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You have never heard of Hellboy?  Oh come on now, even if you haven't read this fantastic comic by Mike Mignola,  you at least heard of the name.  Regardless whether or not you live under a rock, Guillermo Del Toro is working on the movie slated for a 2004 release and it's going to be big.  Del Toro jumped into the spotlight on the critically acclaimed 'The Devil's Backbone' and followed it up with knockout punch by directing 'Blade II'.  Del Toro called 'Blade II' a warmup for what you will see in Hellboy.  "[Hellboy] is the film I want to make most, I would literally do it for no money up front, I would bet my entire salary on the back end.  Not a dollar for my services".  As he told the Austin Chronicle in an interview.

So, with all this excitement and hype, we had to find out just how big this is going to be.  I talked with Mike Elizalde, whose company Spectral Motion is handling the lion's share of the FX work on this film.  Mike is an outstanding artist and very humble with all the success he has had.  He worked on Blade II heading up the mechanical department and stepped into the big shoes to head the FX work for Hellboy.

LMC: So, Del Toro called Blade II a warmup for this movie.

ME: [laughs]  I think that's pretty accurate.  We have a build list considerably larger than Blade II.  It's very demanding.  You are going to see stuff you have never seen before.  All new stuff and alot more of it.  Very fresh.  I have to admit, this is probably the hardest job I've ever done, but I've had the most fun.

LMC: How did your company land the job?

ME: While working on Blade II, I spent a good deal of time getting to know Guillermo and his creative slant on the whole process.  We just hit it off while working in Prague.  He asked me if I wanted to do a breakdown of Hellboy and that started it all.

LMC: It seems Guillermo is very hands on in all aspects of the movie, especially FX.

ME: Oh yes, Guillermo is very involved.  He doesn't leave anything to chance.  Which is great.  You don't want to show up on set with something you can't shoot or he's just not happy with.  He came by the shop at least once a week throughout the whole build process and he would give us feedback right away.  He's also very open to our opinion and advice on a character or effect.  Definitely a 2 way street.

LMC: Blade II received alot of acclaim for it's great ability to blend real world FX with the digital world.  Is that trend continuing?

ME: For sure, that is a trend seen across the board.  Gollum in LOTR may be a notable exception where he was fully digital and it came out fantastic, but extremely expensive.  We want to blend the tactile world and augment it with digital FX.  So you really get the best of both.   It's difficult to take a fully digital thing and fool the audience, and it's difficult to achieve some FX with just mechanical work, so blending the two has been a really great way to bridge that gap.

LMC: Is Spectral Motion doing the whole enchilada of FX?

ME: We are doing everything with the exception of Hellboy himself.  Rick Baker's shop is doing the suit and prosthetics for him.  We are tasked with bringing all the peripheral characters and villians to life.

[Editor note: Ron Perlman,  from BladeII will be playing the lead role of Hellboy.]

LMC: So give me a run down of the FX you are doing.

ME: [laughs] Well, it would be wise for me to keep my trap shut to an extent.  I can tell you we are doing an Abe Sapien character.  We are also doing Hellboy's nemesis named Sammael.  To get into too many details would be unwise [laughs]

LMC: Do you think the script is staying true to the comic?

ME: Yeah, it has always been Guillermo's vision to put on the screen what Mike Mignola put on the page.  To that end, he has gone out of his way to see that is the case.  Mike Mignola has had alot of input from the beginning and Guillermo has worked closely with him.  Guillermo was also a fan of the comic before thoughts of a movie, so he has a deeper understanding right off the bat.  I think it's going to happen as planned and it's going to be an amazing thing when it hits the screen.

With the team that is assembled in all aspects of this film in each echelon.  I can't see how this won't be an amazing movie.  People will really be introduced to a special character.

LMC: So, does that mean there will be a part 2?

ME: [laughs] I can't tell you that, you will just have to wait.

LMC: Let's hear how you got where you are today.

ME: Oh boy, where do I start?  Let's see, I was born in Mexico and immigrated to L.A. when I was 5.  I joined the Navy and spent 8 years there, but at that time I didn't have alot of background in FX.  I was just trying to survive.    It occurred to me I wanted to do something more with my life.  I was in a library one day and picked up the book 'Techniques of 3-Dimensional  Make-up' by Lee Baygan.  I was completely absorbed in this book.  The process of turning someone into something totally different.

LMC: Before this event, you had no experience with makeup, even as a hobby?

ME: Not really.  My upbringing was very limited in resources, so we didn't have alot of extra money for such things.  The desire was always there, but just never did much more than improvise with what I had.  I learned alot of technical and skills in the navy like machining.  I was able to translate that to animatronics in the industry.

LMC: So animatronics and mechanics are your strength?

ME: Yes, I am an artist too, but I have to be realistic and seek out those with strengths in these areas to augment and create a team.  Mechanical design is my forte which is a very challenging way to make a living.

LMC: How did you get your foot in the door?

ME: I made a few makeups and stuck them on myself and my girlfriend and sent them around to different FX shops.  John Buechler was the first to hire me.  It was incredible.  I went to the shop and Steve Wang, Screaming Mad George were there.  I mean the list of guys walking around this shop was incredible and here I am my first job working with guys who yesterday I was reading about.  The opportunity to be with these guys and to learn was an unbelievable experience.  That got me started and I just went from there and finally got a chance to work at Rick Baker's shop which was a goal of mine.  It took me a long time to get to the point where I own my own studio.  I started about 16 years ago.

LMC: Talk about Spectral Motion

ME: I started Spectral Motion back in '94 with my wife Mary and started that out of my garage as my own business on some smaller projects and Hellboy is the best and biggest opportunity to date.

LMC: So, you are ranking right up there with Rick Baker then?

ME: [laugh] I wouldn't go that far!  If you are listening Rick, It's gonna take me a while :-)

LMC: Who do you have working with you?

ME: Steve Wang is our lead art director.  He's heading up several projects, burning the candle at both ends.  The stuff he is turning in is phenomenal.  Norman Cabrera  who is out of this world.  Mark Setrakian is a brilliant mechanical designer.  It's a great environment and we all work well together.

LMC: How does it feel to run the show instead of earlier in your career when you were one of the crew members?

ME: Good question, one thing I noticed very different is how much time you spend behind the desk keeping things in order.  Brian Walsh, who is my producer, is handling alot of the budgeting and schedules and makes my job alot easier.  I do get to be creative by channeling Guillermo's ideas into what our team is doing.  I have to keep a larger view of it all for that.  I can walk through the shop and direct various projects based on what I know Guillermo is looking for.

LMC: Did you get a chance to work on a pet project?

ME: Not really.  One thing I did was to document everything.  Take a camera and go through the shop and keep chronological order of the Effect.

LMC: Ah, like Steve Johnson did on Blade II in the extras segment?

ME: Right.  I've been putting together an edited progress reel for the DVD.  It's alot of fun to see the behind the scenes.  Like I would videotape the initial laying of the clay up until the final piece, so you can see the progress.  It also gives you an idea of the sheer volume.

LMC: When is the movie slated for release?

ME: I believe the summer of '04

LMC: When do you finish your work?

ME: We wrap shooting in July of this year.  I'm traveling to Prague for the shooting for the duration of the FX.  It's a great experience.  I take my kids with me for a real eye opening experience.

LMC: Well thanks alot Mike.  It sounds like it's going to be one helluva movie.

ME: Thank you!

 

Here's some of Mikes past work for movies and model kits.  Note: These won't be appearing in the Hellboy ;-)