The Making of Reef | Discovering the Handmade in the Feature Film Arrowhead
When you watch a movie, do you ever think how how much work goes into making props , costumes, and sets? There are so many items that are designed by artists and handmade in every movie you watch.
Check out this short film named Arrowhead: Signal, inspired by the feature film Arrowhead.
Arrowhead is a movie about redemption and loneliness, set against the backdrop of a sun-baked desert planet. After an intense prison break, Kye’s heroism gains him the attention of a ragtag group of rebels, led by an ex-military general. With the promise of guaranteed freedom, the general lures Kye into a dangerous hostage mission which leads him stranded alone on a planet for several years.
While alone, our hero has to decide whether he wants to continue on his violent path, or undo the damage he has done. But inner peace is hindered when Kye becomes infected with a symbiotic alien creature, which periodically causes hideous transformations.
It’s Jekyll and Hyde meets Robinson Crusoe. The Incredible Hulk in the distant stars. A bullets-and-sand adventure that will introduce pulp science fiction to the cerebral, character-based intimacy of independent cinema.
Straight from the maker of Reef… here is how they made him for about $30
The original concept design for Reef was born out of a love for old 1980′s computer tech, like the Apple II and the original Atari consoles. We wanted to make a movie that felt like it was made in the 80′s, and Reef is the most accessible symbol of that.
Having virtually no money for the budget, creating Reef meant not treating the concept art as gospel, but rather using objects we could find to get it close enough to the spirit of what we wanted.
It started when we spent around $15 to buy a CRT television and an old electronic typewriter from a thrift store. I don’t know if they worked when we bought them, but they certainly don’t work now. The TV was gutted and we smashed a lot of the back glass out to remove some of the weight. We also safely removed the cathode ray tube, and fastened the top case of the typewriter onto the outer edge of the television, forming Reef’s frame. These two items really started to tie it together.
The eye was created with a small flashlight, the metal ring from a kitchen saucepan, and a piece of plastic for the lens glass. The original idea was to have this be the eye on camera, nothing more. But we decided during the edit that he was too static, so we added a simple 3D eye. It was easy because we could blend it in behind the lens plastic, so it wasn’t in full view. We’d also shot most of these shots with the camera locked down, so we didn’t have to track any movement.
The toughest part about Reef was the helmet part of the design which houses the eye. It was my favourite part of the design, and I knew it would look great in silhouette . But I couldn’t figure out a way to achieve this with real-world objects. Eventually I found an old vacuum cleaner in a junk pile in front of someone’s house, and figured out that by unscrewing it, the top half worked as a helmet, with a perfect hole for the eye once the vacuum tube was removed. It wasn’t exactly what I had initially wanted, but now I can’t picture Reef any other way.
With other little bits and pieces added from household objects found along the way, Reef looked like a bit of a mish-mash. But with a paint job – all white – and then a quick ageing using scraping techniques and darker paint – he really came alive.
To give Reef movement in the scenes where he’s been given levitation technology, we used a baby’s pram, which was about $8 second hand, and painted it green. The green was so that we could digitally remove the pram in postproduction by deleting everything green from the shot. But the way that we filmed it, due to bad weather and stark natural lighting, meant that it didn’t show up as green on camera anyway. We mounted Reef onto the rig, had one of our crew members rotate Reef, and then deleted the rig and crew member from the shot by cutting out that area of the frame. Again, it wasn’t too difficult because we kept the camera locked down.
I’ve still got Reef sitting in a garage, and our crew is all pretty proud of our first movie robot. Not bad for a few found objects and no more than $30 worth of second hand junk. With a bit of motion graphics design and red lens flare composited on top, we were able to achieve a unique, retro look that feel familiar but at the same time, exists in another universe.
To make the full movie, our team needs YOUR HELP.
In the studio system, this movie would be produced as a $50 million+ blockbuster. But the heart of the story can be told for a fraction of that cost. If we make it ourselves, with some creative thinking and with our focus on characters and using resourceful practical effects instead of unnecessary CGI, we think Arrowhead has a real chance of making a name for itself. In 2010, Gareth Edwards shot the sci-fi indie hit Monsters for around $15,000. It was a hit at film festivals and he’s now directing the new Godzilla reboot for a movie studio. These stories do come true!
With equipment costs, travel and accommodation for our generous volunteer cast and crew, set construction, prop making, freelance digital artists and many more elements, we need $40,000 to get the movie made. Considering we shot Arrowhead: Signal for around $600, this should be enough to expand this universe and create a high quality, engaging feature film.
Head over to the Arrowhead: Signal Pozible page for more information about the movie and how to support the project.