Way back in early 2012, John and I decided we wanted to make a short film with zombies and the blob and enter it into the Phoenixville Blobfest Short Film Competition. For those not aware of it, the Phoenixville Blobfest is an annual event commemorating the 1958 filming of The Blob in the Philadelphia suburbs. At the end of May, after three days of principal photography, one afternoon reshoot and over 100 hours of post-production work, we unleashed the 4 minute and 44 second final product onto the world. We felt that it was worthwhile to recount some of the “learning experiences” we encountered while putting this together.
Special effects are a LOT of work – especially when you’re learning on the fly.
First up – The Blob. In our initial beer-soaked enthusiasm for the project we said – “Hey we’re getting better at using After Effects – we should do an animated Blob”. So one problem – After Effects didn’t seem particularly suited for the type of 3D character animation we wanted to do. There are wonderful programs like Maya which cost $5000. Then there’s what we used – a public domain tool called Blender which can be had for the princely sum of nothing. John did all of the animation after following some tutorials on making a pulsating blob and that still ended up taking about 40 hours right there.
Other notable effects like the meteor in sky, the smoking “space seed”, the earth exploding (another direct result of beer-soaked enthusiasm), the flashing red lights in the lab and the animated background while the blob was attacking the red-shirt zombie were all arrived at by desperately finding how-to tutorials on You Tube (often done by bored teenage boys listening to bad heavy metal music) and then tweaking as necessary until we got the desired final effect.
Just because you spent two days planning and filming some cool shots does not mean you’re going to use them.
In a previous post I recounted some of our initial foibles at scouting a location around Limerick, PA for scenes of us and our animated friend shambling towards the nuclear reactor. With our friend Steve acting as cameraman, we got some phenomenal shots of John and I crawling around in rubble and shambling in grassy fields, but once we had the photo montage done and were editing the scenes of traveling to the reactor, they just didn’t seem to fit, so all we ended up using was a 5-6 second clip of us standing triumphantly in front of the reactors.
Here’s a photo from a clip we did not use.
It’s extremely helpful to be married to an artist.
Two of the essential props for the film were provided by my wife Susan. The space seed that is in the first scene in which we show the blob is actually a piece of pottery that she made down in our basement that we shot against a green screen and then scaled into the scene.
She also designed the big red button at the end of the film in such a way that we could actually push it. The button was actually a circular piece of wood that was painted red and had a big sponge attached to the back of it. The entire contraption was then attached to the wall with a copious amount of duct tape.
Had John and I been left to our own devices, the space seed would likely have looked suspiciously like a paper airplane and the big red button would have been a circle drawn on a piece of paper with a red sharpie.
If you want action stills that look good you need to actually shoot photos, not extract video frames.
We weren’t sure if we were going to do the photo montage initially and shot the scenes of us traveling through the woods on video. We later decided that having photos with a pulsating blob set to Shmoolie’s fabulous Love Theme of The Blob would look absolutely silly. The initial round was done by capturing frames from the video, but there was too much motion blur. So come Mother’s Day, John and I got all zombied up and went back into the woods with Susan taking photos and my daughter along to provide supervision. It was great fun explaining to the families out for their Mother’s Day strolls why two middle-aged men were made up as zombies on a sunny afternoon.
We went through the entire production with no idea what the final title would be. We referred to it as Zombies vs. The Blob, knowing we’d need to use something else. About two weeks before we did the final cuts, we had a bunch of other titles we considered such as Blob Zombie, Zomblobalypse and Hey, Don’t Push That Button!; however as you can see from the title of this post, we finally decided to go with Blobageddon and we’re pretty darn proud of it!