Before you start reading my blog I just wanted to say a big thank you to the Replica Prop Forum for even being interested in this blog and sharing it out on their page!
Being a mega Cosplay and Sci Fi fan means occasionally I get to work on very cool film and photo projects and I am uber excited to bring you this blog. Back in 2015 I was introduced to Lee Fields the MD of the awesome Zed Zombie Survival Events and was asked to create several images to help him market his amazing Zombie experience. (See images below) During a recent conversation about movie props Lee divulged he had bought several items and uniforms from a Sci Fi film called Spectral. I knew Lee was a huge movie prop collector but didn’t know he had the amazing guns and uniforms from Spectral and it was one of those “WOW” moments for me. I had seen the film and straight away thought about a photo shoot before Lee had finished his next sentence.
One of many before and after images I created for Lee / ZED events.
I drove down to meet up with Lee at his location on a cold Tuesday morning in February. And before we started our photo shoot it was time to catch up over a cuppa and I asked Lee a few questions at the same time for my blog…
HI LEE, PLEASE TELL ME ABOUT YOUR SELF – WHAT ARE YOUR INTERESTS / HOBBIES AND HOW DID YOU GET INTO BUYING FILM PROPS?
Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to make costumes and get into Special FX so I started teaching myself properly when I was in my teens (no college courses back then!) from reading everything I could get my hands on and making loads of mistakes that I learned from. After I left school, I got involved in one of the very first walk through interactive experiences called Alien War in 1992, which was a haunted house type of thing based around the ‘Aliens’ franchise.
Lee all kitted up and looking the part in his DARPA suit.
From there, I bumbled around in film/TV, illustrated and designed for SciFi/fantasy games companies and played with guns a lot. After a few years into starting Zed Events, I decided I needed a hobby and decided to put a costume together from the movie Dredd (2012) and got hopelessly hooked back into the world of making film props and collecting them. From then, I got seriously into film making and now into VFX, editing, Aerial filming. I don’t like sitting still.
QUESTION TWO –
YOU HAVE BEEN RUNNING YOUR ZOMBIE LIVE ACTION EXPERIENCE (ZED EVENTS) FOR MANY YEARS BUT IT HAS SADLY COME TO AN END. CAN YOU TELL ME WHY IT’S BEEN DRAWN DOWN AND WHAT CAN VISITORS EXPECT TO SEE WITH YOUR NEW PROJECT WHICH I BELIEVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.
Yeh, since getting this entire empty Mall 9 years ago where we ran airsoft games, I had always wanted to do something that involved my love for the classic Romero films and my SFX background. When We launched the Zombie Mall Experience, which was a feature length movie like interactive show, there was nothing like it up to that point. It instantly went viral around the world and sold out the first year within a week of the tickets going on sale.
As of the closure last weekend, we saw through nearly 50K customers in the 6 years. Towards the end of the year, I knew it was time to move on and indulge my other favorite apocalyptic passion, Nuclear War! The new event will be like a full on ‘Mad Max’ style movie-like experience where all kinds of insane things will happen. The post apocalypse scene is really growing right now, which might have something to do with the way the world is going.
I KNOW YOU VISIT THE WORLDS LARGEST WASTELAND THEMED EVENT IN AMERICA, IS THERE SCALABILITY TO HAVE SOMETHING SIMILAR RUN HERE IN THE UK AND ARE YOU THE MAN TO RUN IT?
Wasteland Weekend is like home for me. For 5 days every year I go hang out in the Mojave desert with some of the friendliest and most creative people I have ever met. It really is like a whole different world and you really see the best in people at the end of the world. We are working on bringing it to the UK and working on possible locations right now.
SO WHAT IS SPECTRAL?
Well go check out the official released trailer for the film below then continue to read folks…
During the summer of 2014, Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures announced that commercials director Nic Mathieu would make his feature debut directing Fried’s screenplay for the supernatural action film Spectral which would star James Badge Dale, Max Martini, Bruce Greenwood and Emily Mortimer. Described as a supernatural Black Hawk Down, Spectral centers on a special-ops team who are dispatched to fight supernatural beings who have taken over a European city.
Film production began on August 7, 2014. Shooting started on August 28, 2014 in various streets and buildings in Budapest, Hungary, relying extensively on practical effects and locations for an authentic, gritty atmosphere. Filming was completed in August 2015. Peter Weta Workshop produced the futuristic weapons and the special effects for the movie. Universal Pictures anticipated a release in August 2016 but decided against this and transferred the rights to Netflix which released it on December 9, 2016.
