Through his work on things like the first two Star Wars films, Temple of Doom, and the Robocop series, Phil Tippett has established himself as something of a legend in the world of creature effects, puppeteering, and stop-motion animation. One thing he was never able to do, however, was create his own animated short. He tried, earlier in his career, to put together a project called Mad God, which he describes as being, “an experimental, hand-made, animated film, set in a Miltonesque world of monsters, mad scientists, and war pigs.” Unfortunately for fans of interesting and weird animated things, it never quite got finished.
As Tippett recently explained to Indiewire, “I started shooting on 35mm film way back in the early 90s and then the project kind of fell into disrepair when the digital age hit. So I had to recalculate and spend a lot of time re-engineering our business from photographic to digital, so Mad God kind of went on hold.”
From this point on, Tippett took on more of a supervisor role, overseeing the effects work on things like Starship Troopers and the bulk of the Twilight series. He explained the transition by saying, “By the time Jurassic Park rolled around the whole photographic game pretty much was over even though we shot on film still. My real relationship to the stuff, kind of grew more into the strengths of knowing how to set up a project, and I became a lot more involved with designing and pre-production and helping the writers and directors and DPs.”
Certainly Jurassic Park and the emergence of CGI has done a lot to improve visual effects over the last couple of decades, but what of all those old arts? The ones that used models and puppets to create tactile effects that actually felt real when they were up on the screen? They’ve been falling by the wayside, and that’s where Mad God comes back into play.
Recently Tippett has decided to finish his long-shelved project, and has taken to Kickstarter to acquire the necessary funds. Though it asked for only $40,000, the campaign actually raised $124,156 by the time it ended; which points to a lot of enthusiasm that’s still out there for old school special effects.
What’s so cool about this 12 minute short finally getting made? It’s that Tippett is using the project as a way of teaching a new generation of effects wizards about the old ways of doing things. As the pitch for his Kickstarter campaign explained, “The crew is entirely made up entirely (sic) of volunteers, including artists from Tippett Studio, students from local art schools, and industry veterans who remember the ‘good ol’ days’ when effects were made by people on sets photographing puppets one frame at a time.” It goes on to state that, “Over an 18 month period, a small team, under Phil Tippett’s direction, will complete an approximately 12-minute chapter of the stop-motion/live-action/mixed-media creation called Mad God, using hands, tools, molds, clay, toys, garbage, blood, and whatever else we can get our hands on.”
Is this the sort of thing that could lead to a renaissance of practical effects in the future? Probably not, but in a world of shoddy looking CG blood and fire, and computer created creatures that astonish with their realism but still don’t seem to have the life in their eyes that puppets from the 70s did, it’s comforting to know that a new group of kids will at least have some idea of how all those old effects were created. Maybe one of them will go on to slip a practical effect into one of the big budget blockbusters of tomorrow—and if he does it right, we probably won’t even know the difference.