A “skybike”, a one-man, open-cockpit flying machine, attacks Dogen. Dogen shoots it down and finds one of Syn’s crystals on the pilot’s body. Carved into the crystal is a symbol of a dead tree. Dogen finds a murdered prospector, whose young daughter Dhyana saw him killed by Baal, Jared Syn’s half-cyborg son. Baal sprayed the man with a green liquid that caused a nightmare dream-state, in which Syn appeared and executed him with a crystal. Dogen convinces Dhyana to help him find Syn.
Dhyana takes Dogen to Zax, who identifies the crystal as a lifeforce storage device. Dhyana tells them about the ancient Cyclopians who once used such devices and says the only power against it is a magic mask located in their lost city. Zax affirms this and directs Dogen to find a prospector named Rhodes in the nearby mining town of Zhor.
Dogen and Dhyana are blocked by vehicles driven by nomads commanded by Baal, who sprays Dogen with the green liquid, paralyzing him. Dhyana drives them off and cares for Dogen, who in the dream world finds Syn and Baal looming over him. Syn fails to pull Dogen away from Dhyana: their will is too strong. Dogen awakes, but Dhyana is suddenly teleported away. A summoned monster appears in her place and fires electric bolts at him. Dhyana simultaneously faces Syn in his lair. Dogen shorts-out the creature, and it vanishes.
Dogen arrives in Zhor and finds Rhodes, a washed-up soldier, in a bar. Rhodes denies the lost city’s existence and refuses to get involved. Dogen leaves and comes upon a group of miners beating a captured nomad soldier. Dogen assists him, and the miners turn hostile. Dogen is out-gunned until Rhodes helps him defeat the miners.
Rhodes reluctantly agrees to help Dogen. Deep into Cyclopian territory, Dogen locates a large statue with a single eye and finds the crystal mask. Suddenly attacked by snake-like creatures, they escape, until they are accosted by a group of nomad warriors. Their leader, Hurok, grabs the mask from Dogen and accuses them of trespassing – a capital crime. Rhodes cites nomad law that a warrior can fight for his freedom, so Dogen duels Hurok. When Dogen spares his life, Hurok accepts Dogen as a friend and frees him.
Syn takes Dhyana before a massive crystal and forces her to touch it. Syn says the crystal is powered by captured souls, including that of her father. Dhyana, disgusted, says her warrior will come for her. Elsewhere, Dogen and Rhodes assault Baal’s encampment, and a chase ensues. After evading them, Dogen wears the mask and finds himself in the dream world with a burning tree. In his hand he finds an axe and hacks into the tree. The tree moans like the crystal in Syn’s camp and trickles a stream of blood. Dogen removes the mask and returns to Rhodes. Baal suddenly attacks, extending his robotic arm to spray Dogen, but Rhodes pushes him out of the way and is knocked out. Dogen, struggling with Baal, rips the robotic limb from his shoulder. Baal flees, and Dogen tracks the green fluid to Syn’s camp. He sees the nomads gathered around Syn, and Hurok greets him.
Syn denounces Dogen as an enemy, but Dogen says he has only come for Syn. Hurok refuses to kill Dogen and demands that he be allowed to speak. Dogen says Syn is a liar who wants to enslave them. When the crowd turns hostile to Syn, he activates the crystal, which stuns the crowd. Syn fires blasts at Dogen, but he deflects them with the mask. Baal grabs the mask and it shatters on the ground. Hurok kills Baal, and Syn teleports away. Dogen jumps onto a skybike and chases Syn into the desert, but Syn escapes through an energy portal.
Dogen returns to the nomad camp, finding Dhyana safe with Hurok. Dogen promises to fight Syn if he returns and destroys Syn’s soul crystal. Dogen and Dhyana leave the camp on foot but soon encounter Rhodes in Dogen’s truck. He picks them up and takes them into town.
Charles Band-known only for a series of low-budget B-movies had finally cracked the big time, pulling off the success of his career, and doing it on a shoestring METALSTORM is the kind of film that everyone involved with wants to talk about, because so many things had gone right. Unlike other recent 3-D productions, the disappointments and problems during production were minimal. And there was the hope-hinted at during filming, rather than openly stated that they had on their hands that Hollywood rarity: a complete unheralded hit.
