Saturday, August 15, 2009

S.P.D. - Part 2

Thanks for all your great responses! I will definitely try to adjust this blog as we go to give you more of what you want. Number one request: more photos! Well, I have them for sure. But I want to keep it to controlled bursts, or there might be a systems overload! Plus, Kenny (AKA @geekyfanboy ((follow him! He knows all my secrets…))) is still helping me by helming this blog. I don’t want to make him crazy with a billion entries at once!

So every great story has a great villain. We had Gruumm. Weaknesses, sure, but that’s what makes for interesting story. I think I was most excited about designing him in the beginning. It was a challenge, because he had to be evil and scary, yet, at the end of the day, we can never forget that PR is targeted for young children. So he couldn’t be TOO scary. Plus, the show had never had a SPFX make-up department before, and the studio was concerned about making a main character a full head prosthetic. Even though that was one of the main assets that got me the EP job. But then there was concern that the EP would be doing make-up. It was a very confusing time for production, but I thought it was the plan from the beginning. Ah, that’s a tale for another time…

Photo #1: As always, I started with a quick sculpty maquette (French word meaning “small statue”, or at least that’s what I was told when I started in the business. Sounds believable enough. Help me perpetuate the myth!) If you are unfamiliar with my work, but have checked out the previous entry, ZOMBIE SCHOOL, on this blog, you may have already picked up on the fact that I dig brains and skulls. I love the organic Tetris puzzle of the brain, and there is something primal about the skull that inherently strikes fear in the viewer, yet still offers the comfort of elegance and beauty in design. In other words, failsafe creepy, go brains and skulls.

Obviously, the challenge is always how do you make these failsafe elements into a unique design? How do I separate this brain and skull alien from every other brain and skull clad intergalactic emperor who has ever reigned down tyranny on a Saturday morning live action boys 6-12 action sci fi adventure series? I mean, it’s a wide-open category. Apparently, every element I chose for this maquette was acceptable as original with the exception of the horn shape. The powers that be felt it was too reminiscant of another evildoer residing under the same studio banner. A certain dark sorceress who transforms into a giant dragon to stop a certain prince from waking his beautiful, sleeping love. Ring any bells? Well, I didn’t have much of an argument, because truth be told, that particular villain is one of my favorites, and kinda was at the forefront of my mind while whittling Gruumm. So the horns got a make over in the final, full sized sculpt. The maquette didn’t get altered, and it looks cool on my shelf!

Photo #2: The SPD FX make up department consisted of 3 people: Dan Perry, Terry Green, and myself. It’s important to keep that in mind, because if you watch the show closely, you will see almost 100 original alien creations throughout the series. Probably more than most prime time sci fi shows with actual budgets. All made by just 3 guys. And since I was writing, directing and producing, there where huge chunks of time I couldn’t get into the shop. I owe Dan and Terry a huge debt of credit, as they really towed the line and helped make the show as complete a vision as it is. Not to mention, they were a blast to work with! The first few days, they were definitely weirded out that the “EP” was working in the shop with them. But it didn’t take long before we were all “just fx guys”, and everyone working on the lot knew the FX lab was the place to go if you wanted a good laugh.

We had cast Rene Naufahu as Gruumm, and Dan and Terry did his head cast before I got to NZ. I requested that it be done down to his chest, so we could create a “cowl”. I knew Rene was a big guy, but I had no idea how massive the cast would be! I could actually stick my head inside it! Word of advice: Do not anger Rene!

This photo is probably from the end of my first day in the shop. Dan had gotten some clay on the cast, but I decided that as big as Rene was, we still really needed to build up Gruumm’s traps and neck tendons. So I added double the clay!

Photo #3: Here’s the finished cowl sculpt. (Spoiler alert!) Knowing that Omni was ultimately going to be a brain looking for a body, I tried to shadow that in Gruumm’s design. I imagined him as one time being a complete being, but from eons of warfare and stewing in evil, he had to replace a few parts. Like his face. I though it would be cool if his torso and neck were perfectly contoured metal bands. Possibly holding together more grey, rotting flesh like on top of his head. It just felt contrasty and unexpected. So I went with it. What I didn’t expect is that there was no roma plastalina (see Zombie school) in NZ! The nation keeps it prehistoric beauty by being intensely controlling about the chemicals it allows imported and/or used within its borders. So, pretty much anything FX related used in the states, impossible to get in NZ! I had to use a wax based, pink colored clay to create all of my sculpts. It starts out rock hard, but turns to custard after prolonged kneading. The super crisp troths I wanted to make between Gruumm’s armor bands ended up being a nightmare as my trail by fire to master this new medium. It was painful at first, but there were a lot of neat tricks that Dan and Terry taught me about the clay, which came in handy later.

Also note the strange bit of engineering that went into the final cowl sculpt: receptacles for the horns, and the registration tab for the forehead appliance. I knew this makeup was going to be done many times, and very quickly, so I tried to think it through and solve problems before they happened. I caught a few. There are always more!

