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Tag Archive: special effects


Review by C.J. Bunce

The Cyclops, the bronze warrior Talos, the large dinosaur Rhedosaurus, a giant gorilla, a barrage of battling skeletons with swords, Raquel Welch as a cavewoman, the horrifying Medusa–whatever the first image that comes to mind, generations of movie audiences have an instant picture that comes to mind when they hear the name Ray Harryhausen.

The 1949 King Kong-inspired film Mighty Joe Young and the 1981 Greek myth-inspired adventure Clash of the Titans represent two ends of a major chapter in the history of movie visual effects and how filmmakers viewed fantasy, sci-fi, and horror films.  Each film represents different generations (each a film my father and I would see in theaters when we were about nine years old), and each bookends the career of famed special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen.  With his trademark Dynamation and later Dynarama stop-motion filmmaking advances, Harryhausen set himself apart from other filmmakers.  The result?  Just like The Beach Boys and The BeeGees have their singular styles among popular music, Harryhausen films are instantly recognizable and identifiable, films that could have only been produced by the mind and the hands of a single visionary.  And hands-on creation was key to Harryhausen’s various film techniques, but it was often expensive and slow, requiring the better part of a year to painstakingly film thousands of images for only a few special effects sequences in a film.  The sixteen films Harryhausen is known for are the focus of Richard Holliss’s deluxe hardcover chronicle, Harryhausen: The Movie Posters, first previewed at San Diego Comic-Con this summer and now available this month to fans everywhere for the first time.

Of the same stylish quality and presentation as another 2018 publication, Clint Eastwood–Icon (reviewed here at borg), Harryhausen: The Movie Posters also sees its auteur from the vantage of the myriad movie posters that advertised his films.  Holliss takes an additional step that students of film should be drawn to, providing a film-by-film account of Harryhausen’s development of each film along with the posters, a view on his groundbreaking techniques including stop-motion animation via miniature models, stop-motion combined with live-action footage, background plates, storyboarding, combining location footage, miniatures, split-screen, and rear projection, using painted backdrops, multi-camera shots, full sound stages, backtracking from stop-motion to actors in costumes when finances warranted, creating steel ball-and-socket armatures under sculpted creatures of foam rubber, paint and latex, using blue-screen shots to combine actors and miniature stop-motion models, incorporating traveling mattes and matte paintings, and in-camera effects like forced perspective, and Harryhausen’s own sodium vapor effects system.

Where we saw in Clint Eastwood–Icon an evolution of the movie poster over time, reflecting changes in art styles and design movements, changes across posters advertising Harryhausen’s movies were more subtle.  The studios seemed to prefer a palette of design concepts that could let audiences know this was a new Harryhausen film, with sweeping fantasy landscapes and key creatures and characters as bold centerpieces drawing-in the eyes of potential audiences.  The posters represented aren’t only those styles seen by audiences entering American movie theaters.  These include many variations that appeared in theaters across the globe, some by artists whose names are lost to time, with decade-appropriate type styles and language to match.  In Harryhausen: The Movie Posters you’ll find artwork from obscure artists to more familiar creators, including Gene Widhoff, Luigi Martinati, Wik, Alfredo Capitani, Gustav Rehberger, Anselmo Ballester, V. Lipniunas, Vonderwerth, Jean Mascii, Charles Rau, G. Meyer, R. Kanz, E.A. Ubis, M. Copizzi, Roger Soubie, Tom Chantrell, Jack Thurston, Bodhem Butenko, Paul Tamin, Enrique Mataix, Raymond Elseviers, Picchioni Franco, Frank McCarthy, Olga Fischerova, Jacek Neugebaur, Brian Bysmouth, Mort Kunstler, Birney Lettick, Miloslav Disman, Roger Huyssen, S. Gorga, Bruno Napoli, and Greg and Tim Hildebrant.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It only takes a few pages of David Tilotta and Curt McAloney’s new book Star Trek: Lost Scenes to realize this fantastic new book is like discovering the Lost Ark of Star Trek fandom.  Beginning with a spirited foreword by Doug Drexler (life-long Star Trek fan and later multi-award winning creator of later Star Trek series), who provides personal context for the book, it is like no other Star Trek book published in the five decades since the original series wrapped.  As the annual Star Trek convention gets under way in Las Vegas, thanks to Titan Books we at borg.com are providing this first look and review of what is sure to be the biggest hit for fans of the original Star Trek series this year.  For early Star Trek fans who collected original film clips (also called cels) from Gene Roddenberry’s personal Lincoln Enterprises company after the series first aired, this book will be viewed as a gold mine they only dreamed about–an almost archaeological recreation of the lost past.  For fans that have longed for anything truly new from the 1960s series, this is what you have asked for, as it includes images never before published of deleted scenes from 36 episodes, plus never before published angles of actors, sets, costumes, and props from the series.  For fans of Hollywood television history, carefully assembled rare images take readers onto the studio stages, backlots, and on-location sets, providing a detailed explanation of how the production shot the actual visual effects and used the technology of the day to create a vision of the future that continues to inspire generations 50 years later.

