Tag Archives: Short Film

Outbreak: Props and Gore Effects

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During my time working with Worthing Youth Media we produced the short zombie film Outbreak. The film was funded by First Light, the UK Film Council’s initiative for young filmmakers.

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The film was crewed by the members of Worthing Youth Media, who were given assistance and training by mentors such as myself. For this production, I was in charge of the Art Department – running workshops in Production Design for a small team of young people, as well as sourcing locations, props and costumes, dressing the sets and working as a Makeup Artist on the shoot.

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My favourite part of this job was working with the team to design the various zombie characters who would populate the world of the film. I’ll talk in more detail about this in my next post, as right now I want to focus on the props that I made for the film.

Outbreak

Obviously when you deal with zombies, you expect a certain level of gore. For certain scenes, I had to create flesh for the zombies to eat.

The first challenge, was creating entrails for our Zombie Brownie to eat in the opening scene (pictured above.) This led to some interesting home experiments!

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The obvious choice was sausages. I purchased several links of sausages from the butcher and untwisted each link to make one long sausage. I then soaked the sausages in food dyes, deciding after a few tests that a combination of red and black would look just disgusting enough, and contrast well against red fake blood. Then, to add texture, I mixed food dye into liquid latex and painted it onto sections of the entrails to look like fatty tissue. I love working with latex as there are so many things you can do with it. Finally, the entrails were placed into a box of girl scout ‘cookies’ made by the props team, which we filled with blood on location.

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In a later scene in the film, the heroine’s dog gets eaten by the Twin Zombies.

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We see them surround the dog, and then when they appear in a later scene, they are chewing on the dog’s severed leg. It was my task to add gore to our dog’s leg prop, and create prop flesh for the zombies to chew on.

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Again, I used liquid latex to create the effect. By layering the latex on tin foil I created strips, which I then treated with vinegar to create texture. The vinegar causes the latex to wrinkle, bubble and contort. The result was lots of twisted, lumpy bits of rubbery flesh, which I soaked in food dye and then arranged and layered up on the dog’s leg, using more coloured latex to attach it all as it acts like glue. I also twisted some of the strips to create sinewy tendons. Once we added some fake blood on location, it was ready for filming.

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The rubbery texture  of the latex was perfect for the scene, as it allowed the twins to bite and stretch the fake flesh, even snapping bits off. It also produced some fantastic squelching noises. I also created a small piece of flesh for Zombie Chef to chew on in the same scene, using the same method but with less texturing effects. Here’s how it all looked on set –

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The film was nominated for Best Drama at the First Light Awards 2010. You can see the finished product below. If you want to just skip to the gory bits, you’ll find the entrails at 0:50 and the dog eating at 3:05. I’ll be talking about the various makeup effects created for the film in my next post.

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Elysium

For my major project at University, I wrote and directed Elysium, a short film based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The film combines live action with stop motion animation. I also designed and built sets and puppets for the film.

In the original story, Orpheus’ lover Eurydice is bitten by a snake on the day of their wedding. She dies, and Orpheus travels to the Underworld to beg Hades to return her to him. Hades agrees, but only on the condition that Orpheus leads Eurydice through the Underworld and back to the land of the living without looking at her. Orpheus finds Eurydice and leads her through the Underworld, but at the last minute he looks back to see her and she dies a second time, this time forever.

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In our adaptation of the story, Chris is the Orpheus character and his wife Laura, Eurydice. Laura is in a coma and the doctors have told Chris that there is no hope of her waking up. Chris visits a strange organisation, who offer him the chance to bring Laura back by travelling into her dreams to wake her up. The real world is filmed in live action, on digital video, and the dream world is animated with stop motion puppetry.

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We constructed a hospital set in the studio, using flats that we wallpapered and painted and then hiring hospital props to give it an authentic feel. We visited an amazing company in London that had a huge warehouse full of hospital equipment and furniture for hire from different eras.

