Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New Post, New Look, New Jar

*Wipes dust off jar, opens lid and takes a whiff of contents*

Woah! Little past the expiry date eh? I think we need a fresh one yes? What do you think?

So this is the official Things In Jars relaunch. Since my last post, itself has also gotten a bit of a facelift and now new Jars’ posts will now appear right on the front page :D
(Thanks Parker!)

This Blogspot site will be maintained as sort of an archive site, aside from DelToroFilms itself.

I’ve gone on quite a few adventures over the last little while (with more coming up) and have lots of great GDT and SFX related tidbits to share.

So, in honour of the relaunch of Things In Jars how about a story about … things in jars.

At the end of January last year I was in London, England on what I dubbed my “BPRD Euro Tour” (for reasons that will become clearer in the future) and at one point I found myself at the Natural History Museum. After giggling like a small child through the corridors filled with dinosaurs, Mary Anning’s marine fossils (The tongue twister “She Sells Seashells” is about Mary Anning), gawking at the Blue Whale skeleton, and ooh-ing over the extensive bird collections there was only one wing (no pun intended) of the building left unvisited. I stepped inside – and burst out laughing (this is when the other tourists start giving you a wide birth folks, when you start laughing all by yourself. The downside of traveling alone!)

The whole wing was nothing but things in jars!

Like this:

And this:

Prawns in a jar! :D

Bizarre, yes, grotesque, yes, cool definitely - this is part of a giant squid! - but definitely not "pretty"
 Those weren't the only things in jars I saw on that trip. These were in a museum in Lyon, France, about a week earlier...

At least this time I wasn't alone - my best friend was with me and was well aware of why I found these so amusing...
A little closer to home (both geographically and chronologically) I took a trip to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) in Toronto this past December to test out the new camera I got for Christmas and I found, you guessed it, more things in jars!

I love this one - a POLKA DOT Thing-In-A-Jar! :)
(although am I the only one getting trippy flashback to the Elephant from the Island of Misfit Toys?)
So I think I've finally come around to the appeal of things in jars. They are definitely fascinating and as an artist I find they provide a fertile ground for inspiration - all those changes due to the effects of the preservation fluid serve to make strange features even more alien, even more weird, even a little bit – monstrous? ;)

And yes - even a little beautiful.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

An Anniversary I Wish That Wasn't

Jim Henson
September 24th, 1936 - May 16th, 1990

20 years and it still hurts...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wizard World Toronto

Back at the end of March (yes, I know, I'm an incredibly slow blogger) Wizard magazine held their first Canadian convention - Wizard World Toronto.

So two of my best friends and I broke out our B.P.R.D costumes so we could paint the town, err Red ;)

We had a fantastic time, thanks to great company, great guests (including one Mr. Doug Jones, but more on that in a sec) and we were very fortunate to run into some very talented folks who were all nice enough to take the following very cool pics of us.

In fact that first pic was taken by Viewpoints of Elemental-Photography.Net who shot a whole string of great photos for us.
You can visit her full gallery with all her Wizard World Toronto: B.P.R.D pics HERE.

(And in case you are wondering about some of the more umm ... interesting ... shots with Abe and Kroenen, those were done as a very special parody comic for Kim and Rebecca, the creators of the webcomic Abe & Kroenen, because not only is the comic brilliant and hilarious but they both happen to be two very nice people who we wanted to make laugh - payback ladies!)

Oh and at one point we ran into this tall, skinny fellow who really liked giving hugs and for some reason really liked our costumes a lot ... ;)

Just kidding - to be honest the entire reason we dug out all the B.P.R.D gear was because we knew Doug would be in attendance. And although I have gotten to show Doug parts of my Abe costume before (like at the Hellebration) I'd never had the chance to show him the whole thing. But I've already promised the full story to Helen over at The Doug Jones Experience so for more details you'll just have to wait ;)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Crickets Vs Cats - The Conclusion

Part 3 of Things In Jars Oscar Special

So far we’ve taken a look at Best Picture nominees District 9 and Avatar (post is here), looked at their similarities and differences (here) and now, to stop this entry from being as long as the Oscar broadcast itself, I’m going to reveal who I’d like to see win the top spot.

If it were up to me the Oscar would go to…. *drumroll*

District 9!

Why? The short answer is it reminded me why I love movies and why I want to work in the film industry.

I went into District 9 not really knowing anything about it other than it was produced by Peter Jackson, and I came out stunned. I found it a good, even blend of action and cool effects, with drama and realistic characters when I'd started to believe the focus in a film had to be on one or the other. The summer of 2009 was particularly bad for "turn off your brain" blockbusters where the public seemed ready to accept the most incomprehensible mess of a movie as long as there were lots of explosions. Not only accept it but the attitude seemed to be that there was no point in expecting anything more from a summer genre movie. So I walked into D9 disenchanted with the state of the movie industry (and genre films in particular) and I came out all excited about movies again. In fact I was quite torn because on the one hand I'd been deeply moved by the story and the characters and just wanted to sit there in shock and on the other hand I wanted to jump up and down in fangirlish glee because damn that had been a cool ride!

