Some Case Wicked This Way Comes

Well ghosts and goblins, it’s time for part 2 of our month of Disney Halloween! This week, we’re covering one of the scariest and most obscure Disney Live-action releases! 

Everyone knows that the 80s was the scariest decade for Disney movies. In animation, there were dark flops like The Black Cauldron. But live-action was the real horror show. Three of the scariest films ever released by Disney came out during this time, two of which we’ve already covered on this show. They were: The Watcher in the Woods, Return to Oz, and finally now, Something Wicked This Way Comes. 

Tonight, we’re taking you to Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival on the edge of Greentown, Illinois. We’ll walk through the mirror maze as we discover our deepest desires…or our greatest fears. Come join us, won’t you? By the pricking of my thumbs…Something Wicked This Way Comes!

FROM SHORT STORY TO SCREENPLAY TO NOVEL TO SCREENPLAY AGAIN

  • In the early 1930s, a carnival came to the small town of Waukegan, Illinois. Among its visitors, there was a young boy that would grow up to be one of the most famous authors of the 20th century; his name was Ray Bradbury. Even as a child, Bradbury was a fan of horror and fantasy. The first film he ever saw was The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Lon Chaney’s portrayal of the main character inspired him, as did Chaney’s other movies. So, gazing at the mysterious oddities of the traveling carnival sparked Bradbury’s imagination, and gave birth to an idea for one of his most popular novels. 
  • One member of the carnival was a man named Electrico, that would shoot electricity through his body every night as part of his show. Electrico took Bradbury around the carnival to meet everyone there. This encounter was so influential to him, that Bradbury later said that Electrico was largely responsible for his career as an author. 
  • Ray Bradbury drew from these influences for a short story published in 1948 for a horror pulp fiction magazine called Weird Tales. This story followed two boys as they visited a mysterious carnival, with a Ferris Wheel that could change the age of a person by just moving forward or backward. 
  • A few years later, Ray Bradbury met up with actor Gene Kelly. He was really impressed with a film that Kelly had just directed, and Kelly asked Bradbury if he had a story he’d like to make into a film. Bradbury decided to repurpose Dark Ferris into a screenplay. Gene Kelly tried to get funding to make the film but was unsuccessful. So Bradbury re-purposed the story once again into a novel. 
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes was published in 1962. The novel also followed the story of two boys, and how their lives changed when a sinister carnival came to town. The story focuses on the relationships between Will Halloway and his father, and between Will and his best friend, Jim Nightshade. 
    • Will and Jim complement each other, exhibiting opposite traits while remaining best friends. Will is blonde, while Jim has dark hair. Will was born one minute before midnight on October 30th, while Jim was born one minute after midnight on October 31st. As they run together through the town, Will speeds up to keep with Jim, while Jim slows down to keep with Will. 
    • Alternatively, Will’s father, Charles Halloway, and the carnival owner, Mr. Dark, are antagonistic foils. While Halloway represents the light in Will and Jim’s life, Mr. Dark represents the evil threatening to snuff that light out. 
  • This coming-of-age tale steeped in darkness was a big hit, and it was only a matter of time before it would be adapted as a film, as that was Ray Bradbury’s intention for the story before writing the novel. Many producers and directors expressed interest, including Steven Spielberg. But, when director Jack Clayton mentioned to Bradbury his desire to adapt the book, Bradbury handed over his hefty 257-page screenplay. 
    • Clayton worked with Bradbury on a new screenplay, cutting down several pages a day. Together they decided to place the story in the 1930s, because as Clayton would later say, “…children, like the ones Ray had written about, just don’t exist anymore. A carnival coming to town used to be a big event years ago, but now what with the advent of television, something like that hardly causes a ripple.”
    • Another big change was the relationship dynamic between Will and his father. Charles Halloway is an old man in Will’s eyes and the film emphasizes how much this upsets Charles. For the film, Clayton and Bradbury portrayed their relationship as a tense one that deepens over time, while in the book, Charles and Will have a sweeter relationship from the beginning. 
  • After finishing the screenplay, Clayton and Bradbury brought the project to several studios that passed. Eventually, they ended up at Walt Disney. Clayton hadn’t directed a film in 9 years and was excited to get back in the director’s chair. Filming lasted 90 days, from October to December, and took place almost exclusively on the Disney lot and the Disney ranch. In fact, the water tower shown in the movie is the Disney water tower, re-painted to say Greentown!

SYNOPSIS

It’s late October in Greentown, IL when a strange carnival comes to town. Best friends Will and Jim go exploring and discover that under its friendly facade, the festival is much more sinister than it seems. As adults in the town start to go missing, the boys realize that the carnival feasts on the desires of men and uses them to do their bidding. 

MAKING OF

Usually, we run through the facts of how a movie is made, but this week we’re doing something a little different. We understand that this movie is fairly obscure, and many listeners may not have seen it–or at least maybe it’s been a long time. So, we’re going to run through some of the biggest scenes in the film while discussing how it was made! Hopefully, this will give listeners more context. 

