Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Mars Attacks! (1996)

As a parody of 1950's B-movies, Mars Attacks! chooses to focus more upon parodying specific scenes and sequences from individual films, in particular Earth vs the Flying Saucers.  This is particularly evident in the sequence where a flying saucer shoots the Washington Monument and in an attempt to crush some school children; this is a parody of the scene in Earth vs the Flying Saucers where a flying saucer crashes into the Monument, causing it to fall towards a group of civilians

Film 1: Earth vs the Flying Saucers Trailer*

Other references to Earth vs the Flying Saucers include the design of the Martian Saucers (especially the location and design of the "death ray"; and the opening scene's soundtrack's mix of standard orchestra and etherial electronic music.

Film 2: #02 Mars Attacks! - Main Titles

The plot of the film is based upon a set of trading cards (which also provide the films title); these cards depict the invasion of earth by hostile aliens from Mars and the subsequent military response.  These cards also provide the design of the film's Martians, as well as a number of sequences.  These include the opening scene of a herd of stampeding burning cattle (Card 22) and the giant robot attack (Card  32).  Unfortunately, basing the plot upon a series of trading cards can leave it feeling somewhat disconnected, a situation not helped by the film's focus upon 3 main groups of characters spread around the USA.  The basic story is a fairly standard 1950's alien invasion film, with one or two cliche reversals for comic effect (notably, the human's enduring belief that the aliens have come in peace, and all of the attacks are in fact due to cultural differences).

Fig 1. Mars Attacks! Card #22 : Burning Cattle

Fig 2. Mars Attacks! Card  #32 : Robot Terror

When first conceived, the film was inteneded to use traditional stop-motion animation for almost all of it's special effects, in homage to the 1950's B-movies that it parodies.  However, the technical difficulties involved in the large number of effects meant that a decision was made to switch to digital (CGI) effects, although these effects were designed to look as similar to real stop-motion effects as possible.  At the same time, the life-sized alien models that had already been constructed for the "traditional" special effects were put to use as alien corpses, giving the actors something real to interact with, which helps end an air of authenticity.  Another unusual special-effect moment is the incorporation of stock footage of "The Landmark Hotel and Casino" in Las Vegas as part of the destruction visited upon the city by aliens; the technique of incorporating stock footage into a film (either with or without added special effects) was common in 1950s B-Movies.

Much of the films success is based upon its creation of a retro 1950s atmosphere, an effect that is down to extremely high production values and set design.  This includes aspects such as the use of only period-correct vehicles, small, CRT based televisions, and the primitive nature of the human technology (in particular the tape-based universal translating machine).  This helps to contrast with the alien's advanced technology (which also posseses a retro 1950s feel).  However, one area in which the films production values fall below its 1950s ancestors is in military equipment.  Whilst the original 1950's films featured accurate period military equipment (usually through a combination of stock footage and military surplus equipment from world war 2, although The Day the Earth Stood Still used the Washington National Guard), Mars Attacks! features prominent anachronisms in the form of Soviet T-55 tanks painted in american colours alongside actual American tanks.

Fig 3.  Mars Attacks! [Film still]

* Washington Monument Sequence begins at 2:00 mark


Film 1.  Earth vs The Flying Saucers Trailer (2006) (Accessed on 24/12/2011)

Film 2.  #02 Mars Attacks! - Main Titles (2010) (Accessed on 27/12/2011)

List of Illustrations

Figure 1.  Mars Attacks! Card #22 : Burning Cattle (1962) At: (Accessed on 30/12/2011)

Figure 2.  Mars Attacks! Card #32 : Robot Terror (1962) At: (Accessed on 30/12/2011)

Figure 3.  Mars Attacks! [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 01/01/2012)

Bibliography (1996) Mars Attacks! (1996) [Online] At: (Accessed on 18/12/2011)

Jones, K. R. (1996) Mars Attacks!: the Art of the Movie Titan Books

Maslin, J (1996) Mars Attacks! (1996) In: The New York Times [Online] At: (Accessed on 22/12/2011)

McCarthy, T (1996) Mars Attacks! In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 20/12/2011)

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Plane a Day 27/12/2011

Done just as a doodle, but looking at it now it definitely reminds me of Gerry Anderson's UFO Shado command vehicles...

