About Graham Edwards

I'm senior staff writer at Cinefex magazine. I also write novels. In a former life, I produced animated films for theme park rides and science centres. If you offer me a cold beer, I won't say no.

Raw Steak and The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as trapper Hugh Glass in "The Revenant."

One year ago, on December 16, 2015, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant enjoyed its U.S. premiere at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre. Based on true events, and on the novel by Michael Punke, the film tells the harrowing story of 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) who, after being mauled by a bear, seeks revenge against those who left him for dead.

In this exclusive Q&A with Cinefex editor Jody Duncan, makeup supervisor Adrien Morot reveals the secrets behind some of the scenes which didn’t make the final cut. Like the film itself, his is a tale of ingenuity, endurance, and raw steak.

Yes, that’s right. Steak.

On location, DiCaprio grappled with bear performers. Industrial Light & Magic replaced them with a meticulously rendered and animated bear in postproduction.

On location, DiCaprio grappled with bear performers. Industrial Light & Magic replaced them with a meticulously rendered and animated bear in postproduction.

Cinefex: As we understand it, there were quite a few graphic and violent shots of characters being scalped, but those appear to have been cut from the final film. The director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, wanted to capture those effects in camera – and that’s where you came in. Tell us how you realized some of the scalping effects, and where they appeared in the film, originally.

Morot: There were many scalping scenes throughout the movie, including a dream sequence in which Tom Hardy’s character, John Fitzgerald, is scalped. It’s a very weird dream sequence, all done in one shot, where he sees a skinned bear creature walking through an icy pool of blood. The camera turns towards Fitzgerald, who is looking at the creature, and behind him stands Hugh Glass. As Fitzgerald tries to reload his gun, Glass suddenly scalps him. All of that had to be done as one single action – which meant that the bear creature and the scalping all had to be there, self-contained, within that single shot.

Cinefex:  How did you achieve that?

Morot: We had a bald cap, into which we incorporated a network of tubing, and we applied that to Tom Hardy. Once that was secured, we glued on top of it a silicone prosthetic appliance that looked like Tom’s forehead, complete with the scar his character had from being partially scalped as a kid. The prosthetic was pre-cut at the place where the scalping was to be done, and then lightly glued back in place. We concealed the cut line with Ultra Ice that was colored to look like skin tone.

When they shot it, Leo would run a dull blade along that pre-cut line, and then the blood from the tubing would start to pour down. We had a remote-controlled, battery-operated blood pump that was hooked up to Tom’s waist. So, we could be standing 20 feet away, and as Leo started cutting we’d activate the blood. Leo was fantastic – there’s a reason he gets the big bucks! We just had to explain it to him once, briefly, and he did it perfectly every take.

Makeup effects artist Adrien Morot created a head scar appliance worn by Tom Hardy, playing partially scalped trapper John Fitzgerald. The whitish, hairless prosthetic started at Hardy's forehead and continued to the back of one side of his head.

Makeup effects artist Adrien Morot created a head scar appliance worn by Tom Hardy, playing partially scalped trapper John Fitzgerald. The whitish, hairless prosthetic started at Hardy’s forehead and continued to the back of one side of his head.

Cinefex: You mentioned that there is a “bear creature” in this dream sequence.

Morot: Alejandro was always getting inspired and coming up with these kinds of ideas. One day, he came to me on set, and said, “Adrien, I have this idea! How about we have this skinned man-bear creature crawling around in a pool of blood?” And I said, “Okay, sure. When do you want to do that?” His answer was, “Next week!”

I explained to him that it would take more than a week to come up with a skinned bear creature, and his response was that maybe we could just take a suit and stitch some raw steaks onto it.

Cinefex: Steaks? You mean, T-bones, rib-eyes, the things you eat with A-1 sauce?

Morot: Yes! Steaks! And I said, “Okay, yeah, no – I don’t think we can do that.” So I did a bunch of concept drawings on my MacPro in my hotel room, and then showed them to Alejandro to see if he liked any of them. Once he’d agreed on one of those concepts, I had my shop build bear feet that would be worn by Javier Botet, the suit performer. We were lucky to have all of his measurements because we were already doing another movie with him, and he was coming to the shop that week anyway.

Cinefex: You started with the feet – wasn’t the bear head a bigger problem?

