Army of Klendathu

Bugconquest

“The bugs are not like us. The Pseudo-Arachnids aren’t even like spiders. They are arthropods who happen to look like a madman’s conception of a giant intelligent spider, but their organization, psychological and economic, is more like that of ants or termites; they are communal entities, the ultimate dictatorship of the hive.”
-Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers

Producer Jon Davison was first approached in 1991 for a science-fiction project — initially titled Outpost 7 – which narrated the struggle for survival of a group of soldiers, stranded on a remote planet whose inhabitants were enormous insectoid extraterrestrials. Writer Edward Neumeier was encouraged to propose the project to TriStar Pictures — but it was turned down. Eventually, it was realized that the idea bore some similarities to Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers — mainly for the giant insectoids, the driving force behind the project. “[It] had bugs in it, and we wanted those bugs,” Davison told Cinefex. An adaptation of the novel was thus proposed, and this time endorsed by the Studio. To direct the film, Davison approached Paul Verhoeven — who found the idea “silly” at first. He eventually changed idea — mainly for the prospect of working again with Phil Tippett, who had precedently collaborated in bringing ED-209 to the screen for RoboCop. “I’d found our relationship on RoboCop very stimulating,” the director told Cinefex. “Phil’s a genius-type guy, and ever since RoboCop, I’d been looking for another project to work on with him.”

Warriorbug

On Tippett’s part, Starship Troopers represented an opportunity to advance the computer animation techniques whose foundation was made during the production of Jurassic Park. He said: “prior to Jurassic Park, I’d produced stop-motion mostly through traditional methods — by incrementally moving and photographing three-dimensional puppets on a frame-by-frame basis. But our studio’s Dinosaurs for Jurassic Park were not created traditionally. Instead, a special piece of equipment, the Digital Input Device, was developed for that picture by a talented guy named Craig Hayes. The DID is a metal puppet armature, rigged with electronic sensors. The sensors record movement information on a controller box that translates it for computer use. When an animator moves the armature by hand, those movements are mimicked by wire-frame representations inside a digital environment.” Essentially, Tippett realized that Starship Troopers was the chance to improve those effects in fields such as software, hardware and render time.

Starship Troopers

Before any animation began, the effects team focused on designing the castes of Bug society, based on the original story. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers portrays a dystopian future, where humanity engages in war with an alien civilization — the Pseudo-Arachnids of Klendathu, also denigratingly labeled as ‘Bugs’. Despite their apparently primitive appearence, the creatures have considerably advanced technology, having been able to conceive advanced spacecraft and weapons of war (“stupid races don’t build spaceships”). Their social structure is divided in castes: a Queen is the progenitor of a specific colony. The novel never describes this caste detailedly, and goes no further than mentioning that its purpose — much like the queen in many terrestrial Hymenoptera — is only to lay eggs and that it is unable to move on its own accord, once it reaches adult stage. Strategic administration of the society is a task assigned to the so-called Brain Bugs, which — despite their enormous intelligence — depend on lower castes to survive. In fact, they are described as having “barely functional legs, [and] bloated bodies that were mainly nervous system,” and are telepathically connected with the lower castes. The basis of Bug society is composed of the Warrior and Worker classes: the Warriors are “biologically incapable of surrendering,” and move forward in battle with energy weapons. Workers are less aggressive, and are generally assigned to manual labour — even though they can also be strategically used as decoys by other castes (such is the case during the invasion of Planet P).

Maquettes by Craig Hayes.

Craig Hayes with the maquettes of the Bugs.

The film adaptation’s version of the Bugs (also unscientifically referred to as ‘Arachnids’) is widely different from that of the novel. The major departure is represented by the fact that the film Bugs have not crafted any kind of artificial technology. This was a decision taken by the director himself. Neumeier explained: “Heinlein described them as looking like spiders, and yet the Bugs seemed to have evolved physically beyond that because they were able to shoot guns and to behave in an athropomorphic way. This was one of the earliest things Paul Verhoeven and I talked about; and it became clear that our discussions were leading down the path of anthropomorphic aliens, portrayed by actors in elaborate costumes. Verhoeven quickly put a stop to that line of thinking. He told me, ‘I can’t see a Bug holding a gun.’ He did not want to see some sort of man in a suit with a funny crab claw, or a six-foot-tall ant with its head in a space helmet. Eventually, we came up with the idea that we should do the Bugs as bugs, as believable giant insects.”

The Warrior Bug maquette, sculpted by Peter Konig.

The Warrior Bug maquette, sculpted by Peter Konig.

Designing the Bugs was a task assigned to visual effects supervisor Craig Hayes. Brainstorming sessions with Verhoeven included reviews of footage of various insects and other arthropods — with focus on their structure and systems of biological defense. Although no Queens or Workers are shown, the caste system of the film Bugs is far more diverse than the novel Bugs; as the film was influenced by World War II, the Bug castes would represent the various kinds of troops. Hayes explained that “since these Bugs were supposed to be intelligent, or, at least, a whole lot smarter than our homegrown variety, we posited that a hierarchical structure would have evolved within the alien community, mimicking the division of labor seen among insects on earth — workers, drones, et cetera. Also, to follow up on the ‘World War II in space’ idea, we invented a sort of military analog for the Bug troops. Some would act as foot soldiers, some as heavy artillery.” Dozens of design ideas were conceived; ultimately, only six types, each with its ‘function’, were chosen and refined.

Bugnest

The first design to be approved was the one seen the most in the film — the Warrior Bug, “an eight-to-ten-foot-tall insect infrantryman,” according to Hayes. The design is entirely devoted to its function: the Warriors use their enormous jaws and their sharp, mantis-like arms to brutally slaughter their enemy. Their slender anatomy also guarantees considerable agility during combat. The four legs configuration was chosen due to being “purely practical,” according to Hayes. Even after  the initial approval of the project, the studio executives were uncertain as to how the creatures could be efficiently brought to the screen. To erase those concerns, Davison convinced the executives to fund a “Bug test” — on a $225,000 budget. The short film was not only crucial for further development of the film, but also a chance for Tippett Studio to estabilish how to render the creatures — especially the Warrior Bugs themselves, whose design was finalized by the time the test was filmed. The four legs configuration was conceived to render animations less complex. Hayes continues: “four legs meant that our animators needed to spend only half the time moving them around. We also had a chance to tweak the colorization of these Bugs during the test. Paula Lucchesi, who led the paint jobs on all of the Bugs, originally came up with a dark red pattern for the Warriors. Later, we decided to change it to yellow — the coloration you see on wasps and yellowjackets. It is a natural warning sign, signaling other creatures to stay away.”

The Plasma Bug.