Photo #4: Just in case you ever wondered what Gruumm’s brain looked like up close…

Photo #5: Gruumm’s cowl would be a one piece pull over that was used as many times as possible before it was unshootable (and the first foam pull did last almost over half a season!) but the facial appliances would need to be made fresh for every day of filming. Terry took snaps (see ZS again if your curious!) off Rene’s face WITH the cowl sculpt on, so I could create the appliances as they would ultimately lie, over face and cowl. Here is the chin. I had a bit of chavant auto clay with me, so I made the chin spikes from that in order to keep them geometric and pointy. The wax clay rounds very easily, especially in the warmth of the molding process to come!

Photo #6: Here’s the brow. You can see where I was trying to create a sense of tension as the brain gasket is stressing the skin. Or whatever…

Photo #7: Ah, the Quay West. Home, sweet NZ home. Yeah, that’s my apartment in Auckland. When I wasn’t on set or in the shop, I was there sculpting. I think I ended up doing Gruumm there because producer Sally said, “You have to take weekends off! You can’t be at the studio every day!” So, I did what any other EP would do to relax: sculpted make-ups for the main villain of the show that was weeks away from shooting!

Photo #8: Oh, yeah! This is why I had the chavant! There was no way I was going to sculpt the iron mask in the bubble gum clay. I really wanted the end product to have strong bone lines, and look very machined. I toyed with the idea of roughing it out, molding it, pulling a hard copy and tooling it, but there wasn’t enough time. So I went with the automotive design clay and got it as refined as possible by hand. So, just to back track a bit, this mask was a key element in the reasoning behind Gruumm’s design. Practically speaking. Knowing that the main villain ultimately has to do battle with the heroes, there was concern with having our actor in full head prosthetics all day while under physical strain. So my solution was to design a full head makeup with removable parts! I though if I had a forehead and chin glued for expression, but a removable face so the actor could breath, with possible vents at the top of the head, Rene could endure much more of a day while still being a cool designed character. I think it had its merits. But if you see Rene, and he feels differently, don’t give him my address!

Photo #9: HA! This is one of my favorite pre-pro photos! Classic! My face tells the whole story! But, incase you don’t read face, basically, we realized the Gruumm cowl was too big to fit in our foam oven, so we needed to send it out to a vendor. Easy in Hollywood, lots of FX shops have the equipment. How many shops in NZ? One. In Wellington. If Auckland is Sacramento, Wellington is San Diego. We shoot in a week. It will be about 5 days round trip with rush fees to get a foam pull back. So the mold needs to be done…yesterday! Middle of the night, trying to wall up this massive sculpt. Crisp sculpted lines I belly ached over going all squishy from the mold wall. Oh, and the water clay. Anybody take ceramics out there? Have a good eye for clay? What kind of clay is that ochre colored playdough we are using there? I DON’T KNOW EITHER! Its sandy, gritty, non-adhering, quick drying mud clay or something. I love NZ, but, man, do they have some funky art supplies! That’s Terry, BTW. Great mold maker. Great sport! I’m sure his wife was not happy that he was out playing with clay at like, 2am! So it can only be Dan taking this photo. My expression is no doubt in response to one of his curry jokes…

Photo #10: Before Terry got into special effects, he was a dental technician. So he made all the crazy teeth for our future Earth. Here we have his sculpt for Gruumm’s menacing choppers. I wish they had more screen time, but there wasn’t much call to be that CU on Gruumm’s mouth!

Photo #11: Here we have Gruumm’s make-up in all its splendor, moments after I finished painting him, which probably means moments before he shoots! I’m not a procrastinator, really! I just like to use ALL the time available…no, thinking back, I did get Gruumm done ahead of time. Not days, but probably THE day before. I know the network heads were coming to NZ to check on progress before the first day of shooting, and the FX makeup dept was first on the “things to panic about cause we don’t know how they work” list. So Gruumm was our best foot forward to ease the minds of those concerned. I think it looks like it’s under control…

Last note about this image: check out the window in the background. Torrential down pour. So common in NZ. Sunny and wonderful one moment, run to build an arc the next. I kept wondering what we would do if that happened while filming exterior scenes. That’s a story for a rainy day…

Photo #12: A close up of the final mask. It was cast in fiberglass. There was foam padding in back, with porous black sponge in the nose. The eye lenses were vacuum formed PETG sprayed with Tamiya clear red.

Photo #13: Here’s a photo I know no one’s ever seen before! This is the LED rig that makes Gruumm’s eyes glow. Obviously, there are many times in the show where the glow is enhanced by George Port and PRPVFX. But most of it was done practically with this. One of my dearest friends, Simon Tams, came on board to do all the electronic noodling for the SPD stuff I built in the barnyard, and he lent a hand by rigging this from a tracing I faxed to him. He fedexed the final rig and it fit perfectly! Simon set it up so there was a quick disconnect leading to a long cable with a rheostat at its end. The intensity of Gruumm’s eye glow could be controlled by someone off camera, and match the level of energy Rene was putting out there. It worked wonderfully on set, and it always made me smile knowing Simon put all of that together on his dinning room table! What the audience never knows…

Photo #14: A rare look at what goes on behind the mask. Certain close ups in the show, like the reveal in EP 1’s opening, give you a glimpse of Rene’s contacts through the red lenses. Here’s what he looked like in person!