Morot: Well, luckily, Legacy Effects had built a skinned bear for the movie, for another scene. I asked John Rosengrant if we could get that skinned bear head for our creature – which would save us a lot of time – and they very nicely sent it to us. It was great, but it was a bit too heavy and cumbersome for our purposes – it hadn’t been built with the idea of a performer wearing it. But it was still a great reference, because I had it right there in front of me as I worked.

I sculpted a new bear head in clay, with kind of a zombie, ripped-flesh texture. I sculpted it very quickly, using Legacy’s head as reference for the shape, but scaled down so it would fit on a performer. I did the mold right there on set, in the makeup trailer, in the mountains, and poured it out of lightweight polyfoam. We did some silicone detailing on top, painted it, and put in glass eyes, and teeth.

Cinefex: What did you do for the body?

Morot: First, I bought the tallest, leanest store mannequin I could find in Calgary, as reference for Javier’s body. Then, using cotton fill, we sculpted the bear shape onto that, with a sculpted ribcage and a neck that jutted forward a bit. Then we did some silicone detailing on top of everything, and painted it. The costume department provided us with a long, shredded cape for the creature to wear. He almost looked like the zombie version of a Civil War soldier. And that’s how we made the suit within a week, inside my makeup trailer.

Cinefex: And no Porterhouses were used in the making of this suit?

Morot: No, no steaks. Given how quickly it was done, you’d think it would have looked like garbage. But, it turned out pretty good. The whole movie was like that – Alejandro suddenly coming up with an idea, very excited, and asking, “Can we have it tomorrow?” Throughout, I was always playing catch-up, always three months behind where I would have been normally. And I was basically working alone at the location, because my crew back at my shop in Montreal was working on other movies. I’d be on set during the day, applying makeup, and I’d work at night producing wounds and dummies and other things needed for the next day. Then I’d drive to the set the next morning, having had very little sleep.

Cast and crew spent several months shooting in the Canadian Rockies. Snow machines added a wintry ambience to those locations lacking the real thing. Visual effects further extended the desolate snowscapes, as in this shot by Cinesite.

Cast and crew spent several months shooting in the Canadian Rockies. Snow machines added a wintry ambience to those locations lacking the real thing. Visual effects further extended the desolate snowscapes, as in this shot by Cinesite.

Cinefex: A trailer in the middle of the Canadian Rockies – that can’t have been a very good place to produce makeup effects.

Morot: I had to set up a little shop in the production office. Once I was there and saw the urgency, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to rely on my shop in Montreal to make things and ship them to me – and, as I said, they were busy on other shows, anyway. So, I told the producers, “I need to make a shop here. Can you get me some shelves? Can you build two 4-by-8 wooden shop tables?” I gave them a list of materials to order, or had one of my on-set assistants get them in Calgary. We did that very quickly. In the end, I had right there in the production office the equivalent of the shop that I had in my dad’s basement when I was 16 years old. That was kind of cool, actually.

Cinefex: “Have silicone, will travel.”

Morot: Basically, yeah. I had a little bit of everything so I could whip out anything we needed. Except a steak suit.


Cinefex 145 CoverYou’ll find our complete, in-depth article on The Revenant in Cinefex 145. The story features more of Adrien Morot’s insights and detailed coverage of the rest of the film’s effects, courtesy of visual effects supervisor Richard McBride and the pioneering teams of artists at ILM, MPC, Cinesite, One of Us, Secret Lab and Legacy Effects.

The Visual Effects Oscar Race Begins

VFX Oscar Longlist 2016

On 2 December, 2016, the latest visual effects Oscar race began in earnest, when The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the 20 films up for consideration by the Academy’s Visual Effects Branch Executive Committee. Later this month, that list will be halved when committee members decide on the 10 films that will be eligible for nominations voting. Everything comes to a head on 26 February, 2017, at the trophy ceremony for the 89th Annual Academy Awards.

Here’s the list in alphabetical order:

Alice Through the Looking Glass, Arrival, The BFG, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Independence Day: Resurgence, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Passengers, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Star Trek Beyond, Suicide Squad, Sully, Warcraft, X-Men: Apocalypse.

Once again, science fiction and fantasy makes a strong showing, with 90 percent of the movies sitting squarely in that ever-popular genre. Of these, one third feature the antics of superheroes ranging from Marvel’s squeaky-clean Captain America to the down-and-dirty reprobates of DC’s Suicide Squad.

