Make a Monster - Plastic Bag Technology with Steve Johnson and Bill Bryan

Learn to make a Monster using Plastic Bag Technology with Master Monster Maker Steve Johnson and Creature Effects Fabricator Bill Bryan

Oct 5, 2012


In the words of creature maven Steve Johnson, all you need to create the sickest, most original monsters is “a bunch of garbage.”  In our newest lesson “Make a Monster - Plastic Bag Technology”, Steve and "mad scientist" FX Fabricator Billy Bryan show you how some sheets of plastic, a soldering iron, some monofilament, old yogurt containers, methyl cellulose (the stuff that “slime” is made from) and food coloring can help you make something that you’ve probably only seen in your nightmares – or perhaps from one of the dozens of films that feature their impossibly alive-looking but surprisingly simple movie monsters.

Pictured above: Steve Johnson watches as Billy Bryan separates the sleeves with a little CO2.

Pictured above: No, not a list of garbage pail contents. This is what they make monsters out of.


One of the great joys of this lesson is listening to two veteran professionals trade war stories about how they helped to pioneer a new way to make practical – that is, real-life, you can see-them-and-touch-them, no green screen needed – creatures.  While master craftsman Billy puts together the plastic bag creature, Steve amuses & informs with recollections of how various challenges from major filmmakers prompted the discovery and improvement of the plastic bag monster making technique. 

Pictured above: Bill Bryan tells the story of his original plastic bag 'inspiration' with this two prong iteration.

Pictured above: Billy Bryan makes sure his construction is robust enough to handle THE SLIME.


It all goes back to horror master Clive Barker, who employed Steve on the film “Lord of Illusions.”  The movie demanded a creature that looked “organic,” with pulsating skin that changed and moved and morphed without requiring laborious stop-motion photography or the rigid sculpt-mold-cast techniques that were the industry standard.  Steve challenged Billy to come up with a new kind of creature.  How Billy was “inspired” to use plastic as the basic building material is one of the more hilarious moments in the lesson.  (Note: We here at the Stan Winston School do not recommend utilizing Billy’s “inspirational” techniques unless you have a proper prescription from your doctor.)

Pictured above: Creature fabricator Bill Bryan tests his plastic sleeves for leaks by pouring in water first.

Pictured above: Latex dotted on a sheet of plastic, dried and painted can give you a textured skin.


As Billy demonstrates, using plastic sheets of varying thickness and molding them into “balloons” gives you a “skin” that proves to be as pliable as – well, plastic.  Texturing the surface by crimping it, or pulling out tendrils with your fingers (or perhaps a pair of tweezers coated in latex for ultra-fine detail), turns the plastic bag tube into a snakelike tentacle.  Use duct tape to fasten the open end to an old yogurt container, affix some nearly invisible monofilament to the bag end of the tube, and you’ve got a sock-shaped cylinder that can fold in on itself with a simple pull.  Make a second tube to surround the first one, and now you’ve got a double-layer of tentacle.  Mixing some methyl cellulose with different colorings gives you the viscous colored liquid that can populate each tube.  A dose of some industrial-strength superslime on the outside, and you’ve got a creature that is worthy of a Clive Barker film – or a haunted house, a Monsterpalooza competition, or a particularly messed-up version of “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Pictured above: Bill Bryan arranges the textured skin to hide the yogurt cup "support structure."

Pictured above: The first plastic tentacle gets filled with methyl-cellulose "slime."


Learning how to forge a slimy tentacle out of plastic and goop will give you the basics for designing similar “bladder” creatures of different shapes, as Steve and Billy did to create the embryonic pods in “Species,” the jellyfish in “Sphere,” and several aliens in “Men in Black II.  But the real value of this lesson is learning how Steve and Billy responded to various challenges over the years by thinking outside the box and daring to try – and fail – with new techniques.  Recalling one of his first jobs assisting the legendary Rick Baker on “An American Werewolf in London,” Steve talks about how learning to fail (Baker insisted that “We’re going to do everything twice”) only bred more confidence in the team.  Both men also praise the ability to do something the “old-fashioned way,” relying only on the central processing unit that exists in their skull, and the ability of their hands to make nightmares come to life.  “There is more love for this art form now than there was when I got into it,” says Steve. “Whether you are writing or acting or sculpting a monster it makes your soul feel good."

Pictured above: Both bags, now filled with the colored slime, are ready for action.

Pictured above: This is what we've heard from each instructor we've shown this to: Steve & Billy are GENIUSES. They've created a TOTALLY unique kind of monster every time they've teamed up.

All in all, this is a lesson that will teach you useful creature creation skills that will last a long time – with or without Billy’s “inspiration.”

Watch the full video lesson HERE.

-Jason Davids Scott