By Will Sterling
As the statue was being handed to the winners of the Best Visual Effects Oscar this year, Rhythm and Hues, the company responsible for the VFX of Life of PI, was filing for bankruptcy. Much has been made of the plight of the digital FX powerhouses since then. For artists working in Animatronics and Makeup FX, it’s an all too familiar tale.
Imagine yourself working a job where your talent and skill help to make original creations that will be seen by millions. Your co-workers are kindred spirits who, like you, grew up filling sketchpads with exotic creatures inspired by comic books, movies, and fertile imaginations. It’s a dream job and a nice living: you make monsters for movies. And whether it’s a crude blood-and-guts cheapie or a sublime Sci-Fi blockbuster, you give it everything because that’s how you roll.
And then a few lazy people at the top ruin it because they want to try something “easier”.
This is pretty much the current state of Hollywood’s incredible shrinking creature FX industry. Many successful FX studios are being relegated to prop houses largely because movie producers choose to spend money on computer-generated images (CGI) instead of tangible, physical “practical” effects.
They have their reasons, of course. The CGI “pipeline” mirrors a corporate structure of product created from rows of antiseptic cubicles. Animatronics and Special Makeup FX require a messy workshop of eccentric, hands-on artists. And then there’s the convenience of postponing design decisions because CGI lets you fix it later. But it’s much more expensive, it doesn’t make a better movie, and audiences know it.
Alec Gillis is fighting back. He and Tom Woodruff Jr. run Oscar-winning Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. (ADI), a major player in Hollywood’s creature FX world and veterans of countless big-ticket FX movies. The duo met while working under Creature legend Stan Winston in 1985. Handling much of the heavy lifting on such films as Aliens, Predator, and Terminator prepared them for running their own Creature Shop which they formed ADI in 1988 — www.studioadi.com. Gillis got so tired of pitching practical creatures to CGI-leaning producers he decided to pitch directly to fans via Kickstarter.
“Harbinger Down” is Alec Gillis’ proposed creature-on-the-loose story utilizing the classic low-budget thriller elements of small cast, limited locations, and maximum suspense. To paraphrase horror film icon George Romero, nothing’s scarier than things going bump in the night. And with mutating meanies taking over a frozen fishing trawler, things will get quite bumpy indeed.
But “Harbinger Down” is more than just an exciting film to Gillis; it’s a cause. Alec’s passionate Kickstarter video plea has a distinct “David versus Goliath” feel to it, and he’s asking for a few pebbles in his slingshot–$350K-–for the chance to vindicate practical FX.
To reach this goal Gillis will need the support of the loyal classic monster buffs that rallied around Gillis and ADI after their work was digitized in the most recent iteration of The Thing, as well as the contributions of any film fan who yearns for a return to the days when the monsters we saw on movie screens were tangible, visceral, real-life manifestations of our worst nightmares.
Check out Harbinger Down on Kickstarter at: