Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Save the Supers!

If you grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons like I did, Save the Supers is the web series for you! A parody of icon driven animated shows such as Super Friends, STS draws back the curtain to show us what it's like to be a super hero when they are not in the spotlight. Unfortunately for this group of avengers, they are being filmed 24/7 reality show style, so they ultimately let their guard down and reveal to us who they really are as people. And although it is hilarious, it is not always pretty!

Photo 1: Save the Supers is the brain child of writer/director/star Sandeep Parikh. Although it just premiered this year, it can actually be considered the grandfather of all web series! Long before watching serialized content on the web was popular, Sandeep shot a pilot for Supers to pitch to the networks under the banner of his production company, Effin Funny. It was a cross between Justice League and The Office. The episode was pitch perfect, but way too high concept for TV execs to wrap their minds around, so Sandeep started developing the show for an audience more interested in the genre: the web! The subject matter proved to be too tough to produce with the limited resources of internet budgets, so Sandeep and team turned their efforts to something more manageable: The Legend of Neil (If you know the show, then you get that that was a joke!) While putting LON together, Sandeep joined his improv troop cast member Felicia Day on her new venture, The Guild, and the web has never been the same.

Along the road to completing 3 seasons of Neil, and 5 seasons of The Guild, Sandeep accrued a massive following and met a wide range of crew members that were willing and able to help him realize his vision. I was one of those people, and this is my adventure to Save the Supers!

Photo 2: Sandeep was not in the original pilot, but after Felicia asked him to play Zaboo in The Guild, it became apparent that people liked to see him in front of the camera as much as behind it. I have to give him credit, I don't know how he does it! I usually take on the role of designer/director, and it's very difficult to monitor everything from where I sit. I cannot imagine directing a whole show while BEING IN the show! But he pulls it off effortlessly.

Sandeep plays Merman, an Aquaman type hero that finds himself somewhat useless if there isn't a mission under water. He is however, the most organized, sensible, and sane of the group, so he tries to make himself useful by actually holding the Force together.

I signed on to do the usual props and sets, but I thought it would be fun this time around to handle the costumes, too. It was a lot of work for my small crew, but we had a lot of fun and I think the end results were pretty entertaining. I thought I would show you my concept sketches, inspirational reference clips, and the final product all at once.

I wanted the show to still look like the cartoons it was based on, so I went with bright colors and broad shapes. I wish we could have made everyone look like Iron Man or The Dark Knight, but that was still beyond our budget, and honestly, not in the style of the show. I wanted to capture the campiness of the 70's superhero spandex, while trying to find the line that didn't cross into cheesy.

For the most part, the final costumes were pretty close to my initial sketches, with a few minor tweaks here and there. On Merman, the major changes were the lessening of the amount of scaled material, because a full scaled body suit ended up looking a little ridiculous, and the addition of sleeves. Jenn Rose was concerned about the amount of prosthetics it would take to hide ink-squirting tubes down Sandeep's bare arms, and Sandeep was worried about the amount of time he would have to spend at the gym to show his bare arms and be convincing as a super hero. I pushed as much as I could, because I really like the idea of a sleeveless swimmer, but it was a battle I did not win. I still think he looks cool, though.

Photo 3: Night Knight is Super Force's equivalent to Batman. He doesn't have super powers, but he has high impact armor and more gadgets than ThinkGeek. This costume made it through the process relatively unaltered, save the deletion of his top knot, replaced by a razor sharp saw blade fin. I went a little more centurion than bat, since I felt the character captured enough of the essence it was parodying that the costume had more freedom to play off the Knight aspect of the name. Team Unicorn's Rileah Vanderbilt went fabric hunting for me, and found some amazing chain mail patterned spandex that saved Max Bird-Ridnell from having to wear extra pounds of metal links.

Photo 4: If there is one thing I learned on this show, it's that Lycra is NOT easy to sew! Luckily, I have a bunch of awesome cosplayer friends that came to help get all this stuff together. Fleetfoot was one of the simplest designs, but the hardest to construct, since all his stripes and angles needed to be cut out and sewn into the suit. It took multiple senti suits in the various colors to fuse together this single suit. We found a jacket that was a pretty good match, but it was white, so I had to paint it! Strangely, the paint held really well, and the thing I thought would need the most daily maintenance was the only thing we never had to touch up!

