- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2004

After creating fire-breathing dragons and beasts whose jawbones split open as they suck the life out of their victims, the chance to bring an 8-foot-tall, red-skinned demon with a stone hand to life seemed like the logical next step for Tippett Studio’s visual effects supervisor Blair Clark.

“Hellboy,” a cinematic adaptation opening today of famed sequential art creator Mike Mignola’s favorite, cigar-chomping, working-class hero, gave Mr. Clark and his crew some familiar subject matter to work with.

“I had read a couple of the comic-book trade compilations years ago after one of our compositors, Jim McVay, Tippet’s original Hellboy fan, introduced me to the character,” Mr. Clark, says. “And, while reading the stories, I fell in love with the idea.”

After working with director Guillermo del Toro on “Blade II” in 2002, where he gave the film’s famed vampire hunter character something to hunt, Mr. Clark has reunited with the director, who presented a specific mandate to all of the crew.

“He was adamant about keeping the spirit of what Mignola did alive and doing a literal translation from the comic book,” Mr. Clark says. “He did not want to reinvent the character.”

That character is an unearthly being brought to Earth by evil madman Grigori Rasputin, rescued by Allied Forces and raised to become a curmudgeonly champion of good as a member of the B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense). The movie stars Ron Perlman, John Hurt and a slew of both practical and computer-generated effects, some of which took up to three weeks to complete.

In the realm of practical effects, viewers will see Hellboy punch the hood of a speeding truck to bring it to a dead stop and have it flip over him. To accomplish this feat, effects supervisor Nick Allder created a huge ratchet device, normally used to pull a stunt man on a cable at a highly accelerated rate after getting kicked or punched. A series of cables and pulleys jettisoned and controlled the car with the help of a hydraulic ramp.

“Everybody knew what to expect, but nobody was prepared for seeing this thing fly,” Mr. Clark says.

Under the list of the 130 complex character animation shots developed by Mr. Clark and his crew, audiences will be exposed to a colossal final battle between the hero and a nasty creature.

“The whole end sequence where Hellboy fights a huge Lovecraftian, multi-tentacled squid monster was very complicated due to trying to get the completely computer-crafted set, environment, atmosphere and characters to fit within photographic backgrounds.”

However, of all the effects for which he was responsible, Mr. Clark most appreciated a scene involving the Mer-Man Abe Sapien and bad guy Sammael.

“I’m 100 percent proud of all of the work that we did, but the underwater sequence where Sammael, the main henchman of Rasputin, follows Abe into a submerged room came out great,” he says. “They were all shot dry, and all of the water effects, matter, lighting and the animated characters were digitally developed. People should be very surprised when they learn there was no water used.”

No computer or software breakthroughs were required during the shoot, but the studio did have to refine its proprietary muscle-system technology to offer subtle control over skin on Sammael, who rotates 180 degrees at the waist.

Even though “Hellboy” is an effects-heavy film, Mr. Clark never wants his efforts to replace the live actor with a completely computer-generated counterpart.

“I compare it to high school plays versus actors that have studied and honed their craft,” he says. “Good actors are good for a reason, and you cannot take that earned craft and throw it into a computer.”

Note: Tippet Studio is working on another comic book-inspired property, “Constantine,” starring Keanu Reeves and based on the DC Comics Hellblazer series, which is set to debut in February 2005.

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