The Plasma Bug represents the heavy artillery of the Bugs. Hayes said: “we spliced together the biologies of real stink bugs and fireflies to come up with Plasma Bugs — gigantic creatures that could eject plasma from their lower abdomens into a planet’s upper atmosphere, resulting in spaceships being knocked out of orbit or asteroids off course. The Plasma Bugs became the heavy artillery of the aliens.” Due to their size, their limbs are proportionally thickened; and since the plasma projectiles are ejected from their enormous abdomen — the last pair of limbs is bigger than the others, in order to properly lift the ‘biological cannons’ into position.

Tankerbuggos

Anatomically similar to the Plasma Bug is the Tanker Bug, the Bugs’ version of a Tank. The structure of the Tanker Bugs is mainly inspired by earth beetles, with — again — thickened limbs to support the creature’s immense mass. The creatures also have enlarged claws or toes to aid their stability when walking. Their name is derived from their organic long range weapon, violently ejected from an orifice in their forehead region: a flow of “corrosive acid ignited by organic sparkers near their mouths, spewing out a cross between an acid bath and a flame-thrower.” The final design applied cosmetic changes in regards to the maquettes — such as an additional pair of locomotory limbs.

Hoppers attack!

The air troops are represented by the Hopper Bugs, “capable of gliding on air currents and shearing off human heads.” The design was obtained by reverse-engineering the Warrior Bug design, with several changes and additions — such as the wings, appropriately large to support the creatures in flight; the legs, structured for long jumps (or ‘hops’) and for take-offs;  and a less angular shape of the main jaws. The Hopper Bugs also sport a considerably different color scheme, which is mainly composed of an iridescent green — inspired by certain species of beetles, such as the goldsmith beetle — in contrast with the Warriors’ more opaque configuration.

Brainbugfatsmart

The Bugs’ strategic mind is the Brain Bug, which aesthetically follows the vague description in Heinlein’s novel, with an enormous, bloated body and atrophied limbs. Hayes commented on the design: “I thought it would be interesting to have pulsing ripples periodically moving just under the flesh on the top of the Brain Bug’s head — an effect we dubbed ‘the meat wave.’ For his face, we hit on using multiple eyes, like a tarantula’s, and a slitted, sexually suggestive mouth organ. From that unfolds a hollow, pointed proboscis — another sexual suggestion — which can spike the top of a human head and suck its brains out.”

Chariotbugs

Due to the Brain Bug’s inability to move considerable distances by itself, Hayes conceived the Chariot Bugs as its “transporters” — small creatures with a plated dorsal region, able to coordinate their efforts to support and move the considerable weight of the Brain Bug accross the nests. Hayes commented on the design: “because [the Brain Bug] is so fat, it is relatively helpless, physically, and rides around on the backs of little courier insects, which also act as information gatherers. We called those Chariot Bugs.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvYLRQLhzwc

The aforementioned first “Bug test” [also seen above] was screened for studio executives in september 1994, and finally achieved the greenlight for the film. Compared to Tippett’s earlier effort in photorealistic digital creatures — Jurassic ParkStarship Troopers presented considerable challenges: not only it presented a far more massive number of digital effects, but it would represent fictional entities without an actual point of reference from reality. Tippett explained: “we’d had concrete reference points for [the Jurassic Park] dinosaurs. And when the weight and the joints of a real animal — even an extinct one — are available to you, you pretty much know what to do with it digitally. But when you’ve got something that’s never really existed, such as the insects of Starship Troopers, suddenly the tail is wagging the dog. We had these great Bug designs that Craig had come up with; but trying to figure out what these creatures could do — what, for them, could be a realistic gait, or a lifelike action — became an enormously complex enterprise.” In addition to that, the creatures would be shot in full daylight for most of the film, further complexifying the process.

At least one hundred digital artists — from animators, to compositors, to other technicians — worked on Starship Troopers to bring the extraterrestrial Bugs to life. Each animation sequence started with a series of low-resolution animatics. Digital scans of the maquettes (some of which were articulated) sculpted by Peter Konig and Martin Meunier provided the wire-frame of the models, which were then finalized. An exception to this was the Tanker Bug, who was created in Softimage by Blair Clark without going through the digitizing process. All models were then refined in Softimage, and set up with kinematic chains, which enabled them to be animated. Responsible for the color scheme and surface texture of the creatures were Paula Lucchesi and Belinda Van Valkenburg.

Starship TroopersYear: 1997Director: Paul Verhoeven

Two animation techniques were used by Tippett’s team. Standard key-framing animation was used for the most part, including the entirety of the sequences involving the Tanker Bugs, the Hopper Bugs and the Brain Bug. A considerable number of sequences involving the Warrior Bugs also used the Digital Input Devices (DID), a Tippett Studio invention first experimented in Jurassic Park and Tremors 2: Aftershocks, built by Merrick Cheney in the shape of the Warrior Bugs. The DIDs are small scale articulated models, which are fitted with motion sensors that transfer the movement applied on the DIDs to the digital models being animated.

For Starship Troopers, the DIDs were refined, and made “more sensitive.” Tippett told VFX HQ: “we’ve refined the DID since Jurassic Park, in the overall cleanup of the design. Craig made sure that the DID would be much more responsive to the animator’s movements… all of which was preparing for the massive amount of animation that was to be done on the DID for Troopers.” Two types of the devices were used: one, which functioned in real time, was used for quick background shots of the Bugs; the other was used for more complex and detailed sequences, and brought the animation process to a method similar to that of stop-motion animation. To link this second type of DID directly to Softimage, the effects team wrote a new hardware interface board and a specialized software. “Much of the way the bugs moved was dictated by Craig’s designs,” Tippett said. “We did a lot of animatics, and assigned the Bugs weights and the extent of its movements to come up with an animation design, to see how realistically these beings could move and run and attack.”

Warriorbugswarm

Another animation tool that proved crucial to render the scenes featuring swarms of Bugs was Dynamation (not to be confused with Harryhausen’s stop-motion technique), used in scenes such as the Tango Urilla carpet bombing. Software developer Doug Epps explained: “normally, Dynamation is utilized to generate things like smoke clouds or jet exhausts. But Dynamation also allows you to do procedural animation of points and particles — a capability that was critical in laying out the swarms. We knew we had to do hundreds, or even thousands, of Bugs in some shots, and we certainly didn’t want to have to hand-animate all of them. So we used Dynamation’s particle systems — tweaked with software written by Eric Leven and Darby Johnston — to generate dozens of little dots that we could then apply en masse to a plate. Dynamation gave each Bug its own radius and terrain maps and maximum velocity vectors, which allowed it to maneuver over the landscape of a given scene without hitting other Bugs or obstacles such as rocks. That process really saved us. We’d still be doing swarms if it hadn’t been for that software.” To differentiate the Warriors, specific animation cycles were assigned to each one of the ‘dots’, and some of the creatures were also slightly downsized or oversized. Hand-animated ‘hero’ Bugs were placed in the foreground, whereas less-detailed Bugs — called ‘Jacks’ — were positioned in the midframe and background. “We called them Jacks,” noted Danny Boyle, part of the visual effects crew, “because these particular Warriors were going to be tossed up into the air by the force of the explosions, just like a child’s set of jacks.”