Photo 5: Worldman underwent the most radical changes. The body of the suit remained intact, but the cape ended up being much more traditional than I planned. I was hoping to do something more like Hawkman's floating ribbon cape, just to pull away from a carbon copy Superman. But the most noticable change is the fact that my concept art has him as an alien. I really tried to convince Sandeep to make Worldman look like he was from another world. I liked the idea of having a Martian Man Hunter type character, making him blue, and giving him green birthmarks that looked like a map of the Earth. But Sandeep felt strongly about casting Mickey Hawtrey, who played Worldman in the pilot, and many of the scripted jokes were based on the fact that Worldman believed he was the perfect man, so it was important that he looked human. I am a firm believer that story trumps design, so my alien was not to be. In hindsight, I am VERY thankful, as it was hard enough to get all 5 actors plus villains into costume in any sense of a timely manner, so a full head prosthetic every day would have killed me. Although, I do hope we have at least one full alien villain or guest hero in Season 2. Just cause I'm a glutton for punishment like that. 


Photo 6: And no super hero line-up would be complete without the sexy heroine. Mandell Maughan plays the part well. Although Elementra is very much the Wonder Woman of SuperForce, Sandeep wanted to take the character in more of the Greek Goddess route. The final design had a few additions, like the loincloth, and a few ideas removed, like the furry boot covers. My concept with this was to keep it sleek and sexy, but with enough flowy textures that we could see the costume physically interact with Elementra's wind power. Ashphord Jacoway stepped in to sew up the very complicated spiral striped cape and all the panel work.

Photo 7: Last, but not least, is my favorite costume of the series. It's no surprise that it is yet another collaboration with the amazing Felicia Day. This was the first drawing I did, and it was also the only costume to have zero changes in the final. Perhaps it's because Felicia and I have had so much practice! I've made her into an assassin, an alien, a damsel in distress, etc., so a super villain only seems natural!

Photo 8: The real challenge with web series is the ever changing schedules and conflicts with all of the busy people pitching in.  The hardest part of costuming Save the Supers were the fittings. The cast are all super talented actors, so naturally, they were always shooting on a set somewhere. There were several components of costumes that required body casting, like Felicia's Panthera cowl. We had planned on doing a head cast of her so it would fit perfectly, but then she got called back onto Eureka, and ended up in Canada the entire month before shooting. She was scheduled to arrive home the day before we needed her, and that obviously was too short of a turnaround for me to cast her, sculpt, mold, cast, and paint the cowl.  So we decided to improvise. Felicia measured her head in the mirror of her hotel room, and gave me the sizes over the phone. If you know Felicia, you can imagine that scenario would be a million view youtube video.

Photo 9: I've been doing head casts for 25 years, so I have an actual sea of  stone heads in storage. If an actor needs an appliance or helmet of some sort but can't come in for a casting, I just find a head with the closest measurements and work off of that. It's tricky business, because even though diameters and distances might match up, no two people have the same head shape, and that can make a cowl like this very uncomfortable. At first I though one of the casts I made while sculpting the cowls for WB's Birds of Prey might work, but the closest match was actually Power Rangers SPD 's Yellow Ranger, Monica May.

Photo 10: It took a little bit of onset adjusting, but I lucked out and the cowl fit. But that doesn't mean it was comfortable! It was pretty tight, which it needed to be, and Felicia was fine to wear it while shooting, but between takes, it was better to have it off. It took a while to set her hair through the mask, so she started just wearing it on top of her head!

Photo 11: But trust me, the cowl wasn't the only tight thing she had to wear! Her costume was made of metallic purple Lycra we got at a stripper store on Hollywood Blvd. They only had pants, and I couldn't find an exact fabric match, so the rest was made of, well, more pants!  Cosplay expert Ginny McQueen tackled that massive undertaking. Artoo helped, of course...

Photo 11: When it comes to super hero shows, the women aren't the only ones subject to tight spandex. No one is safe. Including the viewers!


Photo 12: Another example of head matching was for Night Knight's helmet. We didn't have time to get Max in for a cast, so I took measurements and went out to the storage locker. Ever wonder which celebrity has the same size head as you? Well, in Max's case, it was Arnold! An exact match on every measurement.

I sculpted all of Night Knight's armor in WED clay for speed. This clay needs to be packed very tightly, so I usually start a sculpture off by grabbing handfuls and throwing it as hard as I can at the armature or cast. I was just starting to get some mass on the helmet when I realized it was looking like Arnold's high school yearbook photo...

Photo 13: When I was finished, it looked much more like the Arnold we know today. 