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We wanted the film to have a very stylised look. As we were dealing with fantasy it was really important that the film have a dream-like look and fluidity. This was the opening scene and I wanted it to be moving and enigmatic. I chose cold blue lighting and arranged it to look like a spotlight around Laura, focusing attention to the centre of the screen and making the edges of the shot shadowy and vague.The idea of this scene was to introduce Laura and her plight in a way that was heightened, as if it was Chris’s nightmare. I wanted to represent Laura as a Sleeping Beauty and suggest the danger that she is in. I decided to show this by using an imperfect match cut from the tubes in Laura’s hand to a snake coiling itself around her wrist, drawing on the imagery from the original myth.

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We used a real snake for this shot. We hired it from a taxidermist. It hadn’t been stuffed yet and it was being kept in a freezer. We needed to defrost it and keep it in the fridge between takes. It smelt horrible, and it was a pretty gross thing to handle. Our actress had to be really patient and keep her hand perfectly still while we animated it frame by frame. I was really pleased with the final effect.

 

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For the organisation itself I wanted to create the idea of the afterlife as an inefficient bureaucracy. I had in mind that any organisation that deals with the public en masse – the tax office, the passport office, the job centre is a place of waiting rooms, queues and endless paperwork. If there is an afterlife, then in centuries of human existence it will have been inundated with souls that would be a nightmare to process and organise. For this reason I saw the lord of the underworld as an overworked filing clerk or administrator.

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The passage from the waking world into Laura’s dreams was a difficult one. Not only did the character need to cross a metaphysical plane, but we also needed to make a transition from live action to animation. I have always been attracted to the illusion of cinema and so I decided to represent Chris’s journey as a magic trick of sorts.

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Later in the film we mirrored this shot with the animated Chris.

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To further the magic trick imagery we built a box for Chris to climb into. We wanted to create a magic and shamanistic method by which he could make this journey, and we used images of boxes and doors being opened throughout the film.

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Chris is shut inside the box with a poisonous snake. We wanted to use the snake to link Chris to Laura through this experience, and also to suggest that the snake’s venom would cause Chris to hallucinate. Chris loses consciousness, and when he wakes up, he is a puppet inside Laura’s mind.

The challenge with Chris was in trying to make him look like Evan Locke, who plays Chris in the live action segments of the film. We learnt the hard way on this film that plasticine doesn’t retain much detail under lights, as it melts in the heat. Most of the resemblance was achieved through the costume. I remember spending a lot of time trying to model Evan’s face in plasticine but I think a lot of this detail was lost as soon as we started filming the puppets.

Elysium also saw a change to the design of my armatures, as I began using plastic tubes in the place of wooden dowels to create the puppet’s limbs. This enabled us to have lighter, slimmer puppets, which looked great but made them much harder to animate! We had a lot of broken limbs on this production, but we put the puppets through a lot, expecting them to climb stairs, fight and fall over, none of which are as easy to animate as you would imagine. I also chose not to use paper for the facial features on this production and set plastic eyeballs into the skulls of my armatures instead. I then created the pupils using a small ball of plasticine that I could then move and widen as and when I needed to.

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One moment I particularly like from the film, is when Chris’s tie blows in the wind. I achieved this effect by lining the tie with wire that enabled to manipulate it into position shot by shot. It’s these sorts of tiny details that I really like to take my time with in animation.

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For the first dreamscape, I wanted to create a sort of Dali-esque wasteland. This set represents the outskirts of Laura’s mind which at this stage I wanted to show as a sort of cluttered lost property of artefacts and memories. As we are now in the realms of the imagination and dealing with dream logic, I wanted to create a confused sense of scale. I also love to combine real objects with puppets when I animate which is a theme I developed throughout the sets for this section of the story.

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I wanted this to be a feminine landscape, and so I littered the set with items you might find at the bottom of a Laura’s handbag. Laura’s condition throughout the film makes her a distant character, as these sets represent Laura’s internal world, they are a way to provide small character details visually.

Now that Chris has left the physical world, dream logic rules over everything and that includes the dimensions of the sets. Items move between shots and each set was designed to overlap so that we moved between scenes in a fluid way, as if dreaming. The staircase leads up to a landing where the next scene takes place. In order to overlap the two sets we built a detachable stairway into the landing set, so that it could be used for Chris to travel from one set to the other. We also tried to blend the stairway into the wasteland set, covering it in sand so that it seemed to have risen up out of the set organically.

