“A Wealth of Pure Craftmanship and Magic” – Creature Designers: The Frankenstein Complex (DVD Review)

Growing up with film leads you to a grand appreciation for everything included. Whether it be a specific director, character, actor, artist, genre or all of the above, there’s an intense adoration for the magnitude of details that combine to create a classic. Growing up on most things, Jurassic Park always stood firm as a favourite, alongside Steven Spielberg as a director, the genre itself and of course the breathtaking special effects and animatronics themselves that created the withstanding image of the world in which they were created in. Without this department, films like Jurassic Park wouldn’t have made it passed the opening credits.

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Creature Designers: The Frankenstein Complex is a love letter for all those monsters, creatures, aliens, dinosaurs, gremlins, human-turn-fly-hybrids and werewolves that haunted our dreams long after they appeared on screen. The designs of such have become legendary, studios have grown affluent with a rippling effect of infamy, but well and truly do we all know who to thank for such horrendously inventive creations?

“Never design a monster to be a monster, always design to form a character”. As conversations with one of a dozen members of the team — ranging from the make-up designer to the special effects team, to a conceptual designer to the director himself — it’s blatant that the respect each team member has for one another is rife. Establishing camaraderie issues enormous teamwork in what is potentially a colossal amount of stress in creating a desired effect, using specific materials in a way that works well and withstands the test of other elements — for example, the rubbery concept behind Bruce in Jaws was the element that tested director Steven Spielberg’s patience and created the infamous caption “the shark is working!”, but in turn created one of cinema’s most terrifying creatures.

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The documentary highlights each stage of creation, from 2D drawings to 3D concepts, models to sculptures and using colour as compositions, all the while incorporating the environment into the equation. “The more you put into it, the more life it gets”, from co-founder Matt Winston (taking over from the late, great Stan Winston), to Richard Taylor’s work on Lord of the Rings, Rick Baker’s groundbreaking technological improvements in facial reconstruction on An American Werewolf in London, Chris Walas’ gruesomely nightmarish creature effects on The Fly remake with Jeff Goldblum, Tom Woodruff Jr’s phenomenal big momma Xenomorph in Alien vs Predator and many, many more, the insight into the advancements from rubber suits to highly impressive animatronics, the creators behind such inventions have evolved their ways dramatically.

Touching on the classic era of make-up effects and the transition to modern, heavy exposition is detailed with intimate stories of the happenings behind closed doors, including a battle between digital and animatronics, the press’ obsession with the former and the lack of inclusion for the latter, false promises made by movie producers and the talent that took the brunt of the fall and studios dismissing 100 years of classic moviemaking techniques for a quick session in the digital studio, trading in larger-than-life creations for poorly-invented CGI in the chance of a quick buck. The reality is harsh and unfair.

The Frankenstein Complex is a genuine treat. All your favourites are in the same room, stories from the heyday of movie monsters ignites a love that for most will have you returning to the classics to see these creations in their full forms.

4.5/5

Dir: Gilles Penso, Alexandre Poncet

Scr: Gilles Penso, Alexandre Poncet

Cast: Rick Baker, Joe Dante, Guillermo del Toro, John Landis, Kevin Smith, Phil Tippett, Tom Woodruff Jr, Matt Winston, Chris Walas

Prd: Alexandre Poncet

Music: Alexandre Poncet

DOP: Gilles Penso, Alexandre Poncet

Country: USA

Runtime: 107 minutes

Creature Designers: The Frankenstein Complex is available now.