PROCESS

RENTALS

        Much of what we have created for over 30 years is available for rental. We own the copyright on all of our rentals, and rentals give our clients full usage rights and copyright. Our rentals require a standard Certificate of Insurance plus payment in advance.

        For our puppets and costumes, we can include highly experienced SAG performers, who are most qualified to give the best performances with our work. Because our SAG performers are usually the ones who have created our puppets and costumes, so they know how to keep them in shape, how far they can push them, and/or modify or repair them if needed.

        In a few cases, we may require advance notice for some rentals, to give us time in case what we are renting is in need of repair and refurbishment.

SPECIAL EFFECTS COSTUMES

        We create a broad range of special effects costumes, headpieces, masks and gloves, from aliens to zombies- animals, characters, creatures, monsters, burn skin simulations, robots, androids, crash test dummies, walk around costumes, mascots and product costumes. We have a complete in-house costume department with industrial sewing and overlock machines.

       Costumes usually require fittings with the actors- first, to get measurements and initial fittings, then for final fittings to make sure everything is ready to go on set.

        For furry creature costumes, we use the best four way stretch fur that is custom made on computerized looms. We also use custom printed fabrics when needed, for example to create realistic and flexible yet super lightweight snake skins for our mechanical Medusa head.

3D COMPUTER DESIGN, PRINTING, MILLING & SCANNING

        We offer 3D design work, as well as 3D printing and milling, and 3D scanning for our characters, effects and props. We also use 3D programs to analyze movement to assist us in creating mechanisms that replicate animal movement, like our running Rhinoceros for our Toyota Tacoma commercials.

LIFE CASTING PROCESS

 

        Our life casting process uses only the safest and mildest of materials. We have life cast many top actors and musicians- Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, James Earl Jones, and Alicia Silverstone. The life casting materials 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 usually 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. A release cream is used lightly 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 or silicone rubber mixed to the consistency of pancake batter, gently applied by hand. Alginate is a seaweed product- getting a life cast is like getting a tofu facial. The actor's eyes and mouth are usually kept closed, while their nostrils are best life cast by having the actor hold their breath for 5 seconds, while we gently brush around the nostrils with liquid alginate. The actor then snorts, easily reopening air passages to the nostrils. After the alginate front is completed and it sets up, it is backed up with 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, a chair for the model to sit in in called for, and access to hot and cold water.

 

Important: When getting your life cast taken it is best to wear funky clothing. We work as neat and as cleanly as we can, but by its nature the process can get a bit 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. It is sometimes a good idea to arrange your schedule so you can take a shower after life casting, when you get home.

 

 

 

 

PRACTICAL SPECIAL EFFECTS vs. COMPUTER EFFECTS

 

          Let me just say from the start here- I love computers. I also love well done computer effects used in movies. Computer effects can be 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 a traitor to my occupation to say this, but believe me, for me it is not a contradiction.

 

        Practical special effects are not in competition with computer effects. We are a team, with each contributing what they do best to create the best final effect possible. The very best work being done today usually utilizes both practical effects and computer effects.

 

       In many instances computer effects are able to help us and are 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 can use compositing to remove us and our control rods and wires from the shots then replace the backgrounds that we may have obscured. In the past, I used to like to joke that you need to have smelling salts handy if you bring up fixing things in post to a producer, to revive them when they pass out from realizing 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 how movies depend on their many illusions in order to function. 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 level, there is editing. 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 watching computer effects, I've noticed that most people tend to get very passive and emotionally detached. As people are made well aware of by the walls of computer effects credits at the ends of movies, 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 usually also suffer from causing audiences to feel as overwhelmed as computer effects can make them feel. This is especially 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 we be partly biased towards practical effects because of our long cultural traditions 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 and involves the ways we are able to emotionally empathize with some things whole not with others. As children, almost all of us played with  stuffed animals, dolls, and toys. Because they were real and we could touch them, we could hold, hug, 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. 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- the cat would always miraculously and instantly reappear, fully healed up for his next attempt to catch the mouse. We all learned very early on that with real things there are real consequences, giving real cause for us to be concerned.

 

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 film making.

 

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 any of the laws of physics.

SCULPTING, MOLDING, & CASTING versus FABRICATING

Service from behind the scenes since 1980.