Tuesday, August 25, 2009

S.P.D. - Part 3

A piggy in sheep’s clothing. Well, a dude dress as an alien that resembles a monkey that had sex with an artichoke named piggy in a nation known for having a larger sheep population than human beings. But that’s lame as a bi-line.

I know, I know, I read the tweets and emails. Everybody wants to get to the video of Alycia recording the song “Me” and the genesis of “Buttery”. I’ll get to that! I promise! But in this blog I am trying to show how the world of SPD became a reality to me, and months before we even started casting Rangers, there where a handful of characters that were taking shape in my mind. They were the first “inhabitants” of 2025 Earth, and for me, they really set the tone for the rest of the show. This character is one of the more defining members of that group. Not nearly as cute as the pink ranger, but definitely a face to blog about. PIGGY!

Photo 1: So as far as TV writing goes, you start a series off with a strong concept, and essentially a “sketch” of a season. On a “normal” show, that sketch can be much more defined. You can plan a season arc out with major milestones throughout, and have some leeway for random unexpected changes like actors leaving the show, or dips in ratings where the network wants a new direction, or an unplanned chemistry between certain cast members that audiences respond to. In the case of PR, the US version follows many trails blazed by the Senti version so costumes, props, and special effects can be shared. Due to schedule shifts and a million other strange variables, SPD production was started only a short time after DekaRanger commenced. So we were planning a season that we couldn’t project an ending to! We were starting storylines driving blind. Mid season, we often got reports from fans about what was happening in Deka eps before we even saw them!

So there were many storylines and character arcs that were left open and adjustable as more information was made available. Piggy’s was one of them. We didn’t know which side he was ultimately going to choose. We didn’t even know if he was going to survive the season. What we did know from the beginning was that he would be a filthy, retched creature who used Earth as his own personal Pick-A-Part. Hence the name PIGGY, which instantly calls up the image of a huge hog shoveling down slop at a troth.

And so my crusade began. Of course the first thought that came to everyone’s mind was that he would look like a pig. Everyone except mine! I thought the name should describe his attitude, not his physical appearance. I’d say of all the unusual things I wanted to do with SPD, my Piggy design scared the network the most. I think “unusual” was the word they used as feed back. I was hoping for “awesome” or “original”. No such luck. It ended up in me begging for a shot to bring it to life, and if it still felt wrong, I would redesign with the artichoke ape becoming background so nothing went to waste. Lots of chin rubbing and nervous sighs. In the end, Piggy ended up becoming one of the coolest aliens on TV, and a personal favorite of mine. But beyond the design, the man that is truly responsible for making all that happen is…

Photo 2: Barnie Duncan! If Piggy were a stiff faced monotone alien, you would probably have only ever seen a random glance of my work in the background of some cantina scene. But Barnie brought an energy, a quirkiness to this character that is rarely seen in live action TV. The first night I met Barnie in person was at the cast dinner, where everyone gets together for the first time as a whole group. Many of the Rangers had just gotten in from other parts of the world, and there was a lot of excitement and celebration. But Barnie cornered me and we had an hour-long discussion about Piggy. He was all business. He was curious as to Piggy’s home planet, his political beliefs, his eating habits, everything. I remember thinking, “This guy is taking this really serious!” But all of that attention to detail shines through in every frame of Piggy on the screen. I was so impressed with the depth of Barnie’s talent, I asked him to join me in New Orleans for my next project!

Photo 3: And to my great fortune, he did! Here is Barnie as the legendary Captain LeRouge in LABOU! (Shameless plug: laboudvd.com) Instead of being an artichoke alien from outer space, this time Barnie was a French pirate captain searching the seven seas for his lost family treasure. He gives a performance that shivers even Jonny Depp’s timbers! Unfortunately, Captain LeRouge dies in the first scene of the movie.

Photo 4: But I couldn’t let Barnie go so easily! So I brought him back for the rest of the film as the dreaded ghost pirate Bayou Bob! Confused? See the movie! Here’s ghost Barnie scaring the pants off the Honorable Mayor Ray Nagin. Yeah, that’s really the mayor of New Orleans in our movie. He actually saved our lives during Katrina. But, again, that’s another story…(of course, THAT story is in the making of features on the Labou DVD! You can see Barnie and many other SPD cast tell their version of our whole hurricane adventure! Go buy it now! This blog will still be here when you get back…)

Photo 5: Okay. Back to the blog at hand. SPD. Piggy! Oh, yes. The memories. So, much of this story is the same: Dan and Terry did Barnie’s head cast before I got to NZ. A rough layer of clay was formed to create the base of the cowl. I am so serious when I say that my inspiration for Piggy was an artichoke. I started sculpting the “leaves” by hand, but Terry took one and made a stone mold, which he pressed clay into to speed the process up. It really helped me fill out Piggy’s headdress more quickly, as time was tight, but ultimately, all the fine detail had to be redone by hand, individually, scale by scale…

Photo 6: …by scale, by scale, and then more scales…I don’t know, I wonder why I always do that. But I know I will do the same thing next time. And the time after that! If something feels right, you can’t cut corners to make it less work just for the sake of not having to do the work. Of course, you have to be prepared to sacrifice things like, well, having a life! Note the windows. See that blackness? Can you guess what time it is? Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know! Fun fact: everybody else went home while it was still light out! Remind me to buy Dan and Terry a pint when I get back to NZ, cause they really put it all out there for the show. I mean, I can be a loser and sculpt all night cause, hey, what else am I going to do? But those guys were with me every step of the way and by no means are they losers! Hell, Dan even has a girlfriend!!! He’s my idol!

