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Speaking of Dragons – Stop Motion Eborsisk from ‘Willow’ (1988)

April 22, 2011

Seeing Phil Tippett’s just released digital restoration of ‘Prehistoric Beast’ made me nostalgic again for the good old days of hand-made, tactile real special effects.  The Eborsisk creature, a very non-typical dragon, not the flying kind but still spewing the almighty flames via its throat/oral cavity and also, it has two heads!  A unique design with head having blended look of an elephant seal & shark, and strange hard growth on the front of head which accomodates its nostrils.  Willow (1988) it was directed by Ron Howard, George Lucas as the writer/producer, and the mostly  ol’ school special effects done by Industrial Light & Magic.  The Eborsisk dragon creature effects were overseen by Phil Tippett. Randy Dutra created the sculpt/design, Harry Walton & Tom St. Amand did the bulk of the Stop Motion. Oh …. they did use some go-motion with the computer controlled rods attached to head & other major parts of puppet body …. shot mostly bluescreen and some other shots done classic rear projection (more difficult to hide go-motion rods).

Video Link for MOBILE

The Eborsisk is very COOL and looks organic because it is a REAL puppet. There is not that CGI signature feeling to it. I am not saying this is better than CGI but comparing this Stop Motion creature effects to the plethora of CGI, the Eborsisk still looks fresh & original and a welcome change to all the current mouse-clicked creature character visual effects.   ‘Willow’ got mixed reviews. It’s not on my top list but visually, it has very rich natural aesthetics to it because IMO,  the special effects done ol’ school classic methods.  Almost, no computer special effects except for the morph scenes of animals in other part of movie (just rent the film  …. I’m not going to explain here).

Side note: I went off temporary tangent from my Apatosaurus project. I need diversity to keep my interest going :) . Just out of nowhere, I got a sudden urge that I wanted my own Stop Motion DRAGON Armatures/Puppets. I’m designing & looking to construct a couple of duplicate armatures. It’s the typical flying kind dragon, not as slinky slim as Vermithrax Pejorative but more chunky shorter body with the wicked bat wings anatomy. Also figuring out a single screw drive mechanical breathing mechanism (trying to make it simple design) that expands Three-Ways …. out both sides of chest and the front chest (the usual is just two-way mostly side chest expansion). Of course, the Dragon’s trademark weapon is flame throwing capability so its chest/lungs has got to do some Expand-O-Rama action. So, I’ll be juggling back & forth between Apatosaurus and Dragons …. we shall see :o

References: About WillowRotten TomatoesStop Mo Puppet breathing obsessions 1, 2, & 3Go-Motion

Topics: Puppet Animation, Special Effects, Stop Motion, Stop Motion Armatures | 8 Comments »

8 Responses to “Speaking of Dragons – Stop Motion Eborsisk from ‘Willow’ (1988)”

  1. U_Ani says:

    I like Brett’s work, it’s simple yet very focused in being what it is. There’s also Peter Montgomery. More people like that please. You can also count me as among the “passionate-for-fun-and-not-money” people.

    To me it isn’t even important how much stop motion works in just live action, it can have further potential in the animation industry by ways that only dedicated artists can uncover. For instance, it can add sheer scale to cartoon animation when used selectively in scenes. But I’m all for live action applications of these. All selective mix-it-up.

  2. L.I.O. says:

    You can count on half of your hand someone doing some ol’school special effects …. using lots of prosthetics effects, practical effects, and a little bit of Dynamation FX. That would be Brett Piper in the USA working in the general B-movie independent horror genre/market which does use lots of prosthetics & live action puppetry FX but not much Stop Motion to supplement their visual FX. Brett seems to be the exception who does use Stop Mo as a visual effects tool.

    I’m guessing a few others too, maybe internationally doing stop motion creature effects in independent B flick productions for pubic consumption/distribution. A few that do it on their own projects …. Rich Svensson & Peter Montgomery but more like a passionate creative thing and likely not being paid for it.

    Even B-movies are opting for CGI but it looks poor especially juxtaposed with the practical real FX. Well done Stop Mo creatures even at lower budget has way higher production values than low budget CG. My only thing about the 5th Voyage Sinbad project, is the very low budget resulting in limited crew and taking longer to complete because Ron taking on majority of the work without much help …. but I digress :)

  3. U_Ani says:

    I sure hope that happens. Mainstream is waaaaaay over-advertised as the only way of seeing sci-fi and fantasy genre films(with the obvious CGI gluster*bleep*).