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Hugo (2011)

I liked this film - the story was good, the pacing steady, and the sets very good.  The opening shot, comparing the streets of Paris to Clockwork was nice, and I liked the way it established the importance of gears and mechanisms to the films visual language.  There were some nice references interspersed throughout the film - I particularly liked the Gare Montparnasse train wreck photo reference.  The 3D worked pretty well, and the special effects were pretty good.  The cast was generally good - Ben Kingsley particularly.

However, I wouldn't be me if I didn't point out the one big gripe I have with the film ^^;

For a film that makes so much use of clocks and clockwork, it was a crying shame that no-one appears to know how mechanical clocks actually work.  I had no problem with the Automaton, and even the gears in the tunnels, but the actual clock mechanisms were just wrong.  This was compounded when a speech about how machines "contain no superfluous components" was given with the character delivering the speech standing in front of gears that a) are not found in any clock and b) would serve no purpose in the running of the clock.

However, since I'm probably the only person who both noticed and cared about that detail, I'd recommend going and watching the film.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Character Design Presentation

Character Design Project

Monday, 21 November 2011

Sidekick Colour Test

I call them "tanned", "sunburned" and "potentially racist".  I'm leaning towards "sunburned", as it just seems more "comedy", plus there's a greater contrast with the villain

Sidekick 3-Quarter sketch

At long last, the stupid sidekick.  Only 5 heads high (and almost as wide)

Villain Colour Test

Trying out different colour combinations for the Villain.  I'm leaning in favour of the left hand one, but what do people think?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Villain 3 Quarter Attempt 1

Good Points:  The pose - looking down on the viewer, I like.

Bad Points:  Outfit a bit bland, and also hides a lot of the distortion to the body.  And the Feet - definitely going to need a redraw on those...

Heroine 3 Quarter View Attempt 1

First attempt at a full-size 3 Quarter view of my Heroine.

Good points:  The shin and arm guards work well (also, I'm amazed at how well the feet came out ^^;)

Bad Points:  Need a lot more work on the clothing, and the pose needs tweaking.

I think I'll give it another go traditionally, and then consider digital if I'm still having problems.

Sidekick Development

Mainly trying to nail down the head shape and body plan, although I also toyed with the idea of a human-sized helmet wedged on his head - unfortunately, that particular helmet is far too vertical, especially for such a horizontal character.

3 Quarter View Pose Tests

Assorted doodles trying to find a good pose for the Heroine and Villain 3 Quarter drawings.

Character Design Project Villain Development...

...and head practice ^^;

Following what Justin said about distorting the proportions of the Villain to make him less "heroic" - the left hand version is the standard 7 heads high, while the one on the right is 8 1/2 heads (with a stretched neck).  Definitely looks more villainous.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Group "commision" Project

Jetpack Jones, along with Galactic Aviator Corp badge and plasma pistol development.  (I quite like the pistol, I think I'll add it to the pile of weapon concepts I need to develop when I have the time...)

And Grok(?), probably needs more work; as Justin said, might be better if second set of arms look "grafted on" even thought gene-splicing wouldn't do that...

Sidekick Development

Continuing the "mythic" feel of the bad guys, I think the sidekick will be a cyclops.  After all, the Iliad was hardly flattering about their intellect, so that fits...

District 9 (2009)

Since it is set in a version of South Africa which appears to be contemporary (based on the vehicles and weaponry, along with details like the laptops and other electronic devices), it is pretty inevitable that it has been compared to both Apartheid and contemporary post-Apartheid descrimination against immigrants (Huddlestone, 2009).  Interestingly however, the South Africa of the film does not appear to have undergone Apartheid; at the very least, no mention of it is made at any point, even though the nominal arrival date of the aliens (28 years ago) would have been less than a decade before the ending of Apartheid in real South Africa.