Mind you, not since 2004 has a superhero actually won the battle for the visual effects Oscar, when John Dykstra, Scott Stokdyk, Anthony LaMolinara, and John Frazier picked up awards for their work on Spider-Man 2. Will the 89th Awards mark the moment when the famous gold statuette sports spandex once more?

Squaring their shoulders against the sci-fi onslaught are Sully and Deepwater Horizon, a pair of true-life tales that are themselves as different as chalk and cheese. Then there’s the wild card that is Kubo and the Two Strings, Laika’s fantasy adventure that relies as heavily on cutting edge visual effects as it does on its devotion to stop-motion.

Some might think that the overwhelming presence of science fiction and fantasy movies in this awards category is just a sign of the times. Not so. Every film that won a visual effects Oscar during the 1980s was either solid genre fare, or was at least coated with a dusting of fantasy — and if you disagree that Raiders of the Lost Ark counts in that regard, I’ll gladly debate the point. During the 1990s, the only award-winning movie to break the mold was Titanic, a feat matched in the 2000s only by Gladiator. Like it or not, robots rule, wizardry wins, and spaceships score bigtime.

Of course, there’s sci-fi and there’s sci-fi. Last year’s visual effects Academy Award winner was Ex Machina, an absorbing character piece in which the on-screen magic was subordinate to the story. Will this year’s Academy voters be similarly wooed by slow-burning Arrival, or will they give their blessing to a bells-and-whistles spectacular like Doctor Strange or Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? And what of the movies that relied heavily on state of the art virtual production techniques, notably The Jungle Book, The BFG and Warcraft?

Just like you, we don’t have a crystal ball. But we do pride ourselves on the fact that since Cinefex was first published in 1980, every single visual effects Oscar-winner has featured in the magazine. As for this latest crop of contenders — you’ll find in-depth articles covering no less than 17 of the movies on the Academy’s longlist in our recent and upcoming issues.

None of us in the Cinefex office knows who is going to walk away with the next Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, but we’re having a lot of fun guessing. What’s your prediction?


Related articles:

The Cinefex Quiz 2016

Can’t face Black Friday? Still stuffed with Thanksgiving turkey? Here’s the perfect way to ease into the holiday weekend. Yes, it’s the annual Cinefex Quiz!

There’s one question for every article we’ve published this year. So, if you’ve been diligently reading your copies of Cinefex throughout 2016, you’ll have no trouble at all. Except wait — our final issue of the year won’t be published until December! Can we really be sneaky enough to ask you about articles we haven’t even published yet? You’ll have to do the quiz to find out …

On Seeing “Arrival”

Arrival PosterLast month, I finished my Cinefex article on Arrival, which you’ll be able to read in our upcoming December 2016 issue. As so often happens, I didn’t actually get to see the movie until this weekend, long after submitting my final draft. This happens a lot in this job, thanks to a complex dance of release dates, studio embargoes, and our magazine’s long lead time.

On top of that, as part of my research I’d also read the story on which Arrival is based – Ted Chiang’s rather marvellous Story of Your Life. So, by the time I found myself seated in my local multiplex waiting for the titles to roll, I knew an awful lot about the movie.

Sometimes it’s no fun knowing what’s coming next (believe me, when you’re interviewing for a Cinefex article you hear a lot of spoilers). In the case of Arrival, I was delighted to discover it didn’t spoil my enjoyment one bit.

The reason is simple, I think. Arrival is a class act. It’s that most delicate of creatures – a science fiction film that actually makes you think. The questions it raises are challenging, profound and moving, and yet somehow it manages to wrap them up neatly in an entirely accessible story about humans reacting to first contact with an alien species.

The movie looks gorgeous, by the way. Director Denis Villeneuve and director of photography Bradford Young constantly manipulate the camera’s depth of field to keep intimacy and tension in constant balance, and find beauty in the overcast light of what would be just another damp and ordinary day, if not for the strange vessels found suddenly hanging over twelve locations around the world.

