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15 Secrets of the Hollywood Creature Feature

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A tentacled monster breaks through the walls of an armed fortress; a head explodes; a T. rex eats a man whole in one bite. Everyone loves a good (or even a bad) monster movie. But how do industry experts manage to bring monsters that originate in the darkest depths of the human imagination to life on the silver screen? Today’s cinema creatures are generally made with a hybrid approach that employs both practical and computer effects which have been fine-tuned through trial and error since the beginnings of motion pictures themselves. We sat down with three industry leaders—Todd Masters of MastersFX and Michael Spatola and Lee Joyner of the Cinema Makeup School—to get the inside scoop on some little-known facts behind the craft and some intriguing details on the makings of some of our favorite bits of monster magic.

1. The Rise of CGI Means Production Crews Are Thin on Time and Patience.

Gone are the days when a single gunshot wound took all day and 20 pre-packed blood balloons to film. Now, wounds that appear in-scene are generally done practically with actual makeup effects, then obscured digitally until they are ready to be revealed on film. Blood is also usually added to small wounds like gunshots or puncture points in post-production. Pre-production time for most big effects films has, in effect, been seriously trimmed down. Joyner says he was part of a team of 70 that had almost a year to prepare for the 1998 iteration of Godzilla, though most modern films only allot a couple of months working with 10 to 40 people before filming begins.

2. Not All Effects Are as Complicated as They Seem.

Michael Spatola says in his book The Monstrous Make-Up Manual that zombie skin can be created simply by painting flesh-colored latex onto glass. He also points out that the best way to impale an actor with a spike or an arrow is still rigging the weapon on the torso and then “whip-panning” the camera to the injured character. Not only does it hold up, it’s also much less expensive than any CG version of the same effect. According to Joyner, a great way to bite off a character’s nose is to have an actor wear a prosthetic during all of filming until it’s time for chomp down, like in the 1977 version of Sorcerer.

3. Fans and Professionals Agree: Practical Effects Still Rule.

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Following the 2011 release of The Thing—a remake of the 1982 special effects classic—many fans were outraged to see Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.’s practical effects covered up digitally in post-production. The result was ADI’s Alec Gillis turning to Kickstarter for $350k to make Harbinger Down (now in production with Spatola heading the Effects Department) without any CGI monsters whatsoever. Even CG-heavy films can benefit from old-school tricks: the tiny robot known as Wheelie in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen had a practical puppet counterpart that was used extensively in the film, though initially director Michael Bay hadn’t called for one.

4. MastersFX Bought the Entire World’s Supply of Sex Toy Vinyl for one horror flick.

Effects artists are always looking for new ways to make their manufactured creatures seem life-like, so when Todd Masters and crew discovered how well a material used in the sex novelty industry worked for making things like guts and body parts, they decided it would be perfect for the thousands of parasitic worms needed for the 2006 horror film Slither. When the production of the movie drained the global supply of this particular material, someone had crates of sex toys shipped in to be melted down. Masters says he was walking through his shop one day when he saw “a couple of the tables were just filled with sex toys and people were cutting them into chunks we could melt down.” Call it up-cycled cinema.

5. Special Effects Departments Often Contribute More to a Finished Film Than You Notice.

Keeping movie-goers in a state of suspended disbelief usually goes much further than just making rubber monster suits or realistic blood gags. The effects team for the original Predator film, for instance, also had to make all of the large fallen trees for each shot; the real trees in the jungle where filming took place were not big enough for Ah-nold and his entourage to hide behind.

6. Even if you haven't seen Doug Jones, you've seen Doug Jones.

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Though you may not be familiar with this icon of character acting, Doug Jones has played almost as many roles in full monster make-up as he has without. Jones was the Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four sequel, Abe Sapien in the Hellboy franchise, both the faun and the freaky “Pale Male” creature (the one with the eyes in his hands) in Pan’s Labyrinth, one of The Gentlemen in the season four Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Hush," and Cochise in the TBS sci-fi series Falling Skies. Actors have always been an important part of bringing creatures to life, though—the six-foot-nine Kevin Peter Hall played both Harry in Harry and the Hendersons and the original Predator (Hall also appears as a helicopter pilot in the 1987 Predator and as a mutant bear in the 1979 B-horror flick, Prophesy).