Critical response and box-office returns failed to meet that early enthusiasm. By Hollywood standards, METALSTORM fizzled when released. But for producer director Charles Band, his labor of love had struck gold. In the beginning. Band was thinking of METALSTORM in terms no loftier than those of his low-budget 3-D predecessor, PARASITE. “We started with the idea of doing something not much larger than that,” explained the quiet, low-key Band. “But then we began to get excited about the story and got some other very creative people involved, and we decided to go for something much larger.” The final budget figure for METALSTORM was less than $3 million, which makes it a mega budget production after the likes of such other Band projects as LASERBLAST and END OF THE WORLD.
As their concept and aspirations for the film grew, so did its budget and crew, necessitating some sacrifices on the part of those working on the production. Explained screenwriter and co-producer Alan J. Adler: “Neither Charlie (Band) nor I have taken a salary on this movie. We are working for love and deferments.”
But working on the edge has its compensations, according to Adler. “Charlie and I bounce ideas constantly to get the best thing on film that we can,” he said. “If the majors financed this thing, a car full of guys in suits could drive up with some crazy idea, and we would have to do it.”
Free to do their own thing, Adler and Band have come up with a simple story of good vs. evil; cowboys-and-Indians in a galaxy far, far away. METALSTORM’s plot revolves around energy crystals, the source of all power in a barren desert land, which are being exploited by an evil magician to gain ultimate power. Screenwriter Alan Adler conceived the film as a western, with a lot of American Indian mythology.” Working with that metaphor, Jeff Byron fills in for Gary Cooper and Randolph Scott, coming to clean up the lawless town; Tim Thomerson is the old drunken lawman who sobers up to help the hero; Kelly Presto is the shopkeeper’s daughter, kidnapped by the guys in the black hats; Richard Moll is the wise old Indian chief, almost-but not quite duped into supporting the railroad baron who wants to take his people’s lands; and Michael Preston is the all-powerful, black-hearted villain.
“I read everything I could find in the library on the Western mythology before I sat down to write this,” Adler explained. “I just woke up at 3:30 in the morning one day, got into the bathtub and wrote nonstop until I finished the treatment.” Although the setting and time of METALSTORM is left ambiguous, Adler based many of his ideas on the Atlantis legend, a theme he hopes to develop more fully in the proposed sequel.
With METALSTORM, Adler also sought to challenge himself by writing a script with as little dialogue as possible. “The movies started out without any dialogue,” he explained. “Besides, 3-D is a dynamic visual medium, and dialogue seems to stop the action. But just because it doesn’t have much dialogue, it does not mean that there are no characters and ideas in the film. Like a western, everything is very terse; everything means something. Bookish, soft-spoken and unfailingly polite, Adler seems an unlikely candidate for author of films with titles like PARASITE. CONCRETE JUNGLE and METALSTORM. A film buff and genre aficionado since he was nine years old, Adler has been an avid collector of film memorabilia for 20 years, including a priceless collection of old film posters.
Adler learned his craft by writing and producing local television shows in his native North Carolina, where he also attended a graduate school in film. But his life was changed when he saw STAR WARS. “I saw that movie, packed my bags and left town for Los Angeles.”
Band and Adler have a cooperative relationship rare in filmmaking, especially for a writer. “I’m on the set every day,” said Adler. “He helps me re-write scenes, and I stand next to him and make suggestions, constantly, from sunrise to sunset. Directors who do not listen do not have the value of a writer who knows the story and how a character should be portrayed. Charlie is the director, but there is a tremendous amount of give and take.”
Principal photography of METALSTORM began in February, and stretched for seven weeks. Filming took place in the Simi Valley, as well as the Vasquez Rock formations outside of Los Angeles. Few interiors were utilized, though the company was driven indoors early in the shoot during two weeks of bad weather. To bring Adler’s mythic Western concepts-as well as plenty of action to the screen, Band assembled an ambitious, hardworking crew of relative unknowns and newcomers, who are trying to make major producers sit up and take notice of their talents.
Among them is cinematographer Mac Ahlberg whose deft work in PARASITE, his first 3-D film, was justly praised. “The reason this movie looks good is because we did not follow the rules,” said Ahlberg. “We had a 3-D consultant at the beginning of the movie, but we got rid of him because he was such a pain in the neck.
“There really are no rules to follow,” Ahlberg continued. “Like when you do a painting or write a book, if you keep to the rules, you get boring. But technicians get very upset when you break the rules. Like when color hit the movies. I spoke to someone who was shooting the first color film, and he had to follow so many rules that it was almost impossible for him to do anything on his own. Now with 3-D, you have all these ‘rules’ and everyone is very scared. I think some 3-D films have failed because people have been so tied to rules.”
