Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Wasp Woman

Recently, I did some filming at Bronson Cave, and it brought back a lot of memories. Bronson Cave is a man made tunnel under the Hollywood sign, at the west end of Griffith Park. It was dug out in the 60’s to be the entrance for the Batcave in the infamous Adam West version of BATMAN

I hadn’t shot there for a while, but early in my FX career, when I did a lot of lower budget horror movies, I frequented the place. I probably did about 30 films at that location. Most of them blend together, tons of gore effects and bullet wounds, but the first memory that comes to mind every time I step foot in that cave is Roger Corman’s WASP WOMAN

Photo 1: Obviously, not the classic original! I definitely wasn't doing effects in 1959. I didn’t even exist when Roger came up with the idea of selling a horror movie by superimposing a woman’s head onto the body of a giant wasp as a marketing campaign.

Photo 2: For some strange reason, what's on the poster is not even what the creature looks like in the movie! It’s quite the opposite, a woman’s body with the head of an…well, a…I’m not sure what that is exactly! I guess it’s supposed to be an insect. What ever it is, it sure scared people at the drive-ins 50 years ago!

Photo 3, 3a: In 1995, Roger decided to remake Wasp Woman for his Showtime series, Roger Corman Presents. But this time, he wanted to make the creature much more convincing. I got the call to re-envision the title character. The main question was, should it be the body of a woman with the head of an insect, or the head of a woman on the body of an insect? Which image from the original was the most haunting? The answer I got was, “Doesn’t matter, as long as it has cleavage!”

Photo 4: So I went with a full on giant wasp, with a D cup. Only in Hollywood can such things be possible. In the end, Roger stated that my Wasp Woman was his favorite creature from his extensive movie catalogue. He said he just wished the movie were better!

Photo 5: The movie starred Jennifer Rubin (The Crush) as an aging super model/ cosmetic company owner who has just been replaced by a younger model. Daniel J. Travanti (Hill Street Blues) is in the role of the scientist who formulates an experimental de-aging serum made from bee pollen. Jennifer takes the serum against the doctor’s wishes and, well, turns into a revenge seeking, murderous wasp! Hey, I didn’t say it was Shakespeare!

Photo 6: Scream Queen Maria Ford played Caitlin, the younger model, and naturally, one of the wasp’s earliest victims. Ironically, I used Maria’s body cast from a previous project we had done together as the study for the Wasp Woman sculpture.

Photo 7: In order for the Wasp Woman creature to be low budget friendly, it needed to be a suit rather than a make-up. That way, it could slip over an actor quickly, instead of being applied like prosthetics for hours. But the wasp needed to have a very shapely hourglass figure, so the actor wearing it needed to be rail thin so the curves could be sculpted on without making the whole body too bulky.

Ultimately, the heady, body, and multiple leg rig would be considerably heavy, so a professional suit performer was necessary. The production talked to multiple people, but somehow the decision was made that I should be the one in the suit! It sounded like fun at first, but I had no idea what I was in for…

Photo 8: It’s often difficult to tell if a creature sculpture is “attractive” enough. As I was finishing this WED clay sculpt, this winged insect wouldn’t leave it alone! I took that as a good sign...

Photo 9: The leg rig was the most complicated part of the Wasp Woman suit. I wanted to have full mobility, but never really have my legs shown. I designed this welded steel rig to support me while I pretzeled my legs behind me, to be hidden in the abdomen. So, not only was I freakishly skinny, I apparently was much more flexible 15 years ago…

Photo 10: The welded frame was wrapped in sheet foam, which was then covered in a latex skin. The abdomen was constructed out of L200 foam, so it would be light and hollow. That, too, was covered in textured latex. This process was faster and cheaper than sculpting, molding, and casting pieces as large as this was.

Photo 11: The next step was painting everything. I used an old make-up trick to speed things up. I based everything out using an adhesive called Kryton, thinned with a chemical called Solvent 111. Kryton was actually invented during WWII as a rubberized de-icer for airplane wings. Somewhere along the way, it was adopted for wig adhesive, and then it’s use as a paint was discovered. It’s pretty hard to get a hold of these days, but for large areas like this wasp suit, it is pretty useful. The advantage is that you can apply the base, which I tinted yellow for this purpose, then airbrush layers of straight acrylic over it. This makes painting super fast and clean. Then a clear coat of the Kryton goes over the top, locking in the acrylic and making it just as flexible as rubber cement paint, or PAX.

