Bringing "Hellboy" to life: Talking with effects company Spectral Motion

Mike Elizalde is the man at the wheel of Spectral Motion, a special effects company based in Glendale, CA. A passionate mix of artist and technician, he took some time to talk to Comic Book Resources about the magic he performed for "Hellboy."

Their biggest challenge, in terms of resources and time, was creating Sammael, the hell hound who serves as the most common physical challenge for the movie's title character. Of the five Sammael suits they finally created, only one was fully functional, for close up work. "It took four people to operate," Elizalde said, "one to work the tongue, the face servos, one for the eyes, plus two for arms and hands." In addition to the full suit, there were two stunt heads created (foam models that could be "batted around") and two "hero" heads (which had more functionality, such as independently operated tentacles) on the fifty day shoot. All of the Sammael work alone ended up costing $700,000 -- quite a bargain in these inflationary times.

Elizalde's team also worked on Abe Sapien, but admitted that there were CG effects used to supplement their work, animating Abe's eyes. He sent along several images from their workshop and from the set in Prague to illustrate the work that went into sculpting and painting the suit, including creating "articulated servos" for the gills, so they would open in a fluttering sequence.

Elizalde was reluctant to take credit for much of the conceptual or logistical planning. "Guillermo already made the movie in his head," Elizalde said, "he just had to tell us how to make it happen. His pre-planning and coordination of all the different companies made it easy."

There were some roadblocks for Spectral Motion. "We were only allowed to take three people to Prague," he admitted, "but with the help of [production assistant for creature effects] Petra Kucerova and a lot of local talent, we were able to make it work." Elizalde also had praise for Steve Wang ("Steve has built a million creature suits") and Jose Fernandez.

They were also surprised when the gauntlet they were asked to create for Rasputin (with detailed inscriptions based on Mike Mignola's work and more swirly operating servos than you can shake a Samaritan at) had to be shot in the pouring rain.

Elizalde was happy with virtually everything that happened, right until he was told one of his babies wouldn't be making the cut. "Late in the shoot, Guillermo told us our Baby Hellboy was gonna be replaced with a CG version," Elizalde said wistfully, "He said it wasn't expressive enough. It was so hard walking that little guy off the set. It was a complete heartbreak, but it was the right choice."

Finally, he offered advice for any people looking to get into the field. "Definitely a background in sculpture. That'll give you an idea on how things should look and how they'll move. A machining background would be good, illustration, painting. Even skill as a seamstress."

Next up on the radar, Elizalde is in closed-door meetings with Marvel's Kevin Feige and Avi Arad. He wouldn't say what was being considered, but when asked if "Ghost Rider" was on the menu, he smiled and said, "Maybe."

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