The ships themselves – not to mention their shadowy occupants – are iconic and enigmatic. The alien aspects of Arrival are adroitly handled by a team of visual effects facilities including Hybride Technologies, Rodeo FX, Oblique FX, Raynault FX, Framestore, MELS VFX and Fly Studio, all under the expert eye of visual effects supervisor Louis Morin. What’s more, Villeneuve allows the camera to linger on their work, giving folk like you and me ample opportunity to spot the imperfections. Except there are no imperfections. There is only a stark, alien beauty. The work is that good.

We don’t often review films here at Cinefex. It’s not the Cinefex way, you see. We treat every film as equal – it’s our job to tell you how it was done, not how it made us feel. Occasionally, however, something exceptional comes along.

Something like Arrival.


Have you seen Arrival yet? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments box.

Now Showing – Cinefex 149

Cinefex 149

We’re big fans of Steven Spielberg here at Cinefex. So, with the whizzpopping fizzog of Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant fronting our brand new issue Cinefex 149, we wondered: “How many Cinefex covers have featured a movie directed by Spielberg?”

Our first Spielbergian cover came in January 1983, with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The following year we led with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, after which we skipped nearly a decade before releasing Jurassic Park onto the cover of our August 1993 edition.

Dinosaurs continued to rule with our monstrous 1997 cover for Jurassic Park: The Lost World, and we stuck with Spielberg in 2001 when our cover story was A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. We followed Spielberg’s science fiction journey in 2002 with Minority Report, and in 2005 with War of the Worlds. That gives us an impressive running total of seven Cinefex covers.

We have to confess, it’s been a bit of a gap since our last Spielbergian cover. So we’re delighted to bring the grand total up to eight with Cinefex 149’s truly spectacular cover image for The BFG.

Cinefex isn’t just about cover stories, of course. As well as our in-depth coverage of The BFG, our 2016 Halloween issue also contains larger-than-life articles on Suicide Squad, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ben-Hur and Approaching the Unknown, with exclusive interview content and images you won’t find anywhere else.

Here’s Cinefex editor-in-chief Jody Duncan to reveal more …

Jody Duncan – From the Editor’s Desk

During its first few years of publication, Cinefex typically covered two movies per issue – for a darn good reason: Don Shay was the magazine’s sole writer, not to mention its sole layout designer, business manager, circulation manager, and answerer of phones. (Don never did have a receptionist or administrative assistant. From his first day as a magazine publisher to the day of his retirement three years ago, if you called Don’s Cinefex number, he was the one who answered.)

As we brought on more writing help, we upped the number of movies covered to four – and we’ve maintained that formula, for the most part, for a number of years. Every once in a while, however, we stumble onto an extra project that we want to cover – something that might not qualify as the super-boffo visual effects film that is our usual fare; but something that we think the readers will find interesting.

In this issue, Approaching the Unknown was that project. The most frequent question we get from readers is, ‘Why don’t you cover more old-school effects?’ My usual response is: ‘If you can find somebody using old-school effects, we’ll cover ‘em!’ We hear that a group of intrepid filmmakers used a cloud tank, and we are there, tape recorders in hand. And that was the case with this independent, small-budget film, covered in Graham Edwards’ wonderful article.

But of course, the issue still has its four effects-extravaganza subjects: Joe Fordham’s in-depth articles on Suicide Squad and The BFG – whose lovely face graces the cover – and Graham’s coverage of Ben-Hur, which includes lots of behind the scenes information on staging the famous chariot race. My article on Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children finishes out the issue, Tim Burton-style.

Have a scary – but safe – Halloween!

Issue 149 of Cinefex is on newsstands now, and available to order at our online store. If you’re a subscriber, a gigantic hand will be thrusting your copy through a convenient upper-story window very soon. And don’t forget our enhanced iPad edition, featuring tons more photographs – many of them exclusive to Cinefex – and stunning video content.

Star Trek in Triplicate

Star Trek Beyond Barco Escape

The concept of multi-screen projection is nearly as old as cinema itself. In 1927, French film director Abel Gance presented the final reel of his historical epic Napoleon in triptych form, with spectacular battle scenes projected on three adjacent screens.

Years later, in 1952, the demo movie This is Cinerama helped to launch the film world’s obsession with ever-bigger, ever-wider theatrical experiences, with a refined three-panel process that almost – but not quite – erased the seams between the three pictures.

In the summer of 2016, the triptych returned to theaters with a special Barco Escape presentation of Star Trek Beyond. Kicking in during key moments of the film, a trio of movie projectors expanded the intergalactic action across two additional Cinemascope screens.

