by David Christopher Bell
Sometimes the best solution is also the easiest. When it comes to making movies, however, nothing tends to be easy.
Then again, there have been a few instances where the solution – while still not anywhere close to easy – was at least simple. Cheap, even. Check out the following big budget effects that you could theoretically recreate in your own basement.
7. Glow Stick Juice = Predator Blood
According to the science, the two chemicals in glow sticks are called bis oxalate and dibutyl phthalate. You crack that bastard, mix the two, and BAM – alien blood for your shitty sci-fi film. For Predator, they took the substance and mixed it with some good ol’ K-Y Jelly to make it better to have sex with, or perhaps just slow it down.
This is just one more reason the Predator alien kind of sucks at his job. He’s a bulky, invisible hunter and yet his blood can be seen from space. It’s the opposite of what his evolution should have produced.
6. Forced Perspective In The Lord Of The Rings
Obviously Peter Jackson wasn’t the first person to utilize forced perspective in films – but it’s his amazing method that certainly makes this one of the best moments for that ridiculously simple process of putting one actor closer to the camera than another.
For Lord Of The Rings, they found new and exciting ways to pull this off – like constructing a rig to move the pieces of the set around with the camera, achieving a moving forced perspective shot like none other. For a film packed with elaborate effects shot, this very simply setup happened to be the most effective.
5. Spider Makeup in Spider-Man
Casting for spiders is just not something you think about. For the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man, the challenge was to find just the right arachnid to look the part for when Peter Parker is first bit on his school trip. To find what they wanted, spider guy Steven Kutcher put on an “Olympic” tryout of eight-legged creatures for Raimi – showing off their various talents and looks.
After landing on the brown spider Steatoda grossa, it was only a matter of knocking the spider out, putting it in a tiny harness, and then painting it the red and black design in the film with a non-toxic paint. No really – they painted a spider, because CGI would be silly.
4. Air Cannon Super Throw in Superman Returns
With a production budget of almost $300M you’d assume that they spared absolutely no expense in making this movie. After all, they grew corn and constructed a farm for it. They had a whole showcase of CGI effects. So when it came down for Superman to throw a ball really fast – the gag being a game of fetch with his dog – you’d assume they would just CGI that and have a sandwich.
And yet, oddly enough, they went for a science project instead. What happened was that Superman actor Brandon Routh ended up standing in front of what can only be described as a mutagen-enhanced potato gun that shot a ball into the sky at the exact same time he’d mimic the throw – making it appear as if he had super strength. It’s an awesome effect, and one that oddly enough anyone could achieve with a solid trip to the hardware store.
3. Reverse House Drop in The Wizard Of Oz
You see this a lot. Pulp Fiction supposedly ran the adrenaline scene backwards as the needle was pulled away, The Evil Dead made smoke disappear into the trees, Brazil pulled newspapers off of Robert De Niro and reversed it to look like they were sticking. It’s when you film the scene one way and simply reverse it to create your effect – my favorite being from The Wizard Of Oz.
When Dorothy’s house assassinates the Wicked Witch Of The East, we see what is possibly a POV shot of the house coming down from the sky and landing right on the camera. The effect – something that could cause a serious headache to try to construct – was simply done by paining the studio floor like the sky and dropping the model from the camera. Because when CGI isn’t an option, you tend to get creative as hell.
2. Star Trek Used Mirrors For Skydiving
J.J. Abrams is only juuuust still holding on to that boyish wonder that made him get into filmmaking in the first place. Come the fan stink for Star Wars and he’ll settle in – until then, he has shown a tremendous liking to doing things practically if possible. The first of the Star Trek alternate universe films really reflected that, and by “reflected” I mean that whatever I’m too lazy to make a pun about mirrors. He used mirrors.
For the skydiving scene that was riddled with effects shots – they found it extremely taxing to stick the actors up on a green screen and hang them asses upside down. Instead they simply had them stand on a big mirror and shoot downward, giving the same effect without having to change a thing in post. Off-camera fans and shaking the tripod completed the look, making this truly a Star Trek-worthy effect.
1. Jurassic Park Created A T-Rex’s Steps With A Guitar String
The story of the concentric rings formed by the oncoming T-Rex contains every aspect needed to make it the perfect simplistic solution in an otherwise complicated shoot. For starters, it was thought up on the fly by Spielberg, then handed down to special effects producer Michael Lantieri who, after a bunch of research, found himself at a total loss on how to do it.
So in the true spirit of MacGyver filmmaking, Lantieri only found his solution at the very last minute, plucking on a guitar at home the night before the shoot. It was this that created the perfect circles he was looking for, and so on the day of shooting it was only a matter of sticking a string under the car.