By Crooked Pictures and Garrett Martin Designs
Crooked Pictures’ short film, Father of Lies, premiered at the 16th annual Beverly Hills Film Festival at the TCL Chinese Theatre. The short film is better described as a docudrama rather than a narrative film as it is taken directly word for word from director Levi A. Taylor’s father’s recorded memoirs–included in the film’s credits. As a child, Levi’s dad would take him deep into the frontier of Alaska to go hunting moose in the wilderness. Those nights around their campfire, he’d tell Levi stories of his life growing up in The Last Frontier. It was these early excursions that inspired Levi to want to be a storyteller like his dad. An early desire to bring his father’s stories to the screen eventually led to Levi’s career in filmmaking.
Levi’s father was an ex-felon turned Baptist pastor—a colorful individual to say the least. Out of all the tall-tales he would insist were true to his life, the stories that most intrigued Levi regarded his dad’s encounters with literal demons, of which he blamed many of his problems in his life to be influenced by. As a child who entertained the scary idea of monsters in the dark, it was unnerving to see his grown dad tremble as he recalled these visions of demons with genuine fear in his voice.
Before his father passed away in 2008, Levi made sure to record some of his stories to remember him by including one of his encounters with a demon in the first church he served as pastor after getting out of prison. Years later, Crooked Pictures teamed up with D.K Johnston of Tri-seven Pictures and Garrett Martin Designs to bring this memoir to the screen with Father of Lies as well as other short films and scripts Levi wrote inspired by his dad’s tales.
“I knew from the onset that I wanted to produce our monster through practical effects. As a child dreaming of becoming a filmmaker, one of the things that excited me most about movie making was the creation of puppets used in films like Never Ending Story, Jurassic Park, Alien and so many more,” Levi reflects. “It was truly a fascinating experience watching our Art Director, Garrett Martin, bring our monster to life. Seeing these creepy conceptual drawings eventually grow from the page into a sculpted miniature maquette before building it to life size scale was an incredible undertaking to witness.”
Garrett, Denise Hill and the art team at Garrett Martin Designs started the final puppet by carving it’s basic form from Styrofoam then used warmed plasticine clay to cover the core and form the monster’s detailed features—using forty pounds of clay for the torso alone. “A lot of consideration had to be made in this process to predict how all the pieces would move together as well as any limitations the material may have when we went to cast the sculpture with fiberglass,” Garrett explains. This was important because often casting the clay can destroy the original sculpture and weeks of hard work.
The fiberglass cast of the sculpture was a success and allowed for a lighter weight of the final mold. They divided the sculpture into several sections, molding the head, torso, arms and hands separately. Each molded piece of the monster’s body consisted of two to three pieces that were then utilized to make a plaster core that acts as an inner mold when combined with the outer fiberglass shell allowing them to cast a hollow silicone skin.
The silicone skin was powdered and seams trimmed as the body parts were assembled together. The remaining fiberglass molds were then re-used as a mechanized “skeleton” for the silicone skin to rest upon. Using bicycle cables at key places of the hinged fiberglass skeleton Garrett and his team of puppeteers could finally animate the monster’s body and bring it to life for the camera. “The final puppet is a culmination of design and engineering,” Garrett explains. “It took months of work to make the creation come to life. It took many helpful hands to make the monster a reality. The work was often grueling yet exciting. Each step was a learning experience and resulted in many high fives.”
Father of Lies can be seen online at crookedpictures.com.
Here is our Monster Guide!
Let’s take a look at these rare images and the procedural descriptions provided by Garrett Martin:
This set of images shows the first monster/demon design that Art Director, Garrett Martin, drew for Father of Lies. The two-dimensional drawing is the first step of the design process for building a puppet creature. Once OK’d by the director, Levi Taylor, the design was further honed by more detailed illustrations. After the two-dimensional designs were approved, maquette was sculpted to work out the design into three-dimensions. A maquette is usually sculpted out of a polymer clay that is hardened in the oven then painted. This step is basically like building a prototype, so that any flaws in the two-dimensional design can be resolved before sculpting at the proper scale.
The next phase of production is sculpting. Garrett explained: “I started out by carving the basic form out of styrofoam shown in the first set of images. It was important to be as accurate as possible while carving the styrofoam core, as it helped to limit the expense of the sculptures clay surface. I warmed the plasticine clay in small batches to increase the clays flexibility. Once the clay was covering the styrofoam core, I began sculpting the monster’s larger forms, then adding smaller details using a variety of sculpting tools. I continuously examined the sculpture from all angles to ensure accuracy of form. Many decisions must be made during the sculpting process by predicting how the creature will move as well as any limitations the casted material may have. I used over 40lbs of clay for the monster’s torso.”
Garrett added, “Once the sculpture was finalized, I enlisted the help of friends to make a mold of the monster/demon sculpture. The mold is used to cast a replica of the sculpture in silicone. The process of molding often destroys the original sculpture, so it is imperative to take care during this process. Though many materials can be used for molding a sculpture, we chose fiberglass to lessen the weight of the final mold. The sculpture was divided into several sections to allow for easy molding. The head, torso, arms and hands were each molded separately. Each mold consisted of two to three pieces. Each piece required three days of work to allow for proper curing of the fiberglass material. Once each section was molded, a plaster core was created for each mold. The plaster core acts as an inner mold that when combined with the outer fiberglass mold, it allows you to cast a hollow silicone skin.”
For the final cast of the monster/demon, we chose silicone for its translucency, durability and ease of use. First, we tinted large batches of silicone (first set of images). We wanted to make sure we tinted enough silicone to cast all of the pieces ensuring that the color of each piece would match each other. Then we poured the tinted silicone into a giant syringe to inject into the mold. The silicone sat inside the mold and cured in about an hour. Opening the molds revealed the ghostly white, translucent skin of the monster/demon. The silicone skin is powdered and seams are trimmed.
After the skin has been casted, a fiberglass replica of the inner core is made and mechanized. This fiberglass core becomes a mechanized “skeleton” for the silicone skin to rest upon. The fiberglass is cut apart and reattached with hinges. Bicycle cables are attached at key places inside the fiberglass skeleton and run out through the bottom of the creature to attach to controls allowing several puppeteers to operate it.
The final puppet is a culmination of design and engineering. It took months of work to make the creation come to life. It took many helpful hands to make the monster/demon a reality. The work was often grueling, yet exciting. Each step was a learning experience and resulted in many high fives.
Each of the people who helped me mold and cast the puppet also helped me puppeteer the creature. The first image shows us rehearsing with the puppet before the actual shoot. The second image shows one of the final screen compositions with the monster/demon and the actor.