Monday, November 24, 2008

Bloody Meats (Meier, that is!)

I've had the great pleasure of knowing Jim "Meats" Meier for a little over 15 years now. (If you don't know him by name yet, you owe it to yourself to check-out this phenomenal artist's work right this minute: Meats' Market). I hired him while I was working as the Art Director of a screen printing shop, and was blown away by his outrageous ability with the airbrush. I saw him latch onto Photoshop the minute we got a copy, and he's never looked back. The world of 3D opened up for him in a way few digital artists can claim, and his style is wholly unique. (Not to mention much admired -- reading some of his fan-boy posts even made me blush!!!)

Back in 1994, a local radio station ran a promotional contest for an upcoming concert with a band called White Zombie. You were to create a video no longer than 7 minutes, featuring the station's logo, the band's music ... and it was to be as gory as possible (the band, as its name implies, has a not-so-subtle penchant for all things macabre).

This came at a very opportune time: I had been developing some film projects and had been invited to pitch them to Roger Corman's studio, but lacked the fund-age to fly out to his offices in California ... and part of the grand prize in this video contest were 2 tickets to L.A. I had to do it!!! I have some experience in special effects make up, and (as mentioned previously on this blog) had developed a low-cost technique for quick (yet disturbingly realistic) blood-'n-guts using home-made play dough tinted with food coloring for fake 'skin' and Karo syrup-based fake 'blood.' (A Quick Side-Note: I had a couple of opportunities to show examples of my work to professional make up artists who were stunned to learn it was only play dough ... it looks terrific initially, but doesn't last long as it dries-out quickly and tends to slop-off when you move around too much -- you get what you pay for, right? Here's a quick example of a burn make up using the play dough & syrup trick:)

Back to the video contest ... there was only 1 discouraging fact: I heard about the contest on a Thursday evening, and the deadline was in only one week. To make matters worse, I had already committed to work all weekend long and was going on vacation the following Thursday, literally leaving me 3 days to do the entire thing.

Luckily for me, Jim and his entire house full of roommates were game to participate & willing to stay awake with me for 48 hours straight on Monday and Tuesday to shoot the video (when we weren't working). I edited the film all day Wednesday and then dropped it off on my way out of town on Thursday!!!

And guess what?

We WON!!!

(Unfortunately, after using my plane tickets and nervously making my way to Mr. Corman's office with my portfolio clutched tightly in profusely sweating hands, I learned there had been a family emergency that morning and that he wouldn't be able to attend me ... sigh. I wound up pitching instead to some low-level wannabe who actually claimed that Corman -- "King Of The 'B' Horror Movies" -- was no longer making horror movies. Okay, yeah, right ...)

It's been 14 years, and Jim has been asking me recently if I had a copy of the film (entitled Crunch) somewhere he could watch it again (presumably for old times sake). Well Jimmy Z, here it is:

DISCLAIMER: As I mentioned above, the whole point of this video was to be as gory as possible, so if you don't like that kind of thing ... best not to watch it, all right?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ryan Peterson: Sculpting Lord

So I was gleefully wading through the vast expanse of behind-the-scenes goodness on the Hellboy II DVD, when I saw this image onscreen and began yelling incoherently to my wife, "It's his! Oh wow -- THAT'S HIS!!!" After calming down a tad and reassuring Glynis that nothing was actually wrong, I replayed the segment on the disk with director Guillermo del Toro speaking that featured a bust of Hellboy in the background created by my good friend Ryan Peterson. An immensely talented sculptor/artist, Ryan created his own version of the comics titular character after falling in love with Mike Mignola's creation, and had sent a copy to del Toro after the first movie was made.

Ryan has worked for many years in the special effects make-up industry in Hollywood, but relocated back to his beloved Utah to pursue his own artistic projects. I was lucky enough to work with Ryan on several video game productions, and have always enjoyed vicariously his experiences with the make-up legends that I used to idolize as a teenager (most notably Rick Baker and Rob Bottin).

Despite not having the opportunity of working on either the original film or its sequel, Ryan generously sent a copy to del Toro, who responded enthusiastically (and apparently took a shine to it)! I thought his version was realized with extreme skill, and I look forward to collaborating with Ryan one day -- he is both a fantastic talent and a wonderful person.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Recent Work: Snoopy Flying Ace Trailer

A quick note about a trailer I put together for my friends at Smart Bomb Interactive; it looks like the game is getting some nice buzz already! You can see the regular and HD versions of the trailer here. The gameplay I've seen has been stunning, absolutely top-notch work from Kris Johnson and crew!!!
Also, a very Happy Birthday to Mr. Neil Gaiman!!! His latest, The Graveyard Book is spectacular fun! Even better than reading it, however, is hearing him read it!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Some history ...

