It’s not easy for a movie-star to age – especially when you’re a stop motion animated skeleton monster

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A SPECIAL EFFECT GOES OUT-OF-DATE?

I have to admit something. When I started writing about visual effects, I once ignorantly thought that I was one of the only people in the world really, truly obsessed with the industry. I was so wrong. I have, of course, been excited to meet – online and in-person – lots of other people who are just as fanatical.

one of those is filmmaker Michael Shanks, a Melbourne-based director operating out of production company LateNight Films. You might have seen his work on the YouTube channel timtimfed, or in the series The Wizards of Aus. Having always been into visual effects (and a VFX artist himself), Shanks has now written and directed one of the most inspired short films I’ve seen in recent years which just so happens to also tap into visual effects obsessive-ness.
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It’s called Rebooted and follows stop-motion animated skeleton Phil as he struggles to find work in his former lucrative Hollywood surrounds. Phil also encounters other ‘out-of-date’ and out-of-work special effects; an animatronic Velociraptor, a rubber suit creature, a 2D piece of animation on cell paper and even a liquid metal CG man.

What’s amazing about Rebooted, which was funded by Screen Australia and YouTube, is that Shanks and his team actually did use several old-school techniques to bring those characters to life, including stop-motion, animatronics, man-in-suit effects, and motion control, as well as motion capture, 3D and 2D compositing.

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As a self-confessed VFX aficionado, I was just buzzing when I found out this project existed, and I hope you will be, too. Watch the whole film below, and then read my interview with Shanks about how Rebooted was made, with some extra special insights on what effects-related Easter eggs to look out for.

b&a: Tell me about the origin of Rebooted – how did it go from idea to an actually short, and how did you tap into a love of special and visual effects in the idea for the film?

Michael Shanks: I’ve always been obsessed with the ‘How did they do that?!’ of movie-making, and since I started making films I’ve always had a real VFX focus. I spent a lot of time as a kid watching behind-the-scenes stuff (the bonus features on the LOTR extended editions are the best things ever).

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I WAS WATCHING SOME CHEESY MADE FOR TV SHOW ABOUT THE SPECIAL EFFECTS OF THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, AND AT THE END MARK HAMILL (WHO IS EARNESTLY HOSTING THE PROGRAM) TURNS TO R2-D2 AND TALKS ABOUT HIM AS THOUGH HE’S A LIVING CO-STAR OF HIS. THAT KIND OF SPARKED THE IDEA OF – WHAT IF SPECIAL EFFECTS CREATURES WERE ACTORS?
That and the fact that one of the main things I want from films is to see things I’ve never seen before – and the idea of featuring the history of Hollywood special/visual effects side-by-side in the same live-action frame struck me as something I needed to see – so I thought I’d try to make it!

b&a: Given that it does hark back to a golden age of effects, what were some of the early discussions you had about how ‘Phil’ and the other characters would be brought to life using old and new techniques?

Michael Shanks: The whole premise behind this project is to celebrate the incredible magic of all sorts of creature creation, and as such I wanted to do it as authentically as possible – but due to financial constraints I was convinced we would have to compromise a lot more than we did. As we largely do all our post in-house (we did all VFX work except the liquid metal man and 2D animation) we can rely on VFX to solve all sorts of ‘we don’t have to pay ourselves’ budget fixes.

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We managed to do a lot more practical stuff than I expected, for example, I didn’t know where the hell we were going to find an animatronic Velociraptor, but doing a bit of research it turns out there’s a guy who has a whole collection of them two hours out of Melbourne. He had so many dinosaurs, honestly, you could open a Jurassic Park in Frankston (a suburb of Melbourne).

B&A: IN PARTICULAR, HOW WAS PHIL ANIMATED? CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE APPROACH TO STOP-MOTION USED AND YOUR METHODS FOR COMPOSITING HIM INTO LIVE ACTION SCENES?

Michael Shanks: We actually did a couple of tests as to how we might be able to make a CG Phil that was rendered to look like stop-motion animation (inspired by Animal Logic’s incredible work on the Lego movies) but ultimately we were sent the heavenly gift of Samuel Lewis, our puppet-builder and animator, and Gerald Thompson, our stop-motion cinematographer.

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