Son of Brundle
Having been at the helm of the gruesome special effects of Cronenberg’s The Fly, Chris Walas not only decided to attach himself the sequel, but to direct it — assuring to confine the expenses within the same budget of the first film ($12 million) but with more action involving the monstrous creature. A sequel “in the class of Aliens,” as producer Steven-Charles Jaffe told Cinefex. The role of director restrained Walas from collaborating extensively in the special effects department, or at least not as much as he would have wished. He recalled: “design has always been the most satisfying and enjoyable phase of my work, and here I was basically delegating that aspect to my colleagues while I figured out the logistics of the shooting schedules. I visited my studio occasionally — and it got to the point where I regarded my two-day stays there as a vacation because I could sit down and push some clay around.”
In The Fly II, Veronica Quaife dies in giving birth to the son of Seth Brundle, named Martin, who is birthed within a foreshadowing larval sac. It splits open to reveal a seemingly normal newborn. Sculpted by Howie Weed, the sac was built in two versions: for the initial post-birth scene with it being held by an obstetrician, an articulated puppet (mechanized by Mark Rappaport) was built with cable-operated mechanisms that achieved its squirming movements. The shots that followed, showing the baby moving from within, were obtained by bolting a prescored skin to an examination stand — enabling shop supervisor Mark Walas to puppeteer two baby arms via rods from below.
Unlike the previous hybrid creature, Martin presents a ‘refined’ amalgamation of human and fly DNA, resulting in a more natural progression towards the adult hybrid creature. Extensive make-up provided the four stages of transformation that precede the cocoon. Stephan Dupuis provided the make-up, aided by assistant Dennis Pawlik. Taking cues from Kevin Haney’s work on Poltergeist III, Dupuis moulded the facial and body appliances in gelatin. He said: “gelatin has a nice translucent quality, and to my mind it makes for less work than foam rubber which you have to bake and let cool for at least 6 hours before taking it out of the mold. The grading of gelatin that we used was quite tough and durable, and the ease with which appliances could be manufactured made perfect sense for the production schedule we had.” Despite the advantages, however, gelatin was only partially responsive to adhesives — and needed a particular kind of glue that “worked like contact cement.” Constant melting due to heat also forced continuous appliance fixing. As Eric Stoltz was a ‘last-minute hiring’ for the lead role, the artists only had 2 weeks of time to create the appliances.
Stage 1 required no gelatin appliances on the head, being simply a subtle facial discoloration. Gelatin was only applied to the left arm, with the webbing being a simple Halloween decoration. The following stage, labeled as 1A, distorted the actor’s face more with the addition of eye-bags. Stage 2 involved appliances on nose, cheekbones, forehead and chin. Dupuis said: “we tried to give the impression that Martin’s bone structure was shifting beneath his skin. I was pushing the shape of his face towards that of the bug creature which had already been finalized by the CWI team.”Ultimately, the stage 2 make-up proved to be creatively satisfying for Dupuis. He commented: “it was clean yet deeply disturbing to viewers — a total shift from Jeff Goldblum picking his fingernails and having his ear fall off.” The deformed stage 3 make-up involved 7 separate appliances that took 2 and a half hours to apply. Dupuis recalled: “it was kind of scary by the time we got to stage 3, knowing that gelatin is not quite as flexible as foam rubber. I tried to allow for as much facial movement as possible by sculpting the basic facial muscles very thinly. For the mouth area — where the appliances were most likely to come undone — I added zinc oxide to the prosthetic adhesive which made the gelatin stick like a son of a bitch! Eric was not very pleased at the end of the day when that stuff had to come off, but he never complained. Performance-wise, he compensated for the lack of flexibility by exaggerating all of his expressions and movements.”
Eventually, in Stage 4, Martin literally begins to envelop himself in a cocoon. A sac of gelatin representing the back of the head was glued to a distended forehead appliance. Other appliances were pre-glued and blended, cutting down the make-up time significantly. The effect of Martin’s eye falling out, only to reveal a monstrous insectoid eye, “was achieved simply with a gelatin half-eye that Stoltz palmed,” Dupuis said, “and a contact lens he wore that was manufactured by the Theo Obrig Optical Company of New York. CWI had determined that MartinFly would have bright orange eyes. In designing the contact lenses, I toned that hue down and instead of leaving the usual hole for the pupil I painted it over like a cataract.” The Stage 4 make-up also involved the cocoon itself, which encases Stoltz’s body partially, then fully. Initially, “it looked like two different effects joined together,” Dupuis commented. “Although my Stage 4 makeup looked fairly horrific by itself, it appeared too normal when it was seen together with the totally alien cocoon. What we came up with to correct the problem resulted in one of the longest makeup jobs I have ever had to do.” In order to ‘fix the gap’ between prosthetics and mechanics, Dupuis, Pawlik and Joanne Smith manufactured dozens of small gelatin appliances in order to suggest a mass of body lumps. Stoltz’s fingers were altered with webbing and claws on the knuckles. This revised Stage 4 took a total of 7 hours to apply; once on set, 5 additional hours were needed to envelop Stoltz in the latex cocoon, as well as apply blending pieces. Fortunately enough, the make-up performed correctly on film and only one day was needed to shoot the sequence.