Some of the standard” 3-Drules call for long cuts, static cameras and avoidance of high-contrast scenes. Band and Ahlberg ignored them all. “I don’t listen to all those 3-D experts, of which there are lots,” Ahlberg said. “We did some high contrast scenes, and they were some of the best in the movie. Also we tried all the time to let the camera move.” A long Steadicam shot moving through the tent city is a good example of Ahlberg’s innovative 3-D cinematography.
“It’s never been done before.” explained special effects coordinator Frank Isaacs. “They were able to hold convergence on Dogen as he walked through a crowd. It’s as if you were walking behind him. You see the exact proper perspective. It’s a long shot, and you just sit back and enjoy the 3-D.
“Ahlberg knows how to dolly in and out of the scene, keep something on convergence and make it look real, as opposed to what everybody else does: anchor the camera down and let the action come at you,” Isaacs continued. “What he has done is to follow the action and let the foreground and background go their proper paths.”
Another 3-D tenet went by the wayside in their filming of a lightning-quick gunfight in the streets of the tent city, with seven or eight brisk close-ups of faces, guns and lasers blasting into bodies. “Everybody said you must have very long takes, don’t cut too much, cuts are difficult to do, and so on,” said Ahlberg with some impatience. “We found that lots of cuts are very exciting, and the camera should move a lot when people walk.”
Though Mac Ahlberg may not have kind words for 3-D consultants, Chris Condon has a few for Ahlberg. Condon designed the StereoVision lenses used by Ahlberg for PARASITE and METALSTORM, and gave Ahlberg his instructions on the use of the equipment. “There are so few errors in METALSTORM, and those that do exist are very tiny, said Condon, who has often been less than kind to films he and his lenses have been associated with. “Ahlberg really understands 3-D.”
The use of 3-D required extreme precision in shooting the live action. The use of multiple cameras for some shots necessitated extra care in the composition of scenes and the calibration of convergence in each camera. If a scene was planned to cut from a medium master shot to a tight close-up, the convergence of each shot had to be as complementary as possible to spare audiences a wrenching shift in focus, and painful headaches. This forced Ahlberg to be extremely aware of how a sequence might be edited while he was shooting it.
“You have to compose the picture so the audience looks at the thing they should look at,” said Ahlberg. “Because if they look at the wrong things, they definitely get eye pain. If you have converged on a face in the foreground and you have a telephone pole in the back, you have two telephone poles. You actually have this in real life, but you never think of it. You make the audience look at the things you want and not at the distracting things, such as the background.
“We tried to have a continuity of convergence and not strain the eyes of the audience,” Ahlberg added. “That’s one of the things I discovered when we made PARASITE, that you have to keep convergence under control. You can’t converge each shot individually; you have to have a kind of convergence sequence. Every shot’s convergence has to be done considering what it is coming from and what’s going to happen next.
Otherwise, a cut really is not a cut.” Ahlberg continued. “It’s a kind of dissolve, because it takes a second or so for the audience’s eyes to adjust to the new convergence.” Ahlberg believes that the best 3D work pays attention to the depth in a scene. “When you compose a flat picture,” he explained in his Scandinavian-accented English, “you do it so you can get some depth in it, using perspective in the foreground and background. If you compose an image like that and shoot it in 3-D, you get good 3-D. If you don’t make a composition which has depth in itself, if you think 3-D is going to supply the automatic depth for you, then many times you fail.”
Another characteristic of Ahlberg’s 3-D work is the avoidance of too many gimmicks. “In METALSTORM. (Ahlberg) has had the good sense not to abuse the 3-D.” said Isaacs. “He just throws in an occasional gag every once in a while, which works very well. It’s fun, but it’s not to be abused, and that’s what every other film has done so far.”
Despite his success with the process, and the near-unanimous acclaim for his work, Ahlberg is no fan of 3-D. “Really, I hope that I never will have to work on a 3-D movie again,” he said. “I find it so boring, so uninteresting.
“When I see actors in 3-D. I always have the feeling that you are looking through a glass window at them, like they are in a show window. In a flat movie, the actors are very present they seem to be right there. Why? Because in 3-D you have the glasses, the double images, all these things that take the actor far away.
“If I have two alternatives, to make a 3-D movie or not, I will always pick not to make one. I have one exception I like to work with Charles Band. I said when I made PARASITE that I would never make another 3-D movie, and still I’m doing them.”