As explained in Star Trek: Lost Scenes, “Everything that went before the cameras during the production of Star Trek: The Original Series, both intentionally and unintentionally, can be seen in the film frames.”  In the late 1960s fans wanted any souvenir they could get from Star Trek.  Thanks to Gene Roddenberry and his wife Majel Barrett Roddenberry, a legion of fans could purchase the actual film from the TV show in the form of film clips.  You’ve no doubt heard of the concept of footage shot in TV and movies that “hits the cutting room floor”–parts of film roll footage, called “dailies” or “rushes” that were filmed and then printed in color for viewing the next day by production staff, taken either from bad takes or alternate takes attempted but not preferred by the director, or maybe footage shot that was intentionally deleted from the show for time constraints or editorial decisions, and unused for any number of reasons.  Where every other production threw away these trimmed film roles and segments of footage, show creator Roddenberry was savvy–he collected them and took them home to sell in his side business.   From 1968 through about 1990, Roddenberry’s company sold fans these film clips by the millions, most images containing a single frame from episodes that were seen in the final cuts of the episodes (initially at eight clips for $1).  Because of the nature of the film stock used, most of these film clips are faded, and many simply have been lost to time.  But some collectors over the years, including the books’ authors, chose to focus on collecting and preserving those most rare and obscure images that went beyond the scenes everyone knows so well.  Those otherwise “lost” images are what readers will find collected in this book, and they’ve been methodically restored to reveal their original quality and colors for the first time.

The authors match collected film clips to the actual text pulled from the production scripts that was edited out of the final cut of 36 episodes, re-creating scenes that almost made it into production but didn’t (like more Vina and Captain Pike from “The Cage,” more Romulan footage from “Balance of Terror,” more Khan footage from “Space Seed,” new views of the Mugato from “Private Little War,” more Gorn from “Arena,” and much more footage of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, and the rest of the Enterprise crew).  For aficionados of television history, the film clips and the authors’ commentary provides a film school study guide on Star Trek’s optical effects, demonstrating the use of filming miniatures (models of iconic ships, space stations, planets, and other models), blue screen photography, matte paintings, split-screen effects (as used to see two Kirks in a single frame), superimpositions, animation-based effects, dissolves, cloud tanks, and combinations of these (like phaser beams and the transporter effect), plus make-up, costume, and stunt effects.  Fans of bloopers will enjoy pages devoted to outtakes and production gaffes, plus a section delves into information that tells even more surprising stories from the production via clapper boards and the most obscure details in frames discovered by the authors after years of study.

Check out these preview pages from Star Trek: Lost Scenes (available to order now at a pre-order discount here at Amazon, to be released August 21):

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Review by C.J. Bunce

At long last Star Wars fans have a single volume of behind-the-scenes gold that includes more than the original trilogy and the prequels.  Writer Mark Salisbury returns with his next pop culture book, The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures & Aliens.  This is the first book to include coverage of all ten Star Wars films, and it’s the first book that digs into the creature makers and makeup artistry of all the Star Wars movies–a creature effects companion to those comprehensive books reviewed previously here at borg.com chronicling the costume and prop sides of Star Wars productions: Dressing a Galaxy, Sculpting a Galaxy, and Star Wars Costumes.

