SCULPTING, MOLDING, & CASTING vs. FABRICATING
3D COMPUTER DESIGN & PRINTING
We offer character, mechanical, and effects design created in..
We have life cast top actors from Brad Pit, James Earl Jones, Alicia Silverstone,
LIFE CASTING PROCESS
Our Life casting process uses only the safest and mildest of materials. These have been developed and proven for decades in the makeup effects industry. Prosthetic grade medical alginate or special life casting silicone is used for face and arm casting. The head cast process takes from 1 1/2 to 2 hours at the most. At any time if the actor is uncomfortable with the process, the materials can be removed immediately. If the actor is claustrophobic, this process will not work, as they may be too uncomfortable having the alginate on their face long enough for it to firm up.
Head: We first cover hair with a bald cap, secured with pros-aid, a medical adhesive (removed with detachall). Vasoline is used on any facial hair such as eyebrows, eyelashes, beards, etc. For a full head casting, we usually do the back first, using medical plaster bandage up to behind the ears. The front casting is begun using the prosthetic grade medical alginate at a consistency of about pancake batter, gently applied by hand. Alginate is a seaweed product -imagine getting a tofu facial. The nostrils are best achieved by having the actor hold their breath for 5 seconds, while we gently brush over the nostrils with liquid alginate. The actor then snorts, easily reopening air passages to the nostrils. After the alginate front is completed and sets up, it is backed up by plaster bandage. When that has set, we open the mold, clean up the actor and a hard casting material 'positive' into the lifecast mold (the 'negative').
Rough Body: For rougher body forms with no need to re[produce skin texture, we have the model wear a unitard, which we cover the in baby shampoo for a release agent, then we create a front and back piece with multiple layers of plaster bandage. If the pose requires the model to be standing, we create support frames to help the models stand and balance during the process, which can take from 20 to 30 minutes.
Detailed Body: For life casts of bodies that require realistic skin texture, we use special platinum life casting silicone backed with plaster bandage. These life cast molds are usually made of two sides, depending on the complexity of the pose. If the pose requires the model to be standing, we create support frames to help the models stand and balance during the process, which can take from 20 to 30 minutes.
Travel: Usually it is best to create life casts in our shop, but where needed, we can travel. In cases where we travel, we usually need a decent space to work in, achair for the model to sit in in called for, and access to hot and cold water.
Important: When getting your lifecast taken it is best to wear funky clothing, as the process can get messy. For women having head casts with shoulders included, sports bras are good to wear. We can help remove most of the material after casting. An old towel is handy to bring along to help clean up. You will probably want to take a shower afterwards, when you get home.
PRACTICAL SPECIAL EFFECTS vs. COMPUTER EFFECTS
Let me just say from the start here that I love computers. And I also love well done computer effects used in movies. Computer effects are amazing. As I like to say, I believe computers give us super powers. When you consider that I create real, practical special effects for a living, it may seem like I am some kind of a traitor to my occupation to say this, but believe me, for me it is not a contradiction.
As a practical special effects artist, I also appreciate computer effects. In many instances, I appreciate how they can be used make our practical special effects work easier and better. If we need to get close to our puppets to puppeteer them more effectively, then computer effects make it possible for us to get right into the shot- because later on, in post, they can remove us, our control rods and wires from the shots and replace the backgrounds that we were obscuring. In the past, I like to joke that you needed to have smelling salts handy if you brought up fixing things in post to a producer- smelling salts to revive them when they passed out from contemplating the high cost of post work back then. Nowadays, thankfully, computers have greatly simplified the whole compositing process and brought the costs down to more reasonable levels.
By combining both computer effects and practical special effects, we are able to create the most impressive effects. Peel away masks are an excellent example, where you see one person suddenly peel their face away, revealing that they were wearing a mask over a totally different face. This effect is only created believably by combining the strengths of each type of effect. Computer effects can composite a super realistic face over an actor’s face, and also perfectly remove it with a traveling matte line across the actor’s arm as they ‘peel’ the other face away. Practical special effects, in turn, can provide real, stretching skin and hair that you also see being peeled off an actor’s head. Either type of effect s approach could conceivably create a whole peel away mask effect without help from the other type of effect, but it would be infinitely more difficult and probably still not look as real as the results of our teamwork.
When computer effects go directly up against practical special effects though, in being used to create the illusion of a real living character for instance- I believe that practical special effects do have a major, inherent advantage. It is subtle, but I believe it makes all the difference in creating a character that people can become emotionally invested in and believe is real, versus a character that they may doubt as not being real, as being fake.
Consider this for a moment. Movies depend on their many illusions in order to work. Movie's many illusions are so built in and taken for granted, that we rarely give most of them much thought. As a major example, on one of the most basic levels, movies have to ask us to believe that when footage that has been shot at different times and in different places is re-assembled in completely different order, we have to believe that all of the newly re-shuffled cuts are now in some sort of chronological order. Like other effects, all of these changes have to be made in a way that does not distract us, or cause us to pay any attention to it- or else the reality of the illusion of film will be lost.