Bugswarm

The most complex sequence featuring Dynamation was the Whiskey Outpost attack, one of the first to be taken on. Epps recalled: “on any effects film, we like to get the big shots out of the way first. Anything you learn at the front of the schedule makes subsequent shots of the same nature a lot easier to accomplish. So we tackled the first two swarm shots in that sequence right away.” Nearly a dozen swarm shots was made for the sequence and carefully detailed to be as realistic as possible, such as dust or shell parts being blown off. “These elements were either CG or real elements filmed against greenscreen,” said Doyle. “The dust kicked up by the Warriors was a separately photographed element, as were a lot of the squib hits and gore effects you see on the Bugs.” The second swarm did not have to move in separate paths; as such, “instead of run cycles,” Epps said, “the animators set up ‘milling about’ cycles, which were inserted over the Dynamation-generated Bug dots.” Rendering time for the swarm shots clocked in an average of 60 hours per frame first, then 25-30 hours as the process was eased down.

In the early encounter with the Plasma Bugs, the creatures are seen ejecting their deadly weapon into the skies of Klendathu. Layers of computer-generated transparencies were provided by the art department to render the translucent abdomens of the creatures, with the plasma projectiles rendered with RenderMan and Dynamation.

Starship Troopers

Another challenge was posed by the Tanker Bug’s lethal acid flow. Weiss recalled: “in designing the look of the Tanker spray, we looked at a lot of lava footage for reference. It wasn’t supposed to be lava, but it was meant to have that kind of consistency. We played around with Dynamation for a long time to come up with the final look.” The last detail was a layer of heat distortion to suggest the extreme temperature of the acid. Transparency layers were again used to portray the exploding Tanker, after Rico inserts a grenade in its damaged hide. Doyle commented: “you see all of these multicolored organs inside what is left of it. The art department used a separate, gutted CG Tanker model for that shot, showing its exposed innards as the Tanker rocks back and forth to a halt.”

The Hopper Bug was “one of the most challenging Bugs for the art department,” said Lucchesi, “because of its iridescent surface quality. It is beautiful to look at in the real world, but very difficult to replicate in the digital one. Our department worked with Doug Epps to come up with a custom, metallic surface shader. By applying that shader and experimenting with red-green-blue texture maps of varying degrees of intensity, we came up with a refractive quality on the Hopper’s body that was pretty successful. We used displacement to deform the surface so that light would catch certain areas of the wing more than others, giving them a wispy, delicate look. Then the compositing department blurred whatever enfironment was behind the wings to suggest their semi-translucent qualities.” Animating the Hoppers was considerably difficult due to the fact they had to be affected by small changes in wind currents during flight; as such, they made small course changes, in a manner similar to real flying insects. Tippett and Hayes initially estabilished ‘flight rules’ for the creatures: “when Hoppers decelerated, for example, they flared their wings out. When they dove, they adjusted the attitude of their wings. So there were definite rules — but other than that, the animation of the Hoppers was done mostly by feel.”

BrainBugmaquettebeornottobe

Phil Tippett inspects the Brain Bug maquette on set for lighting reference.

The digital Brain Bug was modeled by Martin Meunier and Merrick Cheney, and animated by Jeremy Cantor entirely by key-frame. The meat wave effect was achieved with procedural software shaders, written by Epps for RenderMan. Trey Stokes, part of the crew, noted that “the tricky part was making sure that the meat wave movement was adjusted to the overall animation of the Brain Bug, so that the wave didn’t change the character of the Bug’s animation. One way Jeremy approached that was purely procedural — he got in there and digitally grabbed the Brain Bug’s flesh and warped it all over the place. For the actual wriggling mounds of flesh, Jeremy used another shader, created by Doug Epps, called ‘Blorph’. If Jeremy wanted one of the Brain Bug’s cheeks to hit the ground and jiggle for a second, Blorph would allow him to do that. That piece of software, combined with the meat wave effect, gave the CG Brain Bug a convincing look of weight and fleshiness.”

Brainbugdragged

When the Brain Bug is captured, it is dragged outside the nest inside an enormous net. The complexity of the sequence was due to the net itself, as explained by Lucchesi: “the CG net had to be close enough to the surface of the Bug that it wouldn’t look as if it was floating, but far enough away so that it wouldn’t appear that the net was going through the surface. We also had to be careful when casting shadows of the net onto the Brain Bug’s body so that they wouldn’t emphasize any contact problems.” Tippett added: “Jeremy Cantor, in particular, was great at finding just the right level of procedural and texture-based animation to make the CG Brain Bug look like he was encased in that net, while at the same time making sure that the Bug did not absorb the netting beneath the surface of its skin.”

The four-foot long Chariot Bugs — the carriers of the Brain Bug — were animated with the intention to impart the sense of being the worshipful servants of their master. Stokes said: “they adore the guy. We tried to suggest that by animating moments where the Chariot Bugs’ feelers are touching and stroking the Brain’s body. To suggest that they are also a form of bodyguard, we animated one to stand guard over a rifle that Zander has dropped. It is a subtle throwaway, but it’s there.”

The Arkellian prop on set.

The Arkellian prop on set.

Accompanying Tippett Studio’s digital effects was Amalgamated Dynamics’ wide array of practical creatures, ranging from animatronics to featureless props of dead creatures. One practical addition entirely designed and built by ADI (since it would not be brought to the screen digitally) was the Arkellian Sand Beetle — an insectoid, cockroach-esque alien species unrelated to the Monsters from Klendathu. The three-feet long, two-feet wide creatures are used during a biology lesson to be dissected (not in case, they were nicknamed ‘Dissection Bugs’ by the crew). Each one of the eight models was composed of 12 main parts, among which the head and legs — moulded in translucent skinflex, a more flexible type of urethane. The body was instead moulded in more common urethane. Among the props one was a hero Beetle, painted with acrylics and detailed with horse hairs (each individually ‘punched’ into the skin). Its insides were rendered with ultraslime, methocel and nylon — other than silicone organs. The internal structure was held together by a thin silicone membrane placed under the urethane abdominal shell, which was severed during filming to simulate the dissection. To create the effect of pressurized internal organs, a simple internal air bladder was inflated manually with an air rig.

WarriorBuggillis

Alec Gillis and ‘Snappy’.

Two full-size animatronics of the Warrior Bugs were engineered by George Bernota, and based on full-size sculptures by Steve Koch and Brent Armstrong. Their shell was moulded in fiberglass and painted; soft skinflex portions were the finishing touches, and covered jaw, wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints. Both were driven by a combination of pneumatic, cable and hydraulic mechanisms. ‘Snappy’ — nicknamed by the crew after its articulated jaws — was an insert upper-torso animatronic, detailed from the shoulder area to the head. The nine-feet tall puppet featured fully articulated front legs, arms, jaws and head, and was hydraulically operated for head rotation. In order to properly lift actors as certain sequences requested to, its internal structure was built in steel. A collision avoidance program also prevented the puppets to damage themselves.

