The Great Gig in the Sky

Today we’re sharing how a key visual effects shot was done.

We have a shot where our lead character, Suzie, sees a meteor flying overhead. (Gee, I wonder if it’s more than just a meteor?) Instead of green-screening it, we decided to do a sky replacement. To do that we shot a low-angle of our actress against a blue sky and then keyed out the sky, which is what you would do with a green or blue screen.

This is original shot. There’s even a bit of the frame for the giant flag we had over the actress for the shot.

The sky has been removed but the frame’s still there.

An early VFX test. The picture now has an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

And here’s the final shot. Notice that the actress and telescope are now smaller in the frame.

I should note that this effect was done by the very talented Drew Stephens.

And here are some photos to show how it looked on the day of the shoot.

Throwback Thursday: Fight Scene Rehearsal

Even a brief fight scene requires a lot of practice. Accidents can (and do) happen, but you want to take every precaution you can to ensure the actors’ safety and make sure that they never do anything that they’re uncomfortable with.

In this video, filmed earlier this year, fight coordinator Allan Gagner goes through the choreography of our short fight scene with actors Diogo Hausen (James) and Jupiter Collins (Lead Wasp-Man). He shows them how to properly swing and catch a small tree branch, safely tackle a person, throw a fake punch that will look real on camera, and more.

The “Bunker” Scene, Or: Writing Yourself into a Concrete Corner

Filmmaking always presents challenges. As we currently work our way through post-production, I thought I’d share with you the story of how we tackled one of our biggest challenges: the “bunker” scene.

Scene 7
Scene 7

A few minor spoilers: The bunker scene comes after the characters are first attacked by the Wasp-Men. I wanted a scene where they could find shelter and discuss the alien threat. Something like the scene from Tremors where the three leads are on top of a rock, discussing their theories about where the graboids came from. (“I vote outer space. No way these are local boys.”) And 50’s monster movies often involved the military in some fashion. I thought setting a scene in an abandoned military bunker would work and I had the perfect location in mind: the old military batteries at the Marin Headlands.

During preproduction, I took my director of photography, location sound person, and production designer to scout the batteries. They weren’t perfect: there was the possibility of the bunker becoming a wind tunnel and its proximity to the Pacific meant that we’d get ocean sounds on the audio, but they were manageable and could be worked into the story.

Marin Headlands Military Battery
Marin Headlands Military Battery

What I didn’t anticipate was how much it would cost to shoot there for a day. And it was a lot. A whole friggin’ lot. We had find another location.

I researched comparable former military installations online, I asked all of the various film commissions here in the Bay Area for suggestions, I looked at urban exploration photography sites. And I wasn’t just looking for concrete bunkers: I considered a decommissioned Naval hospital in Alameda, barns in Sonoma County, and a lot of other abandoned sites. It was a long search.

We finally found a location that would have cost us a lot of money to rent, but not as much as the film permit for the Headlands. It would have put a massive hurt on our budget but at that point we didn’t have much of a choice if we wanted to move forward with the film. Too bad they dropped us without telling us why.

It happened after I told them that we had to delay shooting a few weeks due to an actor having health issues. I guess they weren’t happy over the delay because I never heard back from them when I tried to reschedule. Fortunately, I hadn’t signed a contract with them or paid them anything but it meant that we were out of a key location once again.

During the earlier searches, I had asked my crew if they had any suggestions. Quite a few of them did, but none of them panned out. I asked them again and this time Bryan Mendez, one of the members of the art department who also happens to be an astronomy professor at UC Berkeley, had a fantastic suggestion: Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton.

The 36-inch Great Lick Refractor

This place was perfect. The film starts off with the teens going stargazing, why not have them end up at an observatory?

Lick Observatory is run by UC Santa Cruz. The astronomers and observatory employees I worked with couldn’t have been nicer, and they were excited by the plot of the film. And it was much, much cheaper than the other locations we had considered.

The observatory has several telescope domes, and their representatives recommended two of them: the dome for the 36-inch Great Lick Refractor and the Nickel 40-inch telescope.

36-inch Great Lick Refractor Dome
36-inch Great Lick Refractor Dome
40-inch Nickel Telescope dome
40-inch Nickel Telescope dome

We wanted the dome for the 36-inch since it was perfect for the period; the dome for the 40-inch was really small and fairly modern. There was one big problem with the 36-inch: the dome is open to the public from 12 PM to 5 PM and we could only shoot during the day. That lead to a decision to split the scene in two and film the second part in the smaller dome. Since I was already revising the script to change the location from an abandoned bunker to a mysteriously empty observatory, it was no problem to have the characters start off in the large observatory and then hide in a smaller room when (SPOILERS!) another Wasp-Man comes along.

