Steven Spielberg’s breakthrough flick Jaws (1975), based on Peter Benchley’s eponymous novel, was revolutionary in many ways, and was instrumental in instilling real terror in moviegoers’ minds about the deep blue. The great white shark however, doesn’t actually appear until after 1 hour 21 minutes in the two-hour film. One reason for the suggestive technique, Spielberg said, was to focus on the effect the monster had on its victims. Another reason, however, was that the pneumatically driven shark prototypes would always be malfunctioning.
Special effects in films demand incredible expertise, and the process is every bit as fascinating as the result. On the completion of 41 years by Jaws, we bring to you the astounding stories behind the development of some of Hollywood’s scariest monsters in the pre-CGI era:
1. King Kong (1933): Stop Motion
The original story about a gigantic ape obsessed with a beautiful woman was shot using stop motion animation- physically manipulating a model between frames so that it appears to move on its own. Four different sized models were created for various scenes. Particularly fascinating was the gigantic bust of Kong, with 10-inch fangs and eyeballs 12 inches across, used for close shots of the monster’s face. It had metal levers, hinges and an air compressor which would be operated by three technicians, to control the mouth and facial expressions.
2. Godzilla (1954): Suitmation
Suitmation is the technique where a person dons a creature suit and moves through a scale model scenery. Haruo Nakajima (pictured) was chosen to put on the 100-kg Godzilla suit for the filming. Two suits were created, one with only part of the body fitted on to the actor for partial shots or closeups, and another, lighter version of the full body. Even in the lighter model, Nakajima could remain only for three minutes before losing consciousness. He lost 9 kgs during the shooting of this film!
3. Jaws (1975): Great White Shark
Three pneumatically powered prop sharks, all named ‘Bruce’ after Spielberg’s lawyer, were used for filming- one each for the top, left and right sides of the animal. Their construction required a team of forty technicians, and fourteen operators controlled the model’s movements during filming. The platform carrying the models even capsized once, and a team of divers had to be sent in to retrieve them!
4. The Thing (1982): Chest Chomp
One of the greatest horror films of all times, this cult classic by John Carpenter is the standard for non-CGI gore. Especially (in)famous this particular scene where Dr Copper attempts to revive Norris with a defibrillator when his chest opens up and a set of jaws devour the doctor’s hands from the elbow down. A double amputee stood in for Richard Dysart who played Dr Copper. He was fitted with prosthetic hands made of rubber veins, wax bones and Jell-O. A set of mechanical jaws were then clamped on to these fake arms and as the actor pulled his arms away, we saw a master stroke in practical effects! (Warning: Video is graphic in nature)
5. Predator (1987): Predator suit
Kevin Peter Hall, towering over Arnold Schwarzenegger at seven feet, donned the iconic suit in this film (check video). The role was originally supposed to be played by Jean Claude Van Damme, but on realising that he would be invisible for the most part and would not get to flaunt his martial arts skills, opted out of the film. The idea for mandibles (protruding jaws) for the extra-terrestrial antagonist came from James Cameron.
6. Tremors (1990): Graboid
The icky creature in this western monster thriller was designed by the company Amalgamated Dynamics, who are also the folks behind the Alien and Spiderman series. The full scale model of the Graboid was made with lightweight foam (watch video here), placed in a ditch and covered with mud to give the ‘used’ look in the scene where Kevin Bacon’s character unearths it.
7. Jurassic Park (1993): T-Rex
Ushering in the era of Computer-Generated Imagery but also avoiding a headache-inducing excess of effects, Jurassic Park was a watershed point in animatronic puppeteering. The iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex was created by a process that animator Steve Williams called “the reverse of 3D printing”. Rubber prosthetic scale models were created and a laser was passed through them, which then transferred the data to computers, after which the animators took over to give us one of the most memorable spectacles of all times!
Visual effects in movies are an ever-evolving area with every new film bringing about some amazing innovations. Know any more behind-the-scenes trivia about these monsters? Share with us in the comments below!
All videos sourced from YouTube.
Title Image: savethecat