Thus it was a bit of a let down to turn around and find that Avatar, the film that was supposed to "revolutionize" film-making, was back to the same old Hollywood model. It’s not that the story is that bad – it’s not a movie that requires you to forget you have brain cells by any stretch of the imagination – and is well constructed for what it is. In fact I probably would have liked Avatar a lot more if I hadn't seen District 9 first. But given how close the stories are (as we’ve seen) I just found Avatar to be a very plain, cookie cutter plot in comparison to D9’s fresh take on things. In fact I remember watching Avatar thinking "There are normally two ways this type of story ends ... meaning the only question left is - is this going to be the happy ‘Fern Gully’ ending or the sad ‘Dances With Wolves’ ending?" I walked out, completely unsurprised going ... "well... at least it was pretty."

Because Avatar IS pretty. SO pretty! I am so envious of the design team because, come on, how cool must it have been to get to design an entire world as awesome as Pandora? The flora, the fauna, the geography – all mind blowing (I want a whirly-gig gecko of my own gosh darn-it!). Avatar is going to sweep the technical Oscars and it completely and utterly deserves to if only for the fact there were several scenes where I wish they’d just said “screw it” to the story and taken us on a “walking” tour of Pandora instead, so rich was the environment they’d created.

But the Oscar for Best Picture is supposed to go to the film that is the best across the most fields - and between D9 and Avatar the more rounded film is definitely District 9. Its juxtaposition of sci-fi strange with the utterly mundane had me going “wow – I could totally see this happening in real life” and by the end of the film it had be re-thinking my own attitudes to other people and cultures. So for not only giving me an adrenaline rush but also making me think, I vote District 9 the best movie of 2009.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Crickets Vs Cats Pt 2

Welcome To Part 2 of the Things In Jars Oscar Special

On the eve of Oscar night we’re looking at District 9 and Avatar – two very similar films both nominated for this year’s Best Picture Academy Award. Although I’ve seen no serious talk of District 9 taking the top award one can’t deny these movies share a lot more in common than just their status as genre films. Yet at the same time they sit at utterly opposite ends of the spectrum from a production point of view.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out Part 1, where there’s a little more background about each of the films.

I’ll be speaking extensively about both films in this entry so expect some MAJOR SPOILERS for each movie. If you prefer your discussions spoiler-free then this is not the blog entry you are looking for – YE HAVE BEEN WARNED!

District Nine Vs Avatar – Similarities

Story and Themes - Both Avatar and D9 have essentially the same story – in a conflict between humans and aliens, the protagonist changes his attitude and comes to the aid of the aliens after literally starting to become an alien himself.

In Jake’s case in Avatar this change is voluntary – and temporary. Whenever his avatar goes to sleep he awakens back in his human body in the research station. In fact he loves the change to the new body since it allows him the use of his legs again, having been rendered a paraplegic during a military campaign. By the end of the film he agrees to undergo a ritual which allows him to permanently transfer his consciousness into his alien body.

In District 9 Wikus’s change is accidental, and completely unwanted – in fact he resists literally kicking and screaming. Wikus’ major motivation through 95% of the film is his determination to change himself back to normal, by any means necessary, so he can return to his old life and his beloved wife. He’s been promised a cure by the alien Christopher Johnson, but by the end of the movie this promise still remains unfulfilled.

Wikus’ arc is really a mirror image of Jake’s – in a way they both end up in the place where the other began. Jake starts out physically and emotionally damaged and finds peace of mind, acceptance, and love amongst his new people. When we meet Wikus he has a wife he adores, a life he’s happy with and with his new promotion the feeling that his prospects are looking up. The last time we see him, his old life has been completely ripped away and he is left utterly alone – whether he then rises again from the ashes remains to be seen. Wikus has only just started down the road to redemption by the end of District 9 – although both men have come to learn to respect lives that are different from their own.

This connection between different forms of life, and how we must learn to respect this connection is given a very literal representation in Avatar - the Na’Vi can commune with the other creatures on Pandora through special nerve cells and by the end of the movie the planet itself literally comes to the rescue of its inhabitants. Although less obvious in D9, Sharlto Copley has mentioned in interviews that as the film progresses he feels Wikus "becomes more in line with life itself". As Wikus' conditioning is stripped away and everything he considered certain crumbles he learns to recognize and respect the aliens as other life forms.

District Nine Vs Avatar – David Vs Goliath

Production wise, the differences between District 9 and Avatar are immediately obvious. Weta Workshop did designs for both films (although the actual Prawns were created by Vancouver’s Image Engine) but there the similarities end.