The first act of the film takes the form of a mock documentary, following the authorities attempts to evict the aliens from the slum town of district 9 to a purpose-built camp away from the city (dubbed district 10).  This introduces the audience to the "world" of the film and its key elements: the aliens, derogatorily reffered to as "Prawns", and the human attitude towards them; Multi-National United, the vaguely sinister trans-national company that seems to have taken over the role of dealing with the aliens, starting with the boarding of the alien vessel; and District 9, the lawless, crime-ridden slum where the aliens are forced to live after a xenophobic backlash against their arrival (as shown in an opening montage of faux-news footage).

The main character of the film, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is initialy a casually xenophobic middle-manager at MNU, put in charge of issuing eviction notices to the aliens in District 9, so that MNU can then "legally" forcibly evict them (as the Telegraph review notes, this is an interesting contrast to the way real slum dwellers are treated - normally they are forcibly removed without prior warning).

Filmclip 1:  Wikus serves Christopher Johnson with Eviction Notice

During the course of the eviction, we are treated to the sight of MNU forces casually burning a nest of young aliens, complete with gleeful commentary from Wikus on the sound of the eggs "popping like popcorn", as well as the only major black characters in the film, the vicious and amoral "Nigerian Gangs" who act as a stand in for all the worst stereotypes of black africans - they exploit the aliens addiction to catfood to con them out of technology, think nothing of killing the aliens, and in a final ignomony, they eat the corpses of the aliens in a form of witchcraft/black magic based upon news reports of "Muti Murders", the supposed real-life killing of albinos for use in traditional medicine.

The second act of the film follows Wikus being transformed by exposure to a mysterious alien "fluid" that is apparently essential to the running of the alien spacecraft.  The transformation is body horror that could be straight from a David Cronenburg film, including Wikus pulling out his fingernails and losing teeth (an obvious reference to Cronenburg's The Fly); following an extremely unpleasant run-in with MNU forces (keen to disect him alive to further their own attempts to develope genetic-modification technology) he is forced to go on the run and ends up hiding in District 9 among the very aliens he had previously treated with contempt.

The third act is the most conventional, with several set-piece action scenes.  In an attempt to regain his human form, Wikus is forced to join forces with an alien (known as Christopher Johnson) who is attempting to restart the spaceship and rescue the aliens.  As the only alien (apart from its young child) the audience is supposed to identify with, Christopher has a greater range of facial expression than the standard aliens, and also demonstrates certain recognisably human manerisms (mainly when talking to his child).  Christopher is also responsible (in a roundabout way) for Wikus's transformation; he had been collecting the mysterious "fluid" that induced the metamorphosis in order to power up the command module of the alien spacecraft.

The film sets fall into 4 main types:  Wikus's home and office, both fairly conventional areas, looking like normal rooms, reflecting Wikus's role as an everyman; District 9, a Shanty Town full of rubbish and detritus, with buildings cobbled together from scrap materials, reflecting the shabby, unloved aliens that inhabit it; The MNU's labs and military vehicles, which are highly utilitarian, with no human touches, reflecting the harsh, unfeeling characters of the MNU mercenaries and scientists; and Christopher Johnson's shack and the shuttle craft underneath, which is festooned with computer parts cobbled together by a maze of wiring.

As an alien film focusing to a large extent upon the aliens, District 9 makes heavy use of special effects.  The aliens are almost exclusively computer generated (according to, the only "real" aliens were the aliens on autopsy tables inside the MNU headquarters), and the execution of the effects is extremely high quality, despite the relatively low budget of the film.  Much of the eponymous District was filmed in a real shanty town which was scheduled to be demolished after its human occupants were relocated to a newly built housing, lending a considerable air of authenticity to the scenes set in it.