WarriorBugfulles

‘Mechwar’ on set.

Where Snappy needed only three puppeteers, the other animatronic — a full-body creature, nicknamed ‘Mechwar’, needed five. Measuring a total of 15 feet in length and 10 feet in height, Mechwar was able to perform a wide range of at least 30 separate movements. Its head was hydraulically powered — as was its thorax, which combined hydraulic, pneumatic and electrical systems. The jaws and arms were puppeteered with cables and hydraulics, whereas the legs were maneuvered via rods. Head, jaws, arms and the creature’s smaller parts (such as the eyes) were separately puppeteered. Interestingly enough, the controllers were custom-made small-scale armatures that corresponded, section for section, to the full-scale animatronic. Fitted with motion sensors, similarly to Tippett’s DIDs, the devices could transfer the movement applied to them onto the puppet. General body movement were provided with a simple support crane, built by John Richardson’s department and operated by eight crewmembers. It was attached to the Monster’s thorax to achieve upward, downward and rotational movement.

Warriorbugo

One of the Bugs in ruin.

Numerous full-size models were constructed to portray dead Bugs. A total of 15 props portraying the deceased Warrior Bugs was built: five charred creatures and ten bloody carcasses, riddled with gunfire. Co-founder of ADI, Alec Gillis, said that “those were scaled-up from the maquettes, moulded in silicone, seamed, and cast out of fiberglass. We decided to do the full-scale Bugs modularly in order to quickly pop them together as needed, and each Bug was broken down into 34 separate pieces. We also made backup pieces, in case of location damage. With 34 pieces for each dead Warrior, multiplied by 15 dead Warriors, multiplied by backups, just manifacturing these things turned into a huge job.” Other minor creations were insert arms. Made of fiberglass and four-feet long, the appendages were maneuvered offscreen via handles on the shoulder end. The Bugs’ entrails were achieved with a combination of chopped latex and foam rubber scraps. The blood was instead methocel, tinted green, orange — in the case of the Tanker Bugs — or cream-like — in the case of the Brain Bug (the reason for the different coloring within the same species was not addressed — neither within the film nor by the filmmakers).

Warriorbuglift

‘Mechwar’ being prepared.

The painting process revealed itself to be far more complex than originally expected. Despite the fact the paint schemes had already been elaborated by Tippett Studio, ADI had to scale them up. Tom Woodruff Jr. commented: “it’s a different ball game when you’re interpreting the coloration of painted reference models into full-scale props. Once we applied the Warrior’s initial paint job to our magnified versions, it suddenly looked toy-like, just because of the immense size of our Bugs.” The final paint schemes were enhanced with a lacquer seal, then toned down and ‘aged’ using sandpaper, dust and other tools. The burned texture on the charred Bugs was obtained by cutting the models in selected areas, and applying liquid urethane — precolored with black tones — that “foamed up and gave the Bugs a crinkled, charred texture,” as told by Woodruff. “We also peeled back the Bugs’ exoskeletons and added bits of colored foam inside to give them a more charred appearence. Then we touched everything up with black paint.”

The Tanker Bug shell on set.

The Tanker Bug shell on set.

For the scenes were Rico is seen on the back of the Tanker Bug, ADI constructed two fiberglass shells, sculpted (in green foam) as well as painted by Bob Clark. They were joined together to form the back plate of the Tanker Bug. The actor was attached to the shells with thin wire tethered to a belt. To portray the wild movements of the Tanker as Rico tries to penetrate its hide with gunfire, a twenty-feet long tractor was installed beneath the shell through a system of metal supports, hydraulic rams and a gimbal. Two crewmembers puppeteered the shell.

Brainbugreache

The most complex task for ADI was building the close-up animatronic of the Brain Bug. Since the full body would only be brought to the screen digitally, only the head of the creature was built; it was 12 feet tall and 10 feet wide. The creation of the animatronic started with a full-size sculpture — in green foam and clay — by Bob Clark. The face of the Brain Bug was sculpted separately in clay and other materials by Steve Koch. The head was moulded in separate pieces of fiberglass, which were joined together to form the underskull. The structure was then covered with foam latex skin — again casted in pieces due to the sheer size of the animatronic. The face was instead moulded in skinflex and positioned over the complex articulation mechanisms. Gillis commented: “Craig Hayes did a remarkable job designing that face. It was detailed with long, thin, paddle-like appendages near its mouth, called feeder claws. It had eight eyes and a huge, vertically slitted mouth. All of those things had to be replicated in the full-size puppet. We made the feeder claws out of fiberglass, operated by radio control mechanisms. The eyes were cast of high-gloss urethane, misted with a silicone oil during filming to make them reflective and alive. The sphincter-like mouth was also made of skinflex. We attached air bladders on either side of the underskull, which could be manually operated by little hand bellows to make the Brain Bug look as if it was pulsating.”

Brainbugfacesculpt

Steve Koch’s sculpture of the Brain Bug’s face.

The practical version of the ‘meat wave’ effect was designed by David Penikas. He built a eight-feet long and two-feet wide endless conveyor belt system, which followed the curvature of the Bug’s upper skull and was installed under the skin. Two rollers with gripping servomotors were placed on the creature’s brow area and on the back of the head, connected by the belt — which was covered with crescent-shaped pillows. A motor equipped with a speed controller produced the rippling effect by running the conveyor belt, whereas the pillows damped its actions. The creature was also supposed to express emotions through its bodily language. “One of Paul Verhoeven’s big concerns,” Woodruff said, “was that we be able to get a variety of expressions out of this face. That was one of the difficult challenges, to make it not only look fearsome but fearful as well.” Five puppeteers controlled the Brain Bug’s movements from inside the animatronic itself.

BrainBugprisone

The Bug’s proboscis (or palp) was puppeteered with cable mechanisms. Yuri Everson, part of the ADI crew, recalled: “we made a number of triple-jointed, cable-controlled palps, operated from inside the puppet head, through what looked like a little t-shaped motorcycle handlebar.” The exterior of the proboscis was moulded in translucent vacuform and then airbrushed. For the scene where Carmen severs it, a pre-cut tip was attached with superglue, and a hollow tube was inserted — to pump colored methocel, which simulated the creature’s blood spurting out.

