Elizalde, Mike (Blade: Trinity)


Hey Dread-heads, we’ve got a nice little suprise for all you FX loving Blade fans out there. Mike Elizalde, of Spectral Motion, the FX shop that most recently brought you Abe Sapien, and Sammael, for Hellboy, recently agreed to chat with us about his team’s effort on Blade: Trinity. Before Spectral Motion, Mike and his crew worked their magic for the big name shops, like Rick Baker’s Cinovations, Stan Winston Studio, and Steve Johnson’s Edge FX.

These days Spectral Motion holds its own as an FX shop to be reckoned with. If you wanna hear some words of wisdom from the only guy on the planet who can say that he knows how to make skinny green fishmen, AND spiky molten vampires, read on.

Evil Andy: Congratulations on all your recent successes, it seems like Spectral Motion is really on a roll lately. I read your interview with Neil over at Latex Mask Central where you were asked if you felt Spectral Motion was up there with the big shops like Baker’s, Winston’s, etc. At the time you answered a humble “no.” Now with Hellboy under your belt, Blade Trinity ready for release, and the major coup of scoring Fantastic Four, do you consider Spectral Motion to be a top tier FX shop now?

Mike Elizalde: Thanks for the kind words, Andy. As far as the quality of our work is concerned I know that Spectral is a top contender. I suppose I’m more interested in defining who we are independently than in comparing myself and my company to others. My focus is on continuing to offer the very best creature and makeup effects available. I firmly believe that our success will be directly commensurate to the level of respect and appreciation that I have for the talented people who choose to contribute to Spectral’s efforts. The product we create reflects the spirit of the shop. I know what it’s like to work in an environment where I’m not happy and my goal is to make Spectral Motion a place where people enjoy being creative.

EA: Having been part of Steve Johnson’s Edge FX crew on Blade 2, and now with Spectral Motion having headed the FX work on Blade: Trinity, how did your experiences on the two projects differ?

ME: Where do I begin? When I worked on Blade 2 I was at the computer designing animatronics and working for someone else. On Blade: Trinity I was in charge of the entire show and working for myself from my own design studio. The difference is vast. Being in charge is so much better than being at the mercy of someone else’s sensibilities. Working for the directors of these films offered me completely different experiences too. Guillermo del Toro is an outgoing, gregarious and oftentimes outrageous individual. David Goyer on the other hand is a little quieter when you first meet him but as you get to know him you see his fun-loving mischievous side emerge. Both men are extremely dedicated to what they do and I am honored to be a part of their respective circles of influence. Another notable difference for me personally is that Blade 2 was shot in Prague, Czech Republic and Blade: Trinity was shot in Vancouver B.C. Vancouver is much closer to home so I was able to travel back and forth to see my family which was not possible from Prague.

EA: How many folks were in your crew for Blade: Trinity?

ME: I think we had forty plus people working on Trinity throughout the build schedule.

EA: Are there any folks in your crew, or specific achievements for Trinity that you’d like to highlight?

ME: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to gush about my crew! I am very fortunate to have some of the most gifted artists and technicians in the effects industry as not only willing participants in our projects but as my friends. My lead art directors were Steve Wang and Norman Cabrera. Steve enjoys an enviable reputation as an incredible creature suit designer. This includes conceptualizing, sculpting, designing the fabrication of the understructure of the suit and finishing the whole thing off with one of his signature paint jobs. His talents also include directing and writing. Norman is a brilliant illustrator, sculptor and painter in his own right. He has this great slant on is design work that harkens to the early days of the imagineers who brought us the wonderful characters from Disney’s Haunted Mansion rides. Brent Baker heads up our mold department and he is nothing short of a consummate artist and perfectionist to a fault with his craft. Roland Blancaflor is the foremost foam-latex, gelatin and silicone appliance expert in the business bar-none. Mark Setrakian is unequalled in his field of animatronic design. His sheer brilliance is truly blinding. My production supervisor Brian Walsh is an extremely dedicated individual on whom I can rely and trust implicitly. He has a real gift for managing daunting logistics and meeting difficult deadlines. Everyone involved in our projects deserves special mention. I only wish I had time to do them all justice.