Filmclip 1: District 9--Wikus evicts Christopher (2009) (Accessed on 24/12/2011)


Lane, A (2009) Only Human: 9 and District 9 Review (Accessed on 26/12/2011)

Huddlestone, T (2009) District 9 (2009) (Accessed on 08/11/2011) (2009) (Accessed on 14/12/2011)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Often described as one of the most influential Sci-Fi movies ever made, The Day the Earth Stood Still stands out from it's contemporaries for several reasons.

Firstly, it doesn't use aliens as an allegory for the threat of Soviet invasion (the Cold war having just started, and paranoia about possible communist infiltration of America being in full swing); rather, the aliens travel to earth to deliver a message to humanity (an early example of the Sci-Fi cliche, "I come in peace, take me to your leader").  In contrast, the film depicts the US military as almost institutionally aggressive - when the unidentified flying object makes a landing on the lawn outside the Capitol building, the army's first response is to surround it with a cordon of armed troops.  Whilst this is arguably a realistic assessment of what would happen in this situation, it also serves to highlight the human tendancy to act aggressively against the unknown.

Secondly, it is a different type of story to its contemporaries.  Contemporary movies were generally of the "monsters are outsiders" type, for example Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing, reflecting American fears of the Soviet Union; The Day the Earth Stood Still stands out by being of the "monsters are insiders" type, where the "bad guys" are humans like us.  The army take the role of "villain"; although the first shooting of the alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) is arguably an accident, they subsequent imprison him in a hospital room and then hunt him down when he escapes before shooting him in the back when they catch up with him.

The visual effects used in the film were sophisticated for the time, with much use made of optical printing to insert "glows" to represent both the spaceship (while airborne) and the energy ray used by the robot Gort.  However, the effects are primarily concentrated in the opening 10 minutes or so of the film, when the spacecraft lands and Gort first demonstrates his power in retaliation for the shooting of Klaatu.
Video 1: Gort Attacks

Most of the film is spent watching Klaatu interacting with human civilians in an attempt to learn more about the people he may end up destroying, especially widow Helen Benson  (Patricia Neal) and her young son Bobby (Billy Gray).  The interaction between Klaatu and Bobby is interesting, as Klaatu is rather an innocent, asking questions about things "adults" take for granted - for example, he is amazed at the fact that all of the people in Arlington National Cemetery died in wars, and has so little understanding of the value humans place on small, shiny objects that he offers Bobby a couple of priceless diamonds to cover the cost of visiting the cinema; at other times, he talks in an almost omniscient manner - explaining inertia in the manner of a university professor, or casually telling Bobby that "one day, he'll tell him about a type of train that doesn't need rails".  This is helped by the high quality of the acting, especially Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal (Variety, 1951).
Video 2: The Day the Earth stood Still (1951) Part 3

Finally, the film makes extensive use of the Theremin in its soundtrack, along with electric organs and amplified string instruments, leading to it being described as one of the first films with a primarily electronic score (, 2011).  The Theremins (there are 2) provide not only music, but also the sound effects for both the flying saucer and Gort; some credit this film as starting the association between the ethereal sounds of the Theremin and science-fiction films.
Video 3:  The Day the Earth Stood Still: Dialogue-Free Opening


Video 1:  The Day The Earth Stood Still 1951 Gort (2009) (Accessed on 29/10/2011)

Video 2:  THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) Part 3 (2009) (Accessed on 02/11/2011)

Video 3:  Unusual Scoring of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) (2008) (Accessed on (05/11/2011)


Crowther, B (1951) The Day the Earth Stood Still (Accessed on 02/11/2011)

Errigo, A (2011) The Day The Earth Stood Still (Accessed on 28/10/2011), Inc. (2011) The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Trivia (Accessed on 06/11/2011)

NF (2011) The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) (Accessed on 05/11/2011)

Variety Staff (1950) The Day the Earth Stood Still (Accessed on 01/11/2011)

Friday, 4 November 2011

Villain development continued

I think I'm going to go with the right-hand head design - it has a more interesting silhouette

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Villain Head Concepts

Since my Villain is now almost an aquatic Medusa, I tried to mix in elements from a variety of dangerous sea creatures, especially Lionfish, while also trying to think about ancient Greek elements.