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Talking to Cinefex, Star Trek Beyond co-producer and visual effects producer Ron Ames explained:

“We took the animations on the center screen on our all-CG shots, and extended everything you see off to the left and right, giving you kind of a horseshoe view. During some of the live-action scenes, we used the space almost three-dimensionally. For example, if you had a wide shot of the bridge, on the left and right screens you’d see details of viewscreens, or people’s reactions. It was three-dimensional storytelling, which was kind of fascinating.”

Watch a video of Barco Escape before and after clips from Star Trek Beyond by Prime Focus World:

Sharing digital assets with main visual effects vendor Double Negative, a team of 120 artists at Prime Focus World created the additional content needed to fill the extra screens. You can read the full story here on the Prime Focus website. Commenting on the process, Merzin Tavaria, chief creative director of Prime Focus, remarked:

“Essentially we were creating one huge 6K image across a 270 degree field of view. We realized early on that the scenes that we would be extending were already impressively wide shots on the single center screen, with focal lengths of around 100mm. If we’d applied similar focal lengths to the left and right cameras, we’d have been looking behind ourselves! We had to come up with intelligent and creative ways of using the extra screen space.”

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Star Trek Beyond is still playing in selected Barco Escape theaters across the United States, Europe, Mexico and China. Visit the Barco Escape website to find three screens near you.

Now Showing – Cinefex 148

Cinefex 148

Pop quiz – how many times has the U.S.S. Enterprise graced the cover of Cinefex? As our header image demonstrates, the answer is now “five.”

Starfleet’s iconic starship first appeared on the front of our inaugural issue, way back in 1980, when Cinefex issue 1 delivered exclusive coverage of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (we’ve covered every single Star Trek theatrical feature since, with the exception of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).

The Enterprise‘s next cover gig came in 1989 with Cinefex 37, when we voyaged into the world of television to explore the visual effects of Star Trek – The Next Generation. Fast-forward to 2009 and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, and there’s the Enterprise soaring across the cover of Cinefex 118, only to return in 2013 for Cinefex 134 and our in-depth story on Star Trek Into Darkness.

Now the Enterprise is back, up close and personal on the front cover of the brand new Cinefex 148, in a stunning image that was specially beamed to us by Double Negative. Inside you’ll find galaxy-spanning articles on four blockbuster movies – Star Trek Beyond, Warcraft, Independence Day: Resurgence and The Legend of Tarzan.

Here’s Cinefex editor-in-chief Jody Duncan to tell you more about our latest edition …

Jody Duncan – From the Editor’s Desk

In Cinefex 65, published in 1996, we dedicated much of our coverage to Industrial Light & Magic, in honor of the celebrated company’s 20th anniversary. I was given the task of writing a survey of ILM’s work up to that point, covering – in a paragraph or two – the effects in each of ILM’s film projects spanning that period.

No effort has ever made me appreciate Cinefex more. I quickly found that if the film in question was one we had covered, I had a wealth of information from which to draw. On the few occasions I had to write about a film not previously covered in Cinefex, I was doomed, because no such information existed. Many visual effects artists have made the same observation, and have said to me: “Before Cinefex, getting information about how a film’s effects were done was almost impossible.”

I mention this because, when assigning myself the Independence Day: Resurgence article for our current issue 148, my first thought was: “Thank God, we covered the first Independence Day 20 years ago.” I knew that I could re-read that article and learn all I needed to know – for compare and contrast purposes – about how they had done the effects for the original film. I also knew that my new article would benefit from our long association with visual effects supervisor Volker Engel, who in 1996, in 2016, and in all the years between has been the very best kind of ally.

Warcraft director Duncan Jones, too, was an ally as Graham Edwards dove deep into that film’s effects. Graham also covered Star Trek Beyond, the subject of one of our sexiest covers ever. (Yes, the Enterprise is our cover image yet again – but no one complained when Elle Macpherson graced the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition three years in a row!)

Finally, Joe Fordham brings us extensive coverage of the effects in The Legend of Tarzan, which includes some fascinating stories of shooting background imagery in Central Africa’s Gabon – a remote, deeply forested landscape never before seen in a Hollywood film.

That’s Cinefex 148 – enjoy!