Brainbugproboscis

The brain-sucking effect seen when the Brain Bug kills Zander was a collaboration between ADI and Kevin Yagher Productions, which provided the gore effects of the film. Technician Bryan Blair commented: “working alongside ADI, we did that in two stages. For shots where it’s obviously actor Patrick Muldoon looking horrified, we came up with a mohawk-type wig for him, with a fake silicone wound attached to the top of it. ADI took off the top of one of the hollow vacuformed palps and attached it to our fake wound and hair appliance. At the same time, we’d hidden flexible, hollow plastic tubing, about an inch in diameter, under Patrick’s hair. That tube trailed down behind his back and into a plastic bucket, where we’d deposited this sausage-like rope of silicone ‘flesh’ that was attached to a string and drenched in stage blood. We ran the string out the opposite end of the tubing and into ADI’s hollow spike. On ‘action’, Patrick started to grimace while I pulled the string, yanking the sausages up through our hidden tubing into the translucent spike, making it look as if Zander’s brains were being sucked through the palp.” The sequence was completed with two puppet heads of Zander, respectively simulating his pain as the palp pierces his head, and his death.

Ultimately, Starship Troopers presented an array of groundbreaking effects that carved their place in Creature Feature history, and inspired generations of films after them; no film before had tried such a massive quantity of creature effects. “I’m exhausted,” Tippett said. “But it worked out pretty well.”

Brainbugfullfront

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Monster Gallery: Starship Troopers (1997)

Would you like to know more? The Main Article is Army of Klendathu.

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Rest in Peace, Hans Ruedi Giger

Hans Ruedi Giger died the 12th of May, aged 74, after suffering physical thrauma from a fall in his own home, in Zurigo — as reported by his own family.

 

The death of such an enormously talented individual caught me by surprise. Few other people have been as influential as he has been — on modern cinematography, design and art. Giger created visceral works that digged deep in our minds.

 

His works were inspired by his own dreams — and so thank you sincerely for your dreams, Hans. Rest in peace.

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Monster Gallery: Dune (1984)

Main Article: Guest Stars: Sandworms of Arrakis.

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Guest Stars: Sandworms of Arrakis

Sandwormcropped

Static electricity is IGNITING in the air and the sand is swirling around the harvester. Then they see it. A wide hole emerges from the sand, glistening spokes within it. The hole is twice the size of the harvester. Suddenly the machine turns and slides into the hole, parts of it EXPLODING. The SOUND is deafening.

This is what Paul Atreides witnesses in his first ‘close encounter’ with a Sandworm, in David Lynch’s final script for the 1984 film adaptation of Dune. In the universe of Frank Herbert’s homonim novel series, the Sandworms are the titanic inhabitants of the desert planet Arrakis. Their name among the Fremen is Shai-Hulud, a term actually derived from arabic, and literally translatable as ‘eternal thing’. In the Fremen language, however, the term can have different meaning, depending on the size of the worm itself. ‘Old Man of the Desert’, ‘Grandfather of the Desert’ and ‘Old Father Eternity’ are among the known translations. The term also alludes to the Fremen belief that the Sandworms and their actions are embodiments of God.

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“We have wormsign the likes of which even God has never seen.”

The Shai-Hulud begin their life as microscopic larvae, called Sand Plankton, which eventually grow to the stage of Sandtrout (or Little Makers, as labeled by the Fremen) — “flat and leathery” creatures, with no recognizable features besides their external ciliae. Their purpose is to block water in fertile pockets underground, in order to create a safe habitat outside for the bigger worms. It is in this stage that the creatures excrete a substance that, combined with water, produces pre-spice mass — which, in turn, transforms into spice when it surfaces. The Sandtrout enter hybernation and eventually reach the “stunted worm” stage (about nine meters in length), only to become the fully-grown Shai-Hulud, which can grow over 400 meters of length for 40 meters of diameter. The worm Paul Atreides summons, however, “appeared to be around half a league” in length, indicating that the creatures can reach much bigger sizes.

Herbert described the Sandworms as very similar to Annelids: they are cylincrical creatures with circular mouths, equipped with rows of crystalline teeth. Paul Atreides described the mouth as “some eighty meters in diameter… crystal teeth with the curved shape of crysknives glinting around the rim… the bellows breath of cinnamon, subtle aldehydes… acids.”

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Giger’s Sandworm.

An initial attempt at designing the Sandworms for a film was done by Hans Ruedi Giger, for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune. Giger’s design bore the artist’s trademark biomechanical textures and sexual overtones. When Jodorowsky’s Dune was abandoned, so was Giger’s Sandworm — never to be presented onscreen.

The design process for Lynch’s Sandworms began with illustrations by Anthony Masters and Ron Miller. The first element to be estabilished was the creatures’ color scheme. Miller told Cinefex: “Boy, did we go round and round on those! David had come across a photograph of a biebald elephant trunk — a sort of mottled red and black — that he liked very much. So that was the coloration he decided on for the worms. That decision was made fairly early on and adhered to throghout the production, even though when you see the worms in the film, they’ve been so covered by dust and sand that they look more gray than anything else, but the overall shape of the worms, particularly the mouths, wasnt’ as easy to nail down.”

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One of Schoenherr’s illustrations of the Sandworms.

Masters’ earliest concepts for the Sandworms were considerably similar to John Schoenherr’s illustrations for the novel series — in particular, they sported a three-lobed mouth. A considerable number of iterations was considered. “The worms went through a lot of changes,” Miller recalled, “mostly having to do with varying their degree of obsceneness. After all, we were all more than well aware of the fact that we were dealing with the greatest phallic symbols in the universe, and that we would have to be very careful about our worm designs and the camera angles we would use to shoot them. Eventually, though, the worms came around full circle, right back to the drawings Tony had done that looked like Schoenherr’s. And I was happy, I liked that three-lobed mouth, and argued for it a long time.” The three lobed mouth also served the purpose of making the worms appear always upright, even when they ‘rotated’.

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Carlo Rambaldi and Eugenio Zanetti pose with one of Rambaldi’s concepts for the Sandworm.

Veteran Italian Monster Maker Carlo Rambaldi and his crew were hired to bring the colossal Worms of Arrakis to the screen. Given the actual importance of the creatures in the film, and the fact that they should be absolutely convincing onscreen, they were given top priority among the creature effects of the film — with over 24 machinists, moldmakers and sculptors working on this task. Rambaldi actually added to the worm design the inner mouth, with three lobes corresponding to the external lobes — filled with crystalline, needle-shaped teeth. This innovation was not only judged to be visually dramatic, but was also designed for a biological purpose: with the inner lips, the worms could avoid accidental ingestion of the sand they move around in.

In designing the final appearence of the Sandworms, Rambaldi and his crew performed in-depth research on the appearence and behaviour of actual worms. Miller recalled: “I remember how, one day, Carlo and an assistant dumped a carton full of earthworms on David’s desk while we were still working in L.A.. Here’s Tony and Carlo standing around while David’s hunched over a worm, staring at it through a magnifying glass and saying, ‘where’s it’s mouth?’ David couldn’t find it. Later, he looked up, smiled and said: ‘I think this one is tired. Let’s get another.'”

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The miniature Sandworms in action.

