The other stars of a Cronenberg movie are his viscerally unique and unusual special effects creatures
The other stars of a Cronenberg movie are
his viscerally unique and unusual special effects creatures. "They're
the kind of creations with which the actors can interact and bring
alive on the set, like the ones I did many years ago with The
Fly, Naked Lunch and Videodrome. eXistenZ is closer
to those movies, especially because of the levels-of-reality theme,"
"The pod is definitely a character in the picture,"
says Special Effects Supervisor JIM ISAAC (The Fly, Naked Lunch,
Arachnophobia), whose team included Creature Effects Supervisor
KELLY LEPKOWSKY (Flubber, James and The Giant Peach, Total
Recall) and Makeup Effects Designer STEPHAN DUPUIS (Scanners,
RoboCop, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade), who won an Oscar
for his work on The Fly.
"Jennifer is so great when she uses the pod. She really takes
it and holds it, it's hers. She's very protective about it. It's
like her little pet and that's the feeling we want," says
Isaac. "We wanted this very sweet little pet that goes through
all kinds of things during this story, it gets burned, it's afraid,
it gets threatened and shorted out. You want to feel sympathy
for it through Jennifer. It's almost a vehicle for her emotions.
The pods have a fleshy soft core, a spine and organs covered by
skin, and are all animatronic,"says Isaac, who always tries
to make his creatures actor-friendly.
"The special effects team's work is mind-boggling,"
affirms Leigh. "The pod is like another character and quickly
became very similar to my dog, so I felt protective of it. It
moves and feels good to touch; makes sounds and responds to you.
Jim and Kelly made the pod really alive for me. All of the special
effects have been like that. You're never reacting to something
you don't see and it's doing exactly what the audience will see.
That's the way David always works and it makes it so easy on the
actors as well as being so much fun, because like eXistenZ,
you're part of this world that's completely invented, but is also
Says Isaac, "Our goal is to create moments and characters
that are totally seamless to enhance the story." He emphasizes,
"The pod was difficult to design. It took us months."
He explains the design process. "In collaboration with David,
we ask, what is the pod, what's the emotional impact we want from
the pod? Do we want it to be gross or do we want people to like
the pod, want a pod and want to cuddle with a pod? That's the
direction we went."
Dupuis said, "The pod evolved over three months from a Baboon
head, to the Picasso stage to the final Salvador Dali melting
watch state - smooth, fleshlike, suggestive of something organic
and abstract." Dupuis' description caused Art Director Deverell
to comment, "It's organi-tech!"
When Cronenberg viewed the first pod test shots, he enthused,
"They're pod-sitively beautiful."
Another brilliant Cronenberg invention, which plays through the
film in different forms, is the gristle gun. Constructed from
bone, it can be cocked and loaded, using human teeth as ammunition,
and was specifically designed to pass through metal detectors.
"This was the simplest to design," recalls Isaac. "The
next most difficult design was the two-headed mutant which started
out as a two-headed praying mantis. But as we moved away from
insect technology, it evolved into an amphibian. The team beca
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