Sunday, January 17, 2010

Let's Make a Model

For those of you who follow Alex Pardee, you probably have seen the Zerofriends commercial: The Winter Stalker. Well, at the end of the commercial, there is an exterior shot of Santa's shack that is actually a miniature that I built. So here is a little behind the scenes of the building process. Enjoy!

A few weeks before shooting, Steven Reedy asked me if I wanted to make a miniature for the new Zerofriends commercial he was planning on directing. I said "Sure....what's a miniature?"

He then told me about his idea for a "Santa/Stalker-esque" story. And at the end it needed a shot of a creepy shack. He basically said "Imagine if Santa lived in the Evil Dead shack." I loved the idea, and after an exchange of overly excited high-fives and hand gestures, I set out to build the miniature.

First, I needed a decent workshop. Alex, being the saint that he is, offered me a room in the Zerofriends slaughterhouse to convert into a temp workshop. I spent a solid day hanging tools, building a workbench, organizing lights and basically making the room comfortable for a few weeks of work.

Before building anything, I needed to do some quick sketches to determine a style we thought would fit the Winter Stalker. After a few conversations, Steven and I decided on a small, rundown, one door, one window shack with some slightly over-exaggerated angles.
Now began the construction. From this point on, I was never really sure what I was doing. I had a very clear vision of how I wanted it to look in the end, but I wasn't exactly sure how to do it. I started building the platform about 30 inches off the ground. This made it easy to work around and would make it ideal for a camera to swing in, if necessary.

I decided to build up a hill behind the shack. There was some initial talk of just doing a flat landscape, then painting a sky and background, but I felt backing the shack up against a mountain rage would add to the seclusion of creepy Santa. Knowing the mountains would have to have some architectural integrity to support small trees and some weight of the fake show, I built a frame and used chicken wire and plaster of paris to create the mountains.

For the shack, I used an old detergent box as the base. I was able to get slightly skewed angles by cutting the box up and taping it back together. The wood paneling was some kind of door slat I found at the hardware store. After a few cocktails I was able to swing my hatchet and produce tons of tiny wood strips that would cover the box.

I bought some 1/8" door skin and hand cut each shingle with a razor blade. I tried a couple of different patterns for the roof, but the one you see here is the one that looked best.

Since the untreated wood was a raw beige color, I had to go in there and "age" it. Acrylics darkened the wood just fine, and it only needed one coat.

The trees were a mixture of clippings I found from around my yard. It was pretty awesome going outside at 2am swinging a hatchet at my landlord's shrubbery. I played with perspective a little by putting the smaller ones in the back and larger ones in the front.

From here it was small details - a north pole, wooden fence, tree stumps, firewood, shovels, frost on the windows, smoking chimney, bucket full of candy canes, a snowman with the zerofriend face...ya know, all the normal things you'd find in Creepy Santa's yard.

I tried a few different methods for the snow - powdered sugar, granulated sugar, salt, asbestos, dandruff. While some tasted better than others, the most believable turned out to be powered plaster. I also learned that you can't just sprinkle fake snow with your pretty little fingers, no, I had to use a strainer so the snow would fall evenly on the model.

Now for the shooting! Director Steven Reedy and DP Chris Saul came over and set the scene. Chris has an excellent eye for lighting and was able to hook up a very convincing moon light. He also rigged the smoke machine with some dry ice for a really cool rolling fog effect.

Here's a little video of us testing some fog.