Thursday, April 11, 2013

F/X - Quality vs. Speed (In the micro-budget sense.)

It's almost disturbing how many times I've been asked in the last couple months: "Are you going to premiere Predatory Moon in the Fall?" It's almost laughable, because we haven't even started shooting principle photography yet.

Okay, it is a little disturbing to me but it doesn't actually surprise me that I've been asked this a lot. There are a lot of very small production companies that shoot in the spring and are ready to premiere a few months later. A good chunk of them are straight-up dramas or comedies that didn't require a ton of pre-production or a lot of work in post. However, I've seen a few horror films go this same way, and the quality suffers from it.

Predatory Moon is a werewolf horror film that's being done with 100% practical F/X and makeup. That means that there is a LOT of building and designing involved just in the F/X department alone. There are at least two different versions of each individual creature character - an actor makeup and a mechanical puppet. The style I've chosen to go with for the film is very gritty and realistic, so it's not just a matter of spraying a few gallons of blood on the actors and calling them "werewolf victims". And, because I am completely insane, we show most of the action in broad daylight and deny ourselves the advantage of hiding imperfect work in the shadows.

Pre-production for Predatory Moon started in October 2012. Our last scheduled day of filming is in October 2013. Yes, it will take well over a year for this particular micro-budget film to be shot and edited.

Does this guarantee that Predatory will go down as being one of the best films ever shot for less than $30,000? Of course not. But it is my aim to make it the best film it can be given its limitations. A lot can still go wrong, but there is a lot of time to plan and prepare for the imaginable calamities.

While I've been working on the F/X gags for Predatory, I've had to turn down at least three other jobs. What I found disturbing about all three requests is that there really wasn't enough prep time involved for me even if I were available to do the work. For example: "We're doing a really bloody slasher movie in two weeks. Can you do some really realistic effects for us?"

So I thought I'd illustrate the kind of time it takes to make even one standard horror prop, a severed head. (Nevermind the prep on how the head is going to come off in the first place, this is just the head prop itself.)

This is Mel Heflin, an actress in a role that requires decapitation. the head itself will be shown on display in closeup, so I couldn't just toss a wig on a mannequin head and call it a day. So I had to schedule a time for her to come over to my studio so I could take a lifecast of her face. (Time note: busy actors can't always just drop everything and rush right over, and she lives almost 100 miles away from me.)

I'm using lifecasting silicone for her rather than the more common alginate because I knew I wasn't going to be able to pour a positive right away. The whole process of capturing her likeness in a mold took about an hour.

Now, here's the step-by-step of what came afterward, including time allotments:

1. Nose holes on silicone negative filled with silicone and left to cure: 8 hours
2. Melted clay poured into silicone negative and left to harden: 4 hours
3. Clay positive removed from silicone negative and imperfections fixed: 2 hours
4. Clay positive re-sculpted to show post-mortem mutilation and decomposition: 2 hours
5. Plaster poured over clay positive to create a plaster negative mold, left to cure: 4 hours
6. Clay scraped out of plaster mold, then left to finish curing: 26 hours
7. Several coats of casting latex bushed into plaster negative and cured: 32 hours
8. Shopping for hair to match actress: 3 hours
9. Eyeballs sculpted and molded in casting rubber: 18 hours
10. Eyeballs cast in acrylic and painted: 6 hours
11. Latex face secured to foam head shape and glued down: 4 hours
12. Face painted (in 4 stages) with latex paint: 8 hours
13. Hair glued down: 2 hours
14. Eyebrow hairs punched into head (one strand of hair at a time): 3 hours
15. Eyelashes glued in: 1 hour
16. Eye inserted and given glossy finish: 1 hour
17. Hair slicked down with "old blood", debris added, and left to dry completely: 12 hours
18. "Wet" looking goo mixed up, added where needed, and left to set: 3 hours
19. Whole head sealed with a combination of matte and gloss finishings and left to dry: 6 hours

Yup, that's a combined 145 hours to create the prop, not including the time taken to make the initial lifecast of the actor's face. A lot of time and work for a prop that will only get a few seconds of screen time in the movie. But "realistic" was the goal here.

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