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The landing set is a deeper level of Laura’s subconscious, where we begin to see elements of her memories and dreams. The scene is actually based on a recurring nightmare I had as a child, about trying to walk along  hallway without waking someone up. In the layout and lighting of the set I wanted to convey a sense of unease and tension. The landing is narrow and the bannisters of the stairs cast threatening shadows.

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We constructed the base for the sets out of dense polystyrene, which I tend to use as a base for most animation sets as it is a good material for pinning the puppets into. This might be the most difficult set I’ve had to build. Firstly, it had so many dimensions, two staircases and landings that needed to be measured out and fitted together perfectly. The staircases then had to be carpeted with adhesive velvet that needed to be cut to fit, then we had to build railings and bannisters. I also needed to be able to remove one set of stairs to slot into the wasteland set for the transition from that scene to this one and in the second scene this set was used for the whole thing needed to fall apart on screen. We had to do a lot of planning and make sure we had all of the shots we needed from each scene before filming the final destruction.

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The third set built for the animated segment was the nursery. This scene is probably the most abstract in the film and deals again with a combination of  Laura’s dreams and memories that are difficult to interpret.

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With this set we played around with scale again, using a combination of real childhood toys alongside doll’s house furniture and toys that were made to a much smaller scale. I like the strange quality it gives to everything. As we weren’t trying to represent the real world we were able to have a lot of fun with the set and characters for this scene. the Rocking Horse is my favourite puppet, which I will talk about in more detail in a later post. We also created a nightlight effect by cutting stars and crescent moons out of paper and moving it across a spotlight throughout the scene.

The Rocking Horse is one of my favourite puppets because it is so different from any of the other puppets I have made and I spent a really long time trying to get the details just right. As the horse moved on rockers the armature only contains one joint, which is at the neck. The horse’s body and rockers are constructed out of styrofoam which was cut and then sanded. I spent hours sanding the horse’s legs and body to make it look authentic. I sank shiny black beads into the horse’s skull to give him his eyes, then the whole armature was coated in plasticine.

Rocking Horse Close Up

It took a long time to get the details of the horse’s face right. It was important that the character, though mysterious, came across as a benevolent and protective figure. As it doesn’t speak this all needs to be conveyed in the look and the movements of the character.

Doppelganger and Chris

Doppelganger Chris needed to look like an aged and monstrous version of Chris. He represents a nightmare version of Chris, the embodiment of all of Laura’s relationship anxieties and fears for the future. I constructed the armatures for both Chris and the Doppelganger at the same time so as to keep them in proportion to each other, with Doppelganger being a little taller so as to be dominant in the scene.

Doppelganger Chris

Doppelganger Chris was given yellow eyes instead of white, and we used a dirtier skin tone for him. His fingers were thin and spiky, his features more severe and I etched lines into his face to give him a grizzly, wrinkled look. Unfortunately Doppelganger Chris didn’t survive the shoot as we ended up using various parts of his body and costume as replacements for the Chris puppet.

Elysium isn’t a perfect film, but it’s still a piece of work that I’m really proud of. I was experimenting with a lot of different ideas when I wrote the script, exploring dreams, desires and the unconscious. I was really influenced by surrealist animation, particularly the work of Jan Svankmajer, as I was writing my dissertation about him at the time. Alice, his adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, was a film that I made a few nods to throughout Elysium.

Elysium was also influenced by other quest stories like The Wizard of Oz and fairytale adaptations such as Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes. I was also influenced by Hirokazu Koreeda’s After Life which is one of my favourite films of all time.

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The red shoes represent Laura’s spirit or soul. They allowed us to make her present but not visible. The pile of shoes that Chris sees in the Underworld are the souls of the departed, the film ends with us seeing Laura’s soul join the others for eternity. The workers at the Elysium organisation exist between both worlds, they are neither living or dead, so they have bare feet. This is one of a few mysteries that I left unexplained in the film as I wanted it to be dream-like and open to interpretation.

If you have any thoughts or questions about the film, please comment here or contact me through twitter. To find out more about me and my work, please visit my website.