When we watch computer effects, I have noticed that we tend to get very passive. I believe that this is not just in our body posture, I believe that we also tend to become more emotionally passive and detached when we are watching computer effects. As they are well made aware of by the walls of computer effects credits at the ends of movies, movie fans know that computer effects are created by vast armies of people, each working on their own very small part of the greater effect, using software that can take take them years to learn and master. Computer effects are so massive, so awesomely powerful, so mysterious and impenetrable to the average person, that they appear to come from the hand of some god. The sheer power and complexity of computer effects is so great that it can be awesome, but another aspect of its sheer awesomeness is that it can cause us to feel overwhelmed, insignificant, and passive in the face of something so great.
Practical special effects can be great and awesome too, but it is odd that practical special effects do not also suffer from causing audiences to feel overwhelmed, insignificant, and passive as computer effects can. I say this is odd because practical special effects are just as fake -or not real- as computer effects are, but when done well, practical special effects elect a completely different response than computer effects. It is interesting to consider why there would be any difference. I believe that it is partly due to our long cultural tradition of artists and craftsmen creating paintings, puppets, costumes, works of art. We have come to revere that tradition, and it is this cultural reverence we all have for practically made things that accounts for part of the greater emotional appeal of practical effects. When we see them onscreen, we are able to see that practical special effects are physically real and that they are a continuation of this long tradition of art and craft. To see practical special effects onscreen empowers audiences, each of us knowing that if an artist or craftsman -another person- was able to create the effect, then maybe if we really worked at it, the ability to create the same kinds of effects might be within their grasp too. Especially with computer created characters, most of the work is closer to being a technological and bureaucratic process, not a purely artistic process; it is impersonal, requiring huge armies of technicians and expensive machinery to create.
I think another reason for the different emotional responses to computer versus practical special effects lies in our childhoods. As children, almost all of us played with figures of people, characters, and animals- we played and even slept with our stuffed animals, dolls, and toys. Because they were real and we could touch them, we could hold them, hug them, and physically play with them, we also were able to become emotionally involved and bond with them. Computer effects are closer to the cartoons on tv that many of us grew up watching as kids- we could see them, but we couldn’t touch them, interact with them, or play with them. And when a cartoon mouse set a stick of dynamite off in a cartoon cat’s mouth, we knew not to worry, no one was going to be hurt, and the cat would always miraculously and instantly heal up for his next attempt to catch the mouse.
Simply by the act of watching movies, it is fascinating to consider that we are living in an era where our eyes are being trained and educated more than perhaps any other era in history; maybe the ancient Greek and Chinese empires, and the Italian Renaissance art where anatomy, perspective, and art were being explored come close. When we experience effects in film, most of us are quick to discern what kind of effect they are -and the more we see, the more we become critical of what we see. I can remember seeing a very early morph effect, where a man in profile turned his head to face us and by the time he had turned his head fully to face in the other direction, he had completely transformed into a she. It was pretty revolutionary and quite a shock to see. Over time though, I quickly began to see odd blurring areas in the transformation. As I saw more effects and became more educated, I also became more critical of them, and how real I felt they should look. We all do not need to be experts at creating effects, but we we can still be experts on how good they are.
By educating our audiences, we are -both computer and practical special effects- causing them to be more demanding of us and our work. Both practical special effects and computer effects have responded to our critics by developing new approaches to make our work even better. Practical special effects have created new approaches for prosthetic makeup appliances, Puppets are now being made with silicone rubber skins and four way stretch furs, and animatronics technology and puppet and costume mechanisms heave seen major developments. The field of computer effects has also seen amazing innovations and refinements in the last few decades, like better ways to render skin and fur, to create more complex movement, and even render whole environments. Computer effects have also been able to make inroads into our practical effects territory, and have been able to replace some things that had to be practical in the past, even managing to save costs doing it too. Overall, both approaches have added greatly to the tools that filmmakers have to work with now.
People occasionally ask me if I am worried about computer effects taking over more of my work. I assure them that I am not really worried. I do not see computer effects as my competitor. I see us as collaborators. Things are bound to continue to change, but there will always be a need for practical special effects in the film industry. New genres with specialized audiences may be created, like movies that are all computer effects, and the development of video games (which really have become more like movies that you can put yourself into and interact with). In contrast to these completely computer generated genres, many directors are insisting on are returning to the advantages of practical special effects in their work. For the overall film industry, both types of effects still have plenty to offer and to contribute to filmmaking.
The very best work being done nowadays usually involves both practical and computer effects. In order to complete the illusion that movies are real, computer effects need practical elements filmed interacting with actors, in real light, following real physics; and practical special effects need computer effects, especially and precisely when computer effects are so good at not needing to follow the laws of physics.