The cocoon itself underwent several stages. All the single cocoons were designed by Jon Berg and were vacuformed from thermoplastic vinyl to maintain a sense of translucency. The final stage of the cocoon was assembled, as it was too large to be vacuformed in its entirety. Wim Van Thillo and Conrad Itchener applied cyanoacrylate adhesives and polyester resins in thin layers that managed to erase the seam lines. Jon Berg recalled: “we actually sculpted the final stage cocoon first and then worked backwards to create the preceding cocoon stages. The first stage final cocoon was coated with resin, filled with water and reinforced at strategic places with metal. Into that, we placed a hand-operated Martin bust that is glimpsed only briefly in the film. Later we animated the second stage cocoon simply by having operators underneath the table flex the vinyl. For the scene in which the fly breaks out of the cocoon, we used a head and shoulders puppet also manipulated from beneath the table. The cocoon had been prescored, then covered with latex webbing and ultraslime so that when the fly emerged all this stuff would be stringing from him.”
It is in the Bartok laboratories that Martin finally emerges from the cocoon, as a fully formed, abominable hybrid Monster. Where BrundleFly was a decaying mutant, MartinFly instead is a deadly and symmetrical union of human and fly. Chris Walas explained the basic concept to Cinefex: “The difference between Martin’s metamorphosis and the metamorphosis in the first movie is that ours is a natural evolution rather than a physical decay. That in itself changes the overall dynamics of the story. Martin is growing from the first moment that he appears on screen to the last frame of the film. His body knows where it’s going, but his mind is unaware of it.” As a consequence of this, the design of the creature was not conceived as an asymmetrical, non-functional mutant in the fashion of BrundleFly — but rather as a fast and deadly insectoid killing machine.
Walas wanted something elegant and beautiful, but at the same time absolutely menacing. Like in many other cases, the design of MartinFly went through an enormous number of widely different iterations before the director chose what would become the final design. Since the beginning, however, one of the basic guidelines was that the design should be more insect-inspired than its predecessor. Sculptor Howie Weed commented: “instead of hitting the final design out of the blue, our bug evolved from the submission and revision of countless drawings and sculptures. A decision had been made early on that MartinFly was going to look more like an insect than the original BrundleFly, so we worked within certain guidelines — the head would be relatively small and the legs, trunk and arms would be very thin. This caused a good deal of aesthetic as well as mechanical difficulties. There were endless ways of making a creature with a small head and thin limbs look ludicrous, and perhaps only one or two ways of designing it so that it seemed impressive and deadly.”
Buzz Neidig was responsible for many aspects of the creature seen in the film. At this stage, the creature was winged — and featured a retractable pair of legs in the middle of the body. Turned into a sculpture and then cast in foam, it was used by Jon Berg to determine how to build the mechanical understructure of the animatronic; a suit was immediately discarded due to the general layout of the design itself. The design eventually evolved, with the basic shape intact; however, the middle legs were transformed into arms, and the wings were ultimately discarded. Ultimately, Walas ‘assembled’ the final design. The head, featuring the distinct mandibles, needle-like teeth and subtle human skull likeness, was developed starting from a concept by Stephan Dupuis. The final, ‘crustaceous’ look was judged interesting and unusual — and was sculpted by Tom Sullivan. The dominant blue and green colors were conceived to be vibrant and eye-catching. Painter Kelly Lepkowsky recalled: “the overall goal was to create something beautiful and colorful — not Monster green or brown. Universal colors blended with metallics produced the iridescent quality that Chris was after.”
