Industry News

The Mill at Calder's End - A Victorian Ghost Story Puppet Film by Kevin McTurk

Puppet filmmaker Kevin McTurk follows his award winning puppet film "The Narrative of Victor Karloch" with "The Mill at Calder's End."

Mar 1, 2013

THE MILL AT CALDER’S END - A Victorian Ghost Story Puppet Film

Created by Stan Winston Studio Alumni: Kevin McTurk

Hi fellow Stan Winston School artists,

My name is Kevin McTurk and I'm a creature effects artist and puppeteer. I'm thrilled to tell you about my new project THE MILL AT CALDER’S END - A Victorian Ghost Story Puppet Film.

STAN WINSTON STUDIO AND BEYOND

Before I tell you more about the process of bringing this puppet project to life, I would like to personally thank Matt Winston, his family and the Stan Winston School team for giving me the opportunity to spread the word about my new film and the Kickstarter campaign that's funding it. I first met Matt in the Fall of 1991 when I arrived in Los Angeles and began my career in special makeup effects at Stan Winston Studio. I had the great fortune to work on many incredible iconic films at Stan Winston Studio including BATMAN RETURNS, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, and the JURASSIC PARK trilogy.

Pictured above: Kevin McTurk, Amy Whetsel & TaMara Carlson Woodard assemble a JPIII raptor at SWS.

Pictured above: John Eric Tucker, Kevin McTurk & Mike Manzel test fit the IRON MAN Mark I  suit at SWS.

THE CREATURE ADVENTURE CONTINUES...

In the years that followed, I worked for many other effects studios, including the Jim Henson Creature Shop, Amalgamated Dynamics, and Spectral Motion. I also worked at New Deal Studios, where I was involved on the miniature effects shots for the Martin Scorcese films THE AVIATOR, SHUTTER ISLAND, and HUGO.

Pictured above: Kevin McTurk volunteers to test fit Spectral Motion's "Crone" suit from HELLBOY 2.

WETA AND THE WERESHEEP

In 2004, I was contacted by Weta Workshop in New Zealand and moved to Wellington to work on the films KING KONG, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, and the gory comedy BLACK SHEEP (in which I also played the Weresheep creature).

Pictured above: Kevin McTurk suits up for his role as "The Weresheep" in BLACK SHEEP.

MAKING A PUPPET FILM

In 2011, I returned to my film school roots and conceived of the idea to make a puppet film. I received a Project Grant from The Jim Henson Foundation and a Filmmaker's Grant from Handmade Puppet Dreams (a short film series curated by Heather Henson, Jim Henson's youngest daughter) to make my first puppet short film THE NARRATIVE OF VICTOR KARLOCH. The film was a great success, playing in over twenty international festivals, and winning the "2012 Best Animated Film" at the DragonCon Film Festival.

Pictured above: Title card for Kevin McTurk's 1st puppet Film, THE NARRATIVE OF VICTOR KARLOCH.

Pictured above: Christopher Lloyd voices the title character in THE NARRATIVE OF VICTOR KARLOCH.

Pictured above: William Merriwether (Elijah Wood) investigates the watery depths in "Karloch."

Pictured above: Merriwether encounters a ghost of the deep in THE NARRATIVE OF VICTOR KARLOCH.

My New Film - THE MILL AT CALDER'S END

When I completed the festival tour for the first film, I immediately started thinking of the follow-up puppet film. Whereas my first film was reminiscent of a Jules Verne tale, my new film, THE MILL AT CALDER'S END, is inspired by the gothic haunted worlds of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.  It is also heavily influenced by the classic Hammer horror films of the 1960s and the films of Mario Bava (most notably, his gothic masterpiece BLACK SUNDAY).

