Behind The Scenes

A Zombie Dog, FX Filmmaking and Imagination - Making the Macabre World of Lavender Williams

Animatronic Zombie Dog stars in VFX and Practical Effects short The Macabre World of Lavender Williams by USC film school grad Nick Delgado.

Sep 24, 2013

The Macabre World of Lavender Williams

"The Macabre World of Lavender Williams" is an extraordinary, imaginative fantasy short film written and directed by USC graduate film student, Nick Delgado and produced by Nick Delgado and Begona Castillo. Nick's clever use of practical effects to tell his story including miniatures and an animatronic Zombie dog, caught our attention here at Stan Winston School. And we asked Nick to take us behind the scenes and explain how a first time director could take on a project so ambitious with such delightful and accomplished results. Read Nick's story below and see the film by clicking the video above! Enjoy!

- David Sanger

Pictured above: A director (Nick Delgado), an actress (Lilly Jackson) and a zombie dog chill between takes.


By Nick Delgado

I first came up with the idea while I was attending USC film school.  I wrote the "origin story" of Lavender, a little girl with a big imagination full of dark stories, during a writing class and was intrigued by the character. Soon enough the idea of a child looking for her father felt like the perfect story for this character who uses fantasy and imagination to cope with her problems. I wrote a draft of the short film, but I felt something was missing, an element of fantasy that would give the story its personality (and also make it more fun to watch).  That's when I remembered a sketch I had made of a ghost dog that I happened to have hanging on the wall. Eureka! I put the two characters together, named the dog "Lester" and turned him into a zombie, and from there, the story was born.  

Pictured above: Lester listens while the crew discusses how to best shoot him. From left to right: Puppet maker & designer Nacho Diaz, puppeteer Frank Langley, director Nick Delgado (sitting), first AD Franklyn Gottbetter, DP Matt Egan, costume assistant Lisa E. Davenport and camera operator Ryan Green (sitting).


Lester was always conceived as an animatronic hand puppet and it was designed with that in mind.  It was designed by Nacho Díaz after meetings with the myself and Oscar del Monte, co-owner of Plan 9 FX and who shared project creative director credit with Nacho. The team that built Lester included key artist Cristina Malillos, sculptors Nelly Guimaras (PAN'S LABYRINTH) and Cesar "the Cat", hair department leads Gema Peña and Cris Rodríguez, manufacturing lead Miriam Carrasco and the mechanics department was headed by David Hernández y Dani Izar. The dogs were made out of foam latex with a lot of R&D involved in coming up with a fur that felt realistic but also was appropriate for a dead dog!  The fur was a mix of natural hair, yak hair and synthetic fur.

Pictured above: Lester in the dressing room. The rod supporting him for full-body shots can be seen coming out of his head.


And of course we must give a shout out to our incredible team of puppeteers led by Allan Trautman.  Puppeteers included, Tim Blaney, Kristin Charney, Frank Langley, Alison Mork and Christine Papalexis.  

Pictured above: Lilly is amused; Lester is trying to make a point. Lead puppeteer Allan Trautman is operating his body and mouth, with puppeteers Frank Langley, Kristin Charney, Alison Mork and Christine Papalexis operating the ears, eyes, eyebrows and legs.


This is little known but the first person I pitched the project to was Stan Winston himself. John Watson, who produced Stan's movie A GNOME NAMED GNORM, was my teacher at USC, and took me and another student to meet Stan since both our projects involved puppets. It was a great, memorable afternoon and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank Stan for his generosity and advice that day.

Pictured above: Assistant make-up artist Sarah E. Bruton putting the finishing touches on Sheriff Murdstone (Rex Linn).


When I showed the script to my teachers and mentors, I was told it was too ambitious, but I was confident that "a good story always attracts the right people" and so it did. Robert Zemeckis read the script and decided to be involved and mentor the project. At the same time, casting director Anne McCarthy and Kellie Gessell (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, THE CONJURING) became involved as well, and that's how the production managed to get such a great cast: Christopher Lloyd, John Lithgow, Rex Linn and the show's big find: Lilly Jackson, to play the title character. 

Pictured above: Nick frames up a shot while Lilly Jackson (Lavender) and Christopher Lloyd (Lester / Old Relative) rehearse.


My best friend, Nacho Diaz, make-up artist extraordinaire, joined the project to design and create the zombie dog puppets through his company, Plan 9 FX. Michael Lantieri, two-time Academy Award winner, joined in as physical effects supervisor. As if things weren't good enough, Warner Bros. became involved and agreed to finance the post-production work. This is where the geniuses at New Deal Studios came to the picture to co-produce the film and supply its visual effects, under visual effects supervisor Robert Chapin and visual effects producer Michael Theurer. 

Pictured above: We love models! Models and forced perspective were used extensively in the climax of the film. Lavender and the Sheriff were both shot against greenscreen and composited in the environment by visual effects supervisor Robert Chapin and New Deal Studios digital department.


Production took place during 11 days plus 3 days of pickups and 3 days of miniature shooting. Director of photography Matt Egan gave the show a moody yet beautiful lighting and shooting the film was the most fun I've ever had in my life.  

Pictured above: Sheriff Murdstone (Rex Linn) ready for some evil doing. Make-up effects by key make-up artist Ryan Egnatoff and assistant make-up artist Sarah E. Bruton.


While my wonderful editor, Mark Apicella, and I locked ourselves in the editing room, the film achieved another coup: Academy Award nominated composer Bruce Broughton came on to score the film. One of my favorite scores of all time was Broughton's YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES and ever since I was a little boy, I had always dreamed of working with my idol. This was a dream come true for me, and Bruce's score surpassed my wildest dreams. The same goes for the effects and the work that really everybody involved with the film delivered. I am still humbled by everyone's contributions.

Pictured above: Lavender's pals. With the exception of Lester the zombie dog, Rusty the bike and Wraps the mummy did not appear on the short but will appear on the feature. Maquettes sculpted and fabricated by Nacho Diaz, Oscar del Monte and Cristina Malillos from Plan 9 FX.

Now that the project is complete, producer Begona, internet wizard Michael Hogan and I have together founded Rusty Bike Studios to develop The Macabre World of Lavender Williams as a feature film.  Work on the script is almost complete.  Artists at Rusty Bike are also generating concept art and character models (like those above.) So, if all goes well, there will be more of the Macabre World of Lavender Williams coming soon! Stay tuned!

by Nick Delgado 

To WATCH "The Macabre World of Lavender Williams" simply click the video player at the top of the page!

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