They're heeeere!
They’re heeeere!

Did it work? I think so.

Lick Observatory was the last day of shooting for Wasp-Men From Mars! I’ve been working with my editor, my visual effects people, and other post crew to put together what I hope will be a really fun film. I want to thank the production crew and the actors for all the great work they did and I hope they’re happy with the final movie.

I don't know why he has this lightbulb.
I don’t know why he has this lightbulb.
Something's coming over the speakers.
Something’s coming over the speakers.
And stretch!
And stretch!
Setting up a dolly shot.
Dolly shot.
From the second floor.
From the upper balcony.

Photos by Katherine Bree Walker.

Editing Wizardry

I can’t even imagine how people edited films before the invention of non-linear editing systems like Premiere Pro and Final Cut. Sure, I see it done in the special features of classic films and read about in books like Walter Murch’s In the Blink of an Eye, but NLEs make it so much easier.

In the following clip, our editor, Patrick, tries to make a simple line of dialogue work across a cut, including piecing together the dialogue from two different takes.

Flashback Friday

Hi everyone. We’re editing right now and I plan to do a big update on the editing process soon, but for right now I thought I’d share some behind-the-scenes photos with you, taken by the amazing Katherine Bree Walker.

The date's not going the way she had hoped
The date’s not going the way she had hoped
A boy and his telescope
A boy and his telescope
Something's coming
Something’s coming
The crew
The crew
Getting ready for a dolly shot
Getting ready for a dolly shot
High angle shot
High angle shot
Either the director is standing in for a Wasp-Man or he finally got tired of Chris's jokes
Either the director is standing in for a Wasp-Man or he finally got tired of Chris’s jokes

First Day of Shooting

After many delays, Wasp-Men From Mars! started shooting this past Saturday. It was the first of six planned shoot days. For fun, we’re showing you the first take that we shot.

In addition to the flubbed dialogue, you can see the audio transmitter sticking out from under the James/Diogo’s jacket early on in the shot. But that’s okay, that’s why we do multiple takes.

And here is a behind the scenes look at some of the prep that it took to get us to that shot.

It was a hard shoot day, with a lot of hiking, some running, and even a few tackles. Our actors and crew got through it and did a fantastic job, and I think we’ll have something special at the end of this.

Costumes and Shoot Dates

The Wasp-Men From Mars shoot is coming up. The first day of shooting is April 16th. We have rehearsals and costume fittings planned for the next couple of weeks. We plan to take plenty of photos and videos for you as we prep for the shoot.

Speaking of photos, want to see how the Wasp-Men costumes are coming along?

The costumes are still being made, but they will be ready by April 16th.



Here’s a painted Wasp-Men head and body. You’ll notice that the head is a greenish yellow while the body is orange. Our costume makers painted these body parts in different ways to see how they would come out. The green head will get a green body while the orange body will get an orange head. The third Wasp-Man will also be orange.

More details will be added to the body, including hairs poking out of the chest.


The wings are done!


And this gives you an idea of what the Wasp-Man will look like with wings.

For our “hero” Wasp-Man, the wings will move.



And speaking of moving parts, our “hero” Wasp-Man will have moving mandibles. We have a special skull cap made so that when the actor moves his jaws, the mandibles will open, revealing the Wasp-Man’s mouth.


Some details still need to be added to the mask. A special coating will be added to the eyes to make them shiny. Some “moisture” will be added to the mouth. Eye holes will be cut out next to the wasp eyes and covered with black mesh.



And here are the sculpts for the Wasp-Men’s claws. A stinger will pop out of the underside of the Wasp-Man’s wrist.

That’s what we have for now. Things are getting pretty busy for us as we ramp up to production, but we promise to keep you all in the loop.

Wasp-Man Head Sculpt, Plus Concept Art

Over the weekend, Julian sent us some photos of the work that he’s done on the Wasp-Man’s head. It’s still in progress, but since Julian posted the photos on Twitter, we thought we’d share them with you, too. This is a rough sculpt; the teeth are not final and it does not include the mandibles, which will be sculpted separately.

Julian’s fellow Face Off contestant Adam Milicevic created some Wasp-Men concept art for Julian a few months ago, back when we were trying to nail down the final look of the monster. Adam posted some of the concepts on Twitter earlier today. The final Wasp-Man costume will be a combination of many elements from Adam’s designs.