The top portion shows the matte painting. The middle shows the matte painting and the projection. The bottom image shows the final product.
The top portion shows the matte painting. The middle shows the matte painting and the projection. The bottom image shows the final product.
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes begins with an ominous and energetic theme, written by the late great composer James Horner. Originally, the score was written by another composer, Georges Delerue. Disney felt that his score was too somber for modern audiences, and made the switch to Horner, much to Jack Clayton’s dismay. But, Ray Bradbury ultimately agreed that Horner truly brought the magic with his score. (Here is a link to some of the original music for you to enjoy!) 
  • The first image on-screen is the train, bringing Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium carnival to town. This scene was originally CGI, but it was eventually deemed to be too hokey for the dark and menacing tone of the beginning. Throughout the film, there aren’t very many visual effects. This was due to the fact that TRON was in production at the same time, and took most of the focus in terms of effects. Jack Clayton also fought against the use of too many effects, leaving more for the audience’s imagination. 
    • The title sequence was actually a practical effect, with the letters of the title appearing to look like liquid. It was actually re-dyed milk on a metal plate.
  • “First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.” When the audience sees Greentown for the first time, we hear a narrator introduce the story. The first spoken line was also the first line of the book’s prologue. When filmmakers decided they wanted narration, they had Ray Bradbury himself record it. But, as Ray himself put it, he “didn’t do a very good job.” 
    • The beginning establishes the main characters and the setting. We see Tom Fury, a lightning-rod salesman, walking down the road with Greentown, IL in the distance. Of course, the town is fictional and not actually along that road. So, the footage of Tom Fury was combined with a matte painting of the town. This effect was used several times in the film. The matte paintings are put onto glass and an area is left open where the live-action shots are projected. It is composited in this manner and filmed together to produce the final result we see. (You can see this in the picture above.)
      • This beginning is meant to seem quiet and mundane. Jack Clayton said,  “You can only make a fantasy – or even a farce for that matter – only provided you root the beginning in reality. Something Wicked starts very normal-ly and from that…it’s just my theory, whether it will work or not we will just have to wait and see.” 
    • The production team built the entire town square on the lot, and Bradbury said it was so similar to the town he grew up in, that he felt like he was visiting home again. Many of the sets were composites, meaning they were actual buildings with several enclosed rooms and floors, and many of them were connected. 
      • Many of the outside scenes were shot in the early part of the day to get a gloomier look. When this wasn’t possible, the production team would “silk” over the top of the set to soften the natural light. 
    • Just after the narration introduced Will and Jim, we see them running through the town, ending up at the library. Many of these shots are continuous, and the camera was mounted on a car so it could follow the running boys. 
  • “But I suppose that this is really the story of my father.”
    • The library that Will and Jim enter was a detailed set, designed to look like the Carnegie libraries donated to many small towns in the 1920s. This scene introduces Charles Halloway, Will’s father, and sets up his dilemma of being a man too old to keep up with his growing son. This is also where we learn that Jim doesn’t have a father, though he pretends that his father writes to him. 
      • Jack Clayton didn’t like doing several takes with young actors because their acting tended to fall apart after saying the same lines over and over again. So, scenes like this have very minimal cuts. 
    • Now that the film has implied Charles’ desire to be young, we see him interact with the other adult characters. This scene sets up their unique wants, as the barber wishes to be with women, the cigar store owner wants money, and the barkeep wishes to be an athlete again. 
    • After this, Charles encounters the first piece of the carnival in his own town, the “most beautiful woman in the world” encased in ice. The red ring on her hand glows, which was one of the many visual effects that producers added after the first cut of the film was too ambiguous. Clayton and Bradbury didn’t initially agree that audiences needed to see effects to understand the magical aspects of the film, but felt that most of the effects added did enhance the story. 
  • The Carnival arrives
    • Will and Jim are safely home in their beds when they awake to the sounds of a train. Their bedrooms were composite sets, and very difficult to film in. So, sometimes the ceiling had to be taken out in order to fit all the filming equipment. 
    • The boys sneak out of their windows and run to see the train. This scene was shot on the Disney ranch, and bright lights were flashed on the boys’ faces to make it appear as if a train was passing by. The moment that the train stops, a carnival appears out of nowhere. 
      • Filmmakers used miniatures to show the carnival as a whole, while individual sets were built for the actors to interact with. 
      • In this scene, we meet the dust witch character for the first time. She’s dressed in a black costume of spider lace. In the book, the witch is more fairytale-like, but in the movie, they combined this character and “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Ray Bradbury loved the costume for this character. 
    • After Will returns home from seeing the carnival, he confronts his father who was also out late. This encounter shines a light on the tension in their relationship. Instead of using multiple cameras to shoot this scene, they utilized the lighting to get the audience to focus on specific characters at certain times. The key light is on Charles, played by Jason Robards, because this scene is about him and his regrets. 
  • “It’s just an ordinary carnival” 
    • The boys return to the carnival in the daytime, and are almost disappointed to discover that it is a seemingly ordinary carnival that just looked evil at night. But, while they explore, the audience witnesses the adults become consumed by their own desires. 
    • The boys walk past a tent of dancing women, and Will wants to keep walking. But, Jim peeps through a hole in the fabric to watch the dancing ladies. 
      • Set designers specifically made the carnival appear weathered and broken down, with ripped canvases and unkempt attractions. It added to the creepy aesthetic, but it also proved how old the carnival itself was. 
      • This scene replaces a moment in the book, when Jim witnesses something happening with adults in their bedroom at night. Will wants to keep walking, but Jim can’t tear himself away. This speaks to the difference in their characters and how even though they are the same age, they are at different places mentally. 
    • The boys sneak into the off-limits part of the carnival and run into Mr. Dark, the man that runs the place. At first, his face is shrouded in darkness to symbolize the presence of his evil. 
      • Before sending the boys away, he shows the boys the shifting tattoos on his hands, which seems to be his carnival trick. To achieve this effect, the director projected the image of a kaleidoscope onto Jonathan Pryce’s arm. 
  • The backward carousel
    • Convinced that something strange might happen at night, the boys stay behind and sneak back into the carousel’s tent. They watch as the ride runs in reverse, lowering the age of the man riding it until he becomes a little boy!
    • Filmmakers used a real carousel for the scene that they found on Long Beach. They took it apart and shipped the parts to Los Angeles, where it was rebuilt on the sound stage. 
      • The director overlayed past frames to get the dragging, blurred effect as the carousel ran.
    • The man, Mr. Cooger, is one of the carnival owners in the book. He turns into a little boy to do Mr. Dark’s bidding. The boy that played this role was very young and didn’t really understand what was happening. This helped bring a creepiness to the character. 
  • The talk on the porch
    • After returning home, Will has another talk with his father. It’s in this scene that we realize that Will almost drowned as a younger child, and Charles was unable to save him. Will had been saved by Jim’s father, and Charles has felt like a failure ever since. 
    • This scene was cut up by the studio, making it one of the choppier scenes in the movie. It also has the tightest close-ups in the entire film, as it’s an important moment for both characters. 
    • At the end of the scene, Will challenges his father to climb up the side of the house and into his bedroom window. Charles refuses, because Jack Clayton felt it would build the tension between the two characters. 
      • In the book, Charles rises to the challenge and almost falls. But Will saves him, setting up the final act when Charles must rise to the challenge of saving his own son. 
  • Seeing something they shouldn’t
    • Miss Foley, Jim and Will’s teacher, looks into her mirror and sees a younger version of herself. She so desperately wants to be young again, and suddenly becomes her younger self…but immediately goes blind. 
      • To create this sequence, filmmakers used a sodium vapor technique that predates green screens. It’s a version of matte photography that allowed them to overlay images in a realistic way. 
    • After seeing the magical power of the carousel, Jim also gives into his desire to be grown, and heads to the carnival to make his wish come true. Luckily, Will stops him. The boys discover all the adults in the town under the tent, and Mr. Dark has Tom Fury, the lightning salesman strapped to an electric chair. Mr. Dark demands Fury tell him when the next storm is, for storms wash away the carnival.  
    • The sky in this scene was created by using a cloud tank. The bottom layer of the tank is salt water, while the top layer is freshwater. Various liquids are injected into the tank to create clouds! 
    • From this point on in the movie, a lot of visual effects were added to enhance the story. This involved adding hand-drawn animations of dust, smoke, and glowing objects. A green, hand-drawn smoke follows Will and Jim as they run home. 
  • The Spider scene
    • The first cut of Something Wicked did not do well with audiences. The film went through major cuts, and some re-shoots were done for the ending. Originally, there was a scene that involved a giant hand reaching into Will and Jim’s bedrooms. The hand was animatronic, and didn’t seem to look real enough to keep the scary tone of the movie. 
    • So, about one year after initial filming, the actors that played Will and Jim had to return to shoot a new scene that involved hundreds of tarantula spiders. Jack Clayton had to be careful which angles to shoot the boys from, because it was obvious that they had grown. In fact, the actor that played Will had to wear a wig.
    • The scene features a lot of real spiders, which gave most of the crew a bad allergic reaction. The special effects team also built animatronic spiders, but they didn’t match up to the real ones. So, the spiders under the blankets on the boys’ beds are actually animatronic. 
  • The Parade
    • After experiencing the horrible night terror of the spiders in their beds (a vision sent by the Dust Witch, presumably), Will and Jim are certain that Mr. Dark is searching for them because they’ve witnessed too much. 
    • Mr. Dark leads a parade through the town, and for the first time, we see all the people that he has tricked and transformed, but none of the other townsfolk seem to care. Charles Halloway notices when a young boy shows up, wearing the exact clothes of the barkeep, a man that had lost his leg and arm. The little boy catches a football the exact same way the barkeep would, confirming Charles’ suspicion that something nefarious is going on. 
    • Mr. Dark approaches Charles and asks about Will and Jim, showing him tattooed images of them on his hands. The images were photos of the boys that the make-up department had to draw on Jonathan Pryce’s hands. When Charles refuses to give the boys up, Mr. Dark closes his hand so tightly, that blood drips from it. This effect was achieved with a simple sponge with cosmetic blood. 
  • “By the pricking of my thumbs” 
    • The most intense scene of the film takes place in the library, as Will and Jim hide from Mr. Dark. Charles tries to hold him off, buying the boys more time, but Mr. Dark proves to be too powerful. This was Ray Bradbury’s favorite part of the movie. Jonathan Pryce and Jason Robards (who played Charles) were able to act out the scene over and over to give the director lots of different options for the final cut. The scene took a week to shoot.
      • This scene involves pages being ripped from a book. As each page falls to  the floor, it glows. An animator has to use rotoscoping to trace the images frame by frame to add the effect. 
    • This is the scene where the audience learns about Mr. Dark and who he truly is. They are “the hungry ones” that feed off the desires of men. As Mr. Dark attempts to tempt Charles, he quotes the song, “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The song is heavily featured in the book, and Ray Bradbury felt it appropriate for the story. Mr. Dark is mocking the idea of love and goodwill. 
    • Mr. Dark then breaks Charles’ hand, solidifying his defeat. This was a prosthetic hand, and the scene was initially too gory and had to be cut down. Mr. Dark then finds the boys and steals them away, as a Dust Witch gives Charles a “taste of death.” As Mr. Dark pulls the boys away, he shuts off the barber pole in the town, symbolizing the end of life. 
  • The Mirror Maze
    • When Charles awakes, he runs to the carnival to save the boys and gets trapped in a mirror maze. This was another scene that needed to be re-shot. If you look closely, Will is wearing the same wig in this scene that he wears in the spider sequence. 
      • Originally, the scene showed Charles running through a series of mirrors with older men without their false teeth on the other side. This represented his fear of being too old, but the climax didn’t work well with the test audiences. 
      • So, the story was changed, and Charles instead saw the memory of him failing to save his son. Special effects artists added rounded edges to the mirrors so that the audience understood that he was looking in a mirror and not a screen or a doorway. 
    •  Charles is able to break through the mirror and save Will, as Tom Fury defeats the Dust Witch. But, their troubles aren’t entirely over until Mr. Dark accidentally falls victim to his own tricks and is forced to age rapidly on the carousel. 
      • This scene was far too extensive in the original cut, which made the audience laugh. 
    • The scene ends with the carnival being swept up in a cloud that was created with a cloud tank. The miniature carnival was shot upside-down, and filmmakers simply dropped the pieces from the ceiling!
    • After the carnival is swept away, Will, Jim, and Charles all head skipping back to Greentown. The light on the Barber’s Pole flicks on again, and everything seems to be okay. 

STARRING

  • Vidal Peterson as Will Halloway
    • He also played the elder in Mork and Mindy!
  • Shawn Carson as Jim Nightshade
    • This was his biggest role.
  • Diane Ladd as Jim’s mother Mrs. Nightshade
    • Diane has been in many films including National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
  • Jason Robards as Will’s father Charles Halloway
    • Jason had several credits, such as Little Big League and Parenthood to name a few.
    • He was Ray Bradbury’s first choice for the character! The two got to know each other well during filming. 
  • Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark
    • Jonathan has also been a well-known actor in things as recent as Pirates of the Caribbean and The Crown.
  • Royal Dano as Tom Fury
    • He was in a lot of things, even Killer Klowns from Outer Space!
  • Pam Grier as the Dust Witch
    • Pam is an influential woman who starred in blaxploitation films in the 70’s like Foxy Brown. She now has an autobiography Foxy: My Life in Three Acts. 

