|The Creatures of Farscape: The Final Chapter|
The final chapter of Joe Nazzaro
By Joe Nazzaro
In November 2004, a great book entitled "The Creatures of Farscape: Inside Jim Henson's Creature Shop" was published. The book, written by Joe Nazzaro, went behind the scenes at the Creature Shop, with an in-depth look at all the designs of the creatures and aliens.
Unfortunately, due to publishing deadlines, the final chapter, focusing on Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars had to be removed before the book was published. However, thanks to the author Joe Nazzaro, we are able to bring you the text of this chapter here.
Chapter 6: Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars
As production on Farscape’s fourth season was wrapping up in September 2002, cast and crew members were stunned to discover that plans for a season five had abruptly been canceled and that production was shutting down. For the next several months, Hallmark Entertainment and the Jim Henson Company continued to work towards a follow-up, and in autumn of 2003, production began on Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, a four-hour mini-series that would be directed by executive producer Brian Henson.
For Dave Elsey, the first step was to reassemble his original Creature Shop team (most of whom had just finished work on Star Wars: Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith in Sydney) and hit the ground running. “As soon as I heard we were coming back,” he recalls, “I remembered the very last thing we said on season four. We had put together a list that said that everything we’d made over the last four years was now at the very end of its life, and wouldn’t be any good if we went into season five. We suggested that we work through the three-month break to redo everything and remake all the molds, which had started to turn to mush over time, despite the fact that we were updating them all the time.
“I finally realized that everything had to be redone from scratch, but we probably only had five weeks’ prep before we actually started shooting. I think we started working on November 12, and were shooting by something like December 15. It was going to be interesting, because some of the molds had gone back to England, while others were in storage in Sydney and we didn’t know how they had all been divided. It was a scary moment, because not only did we have to start over, but we also had to find everything all over again, and categorize what was usable and what wasn’t, so what actually entered my mind was panic and fear!”
Adding to the pre-production difficulties was the way the mini-series was going to be shot in terms of scheduling. “What we needed for all of the new stuff we were building,” explains Elsey, “was to have it on last. That would give us a vague chance of getting everything together we thought we already had in terms of molds, costumes and so forth for the first half.
“What happened was, when Ricky Eyres the production designer came over, the first sets he built were for Moya’s interior, and of course those sets featured all of the new stuff we were meant to be building. It meant all of the new work that we didn’t possess in any form was needed on the very first day of shooting. I would have loved to do it the other way around and eased our way into it, but it didn’t happen that way.
“Plus we had to get things like Rygel, D’Argo and Scorpius all ready for that period as well. I really wanted to make those characters perfect, because as far as I was concerned, this may have been our only chance to do the ‘movie’ version. We had to rebuild two Rygels, and then discovered that we were going to be on location during the very first week of filming, and one of the Rygels we were putting all these electronics into was going to be dumped in the water! We had to build a wet Rygel that wouldn’t explode and ruin all our work, so we had three Rygels to build just for that first week.
“And then there were other complications. For instance, production still hadn’t signed Wayne Pygram who plays Scorpius, and we were saying, ‘Look, we can’t just put him in the same makeup. It doesn’t exist anymore, so we have to do a new life cast and a re-sculpt, besides which, I want to make certain changes for the ‘movie’ version of Scorpy!’ More time went by before they finally signed him, so we had maybe a week to get the new makeup together. There wasn’t time to use our Hotflesh technique again, because the mold making is quite involved and we were out of time, so we had to make Scorpy out of foam latex for the first time ever, which was a little disappointing. But having said that, we’d raised our game with foam latex on Star Wars, improving our painting techniques to get the translucency looking really good even though it isn’t really translucent. So it looked fine.”
According to Elsey, the Creature Shop’s mantra on The Peacekeeper Wars was “bigger and better.” New characters had to be built to a higher standard than the series, while long-established characters were revamped and improved. “The producers said, ‘Whatever we’ve done before- paint jobs, color schemes, everything; forget about it all. This is the movie version, and we want you to update everything!’ so these are like the movie versions. Every single character essentially had a makeover, so if you went back and looked at season four and tried to match it up with what we’ve done here, it’s going to look different, because we’ve changed it all.”
A good example of that principle is the Scarrans, who are even more impressive looking than in season four. “We re-sculpted them and put in extra layers of detail,” says Elsey, “and we threw out the original Scarran costumes. In season four, the costumes came together in two weeks, and the Emperor's costume, which was incredibly grand and complicated, came together in something like four days. On the very last shot of the last day, the emperor said his last line, and walked off past camera, and as he did so, there was a ‘ping-ding-ding-ping!’ as his whole costume just fell to the floor in pieces. So for the mini-series, we threw out whatever was left of the Scarran costumes and started from scratch. We re-sculpted the armor for 13 new Scarrans, which get into some serious stunts this time. They get shot and fall off things and smash into the floor, and we were trying to make out that there were hundreds of them, so each suit was falling hundreds of times. Lou nearly killed herself and the entire crew in the process, but they did such a fantastic job that the Scarrans held up brilliantly throughout the entire shoot.”