Photo #15: The last element to the headpiece was the horn. Horn and a half. Or nub. I will be honest and admit that when I sculpted the left horn only, I never saw it coming that there would be a “de-horning” sequence in which the make-up team would need to pull another all nighter and make a complete right horn! I may have created a more symmetrical design if I had…

Photo #16: But enough complaining! In the end, we got this, and I think it was all worth it! Gruumm may not be “Best PR villain” in the polls, but he was fun to make, fun to film, and he looks pretty freakin cool in this picture!

Photo #17: I love directing. Film, television, dog food commercials. Anything. I wouldn’t trade it for the world! The only drawback: 5am call times! I hate having to wake up early. So what makes that worse? When you are directing AND have to apply the make-up for the first time hours before filming starts. I barely remember that morning…

Photo #18: So this photo could be from the first day, and Rene is saying, “I think I’m going to like being evil”. Or it could be from mid season, and he is cautioning me, “Don’t talk to me unless my character is getting a bigger role.” Most likely it if from the final block, and he is holding back from screaming, “Aronowitz, if you ever come near me again with so much as a tube of mascara, I will break your spleen!!!”

Photo # 19: Gruumm phone home! Get it? Cause he’s an alien. Never mind. Rene has a beautiful wife and daughter, whom he was afraid to invite to set in fear of traumatizing them! But he called a lot to say, “Don’t worry, daddy’s not really going to destroy the Earth!”

Photo #20: I took this picture before we cut the “scissor lift of doom” from the show. Not really. I just thought this image showed some not often seen costume detail. I know Gruumm is not who you had in mind when requesting costume pix, but c’mon, make my day! Show up at Morphacon in full Troobian Overlord garb! It would be awesome!

Photo #21: Uh, I’m serious! And in case anyone wants to take me up on that, here’s some more detail. This image shows the bone vest pretty clear, along with the strapped leather gauntlets.

Photo #22: Gruumm and I always pray before filming. Keep in mind that I write these blogs late at night, so my humor gets stupider by the keystroke! Just wanted to show this photo because it proves that Gruumm does wear a cape. Sometimes. Maybe only when I direct episodes…

Photo #23: “No, honey, daddy’s not going to keep the ugly purple dog lady in a cage anymore!” Actually, his wife is probably talking him down from killing me! This is the final day of shooting for the whole series, and Rene couldn’t wait to get that make up off. Forever! But he toughed it out all season, and put a lot of amazing energy into that character. Thanks, man!

For the costumers, note the under jerkin texture and the racing gloves.

Photo #24: Rene occasionally added his own accessories. Cyclops threatened to sue!

Photo # 25/26: A signed Drew Struzan SPD poster to whoever sends me pix of their cosplay Gruumm! Here are some detail studies of his staff to help you out!

Photo #27: It’s no wonder Gruumm hates the universe! I’d have a complex, too, if I were a whole head shorter than my dog!

Photo #28: If you can’t beat’em, bring in a stunt double! Nothing the make up team likes better than to have to do the same make up twice at the same time. Crazy action packed scripts. Who writes this stuff, anyway? Oh, wait…

Photo #29: Another fav photo. Maybe not as cool as Spielberg with the T-Rex, but if you told a 10 year old me that I would actually be directing aliens for Power Rangers on TV, I would have been as excited as, well, as I am in this photo. Kinda cool job.

All right, that’s it for now. Having fun? Tweet your thoughts. And get your friends to follow me @gregaronowitz. I swear the first thing execs ask these days when you go in to pitch a show is “how many followers do you have on twitter?” Uh, 200? FAIL! I need at least 6 figures if I’m going to get another TV show! Campaign for me! Cause there’s more Gruumm where that came from…

Catch you soon!


  1. Hey Greg, I'm a longtime fan of Power Rangers and especially enjoyed SPD. I've always enjoyed the monsters of Power Rangers and loved the wild, alien designs of the SPD monsters.

    I was wondering if you remembered any of the names of the unnamed monsters? Since you they were your department, I was hoping you could help name these unnamed monsters.

    Puppet monster and parsnip monster from Dogged
    the green busjacking monster from Shadow part 1
    the yellow-eyed monster from Dismissed
    the purple mist from Robotpalooza
    Unnamed Alien from Resurrection (SPD)
    Broodwing's generals from The Endings part 1
    the six monsters Mora drew in The Endings part 2 (orange spiked monster "Jailbird", "cricket monster", 'spike-top monster", "fox monster" and "one-eyed small monster
    any of the Giant Robots

    unused monsters
    Angler monster
    Raja the blue monster w/yellow armor
    greenskinned mobster that Bork destroyed in sentai

    Please feel free to contact me at

    Thanks again for the great work with SPD

  2. If the offer is still on for the signed pics... I'm working on Emperor Gruumm for a cosplay with a group of friends who have already done the SPD rangers. Even if the offer is not on... I'll send pics. This was an awesome read.

  3. If the offer is still on for the signed pics... I'm working on Emperor Gruumm for a cosplay with a group of friends who have already done the SPD rangers. Even if the offer is not on... I'll send pics. This was an awesome read.