Photo 14: I'm sure Max will get an ego boost from knowing that he also has the exact same body measurements as Arnold circa 1995. I have a collection of Schwarzenegger bodies around from the multiple times I cast him for films in the 90's, and they come in handy at times like these. Here, I am sculpting NK's chest armor.

 Photo 15: In an attempt to stylize Night Knight's costume up a bit, I decided to sculpt shin guards that look like gargoyles from a castle, or Notre Dame. I was hoping to only have to do one, but the curvature of the shin forced me to make two so they looked balanced when Max wore them. 

Although all of these components were supposed to be armor, I cast them in latex and polyfoam so they would be soft and flexible and not inhibit Max's movement. I worked on the Batsuits for Batman Forever and (sigh) Batman & Robin, which were made from dense foam latex mounted on custom made neoprene suits. My goal was to emulate that process as much as possible, however, a single bat suit cost more than the entire production budget of Save The Supers. So, yeah...

Photo 16: Arnold's shoulders were bigger than Max's (sorry, Max) so I sculpted the shoulder guards on a mannequin. The final casts were, however, large enough to double as a turtle shell for my Frenchie, Art. We all know who is going as King of the Koopas for Halloween next year...

Photo 17: With all of the costumes done, it was time to concentrate on the Super Force HQ. Naturally, the inspiration was the Hall of Justice.

Photo 18: I wanted the inside to be filled with blinking lights and large control panels, just like the cartoon. I tried to keep the color scheme neutral, as to not conflict with all of the bright color patterns on the characters.

Photo 19: Each hero had their own station, and Night Knight had his secret lab. Although I had to build this set INSIDE another existing set for another show I was producing, it was still pretty large for a web show. The meeting room was on the second floor, and the party the Supers held in the main control room held about 100 people for the finale!

Photo 20: The HQ was the biggest build, but that didn't mean it was the only challenge. There were several locations that needed to be fully dressed. Producer Jeff Winkler found this awesome empty bank to use for the opening scene. It was both a blessing and a curse to have such a blank canvas. We had the freedom to do anything we wanted, but that was a lot of real estate to fill on a shoestring budget.

Photo 21: The bank scene was a lot of fun, though, and it was even more so for me due to that fact that my buddy Zack Ward came in to be the Jokester, a Joker/Carrot Top hybrid villain. You know Zack from such classics as Battle, well, no. I still owe him for that. But definitely from Resident Evil, Transformers, Dollhouse, Titus, and with Christmas fast approaching, he will be on your TV 24 hours a day as Scut Farkus in the holiday classic, A Christmas Story. The Jokester was a fun character for me, mostly because of the large number of props he used in his "act."

Photo 22: Of course there was the Rubber Chicken Grenade,  which is probably my favorite prop of the whole show.

Photo 23: The Jokester is a prop comic turned bad, so he uses visual aides to punctuate all of his bad puns. Naturally, no security card would consider this drill a threat if a man in clown makeup carries it into a bank...

Photo 24: But "you know the drill!" This hardware is actually a cleverly disguised gun! Red5 made this prop, and no, she does not want to make another one!

Photo 25: All of the Jokester's henchmen wore masks to hide their faces. Each mask was a famous comedian. At first we thought it would be easy to find these masks on line, or in Hollywood at the LARGEST HALLOWEEN STORE IN THE WORLD, but none were to be found except a creepy Jay Leno. So I sculpted the other 5 myself. I was hoping to spend a whole week on this task alone, but as things got piled up and I spent most of my time putting out low budget fires, the mask project kept getting put aside in hopes that some existing ones would surface. Ultimately, I ended up sculpting all five masks in one afternoon, the day before they shot! Red5 and Winkler pulled an all-nighter with me to mold and cast them, and I painted them on the liftgate of the art truck at the location as Sandeep paced around inside the bank waiting to shoot. No pressure or anything.

Photo 26: The scene ends with Morphman transforming into a wrecking ball, and Worldman throwing him through the bank wall. My friends at Sypher Studios helped create the damaged wall, and we set it up in front of a set of double doors.

I didn't have to make a costume for Morphman, because he is never seen in human form during the show. He is, however, in tons of scenes morphing into different props. Dozens of them. We decided that every prop would have his color scheme with tell tale pinstripes, so you always knew it was him.

Photo 27: Even when he was a piggy bank...

Photo 28: Or a toaster...

Photo 29: Or a gavel. He was also a chair, a coat rack, a shopping cart, a lamp, a vase, a balloon, a guitar, a soccer ball...the list was endless.