Hmmm, before we leave this photo…its like a crime scene…what other interesting bits can I tell you? Well, Terry is working on molding Gruumm’s horn. Dan is prepping a foam latex mask for paint. It’s the alien that Sky, Syd, and Bridge fight in the beginning of Beginnings part 1. Its actually a demon foam run I had left over from a film I was making called “ALLEYCAT”, starring Alley Baggett, that fell through in prepro. Waste not, want not. I pulled every uncopyrighted creature foam I had to populate 2025 Earth. Yeah, but back to the photo. Oh, you can see Gruumm’s red lenses in the lower left. The small black box on the coil of cable is the rheostat to illuminate his eyes I mentioned in part 2. Ummm, and that black garbage bag behind me? That is the first alien I started sculpting for the show. I can’t remember why, we were out of good clay or something that held me up from working on the main characters for a day or so. So I took some of that funky sandy water clay and started making a background mask. It was weird. Big lips over a large nose. Bruce loved it! I kept trying to get back to it, but never did. The guys would laugh at me all summer as I watered it like a plant, trying to keep it alive. It eventually dried up and cracked apart. After like, 8 months, I had to let it go. I don’t even have a photo. I’m sad now.

Photo 7: So here’s Piggy pretty much all roughed out. Just like Gruumm, I roughed the complete sculpt on the actor’s bust. But ultimately, the face and cowl will need to be finished separately. Once again, the cowl will be reused for as long as possible, while the facial appliances will be replaced for every day of shooting.

Photo 8: The final face sculpt. Terry pulled a snap off of Barnie’s bust with the cowl sculpt on it, so I could line up all of the face scales with the head scales. Ordinarily, we would “float” the rough facial sculpture off of the cowl sculpture and reseat it onto the snap, but the process is time consuming and requires a lot of forethought! So I think I just resculpted this face from scratch, using photos of the rough as reference, and the stone impression of the cowl on the snap for guidance. It’s important to remember, if you are doing this yourself for the first time, that foam does shrink. The cowl will have spandex reinforcement in it, so it won’t shrink too much. But the face appliance could shrink as much as a ¼ inch. So I sculpted the edge scales a little fat and long so we won’t end up with a gap!

Photo 9: Finished sculpting, blah, blah, blah, made the mold, blah, blah, blah, wouldn’t fit in the oven, blah, blah, blah, like shipping a boat anchor to Wellington, blah, blah, blah, and here I am painting again. My first instinct was to make him green, like an artichoke, but it just seemed too obvious! Lots of little spots! When in a time crunch, still make it as complicated as possible! But I have to! It’s all about the end result! This photo was taken hours away from the first morning of shooting Piggy, of course! Note the windows…dark again. All I can say is, even in NZ, McD’s was there when I needed it most!

Photo 10: But, c’mon! Wasn’t it all worth it! Look how fun this character is! If I could go through a wormhole and do this all over again, I would change…Nothing! I love this guy. Well, maybe I would have taken more pictures! I wish I had a photo of every outfit Piggy wore! Gavin and the gang came up with some crazy junkyard sheik!

Photo 11: Barnie was an actor. Piggy was an alien. And hardly anyone knew they were the same person! I’m serious! Of course, the alien makeup calls were always hours earlier than the rest of the cast and crew, and Barnie would transform into Piggy and stay in character all day, and then it took hours after wrap to remove the makeup, so most people never saw his real face for months. And Barnie made Piggy such a real, complete, living being, that it was perfectly normal to have a conversation with “Piggy”! He made you forget Barnie existed. He made you believe Piggy was real. It was surreal. I only had to apply Barnie’s makeup the first time, and then Dan and Terry handled it when I went off to do EP things. So I even forgot what Barnie looked like after a few months! I remember Barnie dropping by the set on his day off about 1/3 of the way through the season. He came up and said hi in a very kiwi accent, than wander over to craft service. I turned to Violette and said, “Who was that?” Chris raised his Skybrow and said, “Don’t know, brother.” I know I sound foolish for admitting that in public, but I think it stands as testament to Barnie’s incredible skill.