Issue 148 of Cinefex is on newsstands now, and available to order at our online store. If you’re a subscriber, clear those Tribbles out your mailbox – your copy will be docking very soon. And don’t forget our enhanced iPad edition, featuring tons more photographs – many of them exclusive to Cinefex – and stunning video content.

Q is for Queen

In the VFX ABC, the letter “Q” stands for “Queen”.

Science fiction and fantasy films delight in carrying us to strange lands and even stranger planets. As we explore these brave new worlds, chances are we’ll encounter a thoroughly alien society. And who will we find sitting on the alien throne?

An alien queen, of course.

In 1924, a Russian silent film called Aelita, Queen of Mars whisked audiences across the far reaches of space to meet the scantily-clad Martian monarch. Directed by Yakov Protazanov, Aelita showcased lavish constructivist sets by Isaak Rabinovich and a fleeting glimpse of a funky balloon-shaped spacecraft – the movie’s miniatures are credited to Viktor Simonov.

A thinly-disguised treatise on socialism, Aelita bombed at the box office, yet its innovative production design appears to have influenced later and more memorable science fiction films including Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic Metropolis and Universal Pictures’ 1930s Flash Gordon serial.

The sovereign ruler of the Red Planet finds herself leading a worker's revolution in the 1924 Russian film "Aelita, Queen of Mars."

The sovereign ruler of the Red Planet finds herself leading a worker’s revolution in the 1924 Russian film “Aelita, Queen of Mars.”

When it comes to alien queens, however, there’s one monarch who reigns supreme. Yes, I’m talking about the vengeful, egg-laying xenomorph from James Cameron’s 1986 film Aliens. Created for the production in both full-size and quarter-scale versions by artists at Stan Winston Studio, this big bad momma simultaneously pushed special effects technologies to the limit and created a movie icon that towers tall even to this day.

Here’s what James Cameron had to say about his original concept design for the alien queen, in the pages of Cinefex 27:

“For me, the queen is really a blend of what [H.R.] Giger does with what I wanted to do, which was to create something that was big and powerful and terrifying and fast and very female – hideous and beautiful at the same time, like a black widow spider.”

The alien queen battles Ripley’s power loader in “Aliens.” Stan Winston's crew operated the full-scale animatronic queen. For shots showing only the upper half of the loader, its mechanical legs were removed to afford greater maneuverability for operators Sigourney Weaver and John Lees.

The alien queen battles Ripley’s power loader in “Aliens.” Stan Winston’s crew operated the full-scale animatronic queen. For shots showing only the upper half of the loader, its mechanical legs were removed to afford greater maneuverability for operators Sigourney Weaver and John Lees.

In the same interview, Cameron commented that somebody had likened the queen to “an anorexic dinosaur.” In the film, Sigourney Weaver as Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley famously refers to her as “you bitch!” Which got me wondering – how did the Stan Winston team refer to their creation while they were on set?

As it turns out, the answer is prosaic. John Rosengrant and Alec Gillis, part of the original Aliens creature crew, told me they referred to her quite simply as “the Queen.” Gillis elaborated: “We were so dogged tired that one-syllable words worked best!”

For a shot in “Star Trek: First Contact” showing the assembly of the Borg queen’s body parts, actress Alice Krige was positioned with her head in a prosthetic neck-and-shoulders piece fashioned by Todd Masters Company. Bluescreen material masked her legs and torso. ILM digitally combined the result with footage of the biomechanical suit.

For a shot in “Star Trek: First Contact” showing the assembly of the Borg queen’s body parts, actress Alice Krige was positioned with her head in a prosthetic neck-and-shoulders piece fashioned by Todd Masters Company. Bluescreen material masked her legs and torso. ILM digitally combined the result with footage of the biomechanical suit.

Ten years after the release of Aliens, in 1996, concept artist Ricardo Delgado compared his design for the Borg queen of Star Trek: First Contact with the same deadly arachnid that had inspired James Cameron – the black widow spider.

Alice Krige performed as the cybernetic sovereign, wearing prosthetic makeup by Mike Westmore and crew, with Industrial Light & Magic deploying some smart digital effects for a shot in which a descending apparatus introduces the queen’s fleshy head and shoulders to a waiting biomechanical body.

