Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Event at Spectral Motion
On May 21st, Home Theater Forum was invited to an educational event at Spectral Motion in Los Angeles, covering the prosthetic creature makeup and effects for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on June 11th. The event was emceed by Mike Elizalde, the founder of Spectral Motion, and included demonstrations of the techniques and results that are associated with these creature effects.
Mike Elizalde began the event with a brief talk about Spectral Motion and their contribution to Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. (I missed this introduction due to my own tardiness, but I joined in with the group as we began the tour of the facility.) Mike then took our group into another area of the facility, where we were shown clips of their creature effects as seen in movies like Hellboy II: The Golden Army, X-Men: The Last Stand and Paul. This year, their work is spotlit in features like the upcoming Pacific Rim, R.I.P.D. and, of course, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
We then moved into one creature workshop area, where we were given an opportunity to place our hand into the molding gel that is normally used to make casts of actors’ hands, bodies and faces. The gel is almost identical to the solution dentists use to make impressions of peoples’ teeth, if that helps give you a solid mental picture. Once the molding gel had hardened, our hands were removed so that plaster casts could be made. (So yes, it could be said that we spent part of this event getting plastered…)
While we were in this workshop area, one of the reporters in our group was pulled to a makeup area, where significant amounts of prosthetics were applied to his head, face and upper body, transforming him into the archetypal image of a witch. The process is painstaking and went on for more than an hour while we were going through our tour of the rest of the facility. The thing to know is that this application was actually a faster version of it than would happen during a regular day of filming. Normally, such a process can take several hours to complete – in this case, the reporter was able to get into the makeup materials in what I would estimate was a third to half of the normal time. I have no idea how long it took them to remove the materials, although we did speculate that it might be interesting to let him drive home in that condition and see if anyone on the freeway noticed…
Mike took us into another workshop area, where we were able to see the life-size (and larger) full body creatures that Spectral Motion created for Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Your Highness. These are large suits with heads and hands that can be puppeteered via radio controls. Using these suits on the sets of movies like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters means that the filmmakers can shoot with a real creature rather than a stand-in for postproduction CGI. It means that the actors on the set are reacting to something actually in the room with them rather than something that will be added later. And many of these designs are fascinating when you see them up close – even the fairly grotesque ones. At a later point, I was invited back into this workshop area, where I was able to operate the radio controls to manipulate the facial features of a rough mask of Edward the Troll (from the current movie) and to work one of his hands. I switched places with another reporter and took a turn holding up the two hands of the Edward creature – I can attest they are quite heavy – probably weighing around 15-20 pounds each. (It’s not a problem when you first pick them up, but the weight really compounds while you’re standing there holding them…)
Mike also showed us several of the radio controlled robots Spectral Motion created for the SyFy series Robot Combat League. These are oversize robots used for a fighting show akin to WWE. For this show, the robots are each controlled by two operators, known as jockeys. One jockey controls the arms and chest movements, and the other controls the legs and other features. Spectral Motion built the robots for this show and then shipped them intact up to Canada on trucks for the production of the show. From what I could see of the robots that had come back from the shoot, the competition was brutal. I couldn’t resist asking Mike if the human jockeys received similar punishment if their robot was losing the match…
We were brought back into the first workshop area, where we were given a chance to see the results of our fellow reporter’s transformation into a hideous witch. As a special moment, we also got to see the character of Edward the Troll in action. Stuntman Derek Mears put on the complete Edward suit and posed for pictures with our group while the radio operators manipulated the big hands and the face. (One of these guys got a photo of me properly being strangled by Edward, but I still haven’t seen them come in…) Between almost every photo op, one of the technicians would run in, open the big mouth on the headpiece and use a fan to cool Derek down inside the suit.
Following these demonstrations, we were given opportunities to interview director Tommy Wirkola, and to interview Mike Elizalde and Derek Mears. I attach a link to the interviews I conducted for your perusal here:
A thank you is in order to Paramount Pictures for inviting Home Theater Forum to this event. I enjoyed the demonstrations, had some very good conversations with the guys at Spectral Motion, and was able to go home with a pretty good replica of my hand in plaster. Which just goes to show that if I ever need to do a job for Home Theater Forum that’s a three-hander, I’m now ready to go.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters will be released on Blu-ray this Tuesday, June 11th. You can find the Home Theater Forum review of the 2D edition here: