5 Times Practical Effects Brought Movie Monsters to Life by Tim Nuttall

With our new film, TAR, in its final stages and everyone’s favorite spooky month kicking off, we thought it was time to talk monsters.

In a time of multi-million dollar VFX budgets and CGI worlds, it may feel as if filmmakers can make anything feel real with enough time and money in post-production. But this isn’t so. Audiences have a keen eye for CGI and hate to feel like they’re being lied to. When a filmmaker chooses to make something happen in-camera, in front of their actors, they capture an indescribable feeling.

Here are five instances of profound practical effects that stand out across years of Monster Movies and Creature Features.

1: The Pale Man – Makeup and Physicality in Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth

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While Del Toro’s film about a young girl during the Spanish Revolution is more fairy tale than horror, it is filled with a unique cast of creatures and monsters, the most impactful of which is undoubtedly the Pale Man played by Doug Jones.

Other than green chroma pants used to create impossibly thin rickety legs and VFX eyes in the hands, the dread of the Pale Man comes from the expertly done makeup by DDT Efectos Especiales and the physicality that Jones brings to the monster. The moment the Pale Man opens his eyes for the first time sends a chill down even the most scrutinizing audience’s spine. 

(Catch Doug Jones in the upcoming Del Toro film, The Shape of Water, trailer)

2: The T-Rex – Animatronics in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park

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Maybe the most celebrated example of the power of practical effects is the massive and murderous Tyrannosaurus rex from the original 1993 Jurassic Park. Spielberg brought a prehistoric monster to life and forced audiences, and his actors, to stare it down in an unforgettable “oh sh*t” moment that helped solidify this film as a landmark of movie history.

Two animatronic T-rexes, built by Stan Winston Studios (who will reappear on this list), were used: a forty-foot-long full-sized beast and another, more detailed version built from the torso up for closer shots. The animatronics were built around a complex system of hydraulics, surrounded by chicken wire, wood, steal, and 3 tons of clay, all coated in a foam latex skin.

3: The Babadook – Doing it In-Camera in Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook

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In 2014, Australian director Jennifer Kent flipped the horror-genre on its head with her highly psychological and character-driven The Babadook. Throughout the film, the Babadook appears in many forms, sometimes it’s a human-like monster seen through a window while in other scenes it is a bizarre creature, crawling across the ceiling.

Kent was committed to doing as much as possible in-camera on this film. As she explains, the Babadook is a combination of various effects: puppetry, costumes, stop-motion. These simple effects not only serve to complement the visual style of the movie but create a monster that transforms with the story and serves up simple, tangible scares that will haunt the shadows in your bedroom.

4: Xenomorph and Alien Queen – Costumes and Puppetry in the Alien Franchise

Another classic of the monster movie genre is the horrifying Xenomorph designed by H.R. Giger for Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien. In the original film, Scott makes use of what isn’t seen by the audience to create fear and suspense. The few moments where the audience does see the alien, however, are terrifying because of the life that 7’2 Bolaji Badejo (pictured above) brought to the costume.

In the sequel, Aliens directed by James Cameron, a massive feat of practical effects work was created by Stan Winston Studios around an idea from Cameron: a 14-foot tall puppet of the Alien Queen. With two-stunt men inside, a system of hydraulics, a massive crane and 8-operators in total, the Queen came to life in an unforgettable final showdown that elevated the terror of the Alien universe.

5: Pennywise – Bill Skarsgård’s Subtleties in Andy Muschietti’s It

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Last on our list is the recent horror-hit, It, credited as one of the scariest movies in recent history in no small-part because of Bill Skarsgård’s performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Given the premise of a shape-shifting monster-clown, it is not surprising that the film makes use of visual effects, but the most chilling elements of this movie monster come from what Skarsgård brings to the character.

In the opening scene of the film, as Pennywise attempts to lure Georgie into the storm drain, the audience sees evidence of the inhuman monster underneath. Skarsgård’s face goes blank, drool slips out of his mouth, and his eyes subtly move in different directions. Director Andy Muschietti was prepared to achieve this effect using VFX but Bill was insistent on doing it himself, breathing life into this monster and forcing the audience to squirm in their seats.


If you’re looking for a Halloween scare (or perhaps some costume inspiration?), check out these five incredible examples of movie monsters done right. While it can’t be denied that visual effects and CGI are revolutionizing film, practical effects will always provide something that digital cannot.