RECEPTION

  • When the test audience watched Something Wicked This Way Comes, they did not give it a good reception. According to Ray Bradbury, at least ¼ of the film had to be changed. 
  • The movie was a commercial flop, making only about half of its budget. It’s not available to stream, and is still relatively obscure. But, Ray Bradbury was incredibly proud of it. 
  • The movie won two Saturn Awards for Best Fantasy Film and Best Writing. It was also nominated for several other awards, including best director. 
  • In 1983 Roger Ebert gave it three and a half stars and wrote “It’s one of the few literary adaptations I’ve seen in which the film not only captures the mood and tone of the novel, but also the novel’s style…In its descriptions of autumn days, in its heartfelt conversations between a father and a son, in the unabashed romanticism of its evil carnival and even in the perfect rhythm of its title, this is a horror movie with elegance.”

Something Wicked This Way Comes is dark and magical. Pressing play on this film is like opening a time capsule to 1980s Disney, when they weren’t afraid to get truly scary. The film is frightening for children and adults alike, but for different reasons. For children, the fears are literal, like darkness and spiders. For adults, the frights are more abstract: like failure and weakness. And this story makes us all face the question: If you were faced with the chance to fulfill your deepest desires, what price would you pay? 

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The Historical Case of the Horror Film: Part 1

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We often find February to be frightfully boring. It’s cold, dark, and lacking in fun holidays (I’m looking at you, Valentine’s Day). So, we’re jazzing this February up with some episodes on Horror! 

Ever since there has been life, there has been fear. It’s a constant, a truth, something that unites us all. And when humans gathered together to share their fears, those horrors became stories. Eventually, those stories made their way onto film. 

Horror is tricky. It’s a genre that many people love or hate–with no in-between. Some people write off many films belonging in the genre as low-budget and lacking in worthwhile stories or development. Others will simply say that they prefer not to be scared, and leave horror unexplored. Although scary movies are popular, they still sit on the fringe of mainstream filmmaking. Horror films rarely win prestigious awards. It’s a genre built for the masses; born in counterculture, and thriving in social deviance. 

So today, we’re exploring the history of this fascinating film genre. Things might get a little hairy…or slimy…or just downright grotesque. If you are faint of heart, gather close, and remember: it’s only a podcast…it’s only a podcast.

THE BEGINNING OF A NIGHTMARE

  • Horror is everywhere, and it has existed as long as humans began telling stories. You will find it in ballads, folklore, and mythology. Some of our favorite stories today were once horror stories, but time and technology have dulled the fears of the past. Horror is ever-evolving, and it’s shaped by whatever is the prevailing fear of the day. 
  • Although it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly where it started, it is easy to see who refined the genre and shaped it for the coming generations.

HORROR’S FOUNDING FATHERS

  • Edgar Allen Poe is considered by many to be the father of Horror. He used literary techniques that enhanced the anxiety of the reader. One of these was first-person narration, which added a layer of realism by drawing the reader into the character’s account of the story. These situations are far scarier when we feel like they are happening to us.
    • Poe shaped horror literature with stories like, “The Tell-tale Heart,” a first-person account of a man going mad with guilt. The common themes of guilt and madness give the story a lasting appeal, and it is still adapted today (Spongebob being a notable example.)
    • Because the themes of Poe’s works were so universal, he has been adapted more than any other horror author.
  • But other authors around the same time also made an impact on the horror we know today. Horror writer Stephen King has cited three novels: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as the foundation of horror. These stories are perfect examples of the three types of monster: man-made, self-made, and back-from-the-dead. 

