31 Days of Horror – A breakdown of a signature effect from The Blob (1988)
Like John Carpenter’s The Thing, the 1988 remake of The Blob surpassed its 1950s sci-fi progenitor with the assistance of then-cutting-edge special effects. Many of the film’s most memorable gags were courtesy of effects designer Tony Gardner – including a misdirect that finds the ostensible hero, the clean-cut high school jock Paul (played by Donovan Leitch), pulling a Janet Leigh and getting devoured in the first act.
Gardner and his L.A. based company Alterian have provided effects for a host of classic genre films – Return of the Living Dead, Army of Darkness, Zombieland, multiple Chucky flicks – and Alterian’s Facebook page offers up a treasure trove of behind the scenes pics from those projects. Below are a few photos from the aforementioned Paul-melting scene in The Blob, which employed a practical rig for the actor, animatronics, and quarter-scale puppets.
Continue on past the photos to read a detailed description of the effect from Gardner and to watch a clip of the scene.
Here’s Tony Gardner breaking down the effect, from Anthony Timpone’s 1996 book Men, Makeup, and Monsters: Hollywood’s Masters of Illusion and FX:
“To create the Blob for this sequence, we came up with fiberglass understructures and experimented with a lot of translucent materials attached to the fiberglass, basically overlapping clear vinyl bladders operated with a huge pneumatic system, to inflate and deflate the basic surface shape. Then there was a form-fitting transparent skin built up over that, that was water-clear, designed to protect Donovan from all the slime stuff. That went onto the body rig, and Donovan, who needed an air hose for certain scenes, went under that outer layer. Separate blue and red vein blankets were layered over this in a diagonal pattern. Layers of Blob quilt, airbrushed and painted with vein patterns, were laid over the vein blankets, and all the elements were pulled off in different directions at different speeds, so you had a sense of the bulk moving, the colors changing, and linear movement.
We’d pull those layers of Blob quilt at different speeds, while Donovan would fight against them and try to push out from the main body quilt, which was partially supported by fiberglass. Because of these moving quilted pieces, you always had a sense that the Blob was pulling back away from him. We also had a rolling platform shifting rigs that stretched and pulled the different pieces that the entire assembly rode on. While Donovan acted, five or six people were just out of frame operating all this stuff with the Blob quilts and pneumatics. In order to ‘sell’ the whole effect in a wide shot, we went to puppets in order to control everything with greater accuracy and artistry.”