7. Blood Can Now Be Bought in Bulk.

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Todd Masters, who is responsible for the effects in HBO’s True Blood, says his company used to make all of their own blood in-house. “Finally, after going through about 55 gallons of blood every so many weeks,” it stopped being practical, he says. Fake blood has been made of everything from chocolate syrup (as in the 1960 Hitchcock classic, Psycho) to corn syrup and food coloring (The Godfather). Bruce Campbell of the Evil Dead franchise has a recipe that uses non-dairy creamer as a base. But today Masters says he orders most of his blood from a company called My Blood that specializes in liquid gore for cinema—available in a variety of colors and thicknesses.

8. Creature Designers May Decide the Look of a Monster, but Are Hands-Off When It Comes to the Way It Sounds.

Visual effects, special effects, and sound effects are all separate departments. Masters says the special effects team basically has to cross their fingers that whatever the audio engineers come up with as a voice will work for their monsters. Probably the most famous example of creature sounds in film comes from Jurassic Park (1993), for which sound designer Gary Rydstrom won an Oscar by incorporating the calls of various animals—the velociraptor chirp, for instance, was actually the sound of a tortoise having sex, and the famous T. rex roar was made by slowing down the trumpet of a baby elephant.

9. Makeup Effects Artists Like to Appear in Front of the Camera, Too.

Many iconic effects artists love to make cameos: Greg Nicotero can be seen as a zombie chowing down on a deer carcass in the 2010 episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead titled “Tell It to the Frogs”; Tom Savini sports a sweet revolver codpiece in From Dusk ‘Til Dawn (1996); Academy Award winner Rick Baker appears in makeup in many of his films, including showing up as an alien in Men In Black II and III and also as a bearded zombie in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Todd Masters appears as a male nurse in the 1991 film Shatterbrain and Lee Joyner played a crime scene tech in 1992’s Innocent Blood.

10. Special Effects Artists Don’t Mind Telling You How It’s Done

Keeping true to the tradition of the “Godfather of Makeup,” Dick Smith (who actually did Marlon Brando’s makeup for The Godfather), special effects artists function in a professional community without any secrets. Smith was the guy that figured out how to make facial prosthetics in multiple pieces instead of as a singular latex mask, paving the way for all of the modern-day masters. He also kept up correspondence with the likes of Tom Savini and J.J. Abrams long before they had the resumes we know them for today. This is perhaps why, as Masters put it, “very few (special effects) shops have an exclusive staff nowadays” and artists work primarily as freelancers for a number of different studios.

11. The Original Monster From Aliens (1986) Was First Tested as a Garbage-Bag Beast.

John Rosengrant, who worked for Stan Winston Studios for a number of years before starting his own effects company in 2008 called Legacy Effects, said that his first full-sized test of the creature for the monster sequel was made of foam and garbage bags. Thus, the term “garbage bag test” was coined for a very rough test of a practical effect in pre-production, though the approach (and the term) is used much less now that digital tests are more commonplace.

12. Many Special Effects Artists Are Multi-Talented

“Rick Baker,” says Masters, “is an amazing painter.” He also points out that artists Chet Zar, Jamie Salmon, and Ron Mueck were all monster-makers at one point before they started “pursuing the ‘finer’ things.” John Criswell (Where the Wild Things Are, Predators) makes his own clothes, and Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger are known to shred on the electric guitar. Masters, too, is into fine art (primarily life-sketching), but he, Joyner, and Spatola all proudly point out that their hobby became their career.

13. Occasionally a Happy Accident Will Make It on Screen.

Though many of the industry kinks were worked out during the heyday of the monster movie in the 1980s, sometimes a whoopsy can make for an awesome effect. In the 2008 documentary Fantastic Flesh, Eli Roth says that the leg-shaving scene in Cabin Fever (2002) was supposed to use an effect in which “the skin was supposed to peel off like a banana,” but many of the pre-fab materials were frozen by accident during shipping. The effect that appears on screen in the finished version of the film uses a simple makeup application that is revealed as the actress removes a layer of shaving cream with a blade-less razor. “It wound up being so much more effective,” said Roth.

14. Special Effects Studios Have More Body Parts Than They Know What to Do With.

What does a studio do with all of that stuff lying around? Rent it out, of course! Masters says that his effects studio has made a pretty healthy business out of renting prosthetic children to studios for filming. “Having real babies on set can be kind of a nuisance,” he explains, but now, “you actually don’t need to have a kid on the set anymore.” Masters says that pseudo-children from his shop can even be made into performers through the process of performance transfer, but that’s another story altogether.