    Indie films do use chroma screens so I don’t see why they couldn’t make something with a little more fantasy. When you think about it, producing awesome special effects is fairly simple with today’s digital compositing when you know how to do it. Flying objects might take less than removing rods using empty background plates. So why not digitally enhance stop motion?

    I’ll tell you what the indie industry can have that mainstream does not. Scripts that balance the focus of the story with the fun. If you use inexpensive effects to make those to movies we can have some variety to what we watch. It is perfectly plausible to make high-quality genre films with inexpensive methods. No advert-driven executives to be pushed around by. Is it too much to ask to have more fun making your own films? No more generic pipelines.

  4. Ron Cole says:

    Once this Sinbad film I’m currently working on is finished, I fully intend to go on a rampage on the indie film message boards and use the effects I’m creating for this film as a promotional springboard.

    The indie film world that has existed for at least the past decade has been bypassing whole genres in film, simply because they feel they can’t produce the quality special effects required by today’s standards. No space aliens, non-humanoid monsters, no fantasy creatures, no space ships or anything else that falls into the category of ‘classic effects’ have been produced in the indie film world on a regular basis or even hardly at all.

    It’s a crying shame because they seem to have no idea that there are those options to be had. This has resulted in an Independent Film Channel that hosts a never ending parade of serious depressing dramas and terribly little animation. (other than shorts)

    I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that there’s a real Renaissance of fun Sci-Fi & Horror films coming that will bring forth a whole new generation of FUN indie films!

  5. U_Ani says:

    Exactly, Ron. I myself have After Effects but I rarely use it to do the actual work today because the actual work merely needs the enhancement that digital compositing alone is enough to offer. It is way less homogenized that way. Thus it offers variety outside purely in-computer animation. SUre, everything has it’s place but we can’t expect computers to do all the work anymore. More diversity and mix-it-up methods.

    It’s also important to study how inexpensive materials can be used to make better quality structures to puppets way cheaper. It’s the other important part in making detailed stop motion more affordable to indie film. I’ve done such brainstorming for an approach using papercraft to form a lightweight frame to build the rest of the character(the skull for instance) so it reduces the weight put on the armature itself.

  6. Ron Cole says:

    What needs to be shouted from the rooftops is the message that indie films can now have effects that look as good as this on a budget that’s way below the mega-millions Hollyweird pays for it. Stop motion (dare I say ‘Dynamation’?) IS BACK BABY! :) and on a budget virtually any low(er) budgeted film maker can afford.

    The tech tools that threatened tactile special effects with total extinction a decade ago are now the very thing that’s giving them new life and a future full of surprises! That’s because it’s so much easier now to place the REAL models, puppets & paintings into the visual effects… a process that used to be labor and cost intensive can now be done on virtually any computer.

    We can bypass the whole ‘Go-Motion’ process by adding motion blurs to the stop motion effects in post production. That means the animator is back to being as free to animate the puppets sans any mechanical rigging, push rods or monofilament lines being pulled ‘off camera’.

    People like Peter Montgomery and myself are sticking our necks out to shout the message that traditional tactile effects are back and a perfectly viable low(er) cost alternative to the big bucks CGI monsters from Hollyweird.

    And lets face it, REAL puppets and miniatures are just way more fun when you’re making a film… even for the producers! When you can take you family and investors on a tour of the studio and be able to show them some really cool stuff to look at and yes, even touch! you bring back a level of excitement and entertainment value that’s been sorely missing for too long.

  7. Rotter says:

    Neat clip. I also see a little bit of the Rancor in the design.

  8. U_Ani says:

    Eborsisk, one of the best Stop Motion/Go-Motion creations by Tippet.

    I think the only true reason for why these animation methods aren’t as common place today is that they don’t serve the means of advertising agencies as well as the “more easy way” of computer generated mesh model animation. At least movies weren’t all about advertising back then but also artistic diversity. It’s pretty hard for one to be original today when you work on the same pipeline as everyone else. Do your own thing I say, doesn’t always take a computer.

    If done the right way, why not use stop motion animated bits as an enhancement with CGI for bigger variety so the work won’t feel as insensitive?


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