RocketteGirl giggled as she watched the gigantic blue and yellow egg hatch. The glowing blue larva emerged, coaxed by two miniature, telepathic fairies in distress and surrounded by the hundreds of worshipping natives on Infant Island.
My almost-9-year-old’s eyes widened.
“Is this real?” she asked, giggling some more.
Moments later, like a bloated torpedo, the animatronic caterpillar was speeding its way across the South Pacific towards mainland Japan to save the captured fairies. I was in hysterics, and it was nice to see that she was too.
It was a proud dad moment for me to be sitting there with RocketteGirl, sharing a laugh and enjoying the retro monster goofiness.
During our late-summer Rifftrax “Live” Mothra screening, the host trio of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett shouldered the burden of keeping us entertained with witty, sarcastic, pop culture-laced commentary. Making fun of (aka “riffing”) overhyped blockbusters, classic educational shorts, and silly sci-fi schlock like Mothra has been the former Mystery Science Theater 3000 stars’ stock in trade for more than a decade. Riffing is their way of helping audiences (and themselves) cope with illogical plotting, crappy acting, cheap set design, and laughable visual effects (VFX).
Since long before kaiju hit the big screen, there’s been no shortage of bad special FX in sci-fi, horror, and action movies for MST3K and Rifftrax to skewer. While B-movie-grade effects provide hilarious entertainment for most of us, seeing poorly designed and executed projects of any kind usually motivates curious Nerds to try and do better.
Sharing my love of MST3K, campy movie monsters, and the world of visual FX not only has been a way for me to bond with RocketteGirl, but also another under-the-radar way for this Imperfect Dad to get his creative kid interested in various aspects of STEAM curriculum.
Thanks to trailblazers like Ray Harryhausen, H.R. Giger, and Tim Burton, improved technologies like CGI and animatronics, and hardworking Nerds in creative shops like Disney Pixar, Laika, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), and RocketJump, VFX and practical (or “in-camera”) effects have moved light years ahead since Mothra hatched in 1961.
Practical effects techniques, movie-making equipment (hello, iPhone!), and VFX technologies are becoming more affordable and sophisticated every day. This greater accessibility has enabled independent filmmakers and tinkerers of all ages and abilities to let their imaginations run wild. All one needs to start turning vision into reality today is a smartphone and/or computer and the right app or YouTube video.
This Halloween, why not challenge your Nerds to tinker with digital filmmaking and give the LEGO and robotics a breather?
With the right materials and a little guidance, your Nerds can try their hands at approximating the visual and practical makeup effects achieved by the big production houses. Who knows, with some experimentation and commitment, maybe one day they’ll create the next Star Wars, Jurassic Park or Alien franchise!
Check out these resources and links to feed their natural curiosity for movie magic while also inspiring a passion for creative STEM activities:
- Here’s a soup-to-nuts movie making guide for kids
- Tips for kid filmmakers and how to make your amateur movie look professional from Indy Mogul
- Top 20 Moving-making and VFX apps for Android and iOS
- New StudioFX app that will bring their Star Wars toys to life
- Adobe After Effects digital visual effects, motion graphics, and compositing software
- How to make your own green screen studio
- Simple green-screen effects on your iPad
- How filmmakers conceived the mind-boggling VFX of Inception
- Comparing movie moments before and after special effects
If all that still sounds a little too advanced, you can ease your Nerd into the realm of movie make-believe. Maybe start by having them design their own cool, creepy costume and makeup effects for trick-or-treating. Here are a few ideas to get their creative juices (and fake blood) flowing:
- DIY Halloween costumes, props and edibles
- More DIY costume ideas for kids
- Makeup tricks using common household items and advanced DIY tips from a Hollywood pro
- Learn how to apply fake cuts using makeup here, here, and here
- And add some horror movie-grade fake blood