INSPIRATION AND INFLUENCES

In the making of this second film, I will be again focusing on the art of puppetry. The work of Jim Henson (THE DARK CRYSTAL, LABYRINTH, and his STORYTELLER television series) is a great inspiration to me and I am hoping to bring his sense of wonderment and artistry to THE MILL AT CALDER'S END. Both “Karloch” and “Calder’s End” are told with the traditional Japanese theater puppetry technique known as Bunraku. Each puppet figure is controlled by three (or more) puppeteers dressed in black and hidden behind each character.

Pictured above: 3 puppeteers perform the Victor Karloch puppet on the set of Kevin McTurk's film debut.

CELEBRATING PRACTICAL EFFECTS

It is also my goal to make a film that celebrates practical effects and therefore there will be almost no computer generated imagery in the final film. In my first film, I utilized several silent film era camera techniques, such as a shot of a miniature ship on a stormswept ocean (which, in fact, was made up of painted flowing garbage bags). I plan to continue to use many more of these techniques to give a hand crafted look to THE MILL AT CALDER'S END.

Pictured above: "Witch" concept design for THE MILL AT CALDER'S END.

MAKING THE PUPPETS

For "Calder’s End," sculptor Mitch Devane has created a 1/2 scale Barbara Steele likeness and a 1/2 scale Peter Cushing likeness. Both sculpts have been molded in basic foam core box molds that are filled with silicone. The molds are carefully split open and the clay sculptures are salvaged so that they can be resculpted in more extreme, horrific expressions (which will be revealed in the film!). These new expression heads are once again molded in foam core boxes and poured as solid block molds.

THE STAR OF "CALDER'S END"

Sculptor Arjen Tuiten has been responsible for creating a 1/2 scale puppet head of the lead character "Nicholas Grimshaw". I made the decision not to base the character on any particular actor, but rather a composite of several English actors who would work well for the tone of the story.

Pictured above: Arjen Tuiten sculpts "Nicholas Grimshaw", protagonist of THE MILL AT CALDER'S END.

CONVEYING EMOTION WITH LIGHT

As evidenced in the photos, Arjen sculpted an expression on the puppet character that can convey different emotions depending on the lighting. The high angle lighting presents Grimshaw as focused and determined, whereas the “under lit” look (similar to the light from a lantern) presents him as fearful and doubting.

Pictured above: Lit from above - Grimshaw is "focused and determined"

Pictured above: Lit from below - the same sculpture of Grimshaw appears "fearful and doubting"

CREATION OF THE BRAMBLEGOR CREATURE

In the last act of the film, Grimshaw will have a harrowing encounter with a giant troll-like demon known as "The Bramblegor." 

Pictured Above: Bramblegor creature design sketch buy Guy Davis.

This creature will appear to be at least 15 to 20 ft. tall compared to the size of Grimshaw. This beast will charge at the hero in a terrifying quadruped (i.e. “running on all fours”) manner. In reality, this will be achieved with veteran gorilla suit performer John Alexander charging the puppet character on a miniature cavern set.

Pictured Above: Bramblegor creature head design by Guy Davis.

By using forced perspective, a mechanical struggling puppet of Grimshaw (achieved with two servo-driven gears that rotate the arms in circles that are a bit off-set from each other), and an insert snapping jaw hand puppet version of the Bramblegor, this sequence will be carefully and seamlessly edited to take advantage of all of these in-camera effects.

JOIN THE TEAM

Although I've reached my initial budget goal of 32k on Kickstarter, I'm determined to make this puppet film amazing so I'm going for a "stretch goal" of 50k. If you're interested in supporting the film and the art of puppetry & practical effects, please consider contributing to this project through our Kickstarter campaign page.

FINAL NOTE

My advice to the SWSCA artists and students is from a wonderful Polish saying about creativity that I learned from a film festival interviewer from Warsaw. The saying is “ Everybody hold one`s fate in one`s hands [and can] shape it as a blacksmith shapes hot iron with his hands."

So, I say to you, stay focused my friends, keep creating art, and shape that iron...

-Kevin McTurk

To check out THE MILL AT CALDER'S END Kickstarter Campaign, just click HERE