Ever since my Dad took me to see 2001: A Space Odyssey at the age of 3, I have been obsessed with movies and movie making. I also developed an (un)healthy interest in monsters and the macabre at an early age, thanks in no small part to my Dad's youngest brother. He was my idol for the longest time; he could draw, tell great stories, and loved to scare me to death.

I've been drawing for as long as I can remember, but I recall finally seeing a difference in quality from my peers when I was around 6 years old. Dad was always my best critic, giving good, honest feedback on whatever new image I stuck in front of him.

When I decided to try and make my first latex rubber mask, he was also a great supporter. Being a dentist, he was familiar with the rigors of plaster mold-making, and was more than gracious with materials, advice, and helping me mix & apply a variety of goop. He was even willing to cast my entire head in Alginate & plaster bandages (an arduous procedure even for seasoned make-up effects pros, and here we were doing it with some "how-to" book open on the counter beside us)!

Learning to sculpt was a lot harder than drawing, but creating something 3-dimensional at the end of the process was really satisfying! One day while my Mom was making some homemade play dough, it occurred to me to make some of my own, and "modify" it. I wound up creating a flesh colored, translucent material that could blend into skin with water that looked so realistic, it fooled almost everyone! After discovering a "recipe" for a Karo syrup-based blood formula to top things off with, my little town was never the same again. To my mother's dismay, I also dabbled in pyrotechnics: launching model rockets on a one-way trip (carrying payloads of gasoline or gun powder), building elaborate miniatures for total annihilation, and even trying to mix the explosives with the make-up effects. This particular practice came to a screeching halt the day I tried to emulate the bullet-hit "squib" devices I had seen on TV, and blew my shirt (and a fair amount of skin) clean off my chest.

Then there were the "films." Hours were spent crafting detailed, scratch-built spaceship models (even rigged with rheostat controlled grain-of-wheat bulbs for glowing engine lights), then staging epic displays of thespian fortitude (usually involving one of my semi-willing siblings) using my Dad's trusty Super 8 mm camera, only to wait two nail-biting weeks for processing … all to screen a 2½ minute opus that was mostly black or out of focus. Great.

By some act of fortune, my high school actually offered both an animation course and a television course (the curriculum was a tad lame, but both provided access to some killer equipment)! My best friend and I quickly finished whatever assignment was due, then geeked-out with cameras and ¾ inch editing systems, making as many films as we could. At first, the teacher was highly skeptical, and even antagonistic at times towards our unbridled enthusiasm, but after my first 24-minute production (The Parasite, a blatant Alien rip-off featuring a monstrous fetus that rips through the chest of a corpse in a small town morgue), he began to warm a little (even going so far as to show that particular piece at a school board meeting in order to win some additional funding … it was pretty amusing to watch a room of gray-hairs choke on their coffee at several of the film's more gruesome moments).

I have continued to find ways to make independent video productions since then. I would do volunteer work at a local cable station in exchange for equipment usage & editing time. Many merchants & organizations lent/gave me props (from a bouquet of roses to an afternoon with a sports car), permission to film in private locations, even the usage of a police car, ambulance, and a power truck (with a 54-foot crane for some spectacular opening/closing shots)! Many of these were aired by that same station, and there were occasional write-ups in local papers. I was asked by a small independent film company to direct a children's television pilot, and have contributed make-up effects efforts to several low-budget productions and commercials (including the now infamous Troll 2 that I was genuinely shocked to see has become a cult classic! I mean really ... who could have seen THAT one coming? I'll need to write a little about that whole experience one day soon). One of my little movies even won a local radio contest (along with tickets to L.A., where I "pitched" some movie ideas to Roger Corman's production company).

After an unsuccessful stint at a university decidedly not known for its cinematic prowess, I became involved in the graphic/apparel business to support my young family. While I gained tremendous experience working with other artists as an Art Director, and in dealing with clients and product promotion, it wasn't until I began to freelance for a small, local video game developer that I began to glimpse a possible career that was almost as interesting as film.

I switched professions when it looked as though Beyond Games, Inc. was on the verge of scoring a major coup (we were asked to create a sequel game to the highly successful Alien vs. Predator on the Atari Jaguar system). Even though that deal never materialized, it was indeed the start of something special. From working as Creative Director on several titles at Beyond Games, I moved to GlyphX several years later to work with Orson Scott Card on their own original game property, Advent Rising. Creatively, I was challenged and rewarded more than ever before, and gained invaluable experience in this amazing and rapidly developing industry. And to top it all off, I was able to make several cinematic contributions: from in-game cinematics to "Behind-The-Scenes" documentary featurettes and even a 30-second trailer for Advent released theatrically in front of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. (For those of you who may be interested, you can view some of these at Silver Fish Creative.) I have been extremely fortunate to have worked alongside some genuinely great artists, who have inspired me greatly and elevated my own skills. Everyday has been pretty fantastic; and now working on my own, I just can't wait to see what's next!