BEHIND THE SCENES/INTERVIEWS
Actor Jeffrey (Dogen) Byron Remembers Metalstorm
You have been in several Empire films. .
Jeffrey Byron: Yes. I met Charles Band when I auditioned for METALSTORM. I had never met him before that. I felt confident about getting the role and after I read for him and the casting director, I guess he agreed. I was hired the same day. They apparently stopped seeing actors after meeting me. Once I started work on the film I had a good rapport with Charlie, and soon after (during the filming of METALSTORM) he offered me the role in THE DUNGEONMASTER.
Which Band production was the most memorable for you?
Jeffrey Byron: My favorite was METALSTORM. It was tons of fun to make, and when we were filming it, there was a special camaraderie with the cast and crew. We knew it was a low budget exploitation film but we also knew that it had a chance to be memorable. In the end it has turned out to be quite the cult classic. I enjoyed working with everyone. Tim Thomerson my sidekick and I had fun working together. I am sure there are lots of great (and funny) outtakes in the vaults.
We’re trying to imagine the casting process for THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED SYN…
Jeffrey Byron: As I said, I was one of the first actors they saw for the part and once they met me they cast me. After they hired me, I read with many actresses for the part that Kelly Preston played including Demi Moore. She was the favorite and would have been hired but she was doing another project and wasn’t available.
METALSTORM was shot in 3D. Did this pose any challenges for you as an actor?
Jeffrey Byron: Not really, other than it being a slow process. Lighting a scene for 3D, at least in that era, was time consuming…
Did you have to endure any grueling make-up or perform any of your own stunts?
Jeffrey Byron: Makeup was easy. There were a lot of grueling fight scenes which were fun, but tough. And I loved my costume!
What was Band like as a director?
Jeffrey Byron: Charlie was fun to work with. His real gift was the promotion part. He knew how to market a film. He was brilliant at that. He didn’t give me any direction, really. He pretty much left it up to me.
Going head-to-head with Richard Moll must have been intimidating..or is he just a big softy?
Jeffrey Byron: Richard was a quiet, introspective guy.. .Nice, and easy to work with, but didn’t say a lot.
POST PRODUCTION/VISUAL EFFECTS
METALSTORM’s innovative visual effects benefit from the collaborative efforts of 3-D whiz John Rupkalvis, inventor of StereoScope, working with visual effects supervisor Frank Isaacs and assistant Tom Calabrese. One of the most experienced technicians in the field, Rupkalvis served as both 3-D consultant and visual effects supervisor.
While the film’s live-action scenes were shot with Chris Condon’s StereoVision lenses, special effects photography used Rupkalvis’ StereoScope 3-D system, which works with, instead of replacing the prime lens of a regular 35mmcamera. To photograph miniatures in 3-D, it’s necessary to reduce the “interaxial distance” between the lenses from the standard 2.5 inches to as little as a quarter of an inch or smaller to create the illusion of scale. Since the range of interaxial distances on most single camera set-ups is somewhat limited, twin-camera rigs were employed on both SPACEHUNTER and JAWS 3-D.
But StereoScope offers the advantages of variable interaxial with the relative convenience of a single camera, presenting the regular lens of the Mitchell camera with an image already in the proper over-and-under format. Advantages of the single-camera system for effects work include less light loss than a beamsplitter and savings in the cost of film stock and lab work.
The effects requirements for METALSTORM ranged from simple rotoscope animation to complex blue-screen composites combining as many as five elements in a single shot. While 3-D effects were also featured in JAWS 3-D and SPACEHUNTER, the work of Rupkalvis, Isaacs and Calabrese (collectively working under the banner “Fantasy Creations”) was completed independently, and the trio were forced to experiment on their own to solve some of the vexing problems faced by those working with 3-D special effects.
“Hardly a day went by,” Rupkalvis said, “when we didn’t do something and suddenly realize that what we had done had never been accomplished before.
“There may be a model of the skycycles flying through the air, going through a background shot of a canyon, and at the same time it might include a live action shot of a real actor in a vehicle below, shooting rotoscoped lasers,” Rupkalvis added. “What’s really mind-boggling is that it’s all being done in 3-D, and every point, all the way through, matches.”
What makes 3-D effects so difficult, according to Rupkalvis, is the precise positioning required of the different elements within the frame at any one moment. While effects technicians for flat films speak in terms of background plate and foreground model, backgrounds” for 3-D effects are often both dimensionally closer to the screen and further back than the subject of the shot.
