At CopperCon 24 in September 2004, I was given a challenge by Larry Vela to collaborate with another artist for my demonstration at LepreCon 31 in 8 months. My immediate thought was to collaborate with David Ayers on some type of monster or alien character with David working his prosthetic magic and I would then paint the resulting face and body. As I started brainstorming ideas, I thought that it might be really cool to make a short (10 minutes or so) video of this monster/alien character in the back yard and then show the video at LepreCon while demonstrating the process for putting on the make-up. That idea has since evolved into a major film project involving a cast and crew of nearly 50 people assembled in exotic locations and filmed on state-of-the-art digital HD equipment. Click on the blue logo below for the short trailer that was premiered at the convention and read on for more details about how the story unfolded.
O.K., here's how this whole train got 'a rollin'. I needed an idea for this alien or monster character and I would also need some type of storyline. Author and screenwriter Bryan Kinnaird popped into my mind since I had worked with him on several previous projects related to his graphic novel series "The Villikon Chronicles". I asked him if he could "whip up" a short 10-minute script for a alien or monster story that might showcase some prosthetics and bodypainting. I was surprised by his suggestion, but thrilled with the idea. He had written a full-length feature film script as a prequel to the Villikon Chronicles called The Crucibles of Mystere and he suggested that I could use a certain 10-minute scene that would have a fairly cohesive beginning and end for a short film project. Keep in mind that I am still thinking of this being a "back-yard monster video".
Bryan sent me the script and I thought that it would be perfect. I drew up a series of storyboards for the script to help envision the look of the characters and setting. Here are the original storyboards that I drew:
Now I have a cheap $200 VHS camcorder that would have been fine for my purpose, but I thought it might be cool to get someone with a better quality camera to film the story. I had recently watched a few Star Wars fan films on the website http://www.phxff.net/ , a site of local costumers and fans of the Star Wars movies. I thought it was worth a shot to ask these film makers if they had any interest in helping me. I sent the script and storyboards to both Webb Pickersgill who filmed Spirits of the Force and Shian Storm who filmed Proof of Chaos (note-both of these films are still on-line at http://www.phxff.net/pff_movies.asp if you would like to check them out for yourself). Webb was very receptive to the project and offered to have the project filmed under the umbrella of his new company called Bassline Digital. Shian was also very interested in being a part of the project and even though he was now living in Los Angeles, he offered to be the director for the project. I was starting to get the feeling that this was going to be a pretty cool project.
My next move was to contact producer Tonia Madenford of Screen Addiction. I had been acquainted with Tonia for a couple of years and knew that she made a living working on film projects and I was hoping that she might be able to give me some insight on how to make this project successful. Tonia was very busy on a project in Wisconsin, but offered to help in any way that she could, but as time went by she also got wrapped up in the project and became a key player in the production of the film. She deserves a lot of credit for assembling an A-list production crew.
Roy Young was the artist and co-creator of the original Villikon Chronicles graphic novel series and when he found out that so much had transpired in the development of the film, I was honored that he was interested in lending his talents to creating the look of the characters and props. Roy has some very prestigious credits on his resume including stints with Todd McFarlane and Chaos! Comics and his work on this project proved to be critical. Here are the preliminary character sketches that he came up with for the Wiccans in the film.
I was blown away by the sketches, but very skeptical that it would be possible to get costumes to look that good for the seven actresses that would need them especially considering how soon the filming would need to be completed. Roy and Kevin assured me that it wouldn't be a problem and that they had a guy working on the costumes. The guy was Kevin Speidel of Hardwear Creations and he came through with flying colors in assembling real leather custom-made outfits. Roy added the accessories and I (along with the help of Kevin and Julie Koeth) added the make-up and bodypaint and the actresses looked awesome. Unfortunately, David Ayers was unavailable to work on the film project as I had hoped, but I was still able to meet the goal of collaborating with some very talented artists.
Speaking of the actresses, I had intended on contacting some of the models that I had worked with on bodypaintings throughout the past couple of years to see if they would join me on this project. With Shian taking the role of director, I sent him a list of some names for him to consider as he was casting each of the characters. Again the film had grown to bigger proportions than I had ever imagined it would and Shian informed me that we had a casting director onboard by the name of Jody Collins. Jody had contacted several of the local acting organizations and held open auditions using the studio graciously donated by Rob Succato of the Phoenix Film Project. Several of the models that I had suggested were auditioned and Lynette Brooks landed one of the leading roles. Once the casting was complete and everyone involved agreed on the cast, Jody continued his support of the film by becoming the choreographer for the intense fight scenes.
In 2003 I attended the San Diego ComicCon convention and the Las Vegas ComicCon convention in support of the Villikon Chronicles and our star attraction was the very famous adult film star and beautiful Penthouse Pet Cheyenne Silver who was dressed up and playing the part of Mystere. It was always the intention of having her in the Mystere role when the story became a film project, but quite honestly when I started out I figured that she was out of my league for my little "backyard" video. As the scope increased and a pro team was assembled I was excited to learn that we had her, an international celebrity, as the star of the film. Also reprising his role as Lord Jasta was the accomplished actor Shane Stevens. The cast was rounded out by actresses Heather Phillips, Christine Postorino, Donna Wilson, Mira Jordan, Courtney Black, and Christina Martin who were all new to the Villikon Chronicle family but will forever be a part of it. Oh yeah, and there were some cameo appearances by our own Roy, Kevin, and Josh.