15. With Regard to Pre-Production, CG Effects and Practical Effects Cost About the Same.

Sony Pictures

Masters says that the modeling and testing phases of both the classic and modern digital approaches to effects-rendering require about the same amount of work, but it’s the touch-ups in post-production (“making it look real,” he says) that drive up the cost of computer generated graphics. Spatola uses the example of the first Spiderman film (2002), in which a number of practical pieces were made for production then cast aside in favor of digital models. He says that it cost an extra $9 million just to get the digital suits to look right for that film on top of the initial production budget. “I could’ve made them some suits that would’ve looked great for less than a million,” he says. 

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Mr. Show
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You never need an excuse to look back at Mr. Show with Bob and David, but given that today is co-creator Bob Odenkirk's 55th birthday, now seems to be as good a time as any.

1. BOB ODENKIRK AND DAVID CROSS’S FIRST MEETING DID NOT GO VERY WELL.

Following four years of writing on Saturday Night Live, Odenkirk was in Los Angeles in 1992 as a writer for the Chris Elliott Fox cult classic Get a Life. David Cross was a comedian in L.A. after performing for years in Boston. One boring afternoon, Cross asked friend and fellow stand-up Janeane Garofalo if she knew anybody that played basketball. The two went to Odenkirk’s house, and Garofalo introduced David to Bob and then asked if he wanted to play basketball. He said no.

2. ODENKIRK AND CROSS FIRST WORKED TOGETHER ON THE BEN STILLER SHOW.

Despite their inauspicious beginning, the two ended up having numerous fruitful collaborations, starting with their work on The Ben Stiller Show. Odenkirk was a writer/performer on the short-lived but Emmy award-winning sketch show with Garofalo, Stiller, and Andy Dick. Cross was brought in in the middle of the show’s 13-episode run as a writer.

3. THE CO-STARS FIRST PERFORMED ON STAGE TOGETHER AS "THE THREE GOOFBALLZ."

Odenkirk and Cross performed sketch comedy together at the Diamond Club in Los Angeles, with a third improviser that, the joke went, would either be deceased or out elsewhere getting high.

4. "THE THREE GOOFBALLZ' WAS ALMOST THE TITLE OF MR. SHOW

Odenkirk also pitched the title Grand National Championships, but David Cross was never a fan of it.

5. JACK BLACK, SARAH SILVERMAN, AND OTHER FUTURE STARS APPEARED ON THE SHOW BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS.

Black was in four episodes of Mr. Show, starring in the classic Jesus Christ Superstar parody “Jeepers Creepers.” Silverman was a performer in 10 episodes. Mary Lynn Rajskub, best known as Chloe on 24, was a featured actress in the first two years. Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, was a series regular for a majority of the run. Scott Adsit, a.k.a. 30 Rock’s Pete Hornberger, was in six episodes.

6. PATTON OSWALT WARMED UP THE MR. SHOW CROWD.

In addition to performing stand-up before tapings and keeping the studio audience interested in between scenes, Oswalt played Famous Mortimer in the episode “Operation: Hell on Earth” (but was credited as “Patton Oswald.”)

7. HOMELESS PEOPLE WERE NOT KIND TO THE ORIGINAL SETS.

Because the pilot episode was shot at a “down and dirty,” small Central Hollywood club, the sets had to be placed outside, where homeless people defecated on them.

8. YOU MIGHT ALSO RECOGNIZE SOME OF THE WRITING STAFF.

Dino Stamatopoulos was already on the original writing staff of Late Night with Conan O’Brien and had written for David Letterman before writing for Cross and Odenkirk. He would later create three shows and play Starburns on Community. Writer/performer Scott Aukerman co-created and executive produces Between Two Ferns, and created and stars on Comedy Bang! Bang!. Writer/performer Paul F. Tompkins hosted VH-1’s Best Week Ever! and currently hosts the satirical debate show No, You Shut Up!, where he moderates discussions by a panel full of puppets. Bob Odenkirk’s brother Bill has written ten episodes of The Simpsons.