To insure that the models were always in the correct location in space, Isaacs and Rupkalvis would take precise measurements of the model at each frame of a particular shot. “We measured things with micro measuring equipment, with divisions as small as 4 millionths of an inch,” said Rupkalvis. “We took the 3-D down a 20-foot track, dividing each frame into increments. In some cases, when a model was on an angle, we had to take different measurements on the nose and tail, because we didn’t want the tail to appear to skim a rock that the nose clears.”
Their care pays off in an atmospheric night shot, where, surrounded by a crowd holding flaming torches, Dogen jumps on a skycycle to give chase to the fleeing Jared-Syn. The scene shifts to a long shot where a one-sixth-scale model of the cycle, matted into the live action, rises up and flies gradually out of the scene, staying in correct size, perspective and depth throughout the shot. The effects team even put the flickering light of the torches on the model, holding cutouts in front of the lights and moving them precisely for each frame of the cut.
METALSTORM’s climactic scenes feature a breathtaking chase on the skycycles through narrow canyons. To put the cycles in their proper places within the scenes, they and the background footage not only had to match in terms of size and perspective, but with convergence as well.
The convergence point determines the position in space of the entire scene; that is, which elements within a shot will appear to be off the screen, at the screen, or seemingly behind the screen. When the right and left-eye images are precisely overlapped, they will appear to be at the screen. The more the two images are “offset,” the more they will appear to be in front of or behind the screen.
A typical shot might involve a model skycycle flying towards a distant mountain. If the background element is improperly converged, it could appear to be much closer to the screen than originally intended. Instead of the skycycle appearing to be miles away from the mountain, it would appear to be flying straight into the side of a cliff.
The problem was compounded by the fact that the model shots were largely done before filming the backgrounds, because of scheduling problems. So, instead of flying the cycles through pre-filmed background scenery, the effects crew had to search through thousands of feet of footage to find cuts that would match the movement of the cycles.
“Since a lot of our shots were from ‘God’s point of view’ above the two models, you could get away with separate movement from the background,” said Isaacs. “It kind of makes it look more interesting. If you are going around a cliff and there is enough space to fit the model in, it doesn’t matter if he’s moving off axis.”
Much of the excitement of the final chase belongs to the dramatic point-of-view shots flying through the canyon. Much of the credit for those, according to the effects crew, belonged to pilot Vance Colvik. “I’ve never seen anyone do the things he did,” said Isaacs. “There’s one shot as the ground is coming up from 100 or 500 feet away. He was spinning and turning so you didn’t know which way was up.”
Al the climax of the chase, JaredSyn uses his evil powers for an escape to another dimension through a tunnel of energy. To create the effect, the effects team builta long, tapering triangular tube of plexiglass and hung it from monofilament wire. They mounted lights on the motion control system and closed off all but a narrow line of illumination.
“In complete darkness, with the camera positioned at the mouth of the tube, we raked the lights down the tube toward the camera,” said Isaacs. “We would shoot one pass, back the film up, shoot another, back it up, shoot another, up to 30 passes on one piece of film. We used multiple colors-reds, greens, blues-by taping colored gels over the slit of light. Sometimes we did more than one color on a single pass. It looks like pulses of light or energy coming at you down the tube. Since it’s made of plastic, everything reflects off the sides, so you get multiple triangles.”
Much of the effects work on METALSTORM involved shots that required rotoscope animation, including lasers, glowing energy crystals, the hyper-space tunnel featured in the climax, and assorted other effects. While rotoscope animation effects appear relatively simple, they’re very time consuming. Ultimately, three different animation crews were brought in at the final stages of postproduction.
An in-house team, Jan Carlberg and Tony Alderson, worked on the glowing energy crystals, the teleportation effect when Dhyana is whisked away to Jared-Syn’s headquarters, and selected laser beams, as well as coordinating the work that had to be farmed out. A second team, headed by SPACEHUNTER veteran Ernie Farino, was contracted to provide additional laser effects and other elements. Finally, a crew at Millenium Studios, the effects facility of New World Pictures, supplied optical enhancement for the sequence involving the “Chimera,” the energy beast that attacks Dogen.
3-D rotoscoping involves making two drawings for each frameone for each eye-drawn precisely to match the two slightly different views of the scene in which the artwork will be matted in. The primary challenge is to fool the audience into thinking that the flat artwork has the same degree of depth as the live action elements in the scene.