 

The Hunger

The Hunger was my first stop-motion animated short, which I made with friends at University. It’s a twisted take on the Red Riding Hood fairytale. It’s an adult take on a children’s story, so we wanted everything to look quite homemade and infantile. I don’t want to spoil the story, but I should warn you that it’s not safe for work.

I had worked on some basic claymation experiments prior to this, but the Big Bad Wolf was my first fully articulated puppet with an armature. I used styrofoam to shape and bulk out the wolf, whilst keeping the puppet light. I gave him large rounded shoulders, and sank the neck into his chest to give him a more hunched appearance. His posture really helped to bring the character to life, as it informed how the puppet would move. The wolf is hunched over as he creeps through the forest, but he is also a comedy character and so he is cumbersome and loud as he stalks Red Riding Hood.

The Big Bad Wolf

The Wolf has a special place in my heart because he was the first puppet I ever made. I constructed an armature using wire, styrofoam and wooden dowels. I modelled a muscular torso out of styrofoam and rather than attach a neck at the top, I sank it into the chest to give the wolf a hunched and imposing figure. I had to give the armature really big feet to support the weight of the upper body. Unless you are working with rigging, stop motion puppets generally need big feet to support their own weight and to accommodate pins and supports which attach your puppet to the set as you animate. I’d love to work with more sophisticated metal armatures, but they can be expensive.

Once I completed the armature it was covered with grey fleece, which gave the wolf a texture that I really liked. Traditionally the wolf is supposed to be a fearful figure in folklore, but our inversion of the story turned the wolf into Red Riding Hood’s prey. I liked the way the fleece softened the wolf’s image and made him less threatening.

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We used paper to provide the wolf’s facial features – teeth and eyes were either glued or pinned on and then swapped between shots to change his expressions. We also used red cloth to create a tongue which was cut to different sizes as we animated it. We used the same method for Red Riding Hood’s facial expressions. I like mixing my media so it was nice to borrow these techniques from paper cut out animation. This swapping technique is a really simple way to create effects in animation and one I employed a great deal on later paper animations, such as Happy Cloud.

We had fun reversing the idea of the Big Bad Wolf, and turned him into the unwitting prey of our Red Riding Hood/Princess character. As the wolf stalks her, he fails to realise that she is luring him into a trap. We wanted to subvert the idea of the damsel in distress. We wanted her to be stronger and more in control than a regular fairytale princess. She knows what she wants and she’s going to get it.

The Princess

Red Riding Hood kidnaps the Wolf and drags him back to her castle, which was the second set we built for the production, using a combination of fabrics, paper linings and decorations from Doll Houses. Once she has the Wolf entrapped in her room she produces a pair of clippers and begins to shave the unconscious wolf, revealing a man beneath the fur.

Clippers

The clippers were a puppet in their own right and I like to think of them as another character in the story, because anything you animate has its own life and personality. We produced the effect of the blades moving by creating removable blades of varied lengths that we could alternate in each shot. For ease of animation we made a small pair of clippers for the full sized puppet to hold, and then a larger, moving version in an enlarged puppet hand, which we filmed in extreme close-up. This was one of my favourite shots in the film because of the exaggerated shadow. It has a very B-movie feel in its melodrama.

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The Hunger 4To create the shaving effect we used large pieces of grey fake fur, which we trimmed between each frame and then manipulated the offcuts to make them travel around the clippers. For the close up shots of Red Riding Hood with the fur flying around, we moved clumps of fur up her arms and over her body whilst also sprinkling more clumps of fur in the background each time we captured a frame. We had to experiment a bit to get it to look right, but those experiments and little challenges are one of the things I love about animation.

Stop motion puppetry is definitely my favourite form of animation. I love the process of crafting a character, designing it and shaping it, figuring out how it’s going to take its first steps. I still have the wolf puppet, in fact he’s the only of my puppets that’s survived the years intact. All of the rest are plasticine and have gradually crumbled and fallen apart.

We had so much fun making this film, especially recording the sound. We recorded the voices in a small booth that was effectively a cupboard. There was a class full of people on the other side of the door and they gave us some very strange looks when we came out as they had no idea what we were doing. By the time we showed the completed animation to our classmates there was quite a lot of anticipation for it, as people had begun to talk about ‘the puppet sex film.’