Photo 12: Here’s the head. I went for a very wasp-like look. The mandibles and antenna are animatronic, with the servos housed at the back, behind my head. The eyes are made from a front and back vac-u-form piece housing a cluster of ¾ inch clear spheres. The front vac-u-form is sprayed with a translucent amber acrylic, and the back plate is lined with aluminum foil to help reflect the light. The end result was very cool, but the dozens of solid marbles added about 10 pounds to the head. After an 18-hour day of shooting, I was scrambling for the Tylenol!

Photo 13: And there she, uh, I, am in all my glory!

Photo 14: It was a weird experience walking around with breasts. Yes, I know, I actually just said that. Honestly, when we were done filming, I swore I would never let anyone know that it was me in that costume! I even demanded that I go uncredited in the film. But, years later, looking at these ridiculous pictures, I figured I just had to share…

Photo 15: But sometimes the sharing was just too much! Seriously! The staring and the gawking!!! Even when I didn’t have the head on, guys were goggling. Dude, I’m a dude! Eyes up here. Please.

Photo 16: If you spend any time on a film set, you will know that there is a lot of sitting and waiting. I made a point to remember that the NEXT time I designed a creature suit. This is not a comfortable position to sit in while waiting for lighting changes and camera reloads.

Photo 17: And here we are up at Bronson Cave. It was a hot summer’s day. That’s producer Marta Mobley running to the left. She and I went on to work together many times. My favorite story about this film, and this location, involves her. But she would kill me if I blogged about it. I’ll have to tell you next time I see you in person…

Photo 18: In the cave and on the rig. You can tell by my expression that I have been on the rig way too long!

Photo 19: For the “over the shoulder” shots, which usually involved attacking the victim, I was rig free so I could run and jump. The exciting part of this for me was that I got to sit down on a chair like a normal person!

My on-set support team included Kenn Scott, an avid suit performer himself, most famously known for his portrayal of Raphael in Jim Henson’s Teen Age Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. To the right is Tom Skelington, who started work at the Barnyard with this production. His 8-year stint started when he wandered into Bronson Cave to see what was being filmed. I happened to be the person he asked first, sans costume, and when I told him it was a remake of the Corman classic, he jumped for joy. Oddly, the original Wasp Woman was his favorite film, and the one that inspired him to get into FX. I asked him if he wanted to work on the new version. He started that day!

Photo 20: Outside the cave, a second unit picked up some shots of the “cat wasp.” In the film, the doctor first tests the serum’s safety level by injecting his pet cat. Shockingly, it turns into a hybrid cat/wasp and starts to kill people!

Photo 21: The cat/wasp puppet had motorized wings and a radio controlled head. The hero close-up puppet had the same marble eyes as the suit. The version in this photo hangs in my bathroom, and every once in a while a new visitor will scream when they go in there.

Photo 22: The puppet legs were cast over armature wire so I could bend them in different poses, and the wings were clear plastic vac-u-formed over textured plaster.

Photo 23: There were very few cat like qualities in the final puppet, but even still, it did not get along with my English Bull Terrier, Action!

Photo 24: What would a B-movie be without more scream queens! Here I am posing with Melissa “Rocky” Brasselle and Antonia Dorian. I had my wasp head on for a magazine shoot, but in this photo I think we were comparing cleavage!

Photo 25: Rocky and I became great friends during the shoot.

Photo 26: And then I had to kill her! Just kidding, it was totally fake. Except for the part were she punched my wasp head in the face, which then in turn crunched my real face.

Photo 27: But later, she apologized and gave me a hug.

Photo 28: And apparently, even she was fascinated by my new, uh, assets.

Photo 29: It’s funny how people have no reservations about poking at you when you are wearing a costume. But don’t even think about doing the same to them…

Photo 30: Or you will end up getting punched in the face again!


  1. A minor correction: The caves were USED in the sixties as the entrance to the batcave, but they were dug out around 1900 when the area was a rock quarry.

  2. You were a lovely wasp woman. So hilarious that you keep the cat wasp in your bathroom. Love it.

  3. Great blog Greg.. I always wondered where that wasp came from that's in your bathroom. It's incredible to look at up close.

  4. fabulous pictures, sure looks like hard work and a lot of fun :)