During production, the script underwent continuous revisions — especially in the climax sequence. Members of Chris Walas’ special effects squad were allowed to build the puppets beginning in late 1987; what they knew was that the creature would frequently be featured full-sized and that, due to its design, it could not be brought to the screen as a performer within a suit. In addition, it should be able to display a considerable amount of strength — lifting and throwing people, as well as smashing through a laboratory window and land thirty feet below, in front of a telepod platform. Obviously, too, it needed to walk, and the crew was well aware that the close-up mechanical legs used for the first film would need considerable technological improvement for the new production. Jon Berg said: “the audience would have to be carried along with the belief that our animatronic puppets were actual characters — not just the brief horrific outcome of a slow buildup initiated by an actor. In other words, we had to improve the mechanics of our effects sequences. This time Chris wanted full-figure shots of our bug creature, which meant the construction of one or more full-sized puppets. The rigs that made the various bugs move would have to be redesigned and the way we walked the fly in the first film had to be improved in order to save shooting time and facilitate setups. Worst of all was the fact that the climax of the film — when the fully-developed fly goes on a rampage in the Bartok lab — was constantly being rewritten. We did not know exactly what would be required until the very last minute — and even then the action in the script changed. This affected everything from bug and other animatronic effects to the makeup to even the freedom with which production designer Michael Bolton could build his sets.”
A total of four individual full-size puppets of MartinFly was built, each one of which with a specific purpose. A variety of specific insert body parts was also made. The components of those models ranged from aluminium rods to aircraft fittings, which could be easily replaced; the armatures were far more durable and quicker to build than those used in the precedent film. The skins for all the models were moulded in urethane and latex. Mark Walas, part of the special effects crew, explained: “urethane was the primary component because of its durability and the fact that it does not have to be baked like foam latex. Once mixed and poured, urethane takes only 15 minutes to stabilize — a big time-saver for us. We did, however, paint a thin latex skin into all of our urethane molds prior to pouring because latex picks up detail better, provides a better surface for painting and is easier to seam than urethane.” A specific understructure made of vacuformed styrene was inserted between the outer skin and inner armature. It gave the puppets form, as well as allowing the mechanics to function without interference or obstruction from the skin layer. In case of damage, it also enabled easy access to the mechanics for repairs.
The first — as well as the most complex — animatronic to be finished was the full-size ‘leaper’ model, used for the aforementioned window-crashing scene. This puppet had to launch itself curled up in a fetal position — only to extend its limbs and head outwards in mid-air. Mechanical engineer Michael Steffe recalled: “a lot of work was put into the leaper from an engineering point of view. Tolerances were critical because it would have to break through the conning tower window via a catapult with only two inches of clearance top and bottom. Springs were attached to every joint of the aluminium skeleton and the limbs and neck were drawn into the fetal position with cables. The cables were gathered together in the middle of the back and secured by a center release plate. Altogether there were twelve of them securing five thousand pounds of spring tension. John Thomas rigged a radio-controlled squib on the plate to ensure that the pins holding the cables would be blown free at the proper time.” Self-screwing bolts were inserted in specific joints to tighten as the limbs flexed, in order to avoid excessive backward movement.
The creature’s landing was achieved with the ‘walker’ animatronic, which was also used for many shots of MartinFly moving around the laboratory. The philosophy when building it — as well as the other models — was to keep the animatronic concept as simple as possible, in order for it to give as natural of a vibe as possible onscreen. Stuntman David Mylrea would have to insert his legs in the upper thigh section of the Monster’s legs, which was equipped with stirrups that activated the cable-controlled calves and feet. Steffe inserted a cable-and-spring system that anchored to the harness. With this expedient, Mylrea would simply have to bend his knee: the cable would then flex the ankle joint of the creature in a rather natural manner. A half-suit, despite the design, was used to cover the stunt performer’s torso and legs. It was pieced together by Debra Tomei-Eves and Victoria Lewis, who were supervised by Mark Walas during the process. The legs and feet of the ‘walker’ MartinFly were covered by specially fabricated skins, designed to withstand the walking sequences. Once ‘suited up’, Mylrea was harnessed to the end of a boom arm; in conjunction with the boom operator, he could perform steeping movements that gave the illusion of the creature moving forward. The landing shot was achieved by raising Mylrea with a boom arm and then dropping him to the ground. Although the rig performed flawlessly, the shot needed retakes for the falling glass effects. For certain specific shots of MartinFly’s legs, a pair of leg extensions was built and worn by stunt performer David Mylrea. Suspended by a boom arm, he would create a convincing simulation of the creature’s movements. This method was used when the ‘walker’ would be too time-consuming to set up.
Once on the set of the Bartok laboratory, shooting the hero animatronic creatures proved to be rather complex, due to the fact the stage was not raised, and could not accommodate or hide certain mechanisms or rigs. This was a direct consequence, again, of the continuously fluctuating nature of the climax of the film. Set builder John Thomas commented: “if I ever do another animatronics picture, I will definitely lobby for raised sets at the initial production meeting. As it turned out, we shot in that set for over a month and staged most of the major bug effects there. Not having a raised stage made it difficult to find space in which to move our rigs and conceal them from camera. It’s a testament to the ingenuity of the CWI crew members that it all worked out. We knew there would be problems with filming the climax, but exactly what remained a mystery. A large part of the planning in late 1987 was based on guesswork.”
