27 October 2020

Full size three-dimensional Sets (“Practical”)

The most common sorts of movie sets are “the real thing”—the movie is photographed using real buildings and their surroundings. These may be in the place where the action is supposedly taking place, using the actual city streets and buildings and paraphernalia. Or the set may be specially constructed for the movie, perhaps to represent a frontier town or a battlefield. If such a set is large enough, it will be out-of-doors. If small, it may be on a sound stage—a large indoor space outfitted with lights and other necessities to facilitate shooting the movie. We’ve all heard about sets that consist only of false fronts along a street. But how about the front part of a battleship?

In Pearl Harbor, such a set was used to photograph a scene where as the ship capsizes, sailors fall from the deck into the water. The complex movements of individual sailors falling off the tilting deck into the water would have been hard to portray with computer graphics, so a model was constructed of the front fifth of the ship, from the bow back to the first of the main turrets. This was mounted to a structure that could be rotated and tilted. Stunt actors were filmed struggling to maintain their footing on the tilting deck. These shots were later mated with digital images of the rest of the ship and the raging battle. (For more on this, see the article by Jody Duncan in Cinefex July 2001.) A special category is augmented make-up, where an individual who is going to play a part in a film is made up to look like some specific other person, or perhaps a non-person such as an alien, a zombie, or an animal. A good example is when the “creature” is larger than the actor inside the make-up, so movements are mechanically extended and enhanced. Augmented makeup often involves prosthetics—pieces, often of special rubber formulations, glued to a person to make them look different: older, or like some non-human creature.

These range from separate pieces, to whole-head masks. In the movie Harry and the Hendersons, which is about a family that adopts a gentle and soulful Sasquatch they have inadvertently run down on a mountain road, the Sasquatch is played by a 7’-2” actor, but suitably animating the long face was beyond the actor’s abilities. Make-up wizard Rick Baker constructed a prosthetic for the eight-foot-tall Harry that included animated eyebrows and mouth— mechanized by radio-controlled airplane servos operated by three puppeteers! Baker won the Academy Award for make-up for this film— but only after convincing the Academy judging board that his work was makeup, and not just special effects. Crucial to the decision was the fact that the actor’s eyes were Harry’s eyes.

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