But, what is this indescribable thing? Perhaps it is as Montse Ribé of DDT put it:

“Most digital characters lack a soul.”

Learning Differences in Film by Tim Nuttall

Although individuals with learning differences are vastly underrepresented in popular culture, a number of films in the past few decades have found critical acclaim by portraying these individuals and telling their stories. In light of our upcoming documentary (We Are All) Disabled, which aims to change the way people perceive disabilities, here’s a look at how individuals with learning differences have been represented throughout the years.

Rain Man (1988) – Autism

Perhaps the most recognizable portrayal of autism to this day, Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance in Rain Man set a new standard for how learning differences are represented in film. In preparation for the role of Raymond Babbitt, Hoffman took care to represent the autism community with respect and accuracy by studying two individuals with Asperger’s over the course of several months. However, the film’s choice to make Raymond an “autistic savant”—someone on the spectrum with extraordinary skills in math and memory—established a misleading stereotype about autism in general. As a result of Rain Man, people began to assume that everyone on the spectrum possessed such skills, when only some 10% display the pattern.

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Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) - ADHD

Although his learning differences are never outwardly acknowledged, Daniel Hillard’s whimsical, immature antics as Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire make him the quintessential example for undiagnosed ADHD among adults. Played by the incomparable Robin Williams, who himself was diagnosed with ADHD, Daniel learns to balance the responsibilities of being a parent through the love and support of his family. As a result, regardless of whether or not he was intended to have learning differences, Mrs. Doubtfire’s ability to capture the hardships of parenthood has made Daniel an inspiring figure for adults in the ADHD community.

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As Good as It Gets (1997) – OCD

Jack Nicholson’s Oscar-winning performance as Melvin Udall, a misanthropic novelist with ritualistic “compulsions,” is one of the few representations of obsessive-compulsive disorder to date. His rituals—turning the lights on and off five times, not stepping on cracks in the sidewalk, going to extreme lengths to avoid “contamination” from the outside world—get so intense that they start affecting his relationships with other people. However, since Udall also boasts a quirky, emotionally insensitive personality, the film unintentionally makes it appear as though his many social faux pas are also due to OCD, rather than his eccentric nature. In this regard, though the film certainly isn't “as good as it gets” in terms of representing learning differences, Nicholson’s performance was an early step in the right direction.

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 Finding Nemo (2003) – ADHD

One of film’s more overt depictions of learning differences comes in the form of a forgetful blue tang from the Great Barrier Reef. Though Dory’s hyperactivity certainly isn't the focal point of Pixar’s Finding Nemo, her character has become widely relatable to kids who share her difficulties with focus and memory. Rather than portraying her as a victim to her differences, however, both the original and its 2016 sequel Finding Dory also do an excellent job of showing how Dory’s strengths outweigh her weaknesses. Her iconic mantra “just keep swimming” is a powerful reminder that it’s possible to have learning differences without being defined by them

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Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010) - Dyslexia, ADHD

Based on the popular young adult fantasy series by Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief tells the story of Percy Jackson, a twelve-year-old boy with dyslexia and ADHD who discovers he’s the demigod son of Poseidon. Riordan wrote the series for his son Haley, who has dyslexia, ADHD and an affinity for Greek mythology, with the intent to (literally) empower individuals with learning differences. In portraying such individuals as superhuman, Percy Jackson & The Olympians seems to suggest that our differences become disabilities only if we let them. Since the first book, there have been four sequels, two films, and two sequel-series.

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Power Rangers (2017) – Autism

This year’s gritty Power Rangers reboot was a huge win for representation, featuring a diverse main cast, an LGBTQ-identified Yellow Ranger, and most remarkably, a Blue Ranger on the autism spectrum. In remaking an established franchise with a character with learning differences, the film makes strides toward diversity that go beyond gender, race, and sexuality. That being said, Billy’s intersectionality as a character who is both autistic and black is also significant, since people with autism are almost exclusively depicted as white in TV and film. Conscious choices like these set the Power Rangers remake apart this year, giving underrepresented communities a chance to save the world for a change.

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HWP Joins HollyRod Foundation for 2017 DesignCare Gala by Tim Nuttall

Howling Wolf Productions’s own Aaron Wolf once again took the stage at the HollyRod Foundation’s annual DesignCare Gala, leading a silent auction that raised over $150,000 and addressing the star-studded audience in an impassioned speech about growing up with LD. This is the second year in a row that Holly Robinson Peete and Rodney Peete of the HollyRod Foundation have teamed up with HWP for the event, which aims to raise money and awareness for Parkinson’s disease and Autism.