A particular challenge was posed when the MartinFly puppets had to make sharp right-angle turns in corridors with only 6 feet of width. John Thomas gave a solution to this, aided by assistant Lars Lenander — by building a jointed boom arm that could transport the bugs in a straight line and also ‘whip’ them left or right depending on the specific shot. Another scene involved MartinFly raising up to his full height in front of a guard dog. “We attached six wires to our puppet and raised it up using pulleys,” said Michael Steffe. “Since we could not sink bolts into any part of the corridors, we attached our pulleys to an overhead scaffolding. All told, we spent a week on location and probably saved a lot of money by not having to build these intricate corridors.” Kelly Lepkowsky, part of the crew, also said that “when we saw how John Thomas’ rigs complemented our articulated bugs, we knew our work was going to look really good on screen. We were able to plan our shots more accurately on this film than we had on the first Fly. One big improvement concerning our bug mechanisms was that we eliminated most of the hand cables. Instead of having a lever pull a cable, we used the concept of a bicycle chain — tho sprockets around which a chain was attached. Jon Berg claims that the system harkens back to the early days of theatre effects. By going that way, we had a greater range of motion for our bug limbs and such, no cable slippage and no need for a spring-action return. We ended up using the system as often as we could in scenes requiring puppet articulation.”
Hard-wire radio controls were also used for insert head models, fabricated by Lepkowsky. The new system sent a coded signal through a wire instead of airwaves, erasing interference and imprecisions. One of the heads was even able to move its eyes independently from each other — like a chameleon. Walas, however, decided against using this feature as he feared MartinFly would appear ‘drunk’. One of the radio-controlled heads featured an additional cable-controlled mechanisms that enabled the creature to rear its neck angrily. Kepkowsky commented: “this movement was really unique and appeared very sinister on screen because the head remained level and sometimes even dipped when the neck reared — as if the creature were preparing to strike. We had a universal joint set at the base of the head and a pivot between the shoulders that could swing back and forth and up and down. Both were activated by cables — for the base of the head, four for the pivot. We wound up using this head several times throughout the course of filming — in fact, the neck snapping back became somewhat of a fly characteristic.”
A specific scene used 3 different puppets of the Monster, filmed so that they would appear continuously as a single creature. When MartinFly throws Shepard straight at a guard, one of the puppets was equipped with a pivoting arm, whereas the dummy of actor Frank Turner was rigged on a high-tension wire pull. Mackenzie, the guard, closes the door in time — just before the corpse hits it. Within the same shot, the door is opened again — and the creature is nowhere to be seen. The puppet, mounted on a concealed forklift, was simply pulled through the pod bay doors, which were then closed. The camera then follows the guard as he searches for the creature; the puppeteers then drag out a foam mattress and a close-up puppet supported by seven crewmembers, six of whom on cable controls, and one (Mark Rappaport) carrying it like a flag. As the camera tilts up, a third puppet is seen on the ceiling; as the creature entered the frame, an explosive charge freed the wire that was supporting it. Driven by Michael Steffe, the puppet then safely lands on the mattress already in place. The guard, startled, turns his head around and comes face to face with MartinFly, which this time is portrayed by the close-up puppet. Much like BrundleFly, the creature is able to vomit an acidic digestive enzyme (via a proboscis in its mouth). It is spit onto the guard’s face, with devastating results portrayed by complex make-up appliances and mechanic additions.
Not the entirety of the scenes used full-size models. For the scene where MartinFly is spotted in one of the security camera videos, a highly detailed, 14-inch miniature rod puppet was built. Filmed in the chroma-key apparatus (which, similarly to blue-screen, ‘keyed out’ sleeves and rods electronically), it was shot in a miniature corridor set, along with a dummy of one of the laboratory workers in the same scale. The shot managed to show the creature fully, without concerns for concealing the boom arms; after an unsatisfying first result, it was partially refilmed and inserted into the final film. Ultimately, certain shadow effects were achieved with Mark Walas wearing a simple foam costume. A backpack harness (vintage, from World War II) sustained the middle arms, whereas simple head mechanisms could be puppeteered by Walas with simple chin movements.
Two separate rigs were needed for the final scene featuring MartinFly, where the creature violently drags Bartok towards one of the telepods for the gene-switching process. The hero puppet, holding stuntman Tim O’Neill, was lifted with a support arm for close-up shots. When the scene would instead focus on the legs, Mylrea and stuntman Yves Cameron were suspended from the boom arm walker rig.
For more images of MartinFly, visit the Monster Gallery.