Initially, Universal Pictures was going to distribute the film, setting an August 12, 2016 release date for the film. In June 2016, the film was pulled from the schedule. Netflix later acquired distribution rights to the film and released the film worldwide on December 9, 2016 at a cost of $70 million.
WHAT IS THE STORY ABOUT?
For those of you who haven’t seen SPECTRAL here is the basic outline of the “first” part of the film only. I DON’T WANT TO GIVE ANYTHING AWAY!
DARPA researcher Dr. Mark Clyne is flown to Moldova, where the US military is currently deployed in the ongoing Moldovan War, as his expertise is required regarding a line of hyperspectral imaging goggles of his design that have been issued to troops there. After arriving at a US Military Air Base on the outskirts of Chișinău, he meets with General Orland and CIA officer Fran Madison. He is shown footage captured by the troops’ goggles of a mysterious, translucent, humanoid apparition that kills almost instantly. Knowing it is not interference, Orland wants Clyne’s expert opinion before forwarding the findings and footage to his superiors. Conversely, Madison believes the sightings to be members of the insurgency wearing an advanced form of active camouflage and has orders from her superiors to retrieve a sample.
PHOTO SHOOT OVER, NOW IT’S TIME TO LOOK AT EDITING MY IMAGES…
As you will have seen from the film trailer there are amazing “Spectrals” that kill on touching the soldiers and I wanted to add these life forms into my photos with Lee but how on earth do I go about creating them? I decided to take to the all knowing font of knowledge that is Google and see what illustrations it could find for me.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY ZACHERY BERGER. I soon found amazing illustrations of the Spectrals on the internet and found out who had created them. I could see who made them and using the power of the internet found out that the work I was looking at was created by a very talented Zachery Berger who lives in America. Due to the complicated nature of the Spectrals I thought I would be bold and approach Zachery and ask his permission to use some of his illustrations in my photos. To my amazement within 10 minutes of posting a message to Zachery I received a positive response, of course I was very excited and my mind was going into overdrive with what I could create. I have to say the power of the internet never ceases to amaze me, 10 minutes of time to locate one man, fire a few questions and to get a response within 10 minutes is insane. The fact Zachery had given me permission to use and show his illustrations is even more insane. Mr Zachery Smith I salute you Sir!
WHO IS ZACHERY BERGER? So a little bit of back ground information on Mr Z Berger. Zachery is a freelance concept artist and illustrator and is currently working as a concept artist / creature designer at Lightstorm Entertainment. Previous to that he has worked as a former concept artist / creature designer at Walt Disney studios, concept artist / illustrator at 20th Century Fox and concept artist at Legendary. So he is currently working with and has worked at some of the biggest animation and film studio names out there and his creative skills certainly show the high calibre of his work for him to be noticed. Zachery has also worked on feature films such as Logan, Kong: Skull Island, The Jungle Book and Fantastic Four.
I recently hooked up with Zachery to ask him five questions about his involvement with Spectral and you can read his answers below.
QUESTION ONE – HOW LONG DID YOU SPEND WORKING ON SPECTRAL?
I was on the production for around a year, give or take. Tom Meyer, the production designer for the film, actually poached me out of my cushy video game job and brought me on to work on the film in its very early infancy, along with a small crew of other really talented artists and pre-production crew, including Andrew Leung, Imery Watson, David Moreau, Jason Clark, and Andrea Carter, among others. I will forever be grateful to Tom for that job offer, and to the rest of the crew for showing me the ropes — I was so stoked, honored, and intimidated at the time: this was to be my first feature film gig, and I really wanted to make a good impression.
My recollection was that it was before the film was actually green lit, and at that time we actually had a different set of directors! The film was actually initially supposed to be directed by a duo of directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, but they eventually left to go direct the most recent “Pirates of the Caribbean” film for Disney. After that, we went through a scary stage of thinking that movie was dead before it had even gotten started. But the studio seemed to really like the project (I’d like to think in some small way because of the art that we were creating), and kept it on life support until they brought on a new director in Nic Mathieu. Nic breathed new life into the direction of the project, and we shifted gears to help him bring his vision to life, which is eventually what ended up on screen.
Various illustrations of the near final “final stage” helmet, suit.
Exploring how the DARPA helmet might open.