9. THE DIRECTORS OF LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE LEARNED HOW TO DIRECT COMEDY FROM MR. SHOW.

Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton were known for directing music videos like The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” and Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing,” and decided to direct two Mr. Show episodes to expand their filming vocabulary. The husband and wife team were behind the camera for the classic sketch “Monk Academy.”

10. ONE SKETCH WAS INFLUENCED BY LOUIS C.K.

One of the first sketches in the show’s history involved Odenkirk playing a priest forced to do rather unpleasant and un-priestly things. The idea sprang from a conversation David Cross had with fellow young Boston comic Louis C.K., where Louis talked about annoying people that try to claim a prize on a bet that their friends never agreed to in the first place.

11. HBO ONLY CENSORED THE SHOW ONCE.

Throughout four years and 30 episodes, the lone note Odenkirk and Cross got from HBO was to get rid of a line where one character tells another to have sex with a baby. Odenkirk admitted that being told to edit it out “wasn’t too much to ask.”

12. THEY ONLY RECEIVED ONE VIEWER COMPLAINT.

The only angry letter that Odenkirk and Cross were ever made aware of was from a military veteran who was offended by the sketch in “Who Let You In?” where Cross’s performance artist character attempts to defecate on the American flag. The two stars actually called the viewer and discovered that he didn’t watch the entire sketch, and therefore never realized that Cross’ character was never able to actually go through with it.

13. ONE SKETCH WAS CUT FROM THE SHOW SIX TIMES AND NEVER MADE IT TO AIR.

A sketch called “Party Car,” a joke on old, low-quality shows filled with '70s celebrities was cut from half a dozen scripts and never filmed. It would have featured Nipsey Russell, Zsa Zsa Gabor, (or reasonable facsimiles), and a baby in a balloon-filled car.

14. BOB ODENKIRK GOT IN TROUBLE FOR USING A PICTURE OF HIS DEAD GRANDFATHER.

Because the sketch “Old Man In House” needed a photo of an old man, and the elderly gentleman was not the butt of the joke, Odenkirk thought it would be fine. Instead, some Odenkirks were “very upset.”

15. CROSS WAS PAYING OFF HIS STUDENT LOAN DEBTS THROUGHOUT MOST OF THE SERIES.

David Cross and Amber Tamblyn
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Despite executive producing and co-creating a series on television, Cross had trouble paying off his student loan debts from his time at Emerson College. Figuring that the person calling from the bill collection agency wouldn’t believe that he couldn’t pay if he knew his job status, Cross pretended that he worked at Mr. Show as a messenger.

16. ONE PERSON WAS GIVEN A "SPECIAL THANKS" IN THE CLOSING CREDITS OF EVERY EPISODE AS A JOKE.

As Cross once explained, Rick Dees was thanked in the credits of the pilot episode, even though he was “certainly nobody we would ever thank, or be in a position to thank.” Some personalities that were thanked for no discernable reason were Greg Maddux, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, Gabe Kaplan, and Howard Zinn.

17. HBO CHANGED THE TIME SLOT FOR ITS FINAL SEASON, AND IT WAS "DEMORALIZING."

After airing Fridays at midnight for the first three seasons, HBO moved the show to Mondays at the same time, confusing some loyal viewers, and the ratings decreased as a result. Bob Odenkirk told a reporter that, after 30 episodes, HBO was still treating the cast and crew as “second-class citizens,” and that they were “demoralized” by the slot shift.

18. BOB AND DAVID TOLD A STUDIO AUDIENCE THAT THEY HAD JUST WITNESSED THE FINAL EPISODE, AND THEY WEREN'T JOKING.

“Patriotism, Pepper, and Professionalism,” the 40th and final episode of Mr. Show, was taped on November 21, 1998. After the final sketch was filmed, Odenkirk and Cross made their announcement, although the show’s cancellation wasn’t made official for another few months.

19. THERE WAS A MR. SHOW MOVIE THAT WENT STRAIGHT TO VIDEO.

Run Ronnie Run focused on David Cross’s redneck criminal character Ronnie Dobbs. It was filmed in 2001, but never made it to theaters. Bob Odenkirk admitted that the movie wasn’t perfect, but he blamed the poor quality on director Troy Miller, for not allowing himself and Cross to edit the movie.