Directors - Avatar has James Cameron at the helm, a very experienced director with a long string of hits under his belt. In contrast District 9 is Neil Blomkamp’s first feature length film after a number of successful commercials and several years as a computer animator.

Budgets - Avatar is now the most expensive movie ever made costing 20th Century Fox nearly $500 million dollars. D9’s budget? $30 million, a mere fraction of Avatar’s. Peter Jackson produced District 9 out of his own pocket, without studio backing.

Looks - District 9 has a true indy look to it. The hand held camera work is extensive and much of the footage is made to look as though it’s been recovered from security cameras and other less than pristine sources. Avatar uses absolutely cutting edge 3D technology to create a brand new world and is visually sharp and stunning.

Cast - Blomkamp purposely cast unknowns to give District 9 a more realistic feel and there is no better example of this than having Sharlto Copley, who had never acted in a feature before, as main character Wikus. Sigourney Weaver heads up the cast of Avatar, although Sam Worthington who plays Jake, is a relative newcomer.

Two movies so close in themes yet one is the absolutely embodiment of the mega Hollywood blockbuster, the other an indy film which came out of nowhere to become a sleeper hit. Who will win? Stay tuned tomorrow when I post my pick!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Space Shrimp Vs Cerulean Cat-People For The Golden Grouch Award

Welcome to Things In Jars Oscar special!

Thanks to the Academy deciding to shake things up this year, Sunday’s Oscar show will include an extra large slate of 10 Best Picture nominees, including two genre films – District 9 and Avatar. With the exception of the showdown between Shakespeare In Love and Elizabeth for Best Picture in 1999 it's rare, in the super subjective world of film awards, to have two Best Picture nominees that can be compared point by point as closely as Avatar and District 9 in terms of tone, plot, themes, etc.

So that’s exactly what we’re going to do! Over the next three days I’ll be looking closely at these two films – their stories, production backgrounds, and so forth, culminating on Sunday when I reveal who I would award the little golden statue to if I had the chance (and if you watch real close I’ll even slip in some pertinent and fun bits of GDT trivia here and there).


I’ll be speaking extensively about both films in the next few entries so expect some MAJOR SPOILERS for each movie. If you prefer your discussions spoiler-free then this is not the blog entry you are looking for – YE HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Ladies and gentlemen, in this corner, returning champion James Cameron and Avatar

The Story - The story of a paraplegic space marine, Jake Sullivan, who joins a race of 10ft tall blue cat-like humanoids (the Na'vi) by means of an 'avatar' - a genetically engineered body into which he can transfer his consciousness. This avatar allows him to breath the poisonous atmosphere of the utopian planet Pandora. Initially there to open diplomatic relations between the indigenous people and the human mega-corporation which wants to mine Pandora's resources he eventually switches sides and helps the Na'vi repel the hostile company. The humans are sent back to Earth and Jake, after having his consciousness permanently transferred into his avatar, goes on to become leader of his new people.

The Background - James Cameron waited 14 years for the field of visual effects (motion capture and 3D technology in particular) to reach a point where he felt comfortable trying to bring Avatar to the screen - his first film since mega-budget mega-hit Titanic. Avatar quickly surpassed its older sibling in terms of both budget and profit. A huge amount of hype proceeded the film – 20th Century Fox and Cameron both marketed it as the next evolution in filmmaking, going so far as to hold “Avatar Day” in which people could get into see 20 minutes of the movie in select IMAX 3D theatres, prior to the film’s release. It looks like the hype may have paid off – although the film has its critics audiences have been flocking to the theatres. 3 months after release and in many cities Avatar is still showing on the big screen.
And, like Titanic it may yet land Cameron a Best Picture Oscar.

And in this corner folks, our challenger, newcomer Neil Blomkamp and District 9

The Story - Alien refugees in South Africa (known as “Prawns) are mistreated and abused by human society in general and in particular by MNU, the multi-billion dollar company in charge of the alien refugee camp (named District 9). Wikus van De Merve, a pencil-pusher for MNU, is put in charge of evicting the aliens from D9 so that they can be taken to a new encampment far away from Johannesburg. In the process he is accidentally sprayed by a strange alien fluid which triggers a bizarre transformation. On the run from MNU and cut off from his loved ones, Wikus joins with a Prawn father, Christopher Johnson, and Christopher’s son who are trying to engineer an escape from Earth. The escape is successful but Wikus is left behind in the remains of District 9 with only a promise from Christopher that he will return to Earth in three years time to reverse Wikus’ transformation and rescue the rest of the Prawns. The last shot of the film strongly hints that Wikus has become a Prawn himself and is now hidden amongst the other refugees of D9 awaiting Christopher’s return.