The script included a desert location and a cave location and I had a place in mind here in Phoenix called Papago Park that might have worked out nicely for both location shoots. Keep in mind that I had originally planned to shoot this in my back yard, so the plot was thickening when the setting of the film was discussed. A collective decision was made to shoot the desert scenes at the Imperial Sand Dunes near Yuma, Arizona and the cave scenes at the Grand Canyon Caverns near Seligman, Arizona. The logistics of shooting at these locales seemed unreasonable to me, but this project kept surprising me at every turn so I started to believe that anything was possible. We needed a $1,000,000 liability insurance policy and Webb and his company Bassline Digital footed the bill. We needed permit fees to shoot in the Imperial Sand Dunes and the money was raised. Then there was food, lodging, film and even port-o-potties that needed to be secured and somehow, someway, everything fell into place.
Please recall that I was going to use a cheap video camera, but I was glad to be using Webb's camera equipment which was top of the line pro-sumer equipment. I was surprised again when I was told that Webb's cameras would be used for the "behind-the-scenes" footage since we would be renting high end camera equipment. In fact, the rented camera was an $80,000 high-definition, super widescreen, digital camera suitable for feature length cinema movies. Along with the camera came a jib, tripods, steady cam units, lighting and sound equipment, and things that I have never even heard of. Thank goodness Tonia was able to assemble such talented crew members such as Alex Mitchell, George Gifford, and Jeremy Phoenix who knew how to operate all of this stuff.
By the time LepreCon rolled around in early May, we had completed the first two days of filming at the Imperial Sand Dunes and I was able to say MISSION ACCOMPLISHED...sort of. Of course we did not have the 10-minute film completed to premiere at the event and we had not, in fact, completed the filming at the cave location. But we had the trailer video above to show and I was able to do the bodypainting demonstration that I had planned. Courtney and Donna had volunteered to get into full costume and bodypaint for LepreCon, but as fate would have it, Donna had to call in sick due to a nasty virus and Courtney was the lone Wiccan during my demonstration. Kevin had brought Courtney's costume and quite a few of his other leather armor costumes for display in the dealer's room. Here is a shot of his set-up at LepreCon.
In addition to the bodypainting demonstration, I had also coordinated with Paul Tanton, the program director for the convention, to have the cast and crew of the film hold a panel to discuss the specifics of the upcoming film and share the behind-the-scenes photos and stories. Of those in attendance was producer Tonia Madenford who had flown in from Wisconsin to take part in the panel discussion. At one point when I wasn't looking, Kevin was able to talk her into getting into one of the Wiccan costumes and so I painted her to complete the character. With the two of them in full regalia they caught the eye of all convention attendees throughout the day. Here is a shot of them before the Masquerade Party.
The Masquerade Party is a juried costume contest that has produced some awesome photo opportunities. This year was no exception. Tonia and Courtney were entered into the contest to represent Kevin's costumes, my bodyart, and Roy's costume design. There was some stiff competition including a great costume from the Hellboy film, a gun toting cavalier, and a renaissance version of the Crow. I'm happy to report though that our Wiccans took home top honors of being the best in show! The prize included a trophy, a ribbon, and a membership to the Southwest Costumer's Guild. It sure is great to have had a part in award-winning costumes. The trophy was presented by the winners from the previous two years: a fairy princess in a flowing white gown and my friend Steve Colston in his Darth Maul costume. Here is a picture of the trophy:
Before they announced the winner, Steve's Darth Maul character and a full cast of the AZ 501st Star Wars costumers put on a fantastic half-time show. It was great to see my good friends Kevin O'Connor and Lance Dworshak again and it was evident that they put a lot of effort into these Star Wars themed skits in the style of Saturday Night Live. Kevin's commentary from the perspective of a Storm Trooper hit the intellectual laugh button for the die hard Star Wars fans while the hilarious emergency room stint had everyone in stitches (pun intended). Great job guys (oh, and Joanne, the nurses costume was way hot).
To cap off the evening, we held our panel on the Mystere movie project. I showed up late because of the Masquerade so Bryan covered for me by introducing the story and the history behind the project. Then Courtney and Tonia made their grand entrance as the triumphant costume award winners. Roy, Kevin, and Webb took turns talking about their contributions to the film while George Gifford manned the PC projector. At that point in time we had not yet done the filming in the cave and were therefore not at the stage of editing, scoring, and adding special effects, but all of these areas were just starting their post production activities. Shian will be doing the primary editing, an artist named Paul Cristo has accepted the task of creating the film score, and the Phoenix based Cellar Door Project will be manning the special effects for the film. Pictured below is Eric Blevins of Cellar Door explaining some of the techniques and software that will be utilized in the post production effects.
Even though I have rambled on and on about the events leading up to the LepreCon convention, I haven't even scratched the surface of the events that took place in the Imperial Sand Dunes or at Grand Canyon Caverns. Consider this as part 1 in the story of the making of the film "The Villikon Chronicles - Mystere and the Disciples of Dido". Part 2 of the story is coming soon...
Please feel free to also visit the bodypainting web pages from my previous three live demonstrations at LepreCon 28, 29, and 30 at the links below:
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