20. THE TWO HAVE REUNITED A FEW OTHER TIMES.

David Cross and Bob Odenkirk star in 'W/ Bob and David'
Saeed Adyani/Netflix

In 2002, Bob, David, and Mr. Show writer/performers Brian Posehn, John Ennis, and Stephanie Courtney (Flo in the Progressive commercials) toured the country to perform some of the show’s sketches and material from their unproduced screenplay Mr. Show: Hooray For America! The next year, Odenkirk guest starred as Dr. Phil Gunty on a season one episode of Arrested Development, alongside Cross’ character Tobias Fünke.

In 2012, Odenkirk, Cross, and Posehn went on a six-city tour to promote their book filled with more unproduced material. Bob and David appeared briefly together the next year on an episode of Aukerman’s Comedy Bang! Bang! In 2015, 20 years after Mr. Show's debut, Netflix premiered W/ Bob and David, a five-episode sketch comedy show created by and starring the duo.

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30 Memorable Quotes from Carrie Fisher
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Just days after suffering a heart attack aboard a flight en route to Los Angeles, beloved actress, author, and screenwriter Carrie Fisher passed away at the age of 60 on December 27, 2016. Though she’ll always be most closely associated with her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, Fisher’s life was like something out of its own Hollywood movie. Born in Beverly Hills on this day in 1956, Fisher was born into show business royalty as the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds.

In addition to her work in front of the camera, Fisher built up an impressive resume behind the scenes, too, most notably as a writer; in addition to several memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels, including Wishful Drinking, Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, The Best Awful, Postcards from the Edge, and The Princess Diarist (which was released last month), she was also an in-demand script doctor who counted Sister Act, Hook, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Wedding Singer among her credits.

Though she struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness, Fisher always maintained a sense of humor—as evidenced by the 30 memorable quotes below.

ON GROWING UP IN HOLLYWOOD

“I am truly a product of Hollywood in-breeding. When two celebrities mate, someone like me is the result.”

“I was born into big celebrity. It could only diminish.”

“At a certain point in my early twenties, my mother started to become worried about my obviously ever-increasing drug ingestion. So she ended up doing what any concerned parent would do. She called Cary Grant.”

“I was street smart, but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive.”

“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That's my word for it.”

ON AGING

“As you get older, the pickings get slimmer, but the people don't.”

ON INSTANT GRATIFICATION

“Instant gratification takes too long.”

ON THE LEGACY OF STAR WARS

“People are still asking me if I knew Star Wars was going to be that big of a hit. Yes, we all knew. The only one who didn't know was George.”

“Leia follows me like a vague smell.”

“I signed my likeness away. Every time I look in the mirror, I have to send Lucas a couple of bucks.”

“People see me and they squeal like tropical birds or seals stranded on the beach.”

“You're not really famous until you’re a Pez dispenser.”

ON THE FLEETING NATURE OF SUCCESS

“There is no point at which you can say, 'Well, I'm successful now. I might as well take a nap.'”

ON DEALING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

“I'm very sane about how crazy I am.”

ON RESENTMENT

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

ON LOVE

“Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”

“I've got to stop getting obsessed with human beings and fall in love with a chair. Chairs have everything human beings have to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need. Less emotional feedback, less warmth, less approval, less patience, and less response. The less the merrier. Chairs it is. I must furnish my heart with feelings for furniture.”

“I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.”

ON EMOTIONS

“The only thing worse than being hurt is everyone knowing that you're hurt.”

ON RELATIONSHIPS

“I envy people who have the capacity to sit with another human being and find them endlessly interesting, I would rather watch TV. Of course this becomes eventually known to the other person.”

ON HOLLYWOOD

“Acting engenders and harbors qualities that are best left way behind in adolescence.”

“You can't find any true closeness in Hollywood, because everybody does the fake closeness so well.”

“It's a man's world and show business is a man's meal, with women generously sprinkled through it like overqualified spice.”

ON FEAR

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

ON LIFE

“I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.”

“No motive is pure. No one is good or bad-but a hearty mix of both. And sometimes life actually gives to you by taking away.”

“If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

“I shot through my twenties like a luminous thread through a dark needle, blazing toward my destination: Nowhere.”

“My life is like a lone, forgotten Q-Tip in the second-to-last drawer.”

ON DEATH

“You know what's funny about death? I mean other than absolutely nothing at all? You'd think we could remember finding out we weren't immortal. Sometimes I see children sobbing at airports and I think, 'Aww. They've just been told.'”

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