EA: I understand that in addition to sculpture, your background and strengths are in the area of animatronics. There’s a lot of information out there in instructional books and DVDs on makeup FX, but very little info about how to do animatronics. What would your tips be for our readers interested in learning more about animatronics?

ME: I think a good way to get some basic knowledge of how animatronics are put together is to go to your local hobby store and check out how radio control cars and planes work. This will give you a rudimentary understanding of the basic building blocks involved. Like anything else that is as complex and diverse as animatronics it requires a great deal of time and energy to master and you’re right about the fact that there is little in the way of reference material in this field. The learning curve is extremely steep. You really have to love it to pursue it.

EA: To what extent has computer technology infiltrated the world of animatronics? Is it getting to the point where animatronics are software controlled, can reproduce precise movements, maybe even have “programs” for movement patterns?

ME: The idea of pre-programming animatronics and servo driven mechanisms is definitely not new. This sort of technology has been in effect for decades. There are industrial applications such as assembly line robotic systems that have been in use for several years. Again, Disney essentially started it all with programmed animatronic systems for Disneyland. The tendrils on Sammael’s head in Hellboy are a great example of how a diverse array of movements can be managed by a computer card and a couple of input devices. Another example in which a computer is used to drive a character’s performance is when a repeatable delivery of dialogue or lyrics or what we call lip-sync is required.

EA: Blade 2 was a very FX laden movie. It was also one of the best examples of practical and CG effects being used to compliment each other. Can we expect the same level of innovation and blending of FX disciplines this time around?

ME: There will be some degree of hybrid technology in Trinity. We designed a creature suit for Drake, the patriarchal vampire in the story. He is essentially Count Dracula but he has a history that precedes Dracula’s reign by several millennia. He possesses the ability to change his form at will. The creature suit that we designed per for Drake is a mix of demonic and terrestrial elements. He has several spikes that adorn his head and shoulders and there are parts of his body that emulate molten earth and tectonic plates. He also has glowing elements that give the illusion of ethereal magma churning below his ancient cracked exterior. There are CG elements that allow him to open his maw a la Reapers in Blade 2. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see that directors are opting to use all the tricks in the book combined to bring a startling new dimension to cinematic effects.

EA: Since many practical effects end up getting a small CGI spit polish, and this blending of CG and makeup seems to be the direction things are moving, has Spectral Motion considered getting involved in the CG end of things so you can control the effect all the way through?

ME: Absolutely. I remember reading something a long time ago that said, “Evolve or perish.” We are about to start a project in which we will deal with all of the digital effects and that is a very exciting prospect for me. I’m thrilled to include this necessary element in our arsenal and to retain control over our effects as you put it.

EA: Any advice for our readers who want to get into the makeup FX field?

ME: Be honest with yourself about your skill level and what you expect to do when you look for work in this (or any) field. If your skills are rough, practice until it hurts. Immerse yourself in the arts and sciences that pertain to what you want to do. Look for reading materials that describe the processes you are interested in getting involved with. Be patient and be cool and look hard for opportunities to get in and move ahead.

EA: What’s your favorite effect in Blade: Trinity?

ME: I haven’t seen the movie yet so I don’t know how it’s cut together. My favorite element of the Drake creature suit is the undulation of the spikes on his shoulders and the breathing ports on his chest. I also like the way he seems to glow internally.

EA: Were you guys also responsible for creating the dental prosthetics for Blade: Trinity? If so, how many sets of fangs did you have to fabricate? Were they mostly fang caps or full dentures?

ME: We made all of the dental prostheses for the show. There were full denture sets for Drake in his human form and in his “Beast” form as well as fang caps for all the principal vampires and generic caps for background vamps. We also made a special set of metal fangs for “Grimwood” who was played by Triple H of pro wrestling fame.

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