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Celebrating SFX - Abdel Belabbes

Wednesday 6 December 2023, by Judy Harris

In the second instalment of our VFX series we’re exploring the merging of CGI and stop motion in Robocop 2, Guillermo del Toro’s penchant for insectoids as evidenced in Pacific Rim and the mercurial appendages of Dr Octopus in Spiderman 2, all selected by sfx fan Abdel Belabbes.

Robocop 2 (Dir. Ivin Kershner, 1990)
Phil Tippett

One of the coolest things in VFX is when different techniques are married together and this scene has a great transition from live action to stop motion which manages to maintain its momentum. It happens as Robocop is getting ready to attack his enemy Cain - we see him in wide shot preparing to jump onto him and when the jump happens it transitions to a stop motion figure of Robocop on his back, but the momentum is sustained as the two figures start tussling together. Also, the jitteriness of the stop motion isn’t off-putting because it fits with our image of how mechanical figures move. Phil Tippett perfected the craft of stop motion. Every time you think of stop motion in film you think of him and this scene shows how great he is.

Pacific Rim (Dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2013)

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM)
This is a silly movie but I love it. This entire suit up sequence is brilliant as it’s another marriage of practical effects and GGI that sells a larger effect. This scene also shows the role that production design has in helping stage larger visual effects sequences. Del Toro is a master of production design; his films have an earthy fairytale quality, an industrial chic. I love a good set up and here the two pilots are getting suited up to pilot a massive robot. The best shot is where there is a spine attachment that the riggers attach to the pilots with a wriggling insectoid part which presumably attaches to their spines. Del Toro has an affinity for anthropods and insect parts and even in this moment of manmade, high-tech wizardry you find a centipede kind of creature. It adds to the creepy fairytale aspect and sells the marriage between organic and mechanical – a literal bridging between the machine and the human.

Spiderman 2 (Dir. Sam Raimi, 2004)

I was wary of choosing this film because we’re saturated with superhero movies and Marvel movies. The Marvel films get a lot of flack for overworking visual effects houses and they often end up with inferior results, but this film shows what happens when you prioritise effects. I think this film has some references to Raimi’s horror roots, specifically The Evil Dead. This sequence is of Dr Octopus who, in the first half of the film has been presented as a sincere father figure, but this scene changes that as he becomes a Universal style monster. It’s a horrific sequence. I think that a lot of CGI undersells the threat of a villain, but this scene sets up Dr Octopus as absolutely formidable! His arms are supposed to be mercurial and snake like yet also heavy and mechanical and it works. The animal like noises add to it too with the roaring and hissing. The arms become characters as well as appendages. The editing works great to bring together puppetry, animation and POV shots. It feels like it’s all happening in the same space.

Thanks to ’cinema Gremlin’ Abdel Belabbes for speaking with me about VFX. May he never get wet or eat anything after midnight.

World VFX day is an annual day of recognition in celebration of the vfx industry (and the often invisible labour of vfx workers) started by a collective of visual effects studios. Anyone in or outside the industry are encouraged to take part. Sign up to the ‘World VFX Day’ newsletter for the latest news and events: https://mailchi.mp/651b2a6c2ad9/world-vfx-day

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