THE FIRST HORROR FILMS

  • Moving pictures changed the world. Early filmmakers astounded audiences with the concept. But as time went on, audiences got used to the marvel of the moving image. Not long after viewers were famously cowering at the footage of an oncoming train, they were happily spending time in picture houses, handing over money to see the latest creations from artists like George Méliès, Thomas Edison, and the Lumiere Brothers. 
  • The shock had worn off, and creators could no longer rely on the sheer novelty of movies. So, they started using it to tell stories; and some of the most popular stories were the scary ones. Film was remarkable in that it could simulate life. And once audiences got used to that, it was only natural to simulate things beyond life–the fantastic, the unbelievable, and the horrific. 
    • Horror made its way into movies during the very early days of film history. You see, for many people, just the idea of moving pictures was horrifying. For the first time they saw real people that were moving and living their lives…but that weren’t actually there. They were stuck in some sort of black and white realm, without sound or escape. In this sense, every early film was terrifying; and it meant film and horror were a perfect match.
  • The Lumiere Brothers, two of the most influential film pioneers, made several short “spook tales” (they weren’t called horror movies back then) in the 1890’s. Spook tales were often created with the same techniques that spirit photographers had been using for a couple decades, and also drew influences from expressionist painters. Remember the word expressionist, because it has a strong tie to the horror genre. 
  • George Méliès, the stage-magician-turned-filmmaker who was renowned for his pioneering visual effects (listen to that episode please) is credited with the first narrative horror film! It was three minutes long and has a few titles, but we know it as, “The Haunted Castle.” 
    • Méliès continued to shock audiences with his incredible advances in special effects, making the impossible a reality for movie-goers. He created his pieces of art in his special glass studio, employing groundbreaking techniques like stop-motion and coloring his film.
  • Do you remember Stephen King’s trilogy of horror novels, mentioned earlier? Well, those stories were also some of the first narratives to make it to film as well. In 1908, Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde got its first film adaptation, though like many early films, it has been lost. 
  • Thomas Edison also got in on the fun, and is also credited with some early horror as well, even if not intentional. Some will point to his infamous film depicting the electrocution of Topsy the Elephant as another example of early horror. The film was intended to show the dangers of Alternating Current. This is an example of someone using graphic imagery to instill real world fears into an audience. It’s important to note that Edison also electrocuted other animals for this purpose, though Topsy is the most famous. 
    • In 1910, Edison created the first adaptation of Frankenstein. At this time, there started to be resistance to horror, an unfortunate and ultimately predictable response from those that felt it insulted their delicate sensibilities. Because of this, Edison cut the story to fit a 14 minute runtime, and published a press release stating that changes to the story were made so the film wouldn’t offend audiences. The movie was a commercial failure.
  • Horror, as a genre, responds to the times. It’s ever-evolving, changing to meet the fears of its audience. The history of horror films is a history of the world, but more than that, it’s a history of human response to the events of the world. 
    • Much like early horror stories, the earliest films focused on the themes of religion and good vs evil. The word monster even has the latin root “Monstrum” which translates to “divine warning.” These movies harnessed the fear of eternal damnation, with monsters committing sins on screen, and the heroes using religious talismans to defeat them.
      • For example, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde shows the consequences of interfering with God’s design. 
    • Another prominent fear of the time was science, especially since science seemed to interfere with religious ideals. A mad scientist creating a man from the mutilated corpses of other men? That doesn’t seem to be in God’s plan. 
    • By the mid-1910’s, the world was engaged in a terrible war that wiped out an entire generation of young men. Suddenly, reality became more terrible than anything that a screen magician could create. The so-called “War to end all Wars” was so instrumental in the development of Horror films, the aftermath of the conflict is still affecting movies today. 
    • In an article for Vice, Seth Ferranti interviews historian W. Scott Poole about the effect the war had on the genre. Veranti writes: “A whole conceptual world died. Certain ideas about the nature of the human being, and optimism about the human future became impossible in a world of poison gas, machine guns, and shells that could tear a human being in half.” 
    • When asked why he believes that the war was responsible for modern horror, Poole explains: “What I have seen in the writings of veterans, including those who became some of the first horror auteurs, is a desire to compulsively relive the trauma over and over again. Horror is a language of trauma.”
      • The war introduced new kinds of fear: Mutilation, dismemberment, and the ghosts of those that died in horribly tragic ways. Film monsters would have missing limbs, reflecting injuries that many sustained in the war. 
  • Due to a ban on foreign films, the German film industry boomed during and directly after the war. The horror films that came from this period were heavily influenced by German expressionist arts. The sets were abstract, representing emotional themes and the mental state of the characters.
    • This concept has lasted throughout horror. Have you ever noticed the scenery change in a horror movie based on the mood of a character? Sometimes it even happens when we’re afraid in real life, when our senses are heightened. 
  • The German expressionist films of the 1920’s featured prominent fears of the time. Mental illness and losing control over your mind or body were more fears caused by the war, and the PTSD that soldiers now dealt with.
    • “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari” dealt heavily with mental illness, as it deals with a protagonist wrongfully imprisoned in a mental hospital, facing an evil doctor. However, the film is framed in such a way that the audience doesn’t know who is sane. This kind of uncertainty gives the audience a feeling of unease, and is a technique still used today as well. Does everyone remember the Leonardo D’Caprio movie Shutter Island?
      • Roger Ebert in his review of Caligari: ”A case can be made that ‘Caligari’ was the first true horror film. There had been earlier ghost stories and the eerie serial ‘Fantomas’ made in 1913-14, but their characters were inhabiting a recognizable world. ‘Caligari’ creates a mindscape, a subjective psychological fantasy. In this world, unspeakable horror becomes possible.”
    • Building on mental illness, the screenwriter for Dr Caligari famously plagiarised Bram Stoker’s Dracula and created the horror classic: Nosferatu. 
      • Although the story was completely lifted from Dracula, director F.W. Murnau essentially created the movie vampire archetype, and his features have been famously used again and again.
      • This particular film had a heavy dose of realism with some of its scenes, and it reflected fears relating to sex and women. Of course, the nature of Dracula is sexual, and we will talk about that more later. But Nosferatu also showcased the fear of women in power, of women not being under control (sleep walking), and also explored disease, since the Spanish Flu epidemic was still fresh in everyone’s mind. 
    • Because the sensation of going to the movies felt so much like sleeping (dark room, strange images) sleep was a common topic as well. Monsters in these movies often strangled people in their sleep, which was effective to an audience seated in the dark.
    • Many of these films also reflected sexual politics. Like the issues of promiscuity, especially from women. The German film “Warning Shadows” is about a woman being stalked by shadows, warning her of the consequences of flirting with party guests (sheesh.) 
  • As German filmmakers immigrated to the US, Expressionism followed, influencing horror films for decades to come.AMERICAN FILMS OF THE 1920’S
    • The films of the 1920’s showed the truths of the time. These truths showed the doubt that the film-makers felt towards the sentiment that all men were created equal. The KKK and war were two of the most forthright examples of this inequality.
    • Lon Chaney
      • We’ve talked about The Man of a Thousand Voices, Mel Blanc, but now we can talk about someone many refer to as The Man of a Thousand Faces, Leonidas “Lon” Chaney. At this time looks were everything because it was still the time of silent film. Lon mastered disappearing into roles, with the help of make-up and physical performance. Since his parents were deaf, he had learned to amplify his emotions through facial expressions and movement. 
      • Lon is known as America’s first horror movie star and the monsters that he often played on screen were ordinary men turned outwardly monstrous by cruel fate and inwardly monstrous by the cruel actions of humankind. 
      • Loss was a fear among this time. It was the loss of family members from the war and the loss of limbs (and the loss of alcohol due to Prohibition.) American life was tough at this time and Lon Chaney’s outsider personas represented the dark side of life.
      • Two of Lon’s movies that survived and are excellent examples of this are: the 1923 Hunchback of Notre Dame and the 1925 Phantom of the Opera.
        • These movies also gave rise to the romantic love viewed as what we would call today… a Beauty and her Beast. 
      • Towards the middle and late 1920’s silent films would begin to become a thing of the past and “talkies” the new form of cinema. 
    • After facing the horrors of war just before the 1930’s America would be hit hard again but this time by the Stock Market crash of 1929. It was then that Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
    1930’S
    • In the 1930’s, horror got a new voice when Tod Browning’s Dracula took America by storm. This was the first of the Universal movie monsters, and it is a perfect example of the types of film audiences were yearning for. It was quickly followed by Frankenstein, an incredibly successful adaptation of Mary Shelley’s work, starring a fairly unknown Boris Karloff. American horror in the 1930’s took place in far off lands, and featured supernatural elements. While the horror of the 1920’s expressed how people were feeling, the horror of the 1930’s served as escapism for depression-era audiences. 
    • The first four years of the 1930’s is considered the Golden Age of Horror, as films produced villains that viewers identified with, and created stories that sparked imaginations.
    • A combination of that escapism and the novelty of the talking picture skyrocketed horror into the mainstream. Audiences’ mental health had been ravaged by the depression, so this type of horror seemed “safer,” lacking the grotesque and uneasy sensibilities of the 1920’s silent horror. The ability to hear a monster changed everything about how audiences would perceive them, and the advent of sound forced filmmakers to reinvent horror.
    • On her site, Horrorhistory.com, Karina Wilson says about this time: “Filmmakers of the time were drawn to the Genre That Didn’t Have A Name Yet because of the opportunities these dark tales offered to break taboos, exploring the lurid and sensational as well as probing deep into the sexual and criminal elements of the human psyche. The characters in these movies lived in out-of-the-way and out-of-time-places, outside the usual boundaries set by moral conventions or even the laws of physics. On screen, they had the freedom to run amok, flirt (even with the same sex), consume all manner of illicit potions, use violence to get their way, kill and — most blasphemously — create new life. It was inevitable someone would come along to spoil the fun.”
    • In 1934, all film changed forever with the introduction of the Hayes Code. The code unsurprisingly focused some rules at the horror genre, specifically stating that all movie monsters must die by the end of the film. (This explains why every disney villain got got.) 
      • Moral leaders of America (that we talked about in our MPAA episode please listen) were outraged by this type of entertainment, and argued against characters committing heinous acts in an entertaining way.
      • Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein showcased the concept of sympathetic monsters. Although audiences may have grown to love the characters, the film killed them off due to the Hayes Code.
    • Increasing censorship and lack of new ideas caused the American horror film to grow stale as the 1930’s marched on. Increased anxiety about turmoil in Europe hearkened back to the ghosts of WWI, and the fears of real life began to creep onto the screen. At this time, film’s most horrible monsters were human.
    1940’S
    • By the end of the 1930’s, horror had declined drastically, a long fall from the golden age of Dracula and Frankenstein. The production code even removed lines from previous movies that it deemed too offensive. The early 1940’s was a rough time for horror. This shows how detrimental censorship can be to art. When horror wasn’t allowed to reflect the times, the art suffered.
    • The 1940’s horror started with the mad scientists, villains that seemed just vanilla enough to not be too upsetting. In these types of films, the villain was science, not the scientist. They often seemed like victims of pride, a lesson audiences grew tired of learning. 
      • These films also introduced more romantic plots in horror movies, which was very different from the loveless depictions of sex and promiscuity of the 1920’s.
    • Screenwriter Curt Siomak had a Jewish background and fled Germany. He penned the screenplay for The Wolf Man, creating a story about someone who feels unwanted and outcast. The story was heavily influenced by his feelings of the war.
    • By 1941, the fear of the looming war was completely realized for Americans, and the memory of the not-so-distant Great War sat at the forefront of viewers’ minds. For this reason, the monsters of the past were given a little bit of a make-over to seem more campy and less horrific. 
      • Most of the time when war happened horror would try to keep up in shock value, but this time was different. Some Film-makers realized the immense real fear and horror at the images and video of the holocaust. Not only could they not compete with that but they knew their audience had changed. In order to accommodate this they jived the genre up by releasing more light hearted horror where old monsters were made to be just a bit sillier. An example of this would be that the Invisible Man became the Invisible Agent(1942.)
      • The most upsetting imagery to come from the 1940’s was from the aftermath of the Holocaust. There was absolutely nothing that movies could show audiences that would be nearly as terrifying. Hitler’s rise and his atrocities rocked the world. 
    • Since WWII was costly, many studios had to approach film with a minimalistic style. This would not only save them money but also be an artful approach to how films would be made. In the darkest imagery Americans could imagine their own worst fears coming to life.
    • Horror in children’s films
      • Due to the change in audience for horror, especially with some being toned down, horror began to be thought of as something for children. It began to trickle into animation. Walt Disney would even dabble in its use with smaller scares. An example of this would be in Pinocchio when the children are being turned into donkeys. This scene is actually quite harrowing for some children, but for those that enjoyed this scene it was clear that they would be prone to enjoying more horror.

The history of horror is as long as the history of film. Today, we talked about how it went from the outskirts of popularity to the mainstream, and then how it suffered from censorship and lack of ideas. But as years went on, past the 1940’s and beyond, horror continued to evolve. Sure, you could say there are mainstream horror films, but horror isn’t made for the mainstream. Horror is a genre of outcasts, and appeals to the outcast in all of us. As Horror evolves still today, it is quite possibly the most studied of all genres because it’s such a clear picture of the human experience. 

This was just part one of our exploration into the realm of the Macabre. Don’t fear, we have more frightening history on the way…


SOURCES:

The Case of Stop-Motion

93939748_1550399291786850_2616081802812456960_nIn the NBC sitcom Parks and Rec, there’s an episode in which Ben Wyatt attempts to make a “clay-mation” video. He has been working on the project for weeks, meticulously moving his clay subject and capturing stills with his camera. It isn’t until he shows the video to his friend Chris that he realizes the heart-breaking truth: the project he’s been working on for weeks has only yielded a 10-second video. 

It’s moments like this that teach us that stop-motion isn’t just a technique, it’s an art. We all know that animation takes patience, but none so much as stop-motion animation. Animators spend years meticulously creating hand-built sets and characters, moving their pieces millimeters at a time for at least 24 frames every second so the audience can watch it all come to life. 