Elsey is particularly pleased with Staleek the Scarran Emperor (played by Duncan Young) and War Minister Ahkna (Francesca Buller) both of whom were given a major overhaul for the mini-series. “Duncan’s makeup had a completely updated multi-layered paint job that looks fantastic, and Ahkna was re-sculpted to allow as much of Fran to come through as possible. It’s a hood piece and then a face piece that goes on over that, and her teeth. Fran wasn’t signed until the last minute, so we had to work from a life cast of her from season one, and her face had changed quite a lot in that time. The proportions had changed a little bit and her hair was a little different, so it was quite a difficult one to glue on, but she looked fantastic. And Lou completely redesigned the costume, making it even sleeker and sexier, and better equipped for action. She also put extra layers of detail in there, so no matter how you saw it, the costume always looked great. The same with Duncan, whose armor was re-sculpted, so the colors are stronger and the materials are better.”
Another alien race that underwent a major revamp for the mini-series was the Luxans, including a crack team of Luxan commandos led by D’Argo’s estranged son, Jothee. “I actually knew about the commando squad in advance,” remembers Elsey, “because we were doing Star Wars at the time and I gave David Kemper a tour of the workshop. We were building an army of Wookies, which were going to be played by basketball players, and some of these guys were literally eight feet tall. David went away really excited, saying he was going to write this crack commando troop of Luxans into the script. The commandos were going to be the biggest, baddest Luxans that you’ve ever clapped eyes on, so I took them as far as I possibly could.
“The main character was played by John Adams, and this is a guy who has been blind for four years because of me, because he has been playing aliens where his eyes were covered. I said, ‘Look, you’re not going to have much of your face showing, but your eyes are going to be yours!’ so we did quite an extreme makeup on him.
“For the background Luxans, we knew they were going to have stuntmen in them, so we decided to do what were essentially complicated masks that they could just put on and zip up the back and do their stunts. We really went to town, sculpting mean-looking Luxans for those guys, big, bulky-looking things, but you have to remember that the whole idea for these characters started with an eight-foot Wookie army we had created for Star Wars. I remember saying to Brian, ‘Anthony Simcoe is over six feet tall, but he’s going to look like the smallest Luxan you’ve ever seen next to these guys!’ But what happened was the stuntmen they hired were all five-foot five, so it looked like the Munchkin Army of Luxan! It couldn’t have been further from the original idea, but these guys were going to be doing flips and getting blown up, so they really needed people who could handle that kind of stunt work. And I have to say: these stuntmen really knew their stuff and how to move like soldiers.
“With Jothee, Matt Newton was going to come back, and we booked him in for a new life cast, but he didn’t turn up. We booked him again, and he didn’t turn up, and finally, somebody else entirely turned up. But Nathaniel Dean, the actor they got to play Jothee, was brilliant, because even without the makeup on, he looks just like Matt, except he’s about a foot taller and he’s really buff and built up, so he looks like an older version of Matt. We had already talked about this being an older, more adult version of Jothee, so he was perfectly cast and did very well in bringing the makeup to life. He really behaved like D’Argo’s son. They had the same laugh, the same kind of voice and body movements; it was a brilliant pairing between the two of them.”
As it turned out, Jothee wasn’t the only recurring character replaced during production of the mini-series. As Elsey explains, “Melissa Jaffer, the actress who played Noranti, left halfway through the production and a different actress took over, so we suddenly had to try and put the original Noranti makeup onto a different actress, Amanda Wenban. She was considerably younger than Melissa, so not only were we trying to do a lookalike makeup overnight, but we were also trying to make that actress look older as well to fit in with what had gone before. I think we were fairly successful, but it remains to be seen.
“Amanda did a sterling job under very difficult circumstances, coming in and having to be someone else, but it’s going to be odd to see how that plays out, because I’ve never seen an actor replaced halfway through a show before. When I first met her, I raced down to production for an emergency meeting and said, ‘If you’re asking me if we can stick the makeup on this actress and make her look like a Noranti-type character, the answer is yes. If you’re asking me to replace the actress halfway through without anyone noticing, you must be joking!’ and they said, ‘Yeah, that’s what we’re asking,’ so we just got on with it.”
Some characters just got a minor tweak, to reflect their time away from the series. That included the unsavory Grunchlk, introduced in ‘Die Me, Dichotomy,’ now accompanying a different alien healer. “It’s a new Diagnosan,” says Elsey. “This one is a drunk, and I wanted him to look quite different. There’s a movie called The Wrong Box, which is an English comedy with Peter Sellers playing a drunk doctor, and in my mind, that was what I wanted for his character. We gave him a stoop and a beer belly and a disgusting costume covered in stains and he has seen better days. Lou did a fabulous job with his costume, making him into the last person you’d want touching you if you were ill- or pregnant in this case. I completely repainted his face, making him look a lot more rosy-cheeked and disgusting looking. I wanted him to have grown out hair and salt-and-pepper beard stubble, but nobody wanted me to go too far, so we pulled back a bit. I also gave him a goatee beard for the original paint test, but we ended up toning the whole thing back so it didn’t become too cliché.
