CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 5 . . . . October 29, 1999
No actor finds it easy to work with animals but today's movie magic makes it easier for actors to share the screen amicably with dinosaurs, dragons, aliens and gorillas. This is possible because of animatronics, the process of creating electronic and mechanical creatures that respond to remote control signals. Animatronics an create the unbelievable without the need for special trainers or re-takes, and the creatures can take the shape of ordinary animals, such as the gorilla in the movie Buddy (1997), or fantastic aliens and monsters from outer space. Bringing animals to life, however, takes months of preparation by skilled craftspeople and puppeteers. On the set, the models and costumes are strapped and harnessed with wires, rods, metal frames,and electronic sensors that together create the illusion of a living, breathing animal, with realistic skin, hair, teeth, and claws.Anyone who has ever gaped in wonder at the seemingly impossible special effects (SFX) on the silver screen will love this book. Twenty-seven chapters, covering such topics as makeup, animatronics, computer-generated images, morphing and pyrotechnics, reveal the secrets of SFX experts. In the initial planning stages of a movie, various storyboards map out the SFX sequences, the set decoration or the extraordinary "creature" characters. Technical details are worked out next- for example, the type of camera equipment or filming technique to use for maximum visual impact. Then model-makers, puppeteers, makeup artists, matte (background) painters, set designers, pyrotechnicians and computer experts - all creative geniuses in their fields - are called upon to wield their magic. Sometimes, a number of specialists collaborate to work on a scene. In some cases, the book shows the step-by-step development of a special effect - making a rubber monster mask, for instance - while in other cases, it explains the conceptualization of the effect and the difficulties which had to be overcome in order to keep the stunt safe - for example, staging an explosion or a fire. There is also a chapter devoted to the history of SFX and the movie industry pioneers who, almost 100 years ago, invented techniques that are still used today.
The book's format is quite similar to that of the "Eyewitness" series. Each chapter has an introductory paragraph; the remainder of the text relates to the accompanying illustrations and ranges from medium to small in size. Though the book's subject matter is technical in nature, the text is written in language that is easy to understand. Plenty of examples of SFX, taken from movies that are familiar to most kids - Star Wars, The Mask, The Wizard of Oz, Independence Day, Goldeneye and others - are provided. An index is also included.
The book is teeming with colour photographs of sketches, storyboards, camera equipment, movie sets, action scenes and special props as well as photos of the designers, craftspeople, studio technicians, actors, stunt people and directors at work.
Readers will be intrigued and amazed by the spectacular, realistic SFX that continue to grow in complexity and imagination and fascinate movie-goers everywhere.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.
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