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Les
Effets
Speciaux

from Hors Serie
Starfix #2
(December 1988)




From Hors Serie Starfix #2 (December 1988), pp. 76-79:
[Originally printed in Starfix No. 3 Hors Serie (April 1984), pp. 66-69]

Les Effets Speciaux
by Benoit Lestang
scans and original French text courtesy of Vincent Thibert of Welcome to Vincent Thibert's Main Page
translated by Paul Fellows of Welcome to the Dream Gallery, July 2000

The Special Effects:

The various physical effects for The Keep are the work of two English technicians: Nick Allder for the special effects and Nick Maley for make-up effects. Nick Alder started in the fifties as a cameraman for a firm of cartoonists. After having worked for Les Bowie on innumerable Hammer films, he founded his own team. All sorts of special effects are due to him (wind, explosions, mock-ups) on films such as The Empire Strikes Back, Conan and Alien, which won him an Oscar in 1980. At the moment they are working on the atmospheric effects for Legend, Ridley Scott's latest film. Nick Maley was Stuart Freeborn's assistant (2001, Star Wars, Superman) until 1979. He was discovered in Krull, and will soon put the finishing touches to the special make-up effects on Tobe Hooper's Space Vampires [which eventually was issued under the title Lifeforce], before launching himself into the production at the end of this year. It was Nick Allder who started working first: "I had just finished The Sender for Paramount," he remembers, "when I got a call from the Production team: 'Would you like to work on a small film called The Keep?' I met Michael Mann, and my job rapidly grew, and a year and a half later, it hasn't been a small film!" he laughs.

"First, we created the classic special effects, wind, lots of rain on the dungeon, as well as for the outdoor scenes filmed in Wales. We were also in charge of explosions and bullet wounds." Nick Maley was busy with his work on Krull at the time. "All in all," says the make-up artist, "the most important job was to make the body costumes for the demon Molasar. I had a lot of problems because Michael didn't know what he wanted. We made several costumes that were never used. Also, he didn't like my first sketches, to such an extent that we spent an enormous amount of time making very little headway, because we spent so much time on something which Michael didn't like, which meant we had to go back to square one each time." Nick Maley and Bob Keen first created the prosthetics to age Professor Cuza, as well as Glaeken's final make-up (Scott Glenn) which was made up of rubber which encompassed the neck down to the collarbone, Scott Glenn's forehead and his contact lenses. The two teams united for the scenes where Molasar exercises his terrible power on the soldiers of the Third Reich. Contrary to the book which recounts very bloody scenes, Michael Mann insisted that the victims be burnt from the inside: "The basic idea," reveals Nick Allder, "is when Molasar touches someone, he absorbs their energy, leaving an empty shell. All the blood and internal organs disappear. Mick (Maley) supplied us with molds of heads and hands, from which we made copies in wax and plastic. I blew up the bodies with explosives. In one opening scene, we threw one guy against a wall using compressed air. For The Sender, I constructed a sort of "air cannon" for a scene where the monster throws a guy against a 2-metre picture window. I reused this invention with special dummies, the sort used for research into road accidents; every part of the body is articulated; the weight of each limb is evenly distributed. I adapted them slightly for use with the cannon, of which the trajectory is as accurate as a revolver. With 10 KGs of pressure per square cm, the soldiers would be literally dismembered against the studio walls, while emitting a plume of black smoke." The instigator of this carnage doesn't appear until halfway through the film, when he saves Cuza's daughter from two drunken soldiers. At this stage Molasar is just a brain, a nervous system, a "moving force field," as Allder describes him. On the screen, you can make out a fireball through which appear eyes and a mouth. Mann wanted to give the impression of turbulence forming itself around the monster before being absorbed into its body. Nick Allder's solution was rather strange: "We constructed a completely hydraulically articulated dummy. Its body was covered with holes through which we injected smoke. This metal Molasar was placed in a black room. There were aircraft engines at different angles, like the wind-tunnels where they use to test the aerodynamics of cars. The dummy spouted smoke which was sucked in by the engines. For the shots filmed with actors, we had a man in a black costume. We studied these shots to such an extent that our metal Molasar made exactly the same gestures as the figure in the costume. Then the shots of 'Molasar in smoke' were filmed in reverse so that the smoke gave the impression of being spontaneously formed around him then sucked into his body. These images were finally superimposed onto the scenes with the actors. The superimposition was done live using a classic front-projection technique (the smoke scenes in the film were projected against a two-way mirror placed at 45 degrees)." Molasar appeared later in a new form resembling a cut-away. The muscles appeared, the eyes and mouth were perfectly formed while giving off red light. Nick Maley's team constructed a costume in rubber mousse, from a body mold of the actor Michael Carter (alias Bib-Fortuna in The Return of the Jedi, alias the victim in the metro in An American Werewolf in London). Every muscle was sculpted separately to correspond with Carter's. The pieces were then stuck onto the actor one by one, which gave the costume an astonishing realism. The skull, much bigger than the actor's, was articulated at the jaw in order to open normally. Nevertheless, Nick Allder busied himself by installing a system so that the light shines from the eyes and mouth. To Michael Mann, Molasar was like an energy-filled carcass. "We used lasers," declares Nick Allder. "We had a lot of problems, because the beams had to come out of the actor's eyes. He only had an opening the size of a pinhead to see out of! He had to be able to see, and at the same time his eyes had to be protected from the rays of light. The rays were sent to the costume with a network of fiber optic cables, and then projected onto small mirrors in front of Molasar's presumed eyes. The fibers were relayed to a very powerful laser, belonging to [the rock band] The Who, owners of the most powerful lasers in the country. We rent them regularly because they work very well. Fortunately, Molasar never appears outside the dungeon, which avoided having to use the system outdoors, with all the wind and rain, etc." When Molasar reappears, his mutation is completely finished, with features which recall Glaeken. This final stage was made from a series of rough sketches done by Enki Bilal to whom we owe the astonishing album Fair of the Immortals. Technically speaking, this costume is less perfected than the previous one, but it is of a striking appearance.

-- Benoit Lestang



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