Today we are taking a look at one of the most beautiful and painstaking animation techniques, and how it’s been winning the hearts of audiences one frame at a time. 

What is Stop-motion

  • Stop-motion is an animation technique that has been around as long as drawn animation, if not longer. It consists of an animator moving a physical subject and taking photos of each new position. When the images are played in sequence, it appears that the subject is moving. 
    • In an article by Focus Features, producer Travis Knight was quoted, “It’s a process that dates back to the dawn of cinema, with a charm and a warmth and a beauty that other forms of animation – wonderful as they are – do not have. And because you effectively get one opportunity to get it right, every shot is a high-wire act. Generations of aspiring animators have, and continue to, experiment with it in their parents’ basements or garages. It is a magical moment for you when something is brought to life.”
  • Directors create stop-motion with clay, puppets, dolls, or any physical object that they can manipulate, captured by a still camera
  • Just like regular film making, it’s a marriage of different art forms to create a new and interesting product. Stop-motion is more involved than drawn animation, and takes more time. And of course, it takes even more time than computer generated animation. Just like other types of animation, each frame must be considered individually and also as part of the whole. 
  • Before we talk about the history of Stop-motion and its evolution, let’s talk about photography and the role it plays in this process 

Photography and how it relates to stop-motion

  • Important camera pioneers that helped to make Stop Motion possible
    • Edweard Muybridge
      • Although we have mentioned Edweard in past episodes he is yet again very important. In his June 1878 horse experiment he demonstrated that one is able to show movement through a series of photographs taken in quick succession.
    • Louis Le Prince
      • He is now considered the Father of Cinema because he was the first to patent a design for a motion picture camera in 1888.  This was shortly before mysteriously disappearing from a train never to be seen again. 
    • Friese-Greene was the inventor of the Chronophotographic camera which took 10 images a second using a celluloid film.
    • William Kennedy Laurie Dickson who worked under Thomas Edison would create the kinetographic camera which was more dependable than past motion cameras.
    •  Charles Moissen was working as the chief mechanic under the Lumiere Brothers and in 1894 invented the Cinématographe camera which doubled as a projector.
  • All of these early motion picture cameras were important to developing ways to film not only people, but objects. 
    • George Méliès, whom we have discussed in past episodes is responsible for the famous short A Trip to the Moon(1902.) In an article by Jonathan Crow he states that “Through his experiments, Méliès discovered that magic happened when he turned the camera off and on. People suddenly disappeared into thin air. Objects appeared out of nowhere. A famed magician, Méliès knew he was on to something. His discovery planted the seeds for just about every cinematic technique in the book — including animation.”
  • Film vs. Digital
    • The cameras we just discussed were all film and so naturally through all these years stop motion was created using film cameras. The quality in film is fantastic but for stop motion there is one major drawback… In film you cannot see the finished product until you have developed and printed it. This along with lighting, timing, etc. could go wrong. In the new digital age it is faster to see if something went wrong within the take.
      • Imagine you had spent hours and hours in order for a few minutes of stop motion film.  In the midst of capturing this someone accidentally bumped the table. The entire film sequence is ruined and it must be done again with new film.
      • Kodak digital film
        • In 1975 Eastman Kodak created the first crude digital camera.  It was the beginning of a new age for photography and new possibilities for the art to come.
        • In 2005 The Corpse Bride was the first stop motion feature film that had been filmed with a digital camera.  It was shot on the Canon EOS-1D Mark II with an adapter to use Nikon lenses on it.

Stop Motion Process

  • Techniques
    • Object Animation: An example of this would be taking a simple child’s toy car and moving it frame by frame.
    • Clay Animation: Where the characters are able to be bended and are flexible.
    • Puppet Animation: This is when you have more complex characters that have more moving parts like arms, legs, eyes, etc.
    • Cutout Animation: This is when flat characters, props and backgrounds are used, typically made from cutout paper, stiff fabric, or photographs.   
    • Compositing: The act of combining stop-motion with a live action movie.
  • Typical Tools
    • Tripod: Keeping the camera steady is one of the most important aspects to stop-motion.
      • On this same note a nice sturdy table is needed as well, preferably one that would not move if bumped.
    • Consistent Lighting: Because stop-motion takes time while you are moving the characters or objects it is easier to keep the “time” within your video consistent if you can control the lighting. It is highly suggested you work inside with your own lights instead of the sun.
    • Surface Gauge
      • A surface gauge helps determine how much an object or character has been moved or how much it needs to move.
      • It helps you measure movements so that you can make smooth transitions between each photo creating a smoother animation output.

    • Rigging Systems
      • These would be used to hold your characters up when you want to make them jump, fly, etc.
    • Smaller pieces are moved with meticulous tools like tweezers and pliers.

Stop-motion history

  • There are fewer commercially successful stop-motion films than hand-drawn and computer generated animated films, but stop-motion has been around since the dawn of film animation. 
    • The first stop-motion animated film is believed to be “The Humpty Dumpty Circus” in 1898 by J Stuart Blackton and Albert E Smith
      • *Flash back to our episode on the history of animation, when was the first hand-drawn animated short produced?*
      • J Stuart Blackton created “The Humorous Phases of Funny Faces” in 1906, 8 years later! 
    • In his book, Enchanted Drawings, Charles Soloman finds Smith and Blckton’s claim to have created the first stop-motion animated film hard to believe. Smith apparently claimed that they didn’t patent the process after making the film because Blackton felt “it wasn’t important enough.” Soloman is quick to point out that Blackton was quick to patent any other process and no one can definitively prove that “Humpty Dumpty” was pure stop motion, since no piece of it exists. 
    • Two years later, Blackton teamed up with Thomas Edison to create “The Enchanted Drawing” which used stop-motion animation alongside live-action filmmaking. This would be how stop-motion would largely be used in the coming years–as a way to achieve special effects and alongside live-action instead of in place of it
    • Blackton was interested in the possibilities of frame-by-frame filmmaking, but he focused on other projects at the Vitograph Studio, which led to other innovations in animation
  • For years to come, stop-motion animation would be used as an effect in films such as A Trip to the Moon in 1902 and 1905’s El Hotel Electrico, in which magical carpet bags zoomed around the hotel on their own
  • Another pioneer worth mentioning is Wladislaw Starewicz
    • Starewicz was a Polish photographer and entomologist who made completely stop-motion animated films about the lives of bugs! These films demonstrated a new level of mastery that none had before
    • He used wire, wax, and dead bugs to create comedies and dramas. In 1912, he produced, “The Cameraman’s revenge,” a film about a married couple of beetles having extramarital affairs. He used common film tropes found in comedies of the time to create a hilarious piece of stop-motion art
    • He also created detailed miniature sets, and the anthropomorphic movement of the insects really brought a special life to his films, just as the characteristic movements of Gertie the Dinosaur set her apart from early animation
    • Starewicz works inspired many generations of filmmakers, including Wes Anderson and Tim Burton 
  • Willis O’Brien
    • By the 1920s, stop-motion was a reliable film technique, especially in short films. But, in 1925, a the first full-length film to make heavy use of the process was released: The Lost World
    • Animator Willis O’Brien brought stop-motion creatures to life in a way the world had not seen before. Although audiences had seen dinosaurs and other such creatures in 2D animation, this stop-motion allowed audiences to envision the subjects in the 3D world that they themselves inhabited. In other words, this looked real. 
      • O’Brien had been animating with clay for a while before The Lost World, but started to add more complex rubber faces to his models. 
      • Because this was relatively new territory, O’Brien had to create new techniques for this kind of animation. These techniques would be perfected for the next big project: King Kong 
        • O’Brien took a year to create the models for King Kong, spending days at the zoo studying the movements of the gorillas
        • The models were 18” high metal skeletons with ball-in-socket joints; he also attached a rubber bladder that gave the illusion that his model was breathing when he pumped air into it
        • The metal bones were covered in foam rubber and cotton and then covered in rabbit skin
        • Only a couple scenes featured a large King Kong bust or foot, the rest were miniatures. For years, the studio kept the secret behind how the creatures were made. Even as late as 20 years later, people still believed that King Kong was a man in a gorilla suit
        • The smooth movements of his models and the seamless integration of special and visual effects with live-action actors places King Kong at the very top in terms of early stop-motion film; some believe it is still the greatest use of stop-motion in film history
      • Because of this, O’Brien is considered to be the father of modern stop-motion. For the rest of his career he continued to innovate new stop-motion effects. 
  • Ray Harryhausen
    • O’Brien’s work inspired many upcoming filmmakers, including Ray Harryhausen, an animator who would become synonymous with movie magic. He created all kinds of creatures from aliens, to mythic beasts, to the skeleton army in “Jason and the Argonauts.” 
    • His creatures were referred to as Dynamation, which meant that they were so well articulated, it was easy to insert them into live-action film. He added personality to his creatures that made them feel real, much like how the world fell in love with King Kong because of his realistic character movements
  • Claymation
    • When we talk about stop-motion, we often hear the term, “Claymation.” This term is usually the generic word for Clay Animation, although it was coined and trademarked by animator Will Vinton and was meant to describe his particular style and techniques. 
      • Animating with clay became a popular choice because it’s easy to change facial expressions; there are a lot of issues though, like dirt and fingerprints
    • Clay Animation first started in the early 1900s, after the invention of plasticine, a clay-like material. The oldest surviving use of clay animation is believed to be “The Sculptor’s Nightmare,” a short that was meant to spoof the 1908 presidential election. 
    • Although claymation (lowercase) had been used in a lot of stop-motion animation, it became more popular in the 1950s with Art Clokey’s “The Gumby Show”
      • Gumby had a more cartoon-ish style in claymation. Instead of complex creations meant to imitate hideous monsters or real creatures, this was the stop-motion version of a silly Saturday Morning Cartoon
    • Animator Will Vinton (who we mentioned previously) popularized Claymation even more with more sophisticated techniques. Some of his most famous creations would be the singing California Raisins! 
      • Even as late as the 1970s, it was still fairly rare for there to be completely stop-motion animated films. Most often, this was an animation technique used as a special effect. Will Vinton’s work in claymation helped change that
      • Vinton won an Oscar for a short film called, “Closed Mondays” in 1974. He later would create more short films such as, “Rip Van Winkle,” and “Dinosaurs” before creating “The Adventures of Mark Twain”
        • This was an adventure through the tortured mind of Mark Twain, in the form of a full-length Claymation film
      • Vinton’s successful commercial campaigns and films popularized Claymation in the 70s and 80s and the demand for the aesthetic increased
      • In the early 2000s, Vinton was pushed out of his studio which was renamed to Laika. But of course, that’s a story for a different episode. 
  • Stop-Motion in the late 20th Century
    • Although it’s still not as popular as other types of animation, stop-motion has earned its place in popular culture and more studios are creating films with the technique
    • Aardman Animations struck gold in 1989 when they brought a British inventor and his lovable dog to life in “A Grand Day Out.” In this delightful adventure, Wallace and Gromit take a trip to the moon to fill up on cheese. Even since, these characters have been a staple at Aardman. 
    • In 1993, Tim Burton produced, and Henry Selick directes, an animation feature that has received cult status over time. The Nightmare Before Christmas is the perfect use of the creepy capabilities of the medium, mixed with the unique character design and quirky movements