“If it’s drawn wrong (with the wrong convergence) in 3-D, even though it looks right on the flat picture, it could go to the wrong place or even come out backwards,” Rupkalvis explained. “The artist has to find the proper displacement in the actual scene where the drawing will be used. The difference between right eye and left eye drawings might not be that much, but you still have to match the scene.
“For each new frame, the drawings have to move a little bit,” Rupkalvis added. It may seem simple, just drawing point to point, but you have to be very careful with the positioning in space. If you have many elements, you don’t want the lasers to hit something in between. Every element that’s added has to relate exactly to every element that’s in the original photography.”
The rush to the theaters also affected the completion of the film’s optical effects. While bluescreen elements had been shot back in March and April, background plates weren’t shot until early June. Frank Isaacs spent three days screening thousands of feet of aerial footage before turning everything over to compositor Greg Van Der Veer, the son of renowned optical expert Frank Van Der Veer.
“Van Der Veer only had four weeks to composite everything,” Isaacs explained. “That included all the blue-screen shots, the lasers, everything. When you realize that it sometimes can take weeks to composite just one or two shots, you can see the kind of job he did for us. He locked himself away in a little room with an optical printer for four straight weeks and saved us!”
MAKE UP AND PHYSICAL SPECIAL EFFECTS
Much of what the audience sees in METALSTORM from scars to scarves, from sidearms to Ball’s bionic arm-are the creations of Makeup Effects Labs, a partnership of three relative newcomers, Alan Apone, Frank Carrisosa and Doug White, who have been practicing their craft since their early teens. In fact, two of the partners, White and Apone, have known each other since their days at Culver City Junior High School in the Los Angeles area.
Back in those days, White was fascinated with drawing and building models and mechanical devices, while Apone had ambitions to be an actor. After they met, they haunted the local movie theaters together, sometimes seeing as many as four films in a single day.
They moved on together to Los Angeles City College, where they majored in drama and art. White did make up for the theater arts department, while reading voluminously to learn different techniques on his own. Apone turned from acting and began to concentrate on art direction and set design.
After school (and some excursions into other fields of employment), both White and Apone took positions with makeup artist Tom Burman, building articulated dummies for PROPHECY. In this highly creative setting, they had the opportunity to learn a vast range of techniques and tools of professional special effects makeup. They also met Frank Carrisosa, who would become the third partner in MEL.
In 1979 they decided to weld their varied talents together to start their own studio. Beginning in a modest 1,000-square-foot facility, their first film contract was EVILSPEAK, for which they created special makeup prosthetics and special effects.
Now housed comfortably in a, large industrial space in the San Fernando Valley, the three mesh their talents on a busy schedule of projects, working with a cadre of freelancers to offer a wide array of effects, costumes, props, models, masks and special make ups. Each of the three plays a different role in the team. “When we are working together,” Apone explained, “Doug : does a lot of the designing, I handle most of the business, and Frank I will head the shop as far as the techniques used and how we will rig things.”
For the versatile trio, METALSTORM was a field day, a chance to strut their stuff and exhibit every facet of their talents. Like many others involved in the film, their work was largely done for love, and a chance to show what they could do.
“We’d like to be a one-stop house for a producer,” said Alan Apone. “We want to give the producer everything he wants for the money he wants to spend. Obviously, you can’t do STAR WARS for $10,000. But we’d like to give producers the best they can get for $10,000.”
Some of MEL’s most unusual work involved the facial makeup appliances for the Cyclopeans, a race which is supposedly mutating and losing their features on one side of their face. “We started with a book on human deformities,” said White, but found that the actual way a human would look without an eye was too lifeless. So, we had to sculpt in more character, taking the liberty of adding wrinkles and other features. You have to overdo it even more for 3-D, which needs more light, and that tends to flatten out features. For Dogen’s tan, we had to make it much darker than usual for the same reason.”
MEL also had to abandon an ambitious plan to make sclera contact lenses which would give the Cyclopeans a double-iris effect. “I was going to melt two lenses together to show that their eyes were growing together,” White said. “I was going to do a chrome eye for the machine side of Baal’s face. All the scleral contacts got junked, however, because the actors can only wear them for a half an hour at a time. The eye gets starved for oxygen if you wear them too long, and we just didn’t have time on the production to work around that.”
The creation of Baal, Jared Syn’s bionic boy, was the most demanding undertaking for the makeup effects team, involving appliances and props which took five hours each day to apply. There were seven appliances for the face and skull alone, including one which looks like a surgically-implanted metal skull with staples all around the head to hold it in place.
