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 Movie Special Effects

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  • Created lighting system for Borg suits in Star Trek:First Contact
  • Machined hundreds of structural parts for giant cockroaches in Mimic
  • Created a LEGO stop-motion animation music video

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[photo: Character Shop]

[photo: Character Shop]

STORY: My best buddy Christian Carlberg worked in the movie effects business from about 1995 until 1998. Instead of taking mundane jobs over my school breaks, I used his connections to land 2 effects jobs in 1996. At the Todd Masters Company, in 6 days, I designed and built a fiber optic lighting system for the Borg suits in Star Trek: First Contact.

At the Character Shop, I machined hundreds of structural and mechanical parts for the mutated giant yucky insects in Mimic.

On my own, armed with a camcorder and boxes of LEGO, I made a stop-motion animation music video.

SPECS: At the Todd Masters Company, for the Borg lighting system, I obtained extremely powerful (and pricey--around $150 apiece, as I recall) rechargeable flashlights from a military/law enforcement supplier. I fashioned an aluminum collar to fit on the end of the flashlight, into which a bundle of fiber optic cables was inserted. I added 2 colored gel slides that slid in and out of the collar on a crankshaft, powered by a small motor, to make the colors of the lights shift. Finally, I added a cooling fan to prevent the extremely hot flashlight from damaging the suits or the actors inside--the flashlights had warnings all over them reminding users to not turn them on & stick them in their back pocket, lest they ignite their jeans!

As a mechanic on Mimic at Rick Lazzarini's Character Shop, I machined hundreds of parts from technical drawings: elbow & knee hinges, radio servo mounts, cabling accessories, and LOTS of structural plates that made up the "skeleton" of the cockroaches.

For the animated LEGO music video, I spent 2 weeks painstakingly moving little LEGO pieces bit by bit until I had produced a short story about a robot dragon disrupting a rock concert on the moon. I set it to the thoroughly obnoxious industrial song "Thieves" by Ministry.

TECH DETAILS: The Star Trek Borg lighting system was based on some amazingly bright law enforcement flashlights. Onto the end of the lights, I affixed a section of aluminum tubing, while a set of fiber optic strands poked out the other end. A small, gearhead motor was strapped to the side of this collar, and, through a crankshaft, it drove 2 colored slides back and forth through the beam of light. As the different colors (taken from a sample book for spotlight gel covers) moved across the light, the colors coming out of the ends of the fiber optic cables cycled smoothly. A few of these parts & ideas were carry-overs from the Todd Masters Company's work on Predator. A computer cooling fan blew across the whole assembly to keep everything cool. Well, sort of cool.

For Mimic, I machined boatloads of aluminum, steel, and delrin parts for the mechanical insides of the giant mutated insect creatures. I spent most of the time making complex shapes out of thick (1/8") aluminum plates. The designers drew up pieces on AutoCAD, then printed them out & I glued the printouts to the plates as templates & bandsawed & sanded the plates to match the printouts, with lots of tapped and clearance holes all over. I also made some parts for the controls: a bracket to hold several servos used for head movements, and some cable connectors.

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