It had always been clear to anyone who has attempted it, that stop-motion is a labor of love. It’s an art form that creates an on-screen magic for viewers and creators. There’s a special wonder in watching an object come to life, and thanks to stop-motion, we get to enjoy that wizardry again and again. 

Sources:

The Case of Movie Dinosaurs

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This week we dive into a subject Adam has been waiting to discuss… Dinosaurs!!!! We know Adam has been periodically inserting facts about Jurassic Park in many of our other episodes, but this time we discuss the history of dinosaurs in film. We also talk about some of the most well known and loved dinosaurs in these movies by ranking the top five.

History of Dinosaurs in Movies

The word “dinosaur” was coined by Victorian naturalist Sir Richard Owen in 1841, and means “terrible lizard”. The modern meaning is more along the lines of, humongous monster that tramples the getaway car and eats all the supporting actors. Dinosaurs fit perfectly into the role of movie monsters. Many of them were huge, or had good monster characteristics such as spikes, horns, claws and big teeth. It’s not surprising that the history of movies featuring dinosaurs goes back more than 100 years.

  • The first dinosaur movie ever was Prehistoric Peeps in 1905. However Prehistoric Peeps unfortunately is now lost to history much like the dinosaurs it portrayed. Then came Gertie the Dinosaur, in 1914. Gertie is far more famous, and she has the honor of being history’s first dinosaur cartoon.

  • But the real origin of dinos in the spotlight is Brute Force, also from 1914. Brute Force debuted just two months after Gertie did, but Brute Force is live-action, and it contains the origins of every dinosaur special effect to be implemented for the next 60 years. The movie is a short silent drama directed by D. W. Griffith. The film was shot in Chatsworth Park, in California. It is a story of cavemen and dinosaurs, and is a sequel to Griffith’s earlier film, “Man’s Genesis” (1912).
  • It took all the way until 1925 for the first full-length movie to feature dinosaurs to hit theatres. The Lost World. Based on the 1912 book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it tells the story of dinosaurs that survived the mass extinction 65 million years ago. Sculptor Marcel Delgado made dinosaur models for the film based on the work of a leading paleontologist of the time. Stop-motion pioneer Willis O’Brien brought these extinct animals back to life using animation. After that, dinosaurs rampaged through popular culture, and for nearly forty years, stop motion remained the technique of choice for bringing extinct creatures to life.
  • So stop motion may have been king of the dinosaur world, but moving a puppet frame by frame is very time-consuming and expensive. Movie producers were looking for ways to cut corners so along came the “slurpasaur” (AKA a lizard in a dinosaur suit).
  • One of the earliest slurpasaurs appears in “The Mysterious Island”, made just four years after The Lost World. Slurpasaurs continued to offer a low-cost alternative to stop motion into the ’50s and ’60s. Even Willis O’Brien consulted on costumed iguanas for the 1960 remake of The Lost World.

  • Dinosaurs are the beginning DNA of the much broader subject of creature effects. Almost every technique for movie effects that we discussed in a previous episode have been used to make dinosaurs; people in suits, puppetry and animatronics, computer generated images, and more. To top them all it was Stan Winston who finally achieved the impossible when he created full-scale dinosaurs that not only looked incredible, but delivered great performances too.
  • With the addition of truly convincing CGS creatures, Jurassic Park set a new bar for movies as well as visual and special effects. By the time the T. Rex brought the house down, literally and figuratively, at the climax of the film, audiences could believe that dinosaurs really do rule the Earth.

Top 5 Dinosaurs

  1.       Tyrannosaurus Rex (Jurassic Park)
  • The Tyrannosaurus rex of Jurassic Park was nicknamed Roberta in Phil Tippett’s storyboards for the first film, but most fans call her by her novel nickname Rexy.
  • Rexy has made three appearances in the franchise. Debuting in Jurassic Park, then reprising her role in Jurassic World, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. She is also rumored (basically confirmed) to return in the final Jurassic World film in 2021.
  • She is most well-known for saving the main characters at the end of the first film and Jurassic World, although inadvertently. This makes her something of an anti-heroine.
  • Mark McCreery created the design of the T. rex that was used in the film. Before the film was greenlit, McCreery was working on Terminator 2. Stan Winston moved him from that project to create sketches of the T. rex in order to generate interest in Jurassic Park from Universal Studios.
  • (We talked about the animatronic two weeks ago in our Special Effects episode)
  1.       Littlefoot (Land Before Time)
  • Littlefoot, originally voiced by Gabriel Damon, (and many others since) is the main character in the Land Before Time film and television series. He is the main protagonist in the series and is one of only three characters to appear in every piece of media. The other two being Ducky and Petrie.
  • He is an Apatosaurus, (aka “Brontosaurus”) which are referred to as “Longnecks” by the other dinosaurs in the Land Before Time universe.
  • He can easily make friends with other creatures, however his friendships with other animals outside his species is often viewed as a taboo, as many of the dinosaurs practice racial, or species based, segregation. (Mainly in the first movie)
  • Littlefoot is intelligent, playful, and adventurous. He acts as a leader to the other main characters. Pushing them to move forward in difficult times, (most notably in the original The Land Before Time) and is their voice of reason.
  • According to a blog post by Mark Pudleiner, an animator who worked on the original film, Littlefoot was originally going to be called “Thunderfoot”. But it turned out that there was a Triceratops in a children’s book with the same name. His name was Thunderfoot all throughout production, only changing after the movie was finished and had to be dubbed over! If you look closely you can see that whenever a character says “Littlefoot” the animation doesn’t quite match!
  1.       Rex (Toy Story)
  • Rex is a supporting character in the Toy Story franchise. He is a plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex who is voiced by Wallace Shawn.
  • A running gag throughout the Toy Story movies is that Rex is insecure about his lack of ferociousness.  Rex’s worst fear is that Andy may want another, scarier dinosaur to replace him. “But what if Andy gets another dinosaur, a mean one? I just don’t think I could take that kind of rejection!”
  • In the original story pitch for Toy Story, Rex’s personality was mostly the same as in the final film, except that he also was to get very angry and even vengeful when it’s revealed Woody threw Buzz out of the window on purpose. All the toys do this to some degree in the final film.
  1.       Arlo (The Good Dinosaur)
  • Arlo, voiced by Raymond Ochoa, is the protagonist of the 2015 Pixar animated feature, The Good Dinosaur.