Photo 12: You always here stories from the big make up movies about actors in prosthetics conjugating together, like how all the chimps stayed in one group and the gorillas in another during Planet of the Apes, or how the Elves and the Uraki never mingled while filming LOTR. It must be human nature. Or in this case, alien nature! Whenever more than one of our stars was in makeup, you would always find them hanging out together between scenes. This photo makes me nervous. When these two get together, Earth could be in danger!

Photo 13: If you though your job was strange…

Photo 14: More support for the name PIGGY…

Photo 15: Here is Piggy at home. In a dumpster! Well, a space age trash receptacle. I had to come up with about a hundred “dumpster “ designs because the network was concerned about kids trying to live in dumpsters because Piggy made it cool. I could see that. Wait, no, I can’t…

When I was a kid, I though the trash compactor on the Death Star was the coolest thing I ever witnessed on film. But it NEVER made me want to crawl around in someone else’s trash! And I’m from Jersey!

Photo 16: Well, eventually Piggy won the lottery and moved into the big time! Here’s a shot of his lunch truck. I’ll talk about this more when I get to SPD SETS, but I thought I’d mention it while we are talking about Piggy himself. The genesis for this whole plot line was that Bruce thought it would be funny to build a mobile trash and trinket truck, and well, ultimately drive it off a cliff! Sounded like fun. So we did!

Photo 17: Well, we ALMOST did. The cliff idea got nixed because of environmental reasons, and the fact that the cost to salvage the wreckage would be more than the cost to build the truck itself. So we found the next best thing! The steepest hill on the North Island. I drove up there in a jeep, and honestly, I thought I was going to die! The photo doesn’t do the grade justice. And just imagine this photo with Koichi pyrotechnics in it…yup, pretty cool!

Photo 18: Alright, I gotta get back to work. This “project I can’t talk about “ is consuming a lot of time. But I didn’t want to leave the blog stale for too long! Luckily, none of my clients, or my producer read this! I know that because I have yet to get a text or call saying, “How can you be writing that blog when you should be __________” (insert any of the hundred things I SHOULD be doing!) But it’s fun to recall all of this stuff. Here’s one I’m not even sure you got to see: Piggy’s long lost cousin, Snogg. He’s in Endings Part 2, when the gang goes to visit Jack and Piggy at their new business. I shot a little scene with him, but the finale was so packed, I think all that’s left of him in the cut is a quick wipe as he lifts a box out of the van as the Rangers approach. He was a bad run of Piggy’s cowl resurrected, with a background alien face I had sculpted for the first “cantina” scene when Piggy got his truck. Which brings up one last memory for this entry…

Photo 19: Remember how I was complaining that I love to make more work for myself by always doing lots of scale patterns? Well, I really do love it, so I am only kidding for the sake of dramatic blog entry when I say that. But what REALLY sucks is when you spend hours laying out all those scales, and one of your beloved Power Rangers (Who shall not be mentioned, but his name is not unlike the color violet) steps on it while climbing into the back of your right hand drive car after you graciously offer to chauffeur him home from a read through!!!! Wanna hang out? No, I can’t, because I have to spend the night RE-sculpting your footprint off of my alien’s face! Ah, memories.

Photo 20: I promise. I will reveal the good stuff next time I get a chance to return to SPD Blog. 5 rangers. 6 friends. Infinite stories to tell you…

I’m gonna tweet this link as soon as it posts. PLEASE retweet it and tell everyone to follow @gregaronowitz so all the SPD fans can point and laugh with me. Or at me. Doesn’t matter, as long as you follow me!


  1. I love Snogg's design, especially the color patterns on his skin! One of the things I loved about SPD was that every scene is packed with little details - like the gathering of SPD officers when Commander Birdy arrives. So many aliens!!

    It'd be great if you could post some pictures for the blue fishy looking SPD cadet with the insane claw hands. He was in the background a lot, and the fact that he's...well, a blue fishy alien with insane claw hands made him stand out. He's actually probably my favorite!

  2. This is my favorite entry yet, which may or may not have to do with you mentioning Alleycat...

  3. I love these glimpses into the Barnyard!! Haha you had me at "artichoke" - I loved the first-draft byline! Wow, I feel quite ashamed that I never noticed a lot of the details you're so kindly pointing out to us. I mean, I don't know if this is one of those occupations where if people don't pay close attention, it means you're doing your job. Because I feel really slack that I never noticed the spots on Piggy's head, or the detail on Grumm's strapped-in brain! I'm totally gonna rewatch SPD. You throw so much of yourself with your works, it's a little scary. (I felt a little better when I saw Grumm's contacts in one of the close-ups!)

    So it's nice to know you still have time to eat McD's and water your plants- I mean, funky clay-based masks that seem to crack... :) Oh, and then you mentioned Windy Wellington and the Skybrow and will you be my Troobian Overlord? This blog is just pure awesome. I'll definitely retweet and look into shipping in a Labou DVD to myself in Sydney! <3

  4. Ugh, I love Piggy! This was probably my favorite blog entry yet!