Steve Newburn SFX Interview

Steve Newburn SFX Interview
Continuing my interview with Special/Visual effects star, Steve Newburn

Do you prefer working in television or film? (Is there a difference?)

Television and film both have their pros and cons. The downside to T.V is that you have very little time to get things done; often as little as a week to turn out a full creature suit, from start to finish. Or, when I was doing ‘Nip Tuck’, we'd do all of the surgery heads and prosthetics in four or five days. Crazy schedules! The nice thing is that you don't have the time to screw around with the 'should we do this' or 'could we maybe do that' ideas. You just have to get it done. The other nice thing being that you never get burned out on the job. After making tens of thousands of tentacle vertebrae for Doc Ock in ‘Spider-man 2’ over the course of months, everyone was so sick of them we couldn't wait to move on to the next show.

Of course, in Film, you do have more time usually, so there is room, and sometimes money, for experimentation. You might actually get to do something new and cool on some of the big A-list films. That almost never happens in T.V, since there isn't the time, even when there is the money.

What do you aspire to reach within your career?

I don't know that I aspire to reach any particular level in this career. I feel like I've been pretty lucky in that I get to do something every day for a living that I would otherwise be looking at as a hobby. I've worked on a lot of cool projects over the years and I can't actually think of any one thing I'd really like to do that I've never touched on before. I've been involved with shows from the lab technician level, all the way to the effects supervisor position for the film. I've never wanted to own my own company, because you then need to worry about paying company bills, rather than just enjoying your work and taking home a pay-check.

I did try at one point to get a fairly large semi-A-list film going, and it really ran me ragged. There was a long line of design and development issues that needed to be dealt with and in the end, the show just went away. One of the producers got greedy and decided he wanted more rights to the project and took it to court. After a year of legal issues, everything got settled, but by then the financial backers were gone and the movie was left in limbo. If I had one aspiration, it would be that I get to continue working with my friends on projects that are both cool and hopefully original. We need fewer films with numbers after them. In the end, what more can you ask for, than doing what you love and getting paid for it?

What was it like working on ‘The Dark Knight’? Some of the shot’s looked amazing, can you talk me through any in particular?

’Dark Knight’ was a lot of fun for me personally, mostly because I'm a fan of Batman. You're mentioning a lot of different shots in there. I was involved in a couple of shots directly. The shots in Hong Kong of Batman diving off the building to get the 'book-keeper/gangster, were shot in Hong Kong with a stuntman, and a bunch of CGI was used as well. There was actually a story that leaked to the press at the time about that scene. Originally, they were supposed to be grabbed by the plane and dropped and then released into Hong Kong harbour. It turned out that the water was so polluted (high bacteria levels) that they cancelled that part of the scene for safety. YUCK!
The tunnel chase scene was done full size to a great extent. As is always the case, you have no idea of what went into building some of the miniature effects seen during the scene. The collision that takes out the garbage truck was originally intended to have the Tumbler (Batmobile) pick it up, carry it for a ways, smashing it into the roof, and then drop it. At that point, the garbage truck was supposed to flip onto its side and come apart with various parts smashing through walls and such. On the first take that was shot, the Tumbler carried/smashed into it, as it was supposed to, and the truck kind of slid off down the tunnel. The director liked it enough that he went with it instead of all of the ensuing destruction of it flipping and coming apart. That entire location was recreated at 1/3 scale for the shot with R/C and cable pulled Tumblers, as well as cable-pulled break-away garbage trucks, etc. The timing was critical, as the actual collision took place within about 75 feet of the miniature at a fairly high rate of speed (35 mph or so I think it was). A lot of things had to happen at exact moments within all of about 1-2 seconds. The trucks were made with large crumple zones for when it smashed into the ceiling. The windows were all custom formed picodex and then laminated so they would crush like safety glass (not that the audience ever saw it). Some of the set walls were made of a break away plaster material to reflect the impacts. ETC, ETC... There was a tremendous amount of things happening in the couple seconds that nobody will ever be aware of. Subconsciously though, that's what helps to sell the illusion that you're seeing a real thing. Even though you don't actually notice the windows breaking for example, had it not happened, you might think something didn't look right. You just wouldn't have any idea what it was. The old... "I can't put a finger on it..." situation…

How was the Harvey Dent/Two face make-up accomplished?

I don't know much about the two-face makeup. My assumption would be that it was handled using some of the techniques we developed at Stan Winston's, a number of years back, on AI and T3 (etc). Prosthetic makeup 'edges' for the wounds, with a blue/green screen hood, with tracking markers that were replaced digitally. The great thing about ‘The Dark Knight’ is that the VFX are pretty flawless across the board. I doubt anyone would be able to say for certain, what was full size and live, CGI, or enhanced with CGI, or miniature. That's nice to see these days, since it brings back some of that 'magic' that I mentioned before, which is generally missing in film these days.

Was there another particular scene you used miniatures for?

Another scene which we got well into the build of the miniature for, was with Rachel's death in the warehouse. In the movie, you see an explosion which blows out the front of the building. The next thing you see is fire-fighters putting out smouldering remains of a pile of rubble and Batman standing on a pile of junk. You never saw the actual destruction of the building in the movie, other than a fireball. The original shot called for a wide-shot of the entire structure collapsing, with the floors pan-caking down, etc. They shot the location elements and cut it into the film, and decided they didn't need 'more stuff blowing up' and dropped the shot. We were in the process of making the entire building at 1/4 scale with the surrounding grounds, police cars out front, and everything. Would have been very cool to see, but so is the nature of the business (sighs.)

INTERVIEW WILL CONTINUE NEXT WEEK: Check out the rest of it with the links below!

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