Genre films in subsequent years gave us a healthy succession of notable queens (or at least characters close enough to royalty to count in my book).

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace benefited from the graceful presence of Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala, while in 2001 A.I. Artificial Intelligence treated us to a glimpse of the queenly Blue Fairy, voiced by Meryl Streep and digitally keyframed by ILM to emulate the retro qualities of 1950s Disney animation.

In the year 2001, a rather different kind of queen made audiences tremble with fear. In Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, the heroic young wizard played by Daniel Radcliffe goes up against a giant chess set brought to life by sinister spells. Photographed on a full-scale set, with practical effects and pyrotechnics by special effects supervisor John Richardson and digital animation by Mill Film, the chess sequence features a sword-wielding queen driven by a particularly aggressive kind of magic.

Harry, Ron and Hermione face the perils of a giant chess board in "Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone."

Harry, Ron and Hermione face the perils of a giant chess board in “Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone.”

No queen is complete without her castle. In The Chronicles of Narnia, Sony Pictures Imageworks constructed the freezing environs of the castle of Tilda Swinton’s White Witch (who looks a lot like a Snow Queen if you ask me). Meanwhile, for Snow White and Huntsman, Baseblack and BlueBolt built the brooding castle environments within which Charlize Theron as Queen Revenna worked her endlessly wicked ways.

In 2010, director Tim Burton concocted an arresting vision of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, for which artists at Sony Pictures Imageworks used digital warping and clever composition to enlarge the head of actress Helena Bonham Carter, techniques they revisited for James Bobin’s 2016 sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass.

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As I write this in the summer of 2016, alien queens are big again – in this case, very big. Following James Cameron’s lead, Roland Emmerich gave us “something we hadn’t seen yet” in Independence Day: Resurgence. The 200-foot-tall queen of the alien invaders was brought to the screen by visual effects artists at Weta Digital. You can read the full story of how they did it in Cinefex 148.

Not every movie queen requires motion picture magic to put her on the throne. Nevertheless, some of cinema’s most memorable monarchs were helped into power by teams of artists from the fields of visual and special effects. The result of their work is frequently spectacular, which just goes to prove one thing.

Queens rule.


Aliens photography copyright © 1986 by Twentieth Century Fox. Star Trek: First Contact photograph copyright © 1996 by Paramount Pictures. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone photograph copyright © 2001 by Warner Brothers. Alice in Wonderland photographs copyright © 2010 by Walt Disney Pictures.

All Eyes on Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek BeyondI think I must have a split personality.

Leastways, that’s what I thought last Sunday, while I was enjoying Star Trek Beyond in my local multiplex. “Enjoying” is the right word, by the way. I thought the movie was fresh and fun, with bags of inventive action neatly balanced by solid character moments and a warm inclusive heart. I really hope feisty alien scavenger Jaylah gets to join the crew, don’t you?

So why did the movie make me feel divided? Because I was watching it through lots of different sets of eyes, all at the same time.

The first set of eyes belonged to a middle-aged moviegoer primed and ready for some escapist entertainment. That version of me left the cinema highly satisfied, and confident that the reboot series has plenty of dilithium left in the tank.

The second set of eyes belonged to a Cinefex writer who spent most of May interviewing the people responsible for Star Trek Beyond’s eye-popping effects. My victims included the visual effects teams at Double Negative and Atomic Fiction (who were ably supported by their fellow artists at Kelvin Optical). Special effects supervisor Cameron Waldbauer told me how he blew stuff up and generally threw things around, while head of prosthetics Joel Harlow talked at length about Krall, Kalara and the rest of the 50-plus alien species that he and his team brought to the screen. To my delight, I even managed to grab 15 minutes with director Justin Lin.

Everything I’d learned – and everything I’d written – was going through my head while the movie played. Sometimes that meant I knew what was coming next. Often it left me delighted by the sheer visual finesse of a sequence I’d only ever had described to me in words. Throughout, it made me grateful that I’d had the good fortune to get a solid glimpse behind the scenes … before I’d actually seen those scenes.

Cameraman Hoyt Yeatman checks alignment for the final shot of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," photographed using a special rig that allowed the camera to swing on a 180-degree arc down and under the Enterprise.

Cameraman Hoyt Yeatman checks alignment for the final shot of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” photographed using a special rig that allowed the camera to swing on a 180-degree arc down and under the Enterprise.