Photo 30: But Morph and Jokester weren't the only ones enjoying propage. Night Knight had his fair share of personal arsenal this season. The coat of arms he wears on his chest is the Swiss army logo supers dream about. It has mini swords, a chainsaw, a grappling hook, these throwing stars shaped like his initials...

Photo 31: Night Knight also has a jam packed utility belt, filled with handy things like this smoke bomb for quick escapes. I tried to make all of his gadgets look "medieval."

Photo 32: No one knows exactly where Night Knight gets his gadgets, but it is suspected that he makes a fair share of them himself. We get to see his skill in action as he crafts some booties for his future super baby. The kid is sure to be warm and deadly with this footwear...

Photo 33: Once again, though, the reigning crown of props goes to Felicia Day. Panthera had more custom props than any other character, even though she was only in a single episode of the show. She was the purrrfect criminal. (deal with it, there is so much more to come) Her super power is that she can recreate an exact duplicate of ANYTHING from cardboard, justifiably called "DupliCats." This way she can steal the original, and no one will even notice it is gone, making her the cat's meow of burglars. Of cat burglars... terrible, I know.

Photo 34: The most intricate Duplicat was the replica of an Assyrian bull. This was only seen as a final product, so it didn't need to be made of cardboard. But it did need to be light weight so it could be tossed around like cardboard. I wanted to find a fiberglass copy at a prop house, but everything we came across was stone and heavy. I ended up carving this one out of a chunk of foam.

Photo 35: We did manage to find a decent and affordable bust of Nefertiti. This still needed to be duplicated, or, uh, duplicat-ed, in cardboard so Night Knight could smash it.

Photo 36: The hardest part of prop making is watching something you spent so much time on get purposely destroyed right before your eyes...

Photo 37: Other Duplicats were works in progress, where we actually see Panthera constructing great works of art from crude materials. The script called out a few specifics, but I got to add a few of my own. I thought this Remington would be a nice touch.

Photo 38: For her great escape, Panthera makes a duplicat of herself to fool the surveillance cameras. When we shot the scene, we had Felicia strike a pose for the front view, then I matched it with this hollow cardboard dummy for the over the shoulder shot.

Photo 39: The Panthera prop list seemed never ending. There was also duplicat jail bars, a Merman standee, a cardboard car door, computer monitors. There was also a ton of arts and craft supplies, and random gags like these custom cat themed magazines. Josie Kavadoy and Red5 did the graphics. Pawlin is my Boston Terrier, Print, who also played Zaboo's mom in an episode of the Guild. We like to keep it in the family!

Photo 40: Some characters, thankfully, had very low prop demands. The benefit of a super hero like Worldman is that he doesn't need anything but his cape and his good looks. Unless, of course, he's shamelessly promoting his own cereal...

Photo 41: Once filming was done, the BarnYard took on some of the post FX work. One of our main jobs was to make the exterior of SuperForce HQ match the interior I designed. Sandeep shot a plate downtown, and we needed to create elements that would make the Los Angeles building look like a version of the Hall of Justice.

Photo 42: BarnYardFX alum Mazin Dajani helmed this exterior, painting out all of the tell tale LA signage, and constructing some new architectural elements to convert the building into the HQ. I had him add the SF signal light on top, along with statues of the heroes. We also emphasized the black framed frosted glass, so it would echo the interior shots.

Photo 43: You can do a lot of amazing things with computer effects these days, but I still think the best effects are the ones you didn't even know were there. A good example would be this exterior shot of Elementra grabbing a smoke. Nothing distracting about this shot, right? Well, it took a lot of work to make it that way.

Photo 44: In typical indie style, we had to steal this shot downtown. It's hard enough trying to run and gun film making in Los Angeles, so it definitely doesn't help that you have a hot super hero in full costume capturing everyone's attention. Needless to say, there was no time to risk covering the signage, and this was the best possible place to shoot. So Mazin painstakingly painted the signage out. Ordinarily, it would be no big deal, Mandell crosses past the right hand sign, and in front of the doors, which needed to match the interior set doors. Plus, the footage needed to be shot hand held (You will be ticketed for filming in LA before your tripod legs even touch the ground if you try to use gear without a permit) so no two frames were the same. That meant days of tracking and rotoscoping, for an effect no one even knew was an effect! A big round of applause to Mazin for making it look so easy!

Photo 45: So that's Save The Supers! I hope you enjoyed the show, and I hope there will be more to come! I'm curious to know who everyone's favorite character is, and which prop you like the best! Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to follow me on twitter for more behind the scenes!

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