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For me, the film is about more than puppet sex. I like the way that Trey Parker and Matt Stone use extreme and purile humour to satirise. Their work can be shocking, and immature but it’s not just cheap laughs. I was reading Bruno Bettelheim and Angela Carter and I was interested in the psychology of fairytales. The Hunger is about desire and animal instincts. I wanted to play with the idea of the beast within, subverting gender roles and the assumptions we make about archetypal characters. And yes, I also wanted to shock my audience by taking the story in a direction that they wouldn’t expect.

For more about me and my work, please visit my website and my YouTube channel.

Introducing…

Hi, I’m Evan and I’m a community filmmaker.

I’ve been writing and making films since childhood. I remember the first time my sister and I got our hands on a friend’s camcorder. We created simple in-camera tricks such as making people disappear and reappear and turn into different objects. It was like performing a magic trick. Inspired by Sesame Street and the Adam and Joe show, my childhood experiments in video progressed to using stuffed animals and toys to recreate dramas and tell stories of my own. In my teenage years, like a typical adolescent, mortality became a fascination for me. I started making campy fake-blood-soaked horror shorts with friends, running around the South Downs screaming, with rusty shears and other improvised weapons.

I can assure you that all of these early films were terrible, but those elements are still present in my work today. I am drawn to the illusion of cinema and the opportunity to create effects. As an animator I enjoy giving life to puppets, toys and inanimate objects, essentially using the same stop/start technique that my sister and I employed to make ourselves disappear from the frame as children. I still love creating horror effects and channel this into experiments with special effects make-up. Horror has taught me how to create tension and suspense, which was a great entry point to understanding how to provoke a range of emotions in an audience.

Leading workshops was something that evolved quite organically for me. I started learning about production and script writing when I joined my local youth theatre. I originally had ambitions to act, but soon became far more enchanted with the world backstage than on it. I got involved in making props and costumes. I started devising and writing material. Then, around age 14, I tried my hand at leading workshops and this is when I was able to get my hands on video cameras again. At first we produced in-camera edited films but then when the group acquired a laptop I started learning how to edit and how to shoot for the edit. I went on to study film, media and photography academically, but it was through the theatre group that my education began, and years later, where I got my first paid work as a workshop leader.

Being part of a community group was not only a huge support to me throughout my childhood but also a creative playground where I was able to learn, collaborate and develop throughout my formative years. Perhaps this is why I try to keep community at the heart of what I do. I believe that film and animation can provide all kinds of people with a creative and positive outlet, to help them develop their own voice in the same way that I did. As such, I enjoy working with different communities and on projects that have a social benefit.

Coming from a background of low budget theatre and filmmaking, I am used to getting my hands dirty on set and occupying several roles at the same time. This hands-on attitude has given me the opportunity to learn about the process of filmmaking from a variety of different perspectives within development, production and post-production. It has also enabled me to experiment with production design, props and puppet-making, special effects makeup and set building.

I am an avid film fan who loves to watch, make and talk about films. I’m a big fan of innovative writers and directors like Wes Anderson, Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman. I have a passion for film history and silent cinema. I love science fiction, monster movies, fantasy and horror films. I am definitely drawn to the dark side, so filmmakers like Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton are a big inspiration as well as animators like Jan Svankmajer, Jiri Trnka, and the late great Ray Harryhausen.

I love animation, especially when it gives me the opportunity to create strange characters. It takes a great deal of patience and attention to detail, but it’s those details that I love to get lost in, like how a character is going to move and perform or what they are going to sound like. Watching your animation come to life is like watching magic happen in front of your eyes. The first time you watch your work back, and see your characters move as if they have a life of their own, it’s incredible. It’s so much fun to introduce new people to animation, and see that same reaction in them.

I have a lot of ambitions – one of them being to build my own production company from the ground up. I’m just starting out on that journey, but I already feel I’ve achieved my most important goal of being able to do something that I love for a living. I am learning every day – about myself, about film and about running my own business. I plan to share these experiences through this blog and hopefully interest and entertain along the way. I’m always open to conversations and opinions, so feel free to comment, critique and join the discussion.

If you’re interested in my business then please visit my website for more information. To see more of my short films and animations check out my YouTube channel. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.