  • He is a young Apatosaurus living with his parents and older siblings, Buck and Libby. He is the last and the smallest of the three children to hatch out of his egg. Despite hatching from an egg bigger than the first two.
  • In this universe, the asteroid that is believed to have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, never struck Earth. So, over the course of the movie, Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. While travelling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of.
  • In terms of animating Arlo, animators Rob Thompson and Kevin O’Hara went to a zoo and shot video of elephants in motion. Thompson stated: “One of the most intimidating things to animate is a quadruped, because there’s so much to them and there’s so much to manage. Locomotion is all about efficiency, a lot of times you think, ‘We’re animating a big, heavy character. We should slam those feet. That’ll make it feel heavy.’ The truth is, that’s not efficient.”
  • Just some cool trivia, Arlo is the youngest Pixar protagonist to date. And in total The Good Dinosaur took up 300TB of server space.
  1.       Aladar (Dinosaur)
    • Voiced by D.B. Sweeney, Aladar is an Iguanodon that is first shown as an egg. The opening of the movie shows a ridiculously lucky egg traveling across the ocean where the lemur inhabitants find him, and he soon hatches.
    • Throughout the movie, Aladar butts heads with Kron, the leader of a large herd. In the herd, “only the strongest survive.” So Aladar does everything he can to help weaker dinosaurs. He later falls in love with Neera, Kron’s younger sister, who is considerably more compassionate than her brother. Aladar also seems to be a natural leader, which fueled his rivalry with Kron who feared he was trying to take his place.
    • In an early concept for Dinosaur, Aladar was going to have grandparents and be called Noah, but this was changed due to some similarities to The Land Before Time.
    • Aladar’s story is very similar to Tarzan’s story. Both have adopted families, and both lose their biological mothers to a predator. However, both end up killing their enemies during their adulthood, where they meet their love interest. They even go as far as to both have male figures in the family who initially don’t want them.
    • Just an extra bit, the film score was composed by James Newton Howard and he was nominated for an Annie Award and a Saturn Award for Dinosaur in 2000.

Honorable mentions:

  • Butch, Ramsey, and Nash (The Good Dinosaur)
  • Barney (Barney)
  • Unknown dinosaur (T.rex?) (Fantasia)
  • Big Al (The Ballad of Big Al)
  • Blue (Jurassic World)
  • Indominus Rex (Jurassic World)
  • Spinosaurus (Jurassic Park 3)
  • The Big One (Jurassic Park)
  • Carnotaurus (Dinosaur)
  • Momma (Ice Age)
  • Tiny (Meet the Robinsons)
  • Rex (We’re Back)
  • VRex (King Kong)
  • Red Ranger DinoZord (Power Rangers)
  • The rest of the Land Before Time crew

Sources

The Case of Film FX

Today we are talking about Effects in film-making! There is a lot of ground to cover, so today we will focus on the history of Special and Visual Effects, and discuss our favorite examples of practical effects! We plan on having a part 2 where we will dive into digital effects, as well as discuss some of the best effects artists of all time. 

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In film, there are Special Effects or SFX and there are Visual Effects VFX. Special effects happen on set in real time while filming, like make-up, or fake blood. Visual effects are shot separately and added to the film through editing later on. 

When we talk about effects, we generally break it up into two kinds: practical and digital. Practical effects are used making real-life materials and can be either Special or Visual, but digital effects are ONLY visual. Did we lose you? 

So let’s use an example like Star Wars (1977). R2D2 is a special effect that is also practical. But, the miniatures that were created for scenes in space are visual effects that are also practical. In the Star Wars prequels, digital effects were used in place of practical effects and all are considered visual because they were added in post. 

Here at The Black Case Diaries, we are big fans of practical effects. But, it’s fair to say that digital effects are often a good option. In pretty much every movie that is released today, there is a mixture of practical and digital effects. Digital effects are becoming much cheaper and easier to create, and the studios have been favoring them over practical for much of the last decade. 

Today, we are going to cover the history of film effects, and discuss some of our favorite techniques! We will be focusing on practical effects today, and we plan on discussing great digital effects an a future episode. 

History

  • We’ve already talked about the birth of film, the Lumiere brothers and Edison’s Kinetograph (This can be found in our episode about cinematography.)  It turns out, special effects are about as old as film itself!
    • In 1895, Thomas Edison produced a re-enactment of the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots. Directed by Alfred Clark, the movie was only 18 seconds long and featured the first death scene in film! It was also one of the first to have trained actors, and to utilize a special effect. Just when the executioner’s axe rises, there is a cut, and the actor playing Mary is replaced with a mannequin. 

  • We have people like Edison and the Lumiere Brothers to thank for figuring out how to technically create film and even early effects, but it was George Méliès that elevated special effects into an artform. 
    • Méliès attended a Lumiere Brothers show, and developed his own prototype camera with the help of two engineers in this theater workshop. He brought his illusions to the screen and today is considered to be the father of film effects.
      • He popularized substitution splices, time lapse, multiple exposures, dissolves, and hand-painted color; so he was a pioneer in both special and visual effects.
    • Some of his films that really showcase his abilities are: Cinderella (1899), The Man With the Rubber Head (1901), and quite possibly his most famous film, A Trip to the Moon (1902) 

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      • In an AV Club article they say: “Méliès brought a stage magician’s know-how and sense of wonder to the new art of film, creating a cinema of the impossible, filled with alchemists and Jules Verne-ian contraptions, imps and wayward body parts.”
  • Other Pioneers and Techniques
    • G. A. Smith patented the double exposure in England, using the technique to create a ghost in his film “The Corsican Brothers” (1909)
      • Double exposure; exposing film twice with two different images. Generally the second image is translucent and has ghost-like qualities.
    • Some filmmakers would film tragic events as they were occurring, and would recreate them with miniatures and paintings. For example, Albert Smith and Stuart Blackton made films about the tragic Windsor Hotel Fire and Edison mimicked the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
    • Edwin S Porter gave the world a great early example of Special Effects in “The Great Train Robbery” in 1903. This was one of the first times that effects were used in service to the plot, rather than as a spectacle.
  • Even though effects had been around since the beginning of film, they didn’t get any screen credits until the 1920’s.
  • In the 1930s, films like King Kong and Frankenstein were enthralling audiences with stop-motion, miniatures, rear-projection, and paintings. The first Oscar for visual effects was given in 1939 to a film called, “The Rains Came” over “The Wizard of Oz.” 

Since then, Hollywood has continued to use similar techniques for big budget films. Although it may seem that every action or fantasy film today is nothing but computer generation, almost every film uses both practical and digital effects. In fact, effects like fire or explosions are almost always practical, because matching the randomness of fire or the correct amount of light reflection can be a huge challenge. We’re going to discuss some of our favorite kinds of Special and Visual effects, using in-camera techniques or physical materials. In other words: practical. 

Favorite Practical Techniques

  • SFX Make-up
    • Jack Pierce
      • During Universal’s classic horror period, Jack Pierce innovated special effects make-up. His hideous creations from Frankenstein’s Monster to the Wolfman terrified and amazed generations of movie-goers.
      • Although he worked on Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster was his first true masterpiece. He read medical journals to find out exactly how a head would look if it were split open and then stitched back together. 
      • The head was made of layers of collodion and cotton, and took four hours to apply.
    • Latex
      • Liquid latex is used in many different ways to create different looks.
      • Liquid latex typically is made of latex, water, and a tiny amount of ammonia.
        • It can be used to resemble cuts, burns, or lacerations.
        • It also has the ability to be used as an adhesive to attach prosthetics.  For example a bald cap does this for wigs.
      • An American Werewolf in London
        • Winner 1982 Oscar for Make-up

