Thursday, September 1, 2011

'Shark Night 3D' features uncomfortably toothy effects

By Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES – Actress Sara Paxton was fine about shooting her scenes with an animatronic great white for Shark Night 3D.

By Steve Dietl, Relativity Media

Dodge maul: Sara Paxton tries to avoid a predator in Shark Night 3D, which features animatronic sharks that are a far cry from Jaws.
Dodge maul: Sara Paxton tries to avoid a predator in Shark Night 3D, which features animatronic sharks that are a far cry from Jaws.
That is, until she ran into the injured onset publicity photographer.
"He was bleeding everywhere, on both legs," Paxton recalls.
"I was like, 'Dude, what happened? Did you fall off the boat?' He told me that the shark bit him."
Yes, the shark with whom Paxton was soon sharing a scene. She recalls director David Ellis' voice being piped underwater, urging her to get closer to her well-toothed co-star.
"I was so scared," Paxton says. "I was like, 'This shark is literally going to rip my throat out.' It was so close to me. I prayed, 'Please, God, do not let me die today.' Fake shark. Not a good way to go."
Steven Spielberg's 1975 shark classic, Jaws, might have made it feel unsafe to go into the water. But technological advances in the animatronic world have made the screen creatures so terrifying — complete with a full set of actual shark teeth for the first time — that filming alongside them can lead to real-life panic.
Dustin Milligan fights two robotic sharks in Shark Night, which opens Friday and gorily portrays a shark invasion into a Louisiana saltwater lake.
He admits that the terrified look he frequently has on-screen isn't acting.
"These sharks are really, really scary. And the real shark teeth?" he says, shaking off the image. "Totally unnecessary, if you ask me."
Oscar-winning special-effects guru Walt Conti has pushed the technology of these creatures into a new realm with films such as Free Willy and Deep Blue Sea.
They're so lifelike, precautions are necessary to protect the people who work with them, he says.
"They're just as powerful as real sharks," Conti says.
The photographer in question simply got too close while the creature was thrashing about.
"He got nicked a little bit," Conti says, adding that a few others got "body slammed" by the shark's tail when they weren't respecting the machine's personal space.
"You have to remember, these are not stuffed animals," Conti says.
Although Jaws might forever reign at the top of the shark movie heap, its famously glitch-prone film sharks are almost prototypes for the free-swimming, fully mobile creatures of today.
"It all started with Jaws 35 years ago," says Conti, who calls the work "revolutionary."
"But it really is a Model T to Ferrari comparison. Ours are as highly tuned and powerful as a Ferrari."
Driving machines that bite.
"But there were only kills on-screen," Conti says with a laugh. "No humans were killed in the making of this film."
You're gonna need a bigger screen . . .
Shark Night 3D brings three animatronic bad boys to the screen:
Swimming great white: This remote-control creature was built to show the shark's swimming skills and signature snap turns, with titanium bones and skeleton for balance. It appears in the scene just before a great shark battle. It has the teeth, but it's a movement specialist. "This is the setup shark," says the movie's animatronic effects supervisor, Walt Conti. "He's all grace. The big challenge is getting him to swim just right."
Hammerhead: Hammerhead teeth are difficult to find. This set came from a private Australian collector and the 13-foot shark was built to scale. The shark required three people at the controls for its shallow-water fight scene: one each for the tail, the head and the body. "That shark can do some damage," says Sinqua Walls, the actor who fights the beast. "I cut my hands tussling with it. I didn't even want to get close to the teeth."
Attack great white: The big baddie of the film is seen in an attack scene featuring Paxton. Conti found the perfect set of teeth from the California Academy of Sciences natural history museum. "It was a pristine set from the 1970s," he says. "They could open about 18 inches, enough to get around someone's torso." (The teeth are on full display in the movie's early trailer.) The 12-foot, 1,000-pound beast required two remote handlers when fighting. Its best feature: the complicated, subtle jaw action in every bite. Says Conti, "It's state-of-the-art chomping power."