Background - Peter Jackson originally hired Neil Blomkamp to helm a movie version of the popular video game Halo. When studio backing for Halo fell through though Jackson, impressed with Blompkamp, suggested that they make a movie anyways - something small that could be produced and financed without any major studio backing. Blomkamp agreed and chose to expand on the concept of alien refugees in South Africa – something he’d originally devised for his short film, Alive In Joburg.
Blomkamp wanted the dialogue in the film to be entirely improvised and so turned to his long time friend, South African producer, Sharlto Copley. Although Copley had never acted professionally before, Blomkamp knew he was an excellent improver and was also familiar with the type of subtly racist, pencil-pushing bureaucrat Blomkamp wanted the main character of District 9 to be. After seeing a screen test of Copley as Wikus, Peter Jackson heartily agreed.
District 9 cost $30 million to make and was filmed entirely on location in South Africa. It became a sleeper hit for summer 2009 – gathering momentum by word of mouth after premiering to positive buzz at San Diego Comic Con.

6 Degrees Of Guillermo Del Toro

- Guillermo is a long time friend of James Cameron’s, going back to GDT’s earliest days as a director in Hollywood. If legend is to be believed, at a party one night a rather drunken Guillermo even gave one of his famous notebooks to James Cameron.

- The Hobbit was not the first time Peter Jackson has offered Guillermo the director’s chair – Jackson originally approached Guillermo to helm the Halo movie. Guillermo said ‘no’ as he was about to direct Hellboy II. PJ eventually offered the Halo gig to Neil Blomkamp and it was when Halo was dropped that the team switched gears and began to develop the film that would become District 9. Can you imagine if GDT had originally said “yes” to Halo? No Hellboy II, no District 9, and probably a very different Hobbit.

That’s all for now but stay tuned! Tommorow we’ll look at the similarities and differences between D9 and Avatar more closely.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

IMATS Toronto 2009 - Pt 2

(For more on IMATS Toronto check out Part 1 of my report)

I want to start by saying that, like Doug Jones and John Alexander, Mike Elizalde is another one of these supremely nice, friendly people that Guillermo Del Toro seems to surround himself with (I'm telling you - there's something in the water on the Hellboy sets... and whatever it is, I want some).
The last event of the Toronto IMATS was Mike's keynote address on Sunday (that's a picture of Mike, on the left, being interviewed by IMATS chief/Make-Up Artist Magazine editor Michael Key at the top of this post ). The keynote addresses are typically less of a speech and more of an interview (vaguely like an episode of Inside The Actor's Studio but without the questionnaire at the end). This one began by showing a demo reel for Spectral which had TONNES of behind the scenes shots of the monsters of Hellboy II - including some fascinating "skinless" views of some of the Troll Market animatronics in motion. Cool side note: Apparently when Spectral’s top animatronics wizard Mark Setrakian isn’t creating movie monsters he works at a robotics lab for the US government. So there’s some cutting edge electronics up there on the screen. Also on the reel were some shots of the Sleestaks from Land Of The Lost that look so cool they've almost convinced me to watch the film, Will Ferrell or no Will Ferrell.

Then the discussion moved onto how Mike got into make-up and effects (in elementary school he used to save blobs of paint on little wax-paper palettes, re-wet it once he got home, and use that as face paint since he couldn't get his hands on the real thing). As an adult, after a stint in the army, he moved out to California and worked as an air-conditioner repair-man in between looking for FX work. One day it turned out that the warehouse next to one of his job sites just happened to belong to Stan Winston Studios. Armed with his ever-present pocket album full of pictures of his work he eagerly knocked on the door. "They were very nice but they told me to come back when I had more practice," Mike said.

Eventually Mike DID get a gig – on a movie called Arena and from there he moved from film to film, befriending people like Steve Wang, who would one day come and do work for Spectral Motion.

What I had not fully realized until listening to Mike's talk, was just how instrumental Guillermo was in Spectral Motion's beginning. Mike Elizalde met Guillermo while working as a make-up artist on Blade II. Guillermo told Mike that if he got his own shop together then Guillermo would hire him on to do the effects for his next film. After a few hiccups along the way that next film eventually turned out to be Hellboy.

The fact that since then, Spectral Motion has gone on to become one of the top runners in the FX make-up field, expanding at a time when many shops are actually downgrading or outright closing, is a major accomplishment. At the IMATS “afterglow” party on Saturday night, where exhibitors and guests were free to mingle and hang out, Michael Key mentioned that make-up really is a field driven almost solely by passion. Very few make-up artists become either rich or famous. We do it because we love it –and Spectral Motion is an excellent example of that. From their small start Mike Elizalde and his team have gone on to create some amazing make-up and creature effects and from the looks of things have a fantastic time doing it. The fact that they are now being recognized as a leader in the field and receiving Oscar nominations and other awards is, I’m sure, just icing on the cake. Keep up the good work guys!