Monster’s had a ball in US

Written on the 15 September 2010

Hollywood animatronics is returning to the Gold Coast following a two-year exhibition of the US.

‘How to Make a Monster — the art and technology of animatronics’ is the first Australian museum exhibition to tour America and features the work of John Cox – the Gold Coast-based 1995 Visual Effects Academy Award winner for Babe.

The ‘behind the scenes’ showcase explores the skills and processes involved in bringing creatures from the written page to the silver screen. It covers subjects including creative writing, drawing, design and sculpture through to engineering and computer effects.

Participants dabbled first hand at ‘directing’ a dinosaur, touched alien guts from Pitch Black, inspected Inspector Gadget’s gadgets, greeted a Gillman and even manoeuvred mermaid tails.

The tour was organised by John Cox Creature Workshop project coordinator Julie Anderson. It took four years of nurturing and visiting venues to break into the tightly-held US market. The road show was with the support of the Export Market Development Grant, Queensland Trade Office and Arts Queensland. The exhibition rolled back into Queensland in four, 13m containers.

The Molendinar-based special effects company has endured a tough filmic hiatus as the industry worldwide contracted over the past couple of years. It specialises in the concept, design and manufacture of fantasy creatures, characters and realistic looking animals. The Bundy Bear is one such creature.

Large-scale projects include the terrifying crocodile in the Australian feature Rogue and the creature crew for Walden Media’s Nim’s Island. Add to that an impressive resume that also includes Racing Stripes, Peter Pan and Crocodile Dundee in LA, and it’s tough to conceive the notion that Cox does not have film work ticking over the way he did in the late 1990s.

“All I can do is be optimistic. Last year was mediocre, the year before was pretty terrible, but we are hopeful that a few big projects are on their way,” says Cox, a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“It has been pretty disappointing, but at the start of this was the writer’s strike just before the Oscars in 2008. Actor contracts were up for consideration in June 2008 and the studios held off green-lighting and any productions until those issues were resolved. Then the GFC hit and it took a further 11 months before the actor’s guild (SAG) could resolve the issue.”

A high Aussie dollar is also a deterrent but Cox is hopeful that once it drops to around 86c against the greenback, a return of international films to the Coast is a possibility.

He says the industry and the calibre films have come a long way since audiences world-wide wide fell in love with Babe, the pet pig that he created in his Molendinar shed more than 15 years ago.

He also believes that Avatar should have taken the major gong for best picture last month at Academy Awards.

“Effects have come so far. Films like Avatar are flawless with 3D animation. Most of the characters are digitally controlled so they can come up close to the lens and it doesn’t hurt your eyes, unlike live action when it’s consistently in your face. It’s hard to believe how far technology has come since Babe and how quickly that time has gone.”

The Gold Coast film industry is hedging its bets on the arrival of Warner Bros’ film Battleship, earmarked for pre-production at Warner Bros Coomera studios next month.

Southern crews, largely out of work since the filming of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, are expected to inundate the Coast and to compete for work with the local industry.


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