QUESTION TWO – TYPICALLY HOW MANY DRAWINGS WOULD YOU HAVE TO MAKE BEFORE A VERSION WAS SELECTED?
This is actually a really tough question to answer. The process on this project was a little bit unique in comparison to other things I’ve been a part of, because we would often pass designs around between multiple artists. Someone would do a sketch pass on something, then it might get handed off to someone else to do a more refined version. The style of the film was very detailed and hodge-podge — Nic liked to use the phrase “mosquito-level detail” — so it actually lent itself very well to having multiple artists touch a lot of the designs. We were always being encouraged to add more sci-fi cables and hoses and add more techy “gak” to the DARPA tech designs to make them feel really advanced and uber-detailed. In the end I think this really added to the look and feel of the designs, and hopefully set them apart from other films a little bit.
I can safely say for the Spectrals (ghosts) themselves, between the art department we probably did over a thousand versions of what they could look like. I think almost every artist in the art department took a crack at them, and eventually I think we arrived at something pretty cool. Imery Watson should definitely be given credit for really “cracking” the look and feel of them — up until that point, we had no idea what they were going to exactly look like. We knew on an abstract level they had to be otherworldly and ethereal, and the viewer had to relate to them emotionally, but reading those adjectives and then conveying them in a 2D illustration are two totally different tasks. Looking at the designs now, in hindsight, one might think “of course that’s what they would look like”, but at the time we had no idea what they were, and sort of vague “emotional” descriptions on what they might look like, so I’m pretty proud of where we eventually ended up.
The Spectrals were further developed by master creature/character designer Ian Joyner, and eventually by the wonderful visual effects team at Weta Digital. As you can see — its hard to pin a number on how many images it took to arrive at a design!
An alternate helmet design that didn’t make it into the film. This one was kind of an art department favorite, based on a sketch by Tani Kunitake — sadly it never made it past this illustration.
Several of Zachery’s versions of the DARPA suit. Zach’s production designer wanted to explore mixing in elements of fire fighters and space suits, while still trying to maintain elements of that masculine military look. Trying to go for a bit of the “badass Ghostbusters” vibe. The suit that appeared in the film went a different direction. (Gun Model by Chris Ross)
Some early vehicle and prop sketches for “Spectral”. Zachery goes on to say that these were super quick, just to get a bunch of ideas out. Many of these were later designed by the awesome group at Weta Workshop.
QUESTION THREE – WHAT WAS THE BEST PART OF WORKING ON SPECTRAL FOR YOU?
Definitely the crew. In addition to the people listed above, we added some more people to the art department who were so gracious and kind and easy to work with. I was definitely the greenest of the bunch at that time, but everyone accepted me in to their little circle with open arms. Even with my relative lack of experience, artists like Raj Rihal, Tani Kunitake, and David Levy were really generous with their time, sharing their tricks with me, and making me feel welcomed. These were really seasoned guys, and I was just a young punk learning how things worked — they didn’t have to be so nice to me, but they did anyway. I formed life long friendships with many people on that job, and still keep in touch with them all. I’m really grateful to have been a part of that amazing crew.
An early version of the FLIR camera.
QUESTION FOUR – WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE WEAPON AND WHY?
I don’t know if I have a favorite weapon, but I can definitely say my favorite design on the film is the DARPA helmet — but I might be a little biased because that was really my baby. Although, like I said earlier, it passed through many hands, it spent the most time on my desk, and I got a chance to really flesh it out, so I guess I have a small sense of ownership over it. It was really cool to see it realized so well in the physical world by Weta Workshop, who built many of the physical props for the film.
Often times, people who do what I do work on a design early on — and then we finish our time on the project, work on several other gigs, and then a few years later the film or game comes out, and the thing we worked on can look totally different. But this time, it was such a pleasant surprise to see it realized so faithfully in the final product. It was a trip for me finally seeing it on screen — Weta really are the masters of their craft.
Here are is small selection from over 1,000s created of the spectrals.
So folks we come to the end of my longest blog yet. What can I say but a mega mega thankyou to Zachery for his time in answering my questions and of course permission to show you his amazing concept artwork and for being an all round good guy, you Sir rock!
If you would like to see more of Zachery’s amazing work please check out his website right HERE
And lastly mega shout out and thanks to Lee Fields who is a true gent!
Thanks for reading folks and I hope you enjoyed it. Regards Dave – I will leave you with a few more photos…