Villain Body development

Trying out different stances and proportions for size...

Villain Rethink

After talking to Justin, I realised that I've been looking at the problem wrong.  I've been looking at it as a Costume design project, and I needed to add more of a Creature design approach.

As a result, the villain is getting a few tweaks, so his backstory is now more like Medusa.

Anyway, here's the first doodles.

Creature Design Exercise

The deck of destiny gave me an underwater environment for my creature, and I decided I wanted to try and produce a defensive herbivore, based on a combination of a Horseshoe Crab and a Dunkleosteus

Unfortunately, it turned out to be very difficult to make a creature based on Dunkleosteus that didn't look aggressive and predatory...

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Villain Head Attempt 2

Had another go at the villain, trying to use what Justin suggested.  The left one looks like the villain from Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame to me though...

Oh, and I also tried out a different angle for headgear - a more sinister version of a Laurel Wreath

Monday, 31 October 2011

Style experiments 2

following Phil's advice, I tried out a couple of the different techniques for head construction from the first year.
The small ones are based on the "egg" method from Preston Blair, and the Big ones are the "divided ball and plane" method from Andrew Loomis

Friday, 28 October 2011

Style Experimentation

Following Phil's comment on the previous post, I tried experimenting with different styles.
What do people think?

Thursday, 27 October 2011

trying to nail down how the bandana interacts with her braided hairstyle

Character Design Project Week 6

Robot silhouettes
Viking clothing practice

Justin's tutorial of clothes was really helpful

Hero Costume Concepts

Trying out different variants for the Heroine's outfit

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Heroine Silhouettes 1

Following Justin's suggestion about good characters having clear silhouettes, I tried out a couple of different ideas for my heroine
I like the left hand one, but what do you guys think?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story (2007)

Famous (or infamous) for his unique marketing style, William Castle was a successful B-Movie director in the 1950s and 60s.  This bio-pic tells the story of his career from doing odd-jobs in a Broadway theater to producing a major Hollywood film (Rosemary's Baby).

Although the B-movie films he directed are not the worst examples of the genre (some are reported to be quite good), they have achieved fame as a result of the publicity stunts Castle used to promote them.  Initially, these were relatively tame - hiring nurses to revive any patrons who fainted during the film (accompanied by planting an actress in the audience to pretend to faint); taking out a real insurance policy with Lloyd's of London, insuring the lives of the audience against dying of fright; and hiring a hearse, complete with coffin, to standby outside the cinema "just in case".  It is arguably these stunts that have led people to compare William Castle to famous American showman, P.T. Barnum.  Both became famous through what might now be considered deceptive advertising - Barnum advertised a "mermaid" with a picture of a beautiful merwoman, while the reality was probably a taxidermy chimera of a monkey and a fish.
Fig 1.  Advertising Poster for Feejee Mermaid (Charleston Courier)
Fig 2.  Engraving of Actual Feejee Mermaid
William Castle continued this tradition of using advertising posters that bear little relationship to the film they are promoting (a technique embraced by many B-movies since), but his big contribution to the technique was the use of a "gimmick", which is featured prominently on the posters and other advertising for the films (a technique that doesn't seem to have died yet - see the recent trend in 3D films), in effect turning the "gimmmick" into one of the stars of the film.  Each new film brought a new gimmick, and it was his series of more technical gimmicks (all with names ending in "O") that he is best remembered for -"Emergo", an improvement upon the contemporary craze for 3D, in which objects not only seemed to come out of the screen at the audience, but actually left the screen and moved around the cinema over the audiences heads (in fact, just an inflatable skeleton on a wire than moved slowly over the audience); "Percepto", where certain seats in the cinema were fitted with mechanisms to make them vibrate in order to make the audience jump (and idealy, scream); and "Illusion-o", a modified version of red/cyan anaglyph glasses (dubbed a "Ghost Viewer") which enabled the audience to decide whether they wanted to see the special effect "ghosts" or not.
Fig 3.  Ghost Viewer
As his gimmicks were more complicated than the contemporary anaglyph 3D systems, William Castle added short introductions to his films, in which he explained not only how the gimmick worked, but also "set the scene" for the film itself, often hyping it well beyond what it actually delivered.  Through these introductions, Castle became well known to his target market (roughly speaking, pre-teens) and ended up as big a star of his films as the actual cast (hence the words "A William Castle Production" featuring prominently on the posters); this was helped by his very "hands on" marketing style, in which he would travel around the country as his film opened in different towns, personally drumming up audiences.