A total of 15 full miniature Sandworms were built in various scales, depending on their purpose in specific shots. The worms were first sculpted in clay, moulded in plaster, packed in polyfoam and covered in latex rubber skin. Two models were fully articulated — with mechanized outer and inner mouths — and measured 22 feet of length for three feet of diameter. Those were used throughout shooting for sequences that required detailed foreground action (for example when Paul and Jessica hide in a rock formation and are attacked). Three worms were instead built in a smaller size — 15 feet of length for two of diameter — and could only move their body. One of those worms, mounted on the end of a rod, also served to portray a Sandworm diving in the sand. The articulated worms were controlled by inner mechanisms designed by Rambaldi and his principal machinist, Steve Townsend. They allowed a wide range of cable-controlled movements. 10 stunt worms — nicknamed ‘sausage worms’ by the crew — were also built, devoid of any articulation and guided with tracks buried in the miniature desert sets, and simply pulled with cables.

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Bruno Landis goofs around with the close-up Sandworm head.

For close-ups of the Shai-Hulud, two worm sections were constructed. The main close-up head and neck section was 12 feet long for five feet of diameter. “[It] was so big it could easily swallow a human head,” Rambaldi recalled. “In fact, that’s mainly what we used this section for — swallowing. It had a heavily detailed outer mouth and an innter mouth lined with teeth, and we used it for many closeups — like swallowing the harvester, the camera and the Sardaukar army at the end of the picture.” The other model was a tail section, measuring 20 feet of length for three feet of diameter.

Accompanying the Sandworms were their riders — obviously built in scale as rubber miniatures of three different sizes. The most detailed were given maker hooks and lines, although the majority was simply humanoid in shape. The only full-size worm built for the film was featured in a deleted scene of the film: it was a ‘stunted’ worm, in a scene where it is drowned by the Fremen to obtain “the water of life.” The fully articulated worm featured a more varied color scheme indicating its younger age.

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The sequences involving the worms — a total of 125 shots — were mostly filmed indoors on a massive ‘worm set’ constructed on Churubusco’s Stage 4. Semicircle-shaped and filled with “five truckloads of sand,” it was 100 feet wide, 60 feet deep and built over platforms five feet off the floor; it was also built in sections that could be detached and reassembled, depending on what specific shots requested. Behind the tabletop a thirty-foot tall sky cyclorama, painted by Ted Mitchell (and repainted about four times), was positioned. In certain shots, such as those from the final battle, additional optically-introduced dust, as well as lightning (provided by the Van der Veer animation department), was added.

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Worms on set.

Puppeteering the Shai-Hulud was a task assigned to Rambaldi and a crew of 60 ‘worm handlers’ — all hired locally in Mexico city; their only prerequisite was that they should be able to speak either English or Italian. The tracks on which the worms were mounted were shaped like sine waves, to give the worms “their desired wiggling motion.” Rambaldi recalled the puppeteering process: “to operate three different worms at the same time, it took nine people at the worm controls. But to operate the largest worms, it took 18 people. Most of the worms were connected on the bottoms of their bodies to three or four different points on the tracks. When we first started to film the worms, security was very tight and people had to wear ID badges just to get on the stage. Even so, things could get crowded in there. Both Brian Smithies and Barry Nolan had a crew of 35 people, and my crew was on stage all the time. But things were funny, too. There were a lot of signs around, painted in spanish, that said ‘don’t step there!’ or ‘no photos!’ And one of Nolan’s people made this big hand fan out of white cloth to wave Kit West’s smoke around — the kind of fan you see slaves waving over the pharaoh in movies. But this one had ‘Eat at Joe’s’ painted on it!” The ‘smoke’ was a mixture obtained by West to accomplish the black smoke requested by Lynch, and moved on set with a wind machine.

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Filming the close-up worm head.

In order to enhance the sense of mass of the worms, the creatures were filmed in high speed with increased frames per second — from 120 to 240, depending on the shot — making their movements slower and more appropriate for animals of such sizes. The only actual issue would be finding a material to simulate sand, as actual sand would be too big against the miniature creatures. Kit West, part of the crew, recalled: “when we were trying to plot out the best way to give absolute realism to our worms, shooting them at high speeds seemed an obvious part of the solution. High speeds would give them a sense of scale and bulk. But what about the sand on the desert around them? I knew right away that we were going to have trouble using regular sand because the grains would be too big against the worms, and David really wanted these worms to flow through the sand, to look like they were swimming through water. So, instead of sand, we used a mixture of fuller’s earth and microballoons. We used tons of fuller’s earth on this film, not only on the miniature desert shots, but to blow around in the air to simulate dust storms on the live-action sets as well. Fuller’s earth is a very, very fine powder, like talc, that is actually mined. It has a slightly brownish tinge and no small; it’s not dangerous to the eyes; and it won’t even really hurt you if you swallow mouthfuls of it. All we did was lighten or darken it slightly, bu putting a tint of color to match whatever background we had.”

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Whereas the fuller’s earth was not dangerous, the microballoons were — and the crew had to wear protections when filming with it. West continues: “along with the fuller’s earth, we used 5000 pounds of microballoons on the worm set. Microballoons themselves are incredibly small, hollow spheres of borosilicate glass that are about 2.5 thousandths of an inch or 60 microns across. The microballoons worked very well. They were so small in relation to the worms that they flowed like water off them. But microballoons aren’t as safe as fuller’s earth. In fact, the damn things are very dangerous; once they get in your lungs they stay there. So all od us on the worm set always had to wear face masks to filter out the air.”

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One of the bigger worms is prepared for filming.

Most worm shots appeared in the final film without additional post-production additions. Others were used as plates or bluescreen elements for composite shots. The most challenging ones were the ones where the Fremen are seen running alongside the worms. Nolan explained: “for scenes where people are seen running alongside the worms, we did a lot of very long shots of real people running out in the Samalayuca desert. Then we matted them in with our miniature worms. In one scene, where a worm pushes sand over the Sardaukar troops, we just piled some sand and microballoons on the edge of a big horizontal blue screen, and then had a worm enter the frame and push it down onto the screen. We matted that into a live-action plate shot from an 80 feet tall platform we’d erected on the back lot for POV shots of the worm riders. We had to build that tower — a tubular steel structure — around a tree, of all things, because it was the only location we could use to get that height. We didn’t want to cut the tree down, so we just built around it. It was like the biggest treehouse in the world.”

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Set-up for the scene of the attack on the spice harvester.

Specific shots of the Shai-Hulud were filmed elsewhere: the sequence where a Sandworm swallows the spice harvester whole was filmed in a parklot. For the scene, one of the small worms was first used to portray the creature approaching the harvester. When the machine is finally devoured, a miniature built in beeswax was used in combination with Rambaldi’s close-up worm head — filmed in a specifically built set. Modelmaker Danielle Verse explained: “it was only a big platform, really, about 20 feet high and 12 feet across — with a hole in the center for the worm. First, we covered that hole with sand and put our little harvester on it. Peter Bohanna and I were up above, using a fan and some fuller’s earth to kick the sand around a little. Then, underneath, Carlo’s crew had the worm head attached to a counterweight and running on a steel track. They dropped the weight, the head pushed up through the hole and then its mouth closed around the model.”

