Can I just say making a monster is not easy.
It’s taken months of research, creative differences, understanding of work practice and a respect for methods in ideology and design.
I thank Sammm Agnew for putting up with my constant buggery and for her patience in what has been a huge learning curve for me.
From the moment I described the monster in the script my greatest fear was that it would come across like a man in a rubber suit. It’s a problem that presents itself in every monster movie that uses practical effects.
In most old creature features, I’m talking about their heyday in the 50s and 60s, you could always see it was a man in a suit. But when you need a monster on a budget you have little choice but to have an actor climb inside a rubber suit and hope the zipper doesn’t show. That’s how we got The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Invasion of the Saucer Men, Godzilla and the original version of The Thing. The trick though is to avoid having them look like men in suits, something that Ridley Scott did very well in Alien.
I knew that I needed the monster to make certain movements but I also knew that it would cost serious money with most high-end monster effects requiring expert puppetry and mechanical supervision. With my lack of budget, it just wasn’t going to happen.
I had to remind myself that there is a world without mechanics and I took inspiration from Tom Savini, films by Cronenberg and David Lynch to help better my understanding of what could be achieved with limited means. And I also had to remember that I had a unique, talented and extremely specialised special effects makeup artist right by my side, Sammm Agnew.
At the start of production I sent a load of images to Sammm of plants, animals and reptiles, but each time she drew a picture I wasn’t sure that it represented the monster. Our differing methods of communication were not producing results. I had words in a script and a vision in my head I couldn’t put across clearly. I also didn’t fully understand how she worked. Some artists draw sketch upon sketch but Sammm prefers to sculpt.
Bereft of drawing skills I called on my comic artist friend Gareth Beverstock for some help in the art department and he came back with some drawings which were great but were too comic like. They did however prove useful when we made the final design, with Sammm drawing on some aspects of his sketches.
‘What do you want your monster to look like?’ Sammm finally said. I really didn’t know. I knew how I wanted it to act and how I wanted parts of it to feel, but I hadn’t really researched enough.
Sammm advised me to research monsters and under each picture write what I liked about it. So I started researching on Google images, writing captions like ‘slimy monster’ or ‘scary monster’ and I came up with some great creatures and wrote a summary of why I liked each of them.
It was a breakthrough because soon after that Sammm came back with plenty of ideas and a design I really loved.
Our last meeting was a few days ago. Xerath’s Christopher Clarke, he’s playing the monster, Sammm and I sat in bed with pens, paper and monster props and materials scattered across the duvet. We looked at films that used visual effects, we revisited the monster summary I made, dipped in and out of Gareth’s sketches. Suddenly Sammm was rabbiting away, throwing designs and monster ideas left, right and centre. Her mouth was moving at 100mph and I struggled to keep up. I recorded some of our conversation, which I’ll be adding to the blog at some point.
Hours ago I received some more images, she has spent the last few days building skin and other parts for the monster.
Not long to go. I feel like a dad awaiting the birth of a child.
Please keep a look out for more monster news. I’ll be updating you all on our progress.