“It’s all latex foam painted in silver pigments,” White explained. “Latex foam can be made up to be either very flexible or very dense, although it never really becomes hard. You use the flexible foam for the facial appliances, so the expressions of the actor will come through.”
Played by R. David Smith, an accomplished mime who was born without his left arm, the Baal character also has a pneumatically-operated mechanical arm, which shoots a green hallucinatory liquid just before he uses the death crystals. The arm featured three telescoping tubular sections and claws that folded out to grasp objects. Each section was pushed out by air pressure through small tubes attached to a compressor.
In reality, three arms were built: one that actually extended, one that was rigged to be torn off, and one which shot the glowing green liquid. “We shot it from every angle possible,” said White. “We did dolly shots as it flipped out in motion. We telescoped it toward the camera, and we fired the liquid into the camera.”
The makeup crew originally tried to use Chemlite, the green glow found in “night sticks,” for the liquid in Baal’s arm, but its rumored toxicity forced an alternative. “They were going to use it in POLTERGEIST for the veins in the corridor monster,” said White, “but the story I heard was that the guy didn’t want the chemical near him, since he couldn’t be sure what his next child would be like.” Instead, White used ordinary fluorescent paint, which proved to be a suitable alternative.
Pneumatics were used again for one ambitious effect that never made it past the editing room: a shot in which Baal “mummifies” Dyana’s father as he steals his life force. Small tubes were attached at different points inside a life-like foam mask of the actor’s face. As the life force was drained, the bladders were deflated one by one by Frank Carrisosa, who operated valves leading to an air compressor. The resulting effect makes the face seem to shrivel and dry up. The effect was designed to avoid the use of expensive postproduction opticals, a must on the film’s tight budget.
While the “mummification” didn’t make the final print, MEL’s glowing “energy beast” did. Dubbed the “Chimera,” the electrically charged beast is sent by Jared-Syn to kill Dogen. While the sequence was enhanced in postproduction by a team from Millenium (Roger Corman’s in-house effects studio). it was designed as a simple in-camera effect. An MEL Cew sculpted a full body suit and cast it in rigid latex foam. The suit was then covered with Scotchlite paints, which act on the same principle as highway road signs and front-projection screens: while they look dull gray in ordinary light, they shine with a brilliant glow when light is aimed directly at it, in line with the camera lens. To complete the effect, the light was pulsated with a rheostat. “The idea was to come up with something you could do optically in camera, instead of doing rotoscope animation, White said.
The Chimera short circuits itself by stepping in a puddle of molten metal, which Dogen has blasted out of a wall of rock. Winston Jones, the actor inside the costume, slowly folded up his body, and the details of the costume were lost in the Scotchlite glow. The actor was then pulled from the scene, and a shot was taken of the background. A piece of animation of the beast shrinking into the earth was then rotoscoped onto it.
In addition to creating creatures and prosthetic makeup. MEL also provided designs for many of the film’s sets, props and the rugged, desert-scoured costumes, which were made by Kathie Clark, from concepts by White and H. R. Girard, an MEL illustrator.
The Cylcopeans’ costumes look like heavy leather carved in the shape of an exoskeleton. In reality, they were made from rigid latex foam that was sculpted, molded and painted. The use of latex had an unexpected benefit according to Doug White. “In the dailies, it even sounds like leather, like someone wearing chaps,” he explained. “When the actors moved or brushed up against each other, it creaked.”
The Nomads are outfitted in heavy, concealing robes, topped by menacing masks with energy crystals in their foreheads. Originally numbering only 15, their numbers grew to more than 10 (dubbed newmads’ on the set) for certain crowd scenes. As some scenes got bigger and bigger, eventually even a few ‘crew-mads’ were required. For one shot, even co-producer and screenwriter Alan Adler was suited-up. In low-budget films, everyone gets into the act.
For composer Richard Band (the director’s younger brother, by two years), the frantic rush to complete the film meant there was less than a month available to write more than an hour of original music. “In fact,” said Band, “I got the final reel a day and a half before my recording session!”
But Richard Band wasn’t really complaining-it was his brother, after all, who launched his musical career in 1977 with LASERBLAST. And although Band has worked for a number of other producers in the six years since (see 13:5:14), half of his assignments still come from big brother Charlie.
“Since we’ve worked on several films together, Charles trusts me to do whatever I want to do,” Band told writer Randall Larson. “He puts the music in my hands completely. On METALSTORM, he never even heard the main theme unul the recording session.
