Rockstars of the concept, design and art worlds

Craig Mullins at Trojan Horse.

Craig Mullins at Trojan Horse. Photograph by Georg Loeschner.

I recently attended the Trojan Horse was a Unicorn event in Portugal. It’s really hard to sum up just how special Trojan Horse was – you can read our coverage on fxguide which included interviews on make-up and practical fx, VR and even stories from the set of The Island of Dr. Moreau. In addition to VFX attendees a large proportion of the event was all about design, concept art, illustration and CG art and for those areas several ‘rockstars’ were present. What’s amazing is that just because they were rockstars didn’t mean they were inaccessible by attendees – in fact, that’s the whole point of Trojan Horse – anyone could go and talk to them, have their portfolio reviewed and find inspiration. It’s a truly unique event and one I hope continues next year.

Fancy a miniature for your mantelpiece?

mars2Propstore is hosting an entertainment memorabilia auction on 23 September. Amongst the many props, replicas, wardrobe items and movie history are several effects miniatures and VFX pieces. One item I love is this Martian Giant Robot CGI Texture Reference Model from Mars Attacks! It was actually used by the VFX team (Warner Digital Services) in texturing their CG version for the film. There’s more pics at the link, too. Happy bidding.

Trojan Horse Was a Unicorn – what is that?

TROJAN_FEATUREDThat’s what I said to myself the first couple of times I heard about this seemingly obscure art/design/vfx conference in Portugal. But now about to hit its third year, Trojan Horse has in fact become one of the most sort out events of the year. In fact, it sold out in March (places are limited to 500 people). So now the organisers have created a great way for people who can’t go to Portugal to still experience Trojan Horse – via ‘THU TV’ – a livestream and post produced channel. All the info is in our fxguide story.

Masters of FX: How the BAT from Dark Knight Rises was made


In my new book Masters of FX I profile 16 of the world’s best effects supervisors. One of the greats is special effects supe Chris Corbould, a veteran of the Bond franchise and Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception. Chris had worked on so many films, in fact, that I couldn’t fit in the book everything he had done. So I’m pleased to now present Chris’ behind the scenes notes of the making of the BAT for The Dark Knight Rises, a vehicle that required close collaboration with the director, production designer, stunts and other effects teams on the film.

Chris Corbould: The BAT was going to be the ultimate in Bat-vehicles to end the trilogy on The Dark Knight Rises. Initially I was a little disappointed at the choice of a flying vehicle as I felt I would not be able to achieve as much practically as normal. I heavily lobbied Chris Nolan for a Batboat but he was adamant that he wanted something grand and impressive for his final film.

The introduction chapter in Masters of FX for Chris Corbould.

The introduction chapter in Masters of FX for Chris Corbould.

Eventually we sat down and it quickly became apparent that there were many opportunities to film the BAT practically including mounting it on a motorised motion base vehicle, travelling it on wires between two cranes and even hanging it on wires beneath a Sikorsky helicopter, all methods which we used in the film. However one thing was plain, we had to build a full size version and in fact we built two, one being a lightweight version for hanging on wires, the other with fully operational hydraulic flaps and cockpit.

The concept of the BAT was again determined by Chris and Nathan Crawley (production designer) who dreamt up the most unusual contraption which was a hybrid of helicopter blades fitted with jet engines and probably the most un-aerodynamic design achievable but alternatively looked incredible. Again from a plastic model measuring approximately two feet long, my CAD draughtsperson Chris Howes produced full size drawings of the basic chassis and then multiple panels which had to be moulded from carbon fibre to be ultra light. A team of 20-25 technicians constructed the BAT with Dan Homewood leading the aluminium chassis fabrication and Richard Gregory leading the moulding team with other crew concentrating on the hydraulic flaps and weapons.

Above: Chris Corbould describes the creation of the BAT, in this Warner Bros video.

On the other side of the Atlantic in Los Angeles, Scott Fisher and his US SFX team were constructing the motion base vehicle which when mounted on it, allowed the BAT to rise and fall 8 feet, tilt fifteen degrees side to side and back and forth whilst travelling along the road at sixty miles per hour. A unique feature which was incorporated into the design was a moving Batman mannequin which could move its head and arms and also blink its eyes.
Upon arriving in Los Angeles, the first job was to join up the BAT and motion base vehicle which married superbly. After lengthy trials we were confident we could achieve some spectacular results.

The first time we filmed with the BAT on the film was in Pittsburg where it raced around the streets chasing the convoy of Tumblers and Bomb Truck. One issue we had to contend with was the overhead utility cables which potentially could snag our BAT in flight but Pittsburg city did an amazing job by temporarily removing any risky cables although one unsuspecting street sign did meet a sticky end.

Read more about Chris Corbould's special effects work in other films like Skyfall, Goldeneye and Batman Begins in Masters of FX.

Read more about Chris Corbould’s special effects work in other films like Skyfall, Goldeneye and Batman Begins in Masters of FX. A host of other supervisors including Doug Trumbull, Dennis Muren, John Knoll, Phil Tippett and more are also covered.

After a successful shoot in Pittsburg we returned to Los Angeles and embarked on the majority of our cable work where the BAT first appeared from the dark alleyway and flew over the police cars to flying it below a Sikorsky helicopter from the roof of a Los Angeles high rise office block. The next stop on the journey for the BAT was LA where Chris wanted to mount it on the top of a skyscraper overlooking the Statue of Liberty. The one problem we had was getting it up there. After initial enquiries it was too financially prohibitive to mount a crane on the top of the building so we decided to cut the BAT into small enough pieces to fit into the service elevator and then rebuild it on the top.

After completion of filming and when combined with the amazing CGI work carried out by Paul Franklin and Double Negative, the BAT looked spectacular but sadly marked the end of the Chris Nolan Batman trilogy.

Masters of FX profiles 16 of the world’s best visual and special effects supervisors and includes forewords from director James Cameron and producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura. You can find the book at both Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Masters of FX, the book!


Focal Press and Ilex will be publishing my first book, Masters of FX, in August. This 192 page book, which includes forewords by director James Cameron and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, features interviews with 16 of the world’s best visual effects supervisors and the films they’ve worked on.