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One of the most important sequences was the iconic Sandworm riding test. “I knew the worm ride was one of the little hearts of the book,” Lynch said, “and I knew we’d better come up with something good for the film, or we’d be in big trouble.” Shots of live action were combined with one of the large worm models, as well as the close-up head, filmed at 240 frames per second in the worm set. The final shot, with the Sandworm roaring, was a composite featuring the close-up head, a bluescreen foreground shot of Kyle MacLachan, and one of the large worm models in the background. A similar set-up was used in another shot, with more Fremen added.

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Carlo Rambaldi works on the life-size worm section.

Life-size worm hide sections were also built for certain shots, such as when Paul uses the maker hooks; the hide section was 50 feet long and 18 feet tall, and constructed out of wood and rubber. It was hung on a tubular steel framework equipped with 10 axles and 20 wheels, which was in turn mounted on a 200-foot track. When Paul actually plunges his maker hook into the worm’s skin, he exposes an inner section. It was achieved with latex and gelatin, and detailed with “hundreds of condoms” (cut lengthwise and with their tip removed), all applied by hand. To achieve the worm’s rotation, Maclachan was filmed whilst on a worm skin section against a bluescreen, with the camera moving down towards the stationary actor. Another ‘back’ section was built for the scenes where the Fremen are shown riding the worms. It was 40 feet square, and constructed in wood, sponge rubber, as well as hand-painted latex for the worm’s skin. The final addition were four blowholes, used by the worm to expel accidentally ingested sand. Each blowhole featured a pneumatic compressor tube, “one end of which let to a hopper filled with fine sand,” said West, “and the other terminating in a ring device, which opened and closed off the tubes. The rings were further overlaid with latex. On cue, the latex pulled back, the tubes opened, and air pressure blew out a shower of sand particles.”

Frank Herbert was overall satisfied with the Sandworms and the other elements of the film adaptation. “No matter what happens ultimately to the film,” he said. “David and Raffaella [De Laurentiis] and everyone else who worked on this picture really have given it their best shot. They have nothing to be ashamed of, and I’m totally satisfied. They’ve made the real Dune.”

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“Bless the Maker and all His Water. Bless the coming and going of Him; may His passing cleanse the world.”

For more images of the Sandworms, visit the Monster Gallery.

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Special: Audrey II conquers the World

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In the theatrical cut of Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey II is electrocuted; the electricity triggers a reaction that makes the plant explode. At the very end of the film, with Seymour and Audrey married, the camera zooms on their garden — revealing a little smiling plant. The original ending of the film reflects that of the musical, and ends the story in a considerably bleak note. Conway said: “this ending was to be the cinematic equivalent of the stage ending; a total catastrophe in which the plant basically takes over the world. Mike Ploog did great storyboards for the sequence that were reminiscent of early-sixties horror movies, which I love.” After Seymour saves Audrey from the plant’s jaws, she reveals her love for him — but in a death wish she tells her lover to feed her to Audrey II, fulfilling her wish to be “somewhere that’s green.” Wishing Seymour the success he deserves, she dies in his arms. Seymour then brings her corpse to the plant — in a scene that Oz compared to “a ritual sacrifice” — and does what he was told. He even tries to touch Audrey’s hand as she descends in the plant’s maw, but fails to do so; the scene is too much to stand for him, and he quickly evades the shop, and climbs a ladder to reach the top of a nearby building — attempting to suicide. As he is about to jump, he is stopped by Patrick Martin, who shows him a newborn Audrey II, obtained from harvested clippings of the original plant.

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Martin’s plan is to produce and sell the plants on a global scale, to the point where “every househould in America” could have one. Seymour looks at the plant, which smiles at him. The newborn Audrey II animatronic was reused for this sequence, and slightly repainted to give the impression of a new individual. Seymour realizes the sheer scale of the threat and returns to the shop with the intent to finally destroy Audrey II. Martin reminds him that his consent for selling the plants is not necessary, “because a Goddamn Vegetable is public domain.”

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Seymour returns to the shop and uselessly tries to defeat the plant once and for all; Audrey II, after singing Mean Green Mother from outer Space, tears down the place and plucks him out of the ruins. As he screams in terror, he is slowly devoured alive by the plant, who has finally achieves its intentions. As narrated by Crystal, Ronette and Chiffon, spawns of Audrey II are produced and sold worldwide. The various owners, having been “sweet-talked into feeding them blood,” nourish the plants, unaware of the threat. The Monsters eventually grow to gargantuan sizes, wreaking havoc in major cities (such as New York) and consuming whatever comes in their way, as a choir sings the final song of the film: Don’t Feed the Plants.

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The visually complex finale was achieved with a wide array of miniature models and animatronics by Richard Conway (who is not a relative of Lyle), as well as additional composite and matte work by Bran Ferren. “The sequence shows the destruction in its wake,” Conway said, “but we shot the whole thing looking up at the plant. As the plant stomps down the street it is throwing things right and left, so you see all thi stuff flying up from the floor — dustbins and taxis and lampposts and debris. We tried to make it as humorous as possible, but it turned out to be quite realistic and pretty heavy.”

The miniature sets were mostly at a twenty-fourth scale, with some sections at a twelfth scale. The miniature buildings were “about a dozen all together,” and were reassembled in different configurations for specific shots of the finale, combined with different foregrounds or camera angles in order to differentiate each sequence. “Shooting at a different camera speed,” Conway recalled, “we’d wind up with a completely different cut. In this way we were able to use the sets to their greatest advantage. We really spent a lot of time trying to make it perfect.”

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“Look out! Here comes Audrey II!”

Certain sequences of the finale featured the Mean Green Mother plant — such as when it bursts through the disco wall. To portray the gargantuan alien plants, however, miniature animatronics were obviously built. Lyle Conway’s team provided the foam rubber castings, whereas the mechanics were assigned to Richard Conway’s. The models were four feet tall, with their heads “about two-and-a-half feet long and approximately eighteen inches high. It was just a scaled down version of the twelve-foot plant they had used in the live-action.” Whilst the other versions of Audrey II were entirely (or mostly) cable-controlled, the plants shown in the finale employed hydraulic and electronic systems to be puppeteered. Richard Conway explained: “because the plant had to move so fast, we didn’t use any cables or wires to operate it. The torque on something that fast-moving would have been too much for a cable system, so everything was controlled electronically and hydraulically. We used electric servo motors to operate the mouth and lips. The servos were relayed back through and computed so all the moves were preprogrammed. Then the neck movements were controlled with microhydraulics. There were rams inside the neck of the plant, and the valves that operated them were also electronic so that they could be computed.”