“Working with your family puts different types of pressures on you,” Band added. “I can exert a type of clout. But I can’t play some of the games I do with other directors when I’m working with family, just because it’s family.”
If Band’s deadline was tight, the musical opportunities were vast. METALSTORM was Band’s first “big” score, integrating a vast array of electronics with a 70-piece symphony orchestra (nearly twice the size of any orchestra he had previously worked with).
The result was thematically simple, yet complexly textured. Band worked with Producers Music Organization and programmer Gary Chang for the electronic portions of the score-performed by four keyboard players using more than a dozen different synthesizers, which was recorded live with the orchestra at the Burbank Studios recording stage.
After principal photography ended in late April, editor Brad Arensman began to assemble the footage. One of his first chores, however, was to complete an 18-minute 3-D demo reel for use at the Cannes Film Festival, where the world’s film buyers gather each year. Both Charles Band and actor Jeffrey Byron made the rounds in late May, and both were elated by the reception the film received. Band returned to Los Angeles to screen the demo reel- which included several completed effects composites-for several domestic distributors. Universal, about to launch JAWS 3-D at more than a thousand theaters, took a strong interest. Reportedly, Universal executives were worried about the financial prospects of JAWS 3-D, and looked at METALSTORM as an inexpensive follow-up to run in those theaters that had already altered their projection equipment to run JAWS 3-D. Unlike the case with most pick-ups, where months may pass between an initial screening and a final deal, Universal agreed to distribute the film in a matter of days.
“When you show a product reel like the one we did, distributors always ask to see the rest of the footage,” explained screenwriter and co-producer Alan Adler. “When we showed it to Universal, they said it was a pleasure to see that the rest of the movie was as good as the product reel. Some people there said they liked the additional footage more. It was a real validating experience.”
There was only one catch. In order to release the film three weeks after the opening of JAWS 3-D, Universal needed a completed print no later than July 27. That gave Band and his postproduction crew less than two months to shoot some badly needed pick-up shots, finish the opticals and to cut, loop, score and mix the film.
Even as Band was completing the score and Van Der Veer the opticals, the marketing department of Universal Pictures was gearing up for the film’s August release. In addition to the standard barrage of print, television and radio campaigns, Universal attached a 3-D trailer to every print of JAWS 3-D, the first new trailer to be shown in 3-D in a generation.
In the weeks before the film’s release, hopes from Band and his crew were running high that METALSTORM would transcend its humble origins and take on the proportions of a major hit. Alan Adler began work on the script for METALSTORM II, with plans for a trilogy. “We’d already started talking about certain monsters and landscapes,” Adler said. “It was to be one of the most all-encompassing pursuits of all time. Not only would Dogen pursue Jared-Syn through time, but through other dimensions as well.”
There was even talk about merchandise tie-ins. “If Band handles the marketing right,” Frank Isaacs said, “every kid is going to have a little Baal doll. I can see the kids at dinner, squeezing his stomach, sticking out a little arm that will shoot out green water.”
But visions of a sequel-or of millions of Baal dolls pushing E.T. off the shelves-were a bit overenthusiastic. Although it grossed more than $2 million in its opening weekend at 550 theaters, the film was pounded by most of the nation’s critics (except for the two Los Angeles dailies, which gave the film mixed reviews), and grosses dropped off quickly.
We made some mistakes,” admitted Band, already at work on a number of upcoming projects, including the revival of David Allen’s long-dormant THE PRIMEVALS. “But it’s only my second film as a director, so it was a great step as far as practicing my craft. It taught me a lot as far as what not to do next time.
Although hardly a blockbuster, METALSTORM will return a profit to its investors-and to the crew members who worked for little or no money to see that the film got made. Such profits should allow Band the luxury of slightly higher budgets the next time around, and perhaps even a more relaxed pace in which to work.
“The scenes in METALSTORM that looked the best were the ones I took the most time with,” Band said. “With $2.5 million, you can only shoot so many weeks, so you can’t give the time and attention that every scene needs. I took five or six moments in the film-the dream sequences, the scene where Baal gets his arm ripped off, and a few others-and spent a lot of time on them; too much time, in fact, in terms of our overall budget.
Alan J. Adler
Alan J. Adler
Jeffrey Byron: Dogen
Michael Preston: Jared-Syn
Tim Thomerson: Rhodes
Kelly Preston: Dhyana
Richard Moll: Hurok
R. David Smith: Baal
Larry Pennel: Aix
Marty Zagon: Zax
Mickey Fox: Poker Annie