Close-up: TankfallFX – sculpting the future of real special effects
TankfallFX are a Special Effects company who specialise in animatronics, prosthetics, props and all-things gorey. The team established TankfallFX during their second year of university studying Special Effects for TV & Film course at Southampton Solent. Since then they have had huge success in independent film and also with workshops and exhibitions. Will Clinker, Animatronic Chief at TankfallFX tells us more about the company and how they consistently achieve great effects in film.
We love practical effects (effects that are not created within a computer and have a physical presence on camera) and incorporate as much as that as possible into our work, especially animatronics. Animatronics have played a huge role in feature films over the years (most noticeably throughout the 1980’s and 90’s) and are still subtly being used today in conjunction with CGI (computer generated imagery) in many advertisements and films. There is no doubt that this unique craft is making a prominent return, so we do our best to showcase the uses and technicalities behind it as well as our own creations to aspiring filmmakers and effects artists.
Our first introduction to the industry was with the short film ‘Wander’ and our partnership with Lowkey Films, the UK based independent film company who produced it. We were approached by them to design and create several dead alien miniatures to be composited into the background of the finished film. Once the design was drafted and finalised we started sculpting the aliens using Super Sculpey, a non-drying polymer clay which can be hardened by baking it in an oven. We started with a full sized dead alien, which was beginning to decay, then branched out into skulls, dismembered limbs and bones. These models were then painted, and coated with latex to give the impression of ripped skin.
One piece of work we currently have in progress is a large animatronic ant head, which can be manually controlled via the use of cables and rods. Before starting an animatronic we break down what needs to move and how it functions in real life. In this case looking at anatomical studies, nature documentaries and searching on Google/ YouTube were excellent sources for the ant head. Using this information we can translate it into engineering terms and design a structure to house mechanisms or even actors.
The structure was carved out of a large block of insulation foam. Basic forms were established by sawing the block into a rounded shape and then refined by using knives to smooth the edges and create finer details. We have started to coat the foam with fibreglass, a rigid material reinforced with resin, which will take the shape of the sculpture underneath and can be removed from the foam once cured. This will create a lightweight structure that is perfect for animatronic use.
We believe the use of animatronics and prosthetics in independent film is becoming more commonplace due to the amount of information available to artists looking to get into special effects as well as those who are experienced within the field. Independent films rely on cheap but reliable alternatives to Hollywood inspired effects, and the best way to achieve that is to go through an independent effects artist.
If you are interested in special effects, it’s easy to establish yourself within a community of independent filmmakers. There are a plethora of clubs and societies full of fellow creators for networking.
Ultimately the most rewarding aspect of creating real, practical effects is seeing an audience’s reaction to it. Causing them to suspend their disbelief at our effects is the most rewarding feeling and it’s even better to hear: “You actually made that?!”.