    • Prosthetics 
      • Typically before a prosthetic for an actor is made, a “life-cast” is made first. This is where a cast or mold of the body is formed in order for the prosthetic to be made to fit a particular actor.
        • To make a mold of the prosthetic Gypsum cement is used. The materials for the prosthetic tend to be: Foam Latex, Gelatin, and silicone. 
      • Examples
        • Dark Knight with Heath Ledger’s scarred mouth
        • Harry Potter characters
        • The Chronicles of Narnia won An Oscar for their silicone prosthetics in 2006
  • Forced Perspective
    • The use of techniques to build an optical illusion for the viewer so characters or items appear closer, farther, bigger, or smaller than in reality.
    • Lord of the Rings
      • An example of this is In the scene where Frodo and Gandalf are riding in the carriage together.  Gandalf looks large on the right while Frodo looks small to his left. To accomplish this Gandalf’s side of the carriage was built to be smaller and closer to the camera.  With a little help of direction as to where the actors should look from the directors, and Voila Gandalf is bigger!
    • Darby O’Gill and the Little People 
      • The set for the Leprechauns needed to be four times larger than that of the set for humans.
  • Animatronics (Animation and Electronics)
    • Where you electronically animate three-dimensional characters.  They may be remotely controlled or have been pre-programmed to do certain actions.
    • Even though it has become more popular to use computer graphics in film, it still isn’t a suitable replacement for animatronics in terms of realism.
    • Although animatronics did not technically exist until later, we could consider mechanical clocks to be so because of the little characters that would pop out on the hour.
    • At the 1939 World’s Fair a robot named Elektro made his debut and in 1940 his dog Sparko. 
    • In 1961, Walt Disney’s Imagineers developed a dancing animatronic man that caught a lot of attention! They were developing the technology to use in film and in his booth at the World’s Fair. 
      • The Tiki Birds at Disneyland were the first ever animatronic robots
    • In 1964, the first ever animatronic used in film appeared in Mary Poppins! 
    • Stan Winston
      • Animatronic designs are behind some of the most iconic robot animals and monsters in movie history!
        • The Alien queen in Aliens, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and the T1000 from Terminator 2.
        • From his obituary: Although he created some of the most famous special effects in movie history, Mr. Winston insisted that he cared less about technical wizardry than he did about storytelling. “It’s not about technology,” he once said. “It’s about writers writing wonderful stories with fantastic characters and me being able to create a visual image that’s beyond what you would expect.”
    • Jurassic Park
      • Won the 1994 Visual Effects Oscar
      • Even though the hydraulics were tested many times the crew was still scared of Rexy because of her gigantic size.
        • The final step was to put the foam rubber skin on, which had to be sewn and glued.  This was done by a team in which Alan Scott was a part of. You had to glue from the inside and Alan volunteered.  The worry was that because the dinosaur had to be powered on and fully extended that something would go wrong and crush him.  Their worst fear happened when the power went out for the studio. Alan pulled himself together and luckily was safe when the head lowered and four others were able to pry the jaw open and pull him out.
        • The T-Rex was the last largest head to tail animatronic to be produced for film. No animatronic that large has ever been featured in film since.
      • We discuss the use of stop-motion puppets to map out the movements of the raptors for CG artists. Here is the test video:
  • Miniatures & Models
    • Even today, this is the most cost-effective way to create landscapes
    • Created for Star Wars and Godzilla.
    • Used in films such as:
      • Blade Runner, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Back to the Future Part 2, Independence Day, Titanic, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,  The Dark Knight, Inception
    • The trick is to slow the camera’s speed to the smaller scale

Sources:

http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2055255,00.html

https://film.avclub.com/the-50-greatest-special-effects-movies-of-all-time-1827830379

http://people.uncw.edu/pattersone/resources/notes/DSFX_History.pdf

https://www.filmsite.org/visualeffects.html

https://www.britannica.com/art/special-effects

https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/the-execution-of-mary-queen-of-scots-1895

https://www.projectorcentral.com/Front-vs-Rear-Projection.htm

https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/special-effects-artist1.htm

https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=8136

https://www.sanfordbrown.edu/Student-Life/blog/August-2014/Forced-Perspective

http://www.theatrecrafts.com/pages/home/topics/animatronics/

https://www.stanwinstonschool.com/blog/jurassic-park-t-rex-robot-almost-eats-crewmember

https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-history/dawn-of-electronics/elektro-the-motoman-had-the-biggest-brain-at-the-1939-worlds-fair

https://www.metv.com/lists/a-brief-history-of-animatronics-in-pop-culture

https://www.starwars.com/news/paul-huston-on-making-models-and-history-for-star-wars-a-new-hope

The Case That Never Ends

Back in 2013, we gathered together to record our very first episode of The Black Case Diaries. We were all still in college, and we didn’t even edit the audio! We placed the episode on SoundCloud and there is sat for 5 years before we started the show for real. 

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So, to kick off our second year of podcasting, we decided to give ourselves a chance to do it over! Today we will talk about the same topic as we did 6 years ago. We are going to re-release the original episode to our patrons so they will get to hear how far we’ve come. 

Six years ago, the three of us sat down and watched a movie. One of us had seen it many times, one had seen it once or twice, and one of us had never seen it at all. It was called, “The Neverending Story”! After we watched the movie, we went into the sewing room of Robin’s mother to record our thoughts. 

Movie Beginnings:

The Neverending Story is based on a novel: Die unendliche Geschichte – (dee oonend-liha ge-shishta) by German author Michael Ende. The book was originally written in German and released in September of 1979, but translated to English in 1983 – one year before the movie. 

  • The book remained on the best-seller list in Germany for three years!
  • There are a few key differences between the book and the movie. 
    • The movie only covers half of the book! The sequel film is loosely based on the second half, and the third movie is an original plot.
    • The name of the world that Bastian is meant to save is called “Fantastica” instead of “Fantasia” 
  • Michael Ende was not happy with the film and didn’t think it reflected the message of his book. According to a 1984 People Magazine article, he held a press conference in which he demanded his name be taken from the credits. He called the movie “revolting” and said, “the makers of the film simply did not understand the book at all.” 

 

The Making of the Movie:

  • The Neverending story was directed by Wolfgang Peterson, and written by Herman Weigel and Wolfgang Peterson.
    • According to some of the actors, Peterson was a perfectionist and required sometimes as many as forty takes for a scene.
    • The scenes in the swamp of sadness and with the giant tortoise took two months to shoot.
  • Most of the film was shot in Bavaria Studios in Germany, with outside filming done in Vancouver and Spain. 
  • The music was written by Klaus Goldinger and Giorgio Moroder.
    • It also included a very special song performed by Limahl 
  • Colin Arthur was the special effects supervisor, but he had a huge team!
  • Rolf Zehetbauer designed the set decoration 
    • But the designs for the creatures was a collaboration between an Italian artist named UI De Rico, the set designer, and a professional mime named Caprice Roth.
  • The movie cost 27 million dollars to make, which adjusted to today would be about 65 million! It was the most expensive film in German history. It made 100 Million! 
  • Many attribute the magic of the movie to its incredible effects.
    • According to Wolfgang Peterson, digital effects hadn’t advanced to the point of even a green screen yet. They were using blue screens for the flying scenes in the movie, but practical effects for everything else.
    • Each puppet was operated by a team of trained puppeteers; as many as 25 people were in charge of operating Falcor!
      • In order to get the puppet to move as one cohesive unit, the team had to train together for several weeks
      • One person was assigned to each of his facial features, including one person responsible for his eyebrow
        • The dialogue was also recorded before-hand and the puppeteers had to try to sync up movements with the words.
      • No matter how many times they practiced or did a scene over, they could never eliminate the error behind the puppet. There was always something out of place, but Peterson believed that this made it true art.

 

Starring: 

  • Barret Oliver as Bastian
    • Oliver also starred in the original Frankenweenie in the 80’s.
    • He no longer acts, but is an accomplished photographer and specializes in the wet-plate process. He also teaches photography in Los Angeles. 
  • Noah Hathaway as Atreyu 
    • Hathaway played Boxey in the original Battlestar Galactica. 
    • He was also in the 1986 film “Troll” as Harry Potter Jr. 
    • Hathaway was seriously injured twice while making the movie and still has health problems today because of it.
      • While preparing for the horse-back riding scenes, a horse actually fell on top of him and cracked two of his vertebrae. 
      • The other injury came at the end of the movie, when he fights G’mork. The robot malfunctioned and cut Hathaway next to his eye. G’mork was also very heavy and caused him to lose his breath. Because of this, they could only get one shot!
  • Alan Oppenheimer as Falkor
    • Oppenheimer is an accomplished voice actor who narrated the movie, voiced Falkor, the rock-biter, and G’Mork!
    • He is probably most well-known for voicing Skeletor in the He-Man animated series.
  • Tami Stronach as The Childlike Empress 
    • She has been in very few things since the Neverending Story. Two are films from the Czech Republic.
    • The director saw 3000 young girls before choosing Stronach as the empress. 
    • She has since focused mostly on her dancing and being a choreographer.
  • Gerald McRaney as Bastian’s father
    • He has been acting since about 1969 and been in many different roles including things like Chips, The Rockford Files, and Diagnosis Murder. He is still acting today and plays a small part in the new Netflix show called Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings.

 

Summary:

As a young boy named Bastian is heading to school he is chased by three bullies. In order to escape the bullies he dashes into an old bookstore.  There he is tempted to take a book that he is told he is not ready for. In order to read it he steals away into the school attic and begins the book called “The Neverending Story.”  It is about the land of Fantasia where the creatures have been threatened by a force called “The Nothing.” It destroys all that it touches. In order for Fantasia to survive it needs the help of a human boy.

  • The film was fairly well-received and was a box-office hit! Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars. I think he summed up the meaning of the film with the end of his review: “But ‘The NeverEnding Story’ is about the unfolding of a story, and so the framing device of the kid hidden in his school attic, breathlessly turning the pages, is interesting. It lets kids know that the story isn’t just somehow happening, that storytelling is a neverending act of the imagination.”
    • I found a Huffington Post article about the film, and there was a quote from Wolfgang Peterson 
      • “It has very dark and scary moments, but life is like that. It educates you and a reader like Bastian how to go through that and pass these sort of dark moments, to achieve something at the end. I think it empowers kids to — as the Childlike Empress says in that goose-bumpy moment at the end of the film — do what you want.”

 

As a bonus here is one of the pictures from Marci’s college years taken with the wet plate Collodion process!

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Sources:

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/neverending-story_n_5589126

https://www.thenewstribune.com/entertainment/article29910505.html

https://screenrant.com/neverending-story-movie-behind-scenes-details-trivia/

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088323/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-neverending-story-1984