How many movie franchises can claim visual effects over four decades incorporating all levels of monster making: animatronics, puppetry, practical effects, costuming, CGI, sculpts, animal actors, prosthetics and makeups, stop-motion animation, and motion capture creations–sometimes all in a single film?  The book spans it all: Jawas, Tauntauns, Jabba the Hutt, Yoda, Chewbacca, the Rancor, Ewoks, Watto, Jar Jar, Darth Maul, Rathtars, Maz Kanata, Porgs, Crystal Foxes, Proxima, Rio Durrant, and so many background aliens from the Tatooine cantina, Jabba’s palace, Maz’s castle, the Pod Race, Kamino, Geonosia, and Scarif.  More complex characters from the franchise get the most coverage, with less coverage from Revenge of the Sith and Solo.

Readers will learn about and meet a variety of artists and creators of these creatures and aliens, with interviews and examples of the work of Stuart Freeborn, Rick Baker, Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Jon Berg, Ben Burtt, Fred Pearl, Frank Oz, Kathryn Mullen, Lorne Peterson, Nick Dudman, Rob Coleman, John Coppinger, Tom St. Amand, Richard Edlund, Ken Ralston, Kit West, Nilo Rodis-Jamero, Doug Chiang, Dave Elsey, Neal Scanlan, Luke Fisher, Ben Morris, Darek Arnold, some of the actors who performed costumes characters, and visionaries George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, and Gareth Edwards.  Select concept art is included from Ralph McQuarrie, John Mollo, Iain McCaig, Terryl Whitlatch, Jake Lunt Davies, and others, and readers will learn Doug Chiang’s five rules of concept design.

Keeping with the fun new trend of incorporating three-dimensional, interactive elements into non-fiction books, Abrams has included foldout flaps, accordion pages, and color tipped-in booklets of sketches, photographs, and stages of the creative process.  The book comes from Abrams’ Young Readers imprint, however, the in-depth information and rare or never-before-published photographs and sketches will appeal to all ages of Star Wars fans.

Take a look inside some preview pages of The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures & Aliens:

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Ant-Man and Antony

Review by C.J. Bunce

Good movies often ride on the backs of their earlier incarnations.  The Incredible Shrinking Man.  The Greatest American Hero.  Beetlejuice.  Innerspace.  Memoirs of the Invisible Man.  Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.  The classic original Tron.  Sources you might not first think of like Wallace & Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers. Even Thoreau’s Walden (who hasn’t marveled at the coordinated work of ants, or fantasized about being very small?).  Marvel’s new hit Ant-Man borrows bits and pieces from all of these and more.  Yet it also adds something new to those, such as improved special effects, including make-up, CGI, and many action sequences.  It mirrors our place in the big world.  Throw in a hero battling a giant spider with a nail for a sword and I’m sold.

Ant-Man is a rollercoaster ride.  All fun and not too serious like the steadfast captain America arguing with the cocky Tony Stark over the roll of the disinterested Bruce Banner that we all have now seen too many times on screen.  Paul Rudd’s heroic Scott Lang has one motivation, yet he lacks the typical superhero ingeniousness to accomplish his goal.  That element endears the character to everyone and is the gateway to an ensemble cast effort that pushes the story forward.  You just know Lang is like Rudd, that same guy we cheer along with at Kansas City Royals games.

Michael Douglas looking 25 years younger in Ant-Man

Equal to Rudd’s role is a surprisingly strong performance by Michael Douglas.  Looking like the twin of his father Kirk these days, as Dr. Hank Pym he anchors the film with gravitas.  His role in the story is substantial and should require sharing top billing as co-lead.  His work here rivals all his prior best work in The Game, The Ghost and the Darkness, The American President, Falling Down, Wall Street, Romancing the Stone, The China Syndrome, and Coma.  An Academy Award nod is warranted for both Douglas as well as the CGI team that provided the single best use of facial modification to replicate his younger self (done in part by firm Lola VFX who made skinny Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger).  Tron: Legacy made a good attempt at what Ant-Man has perfected in its opening scene–we’re now ready for an entire film using this approach, an entire film starring a 40-year-old Wall Street era Douglas, for example, relying on the acting prowess of the veteran actor today.

Lang and Pym Ant-man

Evangeline Lilly’s role as Pym’s daughter is secondary, yet her role supports enough of the backstory that it makes us anxious for Ant-Man 2, previewed in two of the film’s end-credit codas.  Michael Peña portrays what could be an over-used stock Latino criminal by bringing some humanity and humor to the role.  Even the villain, played by Law & Order: LA’s Corey Stoll, is interesting although more loathsome than needed for the part.

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