HWP provided media content for the gala, held at boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard’s estate in the Pacific Palisades. Many stars showed their support, with celebrities such as Magic Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Anderson, among others, in attendance.

All New Restoring Tomorrow Plays Beverly Hills by Tim Nuttall

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The stars came out for a very special screening of Restoring Tomorrow last week at the Laemmle Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills. The screening of the never-before-seen, expanded film was in conjunction with the annual Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival.

Among those in attendance were actor Joseph Culp, recording artist and composer Craig Taubman, mogul Michael Jay Solomon and Stranger Things star Matthew Modine. Rabbi Steve Leder also attended joining Wolf for a Q&A following the film, as well as honoring famed LA architect Brenda Levin for her work on renovating and reconstructing the Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

So What Happened? The Rise of the MovieVerse by Tim Nuttall

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Over the past few years we’ve seen the rise of the cinematic universe. Creating a universe goes a step further than the standard sequel. In a cinematic universe multiple films can exist. These films relate to each other beyond story continuity. They share the rules, characteristics, and history of the universe, but tell unique stories.

The most notable cinematic universe at the moment is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Since its inception in 2008 with the first Iron Man film, there have been several installments. Each adds layers of depth to this universe where superheroes and villains are very much a part of reality.

 

A more recent universe, known as the MonsterVerse, createsd a world in which Godzilla and King Kong, amongst other giant monsters, can coexist. In addition, Universal Monsters is kicking off this summer with the release of The Mummy and over time aims to bring all the classic movie monsters into the modern age in one shared cinematic universe. With our upcoming film Tar, we at Howling Wolf love the idea of the cinematic universes moving away from the superhero trend and into the world of monsters.

There are many reasons to enjoy these expansive big screen fictional universes. A universe allows for storytelling on a massive scale. In the MCU there are multiple storylines taking place concurrently. The Iron Man and Captain America trilogies may seem very different than the Guardian of the Galaxy films, but in reality they are all just pieces of a much bigger whole. Telling a story of this magnitude is something that audiences have never experienced before.

This cinematic universe format lends itself to a world of monsters in the same way it does a world of heroes. A universe establishes a tone and sets rules and expectations that connect each movie. The MonsterVerse establishes that monsters are real. With this known there is no telling what horrific creatures inhabit that world. If a massive reptile can crawl out of the water and run riot in San Francisco, who’s to say a giant gorilla can’t live on a remote island in the middle of the ocean. Why would only one monster exist? Once we know our conception of the world is false and beings that defy all logic exist, the door is opened for any number of strange and nightmare inducing creatures to exist, a creature of the Tar for example.

Placing these monsters in a universe ultimately gives greater freedom to the developers. Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island are able to tell two separate and unique stories, despite their underlying connection. These connections are demonstrated through subtle references such as shared terminology. Both Godzilla and Kong use “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms.” Connections like this are a fun way to get viewers more invested.

 The upcoming Universal Monsters films will have the freedom to tell each monster’s story , giving them the time and attention they deserve, and still connect to one another. Knowing that these monsters occupy the same world and have the potential to interact with one another makes it almost weird to imagine a world where they couldn’t. Each new installment in a cinematic universe adds to the richness of the universe’s history, enabling a greater fan community to form.

An added bonus is that this format of storytelling allows audiences to see more of their favorite stars in these franchises. By putting the monsters in the spotlight, the MonsterVerse allows the leads to easily cycle around with each new installment. Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island both featured unique, star studded casts, and it looks as if future installments plan to continue this. The Mummy will be starring Tom Cruise, so it is entirely possible that this universe will follow in the MonsterVerse’s footsteps. It’s nice to finally see the focus being on the monsters that reek havoc on our world.

Based on these trends it seems like the cinematic universe is here to stay. New universes will be developed as old ones come to a conclusion. Creating these universes might be the key to giving these films the depth they’ve been lacking. Maybe the cinematic universe is a trend that will continue transcend to through other genres of film. With Tar on the way, there’s no telling the different ways in which we could expand our own universe, giving it greater depth and a richer history. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

HWP Launches New Show on Truli by Tim Nuttall

The Wolf Pack has partnered with Truli, an online, video subscription network focused on faith-based content, to produce an exclusive show based around Restoring Tomorrow. Aaron Wolf's experiences will be documented as he travels to communities across the nation and around the world sharing the film’s message on hope, faith and history.

