar store kitty litter for additional landscape material.
Painted the whole thing black to create shadows, and finished off
with a drybrush of light brown on the rocks and blue/grey on the building.
Add a dollar store LED flashlight into the port and you have a distant outpost.
Now this photo does not have the lighting we'll use in the short, or the particle generated dust-storm, but for a few hours of work, I have a location that is three dimensional, and takes up only three and a half feet in my storage closet.  And I really had a good time creating it.

I need a monster next.  Something gross and nasty but unique.  Something that will startle people, make them uncomfortable, but, remember, folks, it's got to be cheap.  How about $27?  Yeah, that could work.
Now, I'm not going to show you the whole suit here (you'll have to see the short which shoots on the 22nd of September), but I will show you the monsters head.
The materials to make this head cost about than $15, folks.  But it took some time.  I went to a hobby store and purchase a foam pirate hat for...that's right, $1.  Cutting the brim of the hat off, I had a helmet that I could glue the face onto.  The face is made from two different monster masks that are vacuform plastic.  They were both too small for an adult to wear, but by carefully cutting them up I was able to remove the jaws and split the face.  I was also able to cut the devil horns and the eyebrow section from one and glue it onto the other at an angle.  Now comes the time-consuming part.  Using a package of dollar store napkins (100 pack, you can use toilet tissue or paper towels as well, but I find napkins prevent you from having to tear sheets off a roll, which adds to the process), I would paint white home exterior latex paint (the cheapest you can find, mine was about $4 at a home repair store) in a thin layer over part of the mask, and then apply a torn sheet of napkin to the paint.  Then, using very little paint on the brush, glue down the edges of the paper towel in an outward motion.  This prevents the napkin from bunching up, and if the layer is thin enough, it will begin to dry while you're preparing the next area.  With more latex paint on the brush, gently paint the napkin so that it is coated in paint, but not dripping with it.  This creates excellent detail on the skin of the mask, tiny little vein-like texture.  Overlapping the napkins, continue this over the entire mask.  Where there are holes (such as the brows protruding from where I had glued the front edge, leaving a gap at the back edge near the temples) fill with cotton balls by painting a thin layer of paint and adhering the cotton to the mask.  A light layer of paint on the cotton (this is tricky to do, but you will get used to it quickly) prepares it for more napkin skin.  Certain details, such as the aggressive cheek lines, were created by tearing small strips of napkin and rolling them up into a line, painting them on, and then adding a little cotton at the top and bottom to blend them, and then adding more skin on top.  I used a dollar store jello mold of a brain (there are much better molds out there, but they are more expensive), liquid latex painted in thin layers into the mold and after about three layers reinforced with paper towels, to create the exposed brain of the monster.  At the edges of the latex brain, I used cotton to blend it in, and skinned the whole thing.  It took a few days to do the entire head.  For the cheeks, by the way, I used pieces of foam from the brim of the hat I cut off.  Next up, I spray painted the whole thing black (spray paint is $.99 a can at Wal-Mart), and used the same light brown latex paint I used on the miniature to drybrush the skin.  The light brown is a more than reasonable skin tone on this mask.
For the record, my can of light brown paint is oops paint from Wal-Mart.  I've used it to create a Crypt-Keeper for a friends Halloween party, and now this.  It's still VERY full.
I think that's enough for now, don't you?  And I really don't want to reveal to much until the show comes out.  But let it be said that the dollar store (especially the incredibly fine people at the Everything Is .99 Store) is your low-budget movie makers best friend.  It's Halloween season, and stocking up on items they have now will save you a ton of money down the way.
Until next time.

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