William Castle - Introduction to "The Tingler"

This personal showmanship is another parallel to PT Barnum, who also managed to turn his name into a synonym for a particular type of spectacle, where everyone knew that the publicity was better than the reality (indeed, in Barnums case, it was often basically a fraud) but the audience actually enjoyed being fooled, and would often go back for more.  In Castle's case, this was helped by his understanding of what attracted his audience to his films - he believed that people went to see horror films to be entertained first, rather than scared.  As a result, his films are often described by modern critics as "camp" and "silly", but this is perhaps more a reflection on changes in the cinema-going public than the talents of Castle.  However, there is no denying that as audiences became more jaded and cynical, the market for Castle's more "tame" films dryed up - his gimmicks could not compete with increasingly sophisticated special effects, especially as they always reminded the audience that what they were watching was a film (this could perhaps be compared to the rivalry in theatre between Brechtian theatre [which always seeks to remind the audience that what they are watching is a play] and Stanislavskian theatre [which emphasises realism and immersion, famous for its use of method acting]).

Perhaps the tragedy of William Castle is that the gimmicks became more memorable than the films; ask people what they loved about his films when they were younger, and the first answer will almost invariably be "the gimmicks!".  As a result, the critics almost always dismissed his work as second rate or derivitive - indeed, they dismissed him as a sort of low-budget Hitchcock, even though his film Homicidal was arguably better than Psycho (Time magazine, cited in Legends of Horror) (and Hitchcock's insistence that "no one shall be admitted to Psycho after the film has started has definite echoes of a Castle gimmick).  However, there is an argument that he was in fact ahead of his time - compare the moment in The Tingler where the monster supposedly kills the projectionist, then it's shadow crawls across a blank screen, to the scene in Gremlins 2 where the gremlins "take over" the film; or compare Sin City to the following scene (also from The Tingler).

"the tingler"
List of Illustrations

Figure 1.  Advertisement for the Feejee Mermaid from the Charleston Courier, January 1843 At: (accessed on 24/10/2011)

Figure 2.  The Feejee Mermaid, as depicted in Barnum's autobiography  At: (accessed on 24/10/2011

Figure 3.  Ghost Viewer At: (Accessed on 25/10/2011)


William Castle - Introduction to "The Tingler" (2007) (Accessed on 25/10/2011)

"the tingler" (2010) (Accessed on 25/10/2011)

Automat Pictures (2007) Spine Tingler!: The William Castle Story (official site) (Accessed on 25/10/2011)

Vasquez jr, F (2010) Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (Accessed on 25/10/2011)

Zimmerman, S (2005) Legends of Horror - William Castle (Accessed on 25/10/2011)

Friday, 21 October 2011

Character Design Project developement

Just doodling around the heroine - the best thing to come out of it IMO was the middle sword design; more ancient greek in feeling than the conventional strait one on the right.

Trying to develop the villain a bit.  Since he's meant to look more old and frail than he actually is, I quite like the way that the cloak helps sink his head into his torso.  I was having a lot of trouble with the chest armour - I just couldn't come up with a suitable spiky design that didn't look like a reject from Batman's wardrobe.  In the end, I went back to an early doodle and picked a piece that looked more like the crown, rather than a conventional piece of armour.  It also has the advantage of being small enough to (mostly) be hidden by the cloak.
Early Doodle