Truli offers family entertainment to millions of subscribers and we are thrilled to offer them exclusive content. Keep an eye out for more announcements on this exciting development!

Oscars 2017: The Wolf Pack Weighs In by Tim Nuttall

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This weekend marks the biggest highlight in film all year: the Academy Awards. We’re rolling out the red carpet and sharing our chosen winners for Sunday, so check them out below and let us know what you think!


Best Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea

This film’s non-linear story line engages audiences and gives them the responsibility to piece together this timeline. The non-linear format is executed flawlessly and creates a powerful contrast in emotions between stages of the film. The story is simple and undoubtedly a sad one, but it certainly feels like one worth telling. In addition, character dynamics are strong and natural.


Best Adapted Screenplay: Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures manages to make a film about math consistently entertaining. There are hardly any lulls in action and the three leads are likeable in their own distinct personality. Hidden Figures shares an otherwise unknown piece of history in an exciting way and has the ability to appeal to a wide range of moviegoers.


Best Production Design: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Our pick for production design goes to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for its vibrant and beautifully crafted sets. The film displays an older New York City, very different from any previous depictions. It’s a fun and exciting world for the film’s fantastical events to occur.


Best Original Score: La La Land

La La Land’s beautiful score is both catchy and moving. It perfectly compliments the emotion of each scene, whether fun and uplifting or somber and melancholy. It also does an effective job of conveying the dreamlike theme felt throughout the film.


Best Director: Moonlight

The masterful directing behind Moonlight lends to moving performances and impactful imagery throughout the film. Barry Jenkins deserves the award this year for best director for being able to take audiences through this protagonist’s struggle, broken up into three distinct stages of his life, so seamlessly. He combines unconventional and traditional techniques of narrative storytelling to yield strong emotional reactions from audiences. Cutting away from the narrative to see key characters in an abstract format gives viewers a greater understanding of the psychology of the film.


Best Cinematography: Arrival

Arrival and its anxiety-inducing imagery of landscapes with alien spaceships hovering in the distance is why it earned our pick for best cinematography. Watching Amy Adams ride in a jeep through a grassy field to a strange vessel perched on the horizon is an unforgettable shot that sums up the film’s ominous but oddly beautiful vibe. This is a moving and consequential science fiction story unlike any other that has come before it, and its visually stunning and awe-inspiring camera work secures that.


Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis

Viola Davis is an easy choice despite the strong performances across the board. Fences is an intimate story that relies heavily on the performances of its actors to carry it. Davis demonstrates an astounding level of range on the emotional spectrum.


Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali

Mahershala Ali gives an incredible and memorable performance despite only being present for the first third of the film. The fact that he was able to accomplish so much in so little time is reason enough for him take home the Oscar this Sunday. His portrayal of a drug dealer living in 1970s Miami was full of depth and stuck with the audience long after the film’s credits.


Best Actress: Emma Stone

Emma Stone earns our pick for Best Actress this year with a passionate and authentic performance that ultimately depicts the quintessential Hollywood dreamer. Her performance shows how emotionally taxing it can be to pursue your dreams while simultaneously reminding people why it is they get up every day and go after it. It was not that long ago that Stone herself was in the same position that the struggling actress she plays was in. It is clear that she was able to harness this part of her life to deliver an unforgettable and extremely enjoyable performance.


Best Actor: Casey Affleck

For this personal, a-day-in-the-life story to land, Manchester by the Sea needed an actor who could internalize this character’s struggles and convey those complex emotions. This is exactly what Casey Affleck was able to accomplish. The performance soared with all the subtleties in facial expressions, mannerisms, and tones letting you know the inner pain this character was struggling with.


Best Picture: La La Land

The best picture award more often than not tends to be the most controversial. With so many excellent films released each year, selecting one as the definitive best seems impossible. This year is especially difficult but the Wolf Pack selects La La Land for flawlessly bringing together all the components of filmmaking. The story is simple, but elegant; the acting and directing is solid across the board, suggesting undeniable chemistry not only between cast members, but also crew. But La La Land’s real achievement is in its innovation. It redefines the musical genre. Damien Chazelle and his crew are craft a modern day musical that can be enjoyed by a wide audience, regardless of whether or not one has enjoyed musicals in the past. This unparalleled combination of high quality and mass appeal is why La La Land deserves to take home top honors of the night.

So grab the popcorn, a seat in front of the television and tune in this Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT for a thrilling night in cinema! Who do you think will win?