A few years ago I was asked to work on a low budget comedy Irish horror movie called Grabbers. If you haven’t seen it or heard of it, please check it out, it’s one of the funniest, most original comedy horror movies in ages and considering it was a low budget movie, the Visual effects are on par with movies 20 times its budget!
I met up with director John Wright and VFX supervisor Paddy Eason about a year before the project started up to talk about how we could make these creature effects on this tiny budget.
Paddy is a great advocate of only doing VFX work if it’s absolutely necessary and I was well aware of the amount of cgi and practical effects that were needed for this film so we all sat down and went through the script in minute detail. The main creature became a totally visual effect because of the sheer size of it (25 feet) so I concentrated on the female version which was a lot more manageable at only 6 feet in diameter. I brought on board a great concept designer, Martin Rezard who has worked on some of the biggest films in the industry, and martin came in and designed the original version of the ‘Grabberella’ (as she was affectionately known!) he also sculpted her for the film, later on Paul Catling (another amazing concept artist & sculptor) came in to work on the visuals and design environments for Grabbers.
We made 2 versions of theGrabberella, a hero ‘sleeping’ one and a stunt version to be worn by the stunt man for the scene where it attacked our lead actor. That stunt sequence was a combination of stunt Grabber and CGI tentacles which where animated to look like it was going crazy. The final sequence is pretty impressive and I don’t believe most people would know which part is real and which part is CGI.
We also built the grabber eggs which worked out really well, they had to look translucent and be able to have babies inside the eggs that would twitch and move and be buried in the sea and let the Irish sea wash over them. Justyna Harrison built these and she used a material called ‘Sili-Glass’ as its glass clear but because it’s so brittle so softened the Sili-glass with a silicone called 7315…looked amazing!
We also built 2 severed heads for the film which turned out really well and a few ‘babies’ which essentially became ‘lighting stand-in’s’ for the actors to react against as these characters where totally cgi.
In the film you see a beached pilot whale which ended up being built by a local props man from Ireland, I only painted and dressed all the wounds onto the body of the whale, all the other whales in the background where totally digital.
We shot the film for 3 weeks prior to Christmas in 2010 in Belfast then went to Donegal in January for 3 weeks to shoot the rest of the film, apart from the freezing cold weather and the rain and night shoots, it all went really well.
The main reason I wanted to do this film was that the script (which was written by Kevin Lehane) was such a great script, and Jon the director, the producers, Tracy & Kate and the VFX guys over at Nvisible where such a great bunch of people that I couldn’t turn it down. I also came off the back of Captain America: The First Avenger which was a great experience (doing the Red Skull character for David White) but it was nice to be working on a film where you knew that every effect you made would be used on camera. And Grabbers was such a collaborative effort and everyone jumped in when needed. (I remember one wet cold evening shooting on the sea front in Donegal, the wind was blowing the camera equipment all over the place so myself and the writer Kevin jumped in to protect the equipment with umbrella’s to keep the rain off…that wouldn’t happen on a big budget film)
Grabbers has gone on to become a cult film, and has gotten amazing reviews. It’s worth seeing the film just for the visual effects alone as they totally stand up against the big budget fx films that cost $200 million plus.
Even though I finished working on this film nearly 3 years ago, it’s still finding an audience and only last week Paddy Eason and myself got nominated for a Chainsaw Award for Fangoria (one of the best horror effects magazines of the 80’s and 90’s) for best creature effects in a movie, we’re up against the likes of the Evil Dead remake but it’s amazing to be nominated.
So get the popcorn in, and a few drinks and you never know, it may save your life! :)