The third set of eyes belonged to the teenage version of me – the eager young fellow who sat drinking in the stunning visual effects created by Doug Trumbull and John Dykstra for Star Trek: The Motion Picture back in 1979. Sure, all those Enterprise and V’ger flybys seemed to go on forever, but by golly, weren’t they gorgeous to behold?

The eyes don’t stop there. There was a fourth and even more youthful set with me in the cinema this weekend. These nostalgia-rich peepers belonged to the little kid who for many years ate his evening meals in front of the television, avidly watching reruns of the original Star Trek series. That kid was thrilled to see Kirk, Spock, Bones and all the rest of them given new life and a whole new frontier to play in. Justin Lin told me that he too grew up with the show, and his love for Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek is plain to see, shining out from every frame of Star Trek Beyond.

As if four sets of eyes weren’t enough, I was all ears too. Michael Giacchino’s score for Star Trek Beyond – an extension of the music he composed for the previous two reboot movies – is a real treat, somehow managing to sound fresh while still sharing DNA with the classic themes written by Jerry Goldsmith for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and James Horner’s exhilarating score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. These days, it isn’t often I leave the cinema humming the theme tune. I’m humming Giacchino’s Star Trek theme as I write this blog.

I guess there’s nothing unusual in my many-eyes experience of moviegoing. It’s something we all share, don’t you think? No film exists in isolation – least of all the latest iteration of a franchise going back an epic 50 years.

How many sets of eyes did you take to Star Trek Beyond? And what did they see?


Cinefex 148 is out this month, with in-depth behind the scenes coverage of Star Trek Beyond, Warcraft, Independence Day: Resurgence and The Legend of Tarzan. Preorder your copy now.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture photograph copyright © 1979 by Paramount Pictures Corporation. All rights reserved. Special effects unit still photography by Virgil Mirano.

Now Showing – Cinefex 147

Cinefex 147 - From the Editor's Desk

You know what the law of the jungle says: The strength of Cinefex is in the pack … as in the pack of films we’ve got lined up for you in our sun-dappled June edition, Cinefex 147.

Things get off to a roaring start as Joe Fordham grabs a tiger by the tail for his article on the making of Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book. You’ll also find superheroes aplenty in Cinefex 146, with in-depth stories on Captain America: Civil War, and X-Men: Apocalypse, not to mention a psychedelic trip into the imagination of Lewis Carroll with Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Here’s Cinefex editor-in-chief Jody Duncan to lead you deeper into our latest issue …

Jody Duncan – From the Editor’s Desk

There are a few directors I follow with particular interest, and Jon Favreau is one of them. I appreciate a director who has both Chef and Iron Man in him – the former, a heartfelt redemption story; the latter, a kick-ass superhero movie. (One of the best superhero movies ever, to my mind.) Whatever the genre or subject matter, Favreau explores the human condition with wisdom, compassion, and wit.

And so I was excited to see what he would do with The Jungle Book – and he did not disappoint. What was frothy, cute and charming in the original Disney cartoon became somewhat darker in Favreau’s live-action adaptation, but little Mowgli and the computer animated animals surrounding him had all the humor and elegance I’ve come to expect from a Jon Favreau production.

A line of text at the end of the credits noted the most amazing aspect of this film: it had been shot entirely on stage in downtown Los Angeles. The story of how that barren concrete slab was transformed into an Indian jungle populated with wolves, panthers, snakes, apes, elephants and one vengeful tiger is revealed in picture and word in Joe Fordham’s Jungle Book article. I know well that in this digital age, not all visual effects stories are interesting. This one is.

Joe also interviewed the effects artists behind the work in Alice Through the Looking Glass, while Graham Edwards dug deep to bring us the stories recounting the making of the effects in X-Men: Apocalypse, perhaps the most ambitious of all the X-Men films to date.

To ‘cap’ it all, my article for this issue covers the effects in Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, a truly epic film with 11 of the most popular Marvel characters duking it out, superhero-style.

And that’s issue 147!

Thanks, Jody! Issue 147 of Cinefex is on newsstands now, and available to order at our online store. If you’re a subscriber, stand by your mailbox – your copy is already on its way. And don’t forget our enhanced iPad edition, featuring tons more photographs – many of them exclusive to Cinefex – and stunning video content.