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The puppets were filmed in differently-sized sets in order to present plants of different sizes, whilst still using the same models. Conway explained: “the scale of the plant was determined by the scale of the set we put it into. If we put it next to a twelfth scale set, the plant became twelfth scale. If we put it next to a thirty-second scale set — the Brooklyn bridge set, for example — then it became thirty-second scale. We were able to take it from twenty feet high to one hundred and twenty feet high using the same plant.” The plants were also filmed at different speeds, something that also enhanced the illusion of scale. “We shot from 48 frames per second to 360 frames per second to make it whatever size we decided it should be for a particular shot.” The plants’ movements, despite being shot in high speed, needed to be synchronized with the live-action elements. Specialized computers were employed, “so that we could sync the plant’s mouth and neck and lips at normal speed and then accelerate the whole thing up to five times speed to match the high-speed camera. There were certain things that the plant had to say or do that were scripted — for instance, it had to laugh and say, ‘here I come for you.’ So we used that program to record the movements at normal speed, and then modified it to work at high-speed so that we could fit it into our model effects and model action. The technology was quite complicated.”

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One of the sequences involved giant plants wreaking havoc on the Brooklyn bridge — which was built as a thirty-second scale set, with a length of 25 feet (it was also built as an actual suspension bridge). The plant that looms over the bridge was actually positioned on a steel arm that ran along the off-camera side of the structure. Conway commented on the sequence, saying that it was “supposed to present the idea that the plant was really enjoying itself, like a naughty little boy jumping up and down a bed. We shot it at 360 frames per second — which is about fifteen times speed — and it worked very well. The shot also had water in it — in fact, an entire harbor. We added little cars going through and explosions and fire to bring the whole set alive. Because we were using fire, we had the skyline buildings made out of tin.” Certain buildings were built with a primitive 3D-stamping program.

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One of the most challenging sequences in the film shows one of the plants bursting through the wall of a movie theater (which, interestingly, is playing Jason and the Argonauts). Conway recalled: “the problem with that shot was that we had to bledn it into a blue-backing foreground action of people running around. When you have foreground people and a model background action, there is always a terrible visual divorce between the two images. So we put a road in between the two and added some pretty intricate things to marry them together.” Miniature motorcycle and bicycle riders were built and attached to chains on chainweels, and then moved through slots in the floor of the set. Another puppet was built to shake his fist at the plant as it emerges. These elements, combined with other miniatures (such as a truck) made the shot more visually complex and thus “sort of overcrowded so that no one could really see what was going on. That pretty much solved the problem of mixing the live-action with model work. Actually bursting through the theater was very complicated, but nothing out of the ordinary. We rigged the wall with pyrotechnics and then moved the Monster forward on a track with a lot of contact switches to blow the charges.”

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In another sequence, a train is swallowed whole by one of the giant plants, as two other plants watch in laughter. An elevated railway section and train miniatures were built in twenty-fourth scale and combined with the twelfth scale buildings, which were positioned far from the train to adjust the scale discrepancy.

The final shot of the film symbolizes the conquest of the plants — when the invaders envelop the Statue of Liberty in their tendrils, and one of them ascends to the top of it — always in dire laughter. The sequence used a twelfth scale Statue miniature (a bust section) casted in fiberglass, shot against a blue screen. It was fitted with iron wires, in order to maneuver vines with magnets that could “cling to it.” The vines were filmed whilst being pulled off the model — the sequence was then printed in reverse, giving the illusion that they were coiling around the statue. Explosions and wire-rigged helicopters were the finishing touches of the scene, which culminates in Audrey II breaking through the screen (and the fourth wall) to laugh at the audience as the film ends.

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Despite remaining true to the original ending of the musical, the film was met with hostile reactions in test screenings. The film had managed, too successfully, to make the leads relatable to — and the audiences wanted them to live. Oz recalled in an interview: “For every musical number there was applause, they loved it, it was just fantastic…until we killed our two leads. And then the theater became a refrigerator, an ice box. It was awful and the cards were just awful. They were saying that they hated us killing them. You have to have a 55 percent ‘recommend’ to really be released and we got a 13. It was a complete disaster. After that San Jose screening, I said, ‘Can we just try one more time in L.A. to see if the reaction is different?’ David supported me and we did it, and we got exactly the same reaction, like 16 percent or something.” The fundamental reason for that, as Oz discovered, was the difference between the presentation of a musical and that of a film. In another interview, he said: “I learned a lesson: in a stage play, you kill the leads and they come out for a bow — in a movie, they don’t come out for a bow, they’re dead. They’re gone and so the audience lost the people they loved, as opposed to the theater audience where they knew the two people who played Audrey and Seymour were still alive. They loved those people, and they hated us for it.”

The ending was then re-shot, with Audrey and Seymour surviving, defeating the plant and fulfilling their love. This proved faroable, as “when we did re-shoot the ending,” Oz said, “the crowd reaction went over 50 percent in our favor. Before it was a point where they hated it so much, Warner probably wouldn’t even release the movie.” Quite obviously, the reaction was not the same for Conway and his crew — who spent a total of 11 months working on the finale. “It’s a black comedy, but now it doesn’t end as a black comedy,” he said.

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Oz elaborated further: “It was wonderful work, but sometimes you have to lose a battle to win the war. I had to make a decision and I believe it was the right one. The whole audience had loved the first preview — until Audrey and Seymour died. It was a compliment in a way, because I had really tried to make the audience care about those characters. But they cared for them so much that they got very angry with us for killing them off. I was in the audience, too, and I agreed with them. I didn’t want them to die either. it just didn’t translate. In the play you know that the puppet is felt and it’s not real. And you know when Audrey and Seynour go into the plant, they’re going to come out in a few minutes for a curtain call. It’s all very artificial. But movies have much greater power because of the form — the form makes you get involved in the story in a much more subjective way. So we reshot it with a happy ending and let them live and I’m very happy we did it.”

The 1998 DVD of the film featured the original ending (in its black and white print) as a special feature, but was quickly retired from store shelves — as David Geffen wanted to re-release the film with the intended finale, but in colour. “I got a call from David Geffen,” Oz said. “And David said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’  ‘Why did you give them the black-and-white version?’ I said, ‘That’s all I had, I thought you were fine with that. I figured you and Warner were working together.’  He said, ‘No, no, no — I have a color version.’  ‘You have a color version?!’ He said, ‘I have a color version. I don’t want the black-and-white version out, I want the color version out.’ And so, you know, he’s the producer, so ‘Okay fine, it’s okay by me if you have the color.'” In reality, “I think he thought he had the color version,” Oz continues, “but he probably didn’t understand the work print aspect of it. He probably assumed that there was a color ending somewhere.”

The original version of the film was eventually restored for the 2012 Blu-ray release of Little Shop of Horrors, featuring most of Richard Conway and his crew’s work — giving their effort, at last, Justice.

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“…Please, whatever they offer you, don’t feed the plants!”

For more images of Audrey II, visit the Monster Gallery.

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Monster Gallery: Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

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