“With Grunchlk, I decided he collects diseases and just happens to have them on himself. We got Hugh Keays-Byrne back, and he turned up this time with a really crazy beard. I said, ‘Well, Grunchlk doesn’t really have a beard, but it has been a long time since we saw him last.’ I ran outside and grabbed Brian and asked what he thought about the beard, and he asked what the character looked like before. I said, ‘He didn’t have the beard, but it looks good, don’t you think?’ Brian said, ‘Yup, looks very good,’ so the beard stayed. It’s a slightly different version of the character than we’ve seen before, but he’s still pretty disgusting, and Hugh loves that stuff. He wants to know where all the sores are and how he got them, and he likes to play with them. He’s also obsessed with playing with his beard, which we pulled into two prongs, and I’m so happy that he turned up with it.”
In addition to some of the familiar alien faces, The Peacekeeper Wars also featured a couple of new alien races. The Eidelons were briefly introduced in the fourth season cliffhanger, ‘Bad Timing,’ but they played a much greater role in the mini-series. “When we were asked to design these aliens for the end of season four,” claims Elsey, “we were told very definitely that this should be an evil kind of character, and when we looked at the script this time, they were peacemakers. The design had to be changed, because when everyone looked at the character we introduced in the fourth season, they would say, ‘There’s no way that’s a peacemaker!’
“I originally designed them pretty simply, with some tribal scarring where the heads open up. We initially called them the ‘jigsaw men,’ because they didn’t have a name at the time, and I thought those markings probably went all over their bodies, and they could open up in different ways. Maybe the heads could open up and eyes would come out, and sometimes just the mouth would come out and do something, or maybe their chests would open. My original thought was that their bodies did whatever they needed to do, but all of that was thrown out the moment the script arrived, and they were basically good guys.
“So with the tribal markings, we could do similar scarring on people very simply, using very simple makeup techniques. We trained up the makeup department to take them off our hands, so they took them over for the entire shoot and did a very nice job.”
But the Creature Shop’s involvement with the Eidelons didn’t end there. “The other thing the producers wanted was to have the scarring glow purple on screen,” notes Elsey. “I made a mark in my script and thought, ‘Well, that's obviously CG!’ and then of course, they wanted us to do that for real. We eventually solved that one by using black light paint, which worked very well and looked great on screen, and I believe that was going to be enhanced with CG anyway, using our work as a guideline.
“And because the casting wasn’t done until the eleventh hour, the schedules got juggled around so that the makeup versions of those opening-up heads were on before we had finished our mechanical heads, which were meant to be on first. The makeup heads were supposed to follow exactly what we were doing weeks before with the scarring, but of course it happened exactly the absolute opposite way around, so the makeups got freehanded on the day. I walked on set and looked at them and thought, ‘That looks nothing like what we’ve done!’ and rushed back to the workshop, where we tried to make last-minute changes to everything as best we could.”
The Peacekeeper Wars also introduced the Tragins, described in the script as “huge, brutish creatures with extra-large teeth, mouths and vocal boxes.” “David Kemper said they were space pirates,” says Elsey, “so I wanted to do rough-looking characters, with lots of hair and beards but still have them look quite alien. Brian also wanted them to have goggles so they could have enhanced vision, so they wear these crazy goggles that are forever focusing and re-focusing, and we built those props as well. The Tragins are weird characters, and quite cartoony. The thing I noticed in the script is they’re idiots, so I wanted them to be quite broad characters, and amusing to look at, which I think Ben Browder had a problem with. He was saying, ‘I’m not scared of these guys,’ and I’d say, ‘Well, you should be, because they’re idiots, and they’ve got guns!’ We built six of these fully lip-synching animatronic characters, all wearing these mechanical goggles with focusing eye pieces, so it was quite a job to get them on.”
One of Elsey’s personal highlights from the mini-series was a sequence involving the Scorpy clone, which borrowed heavily from legendary makeup artist Stuart Freeborn’s work on 2001: A Space Odyssey. “That was interesting, because it was a complete recreation of that scene from the end of 2001 with the old guy in the bed. It was awesome, because we had just done Star Wars, where we were treading in the shoes of Stuart Freeborn, and then straight into this sequence, so it was a weird situation. Of course we couldn’t do much to Scorpy to make him look much older, because he’s already covered in wrinkles as it is, so my idea was to have him in bed wearing his full Scorpius outfit but everything was white. All the color would have faded from him, but in the end, the costume department didn’t want to make a completely special costume, so they put him in white pajamas. It still had the desired effect of making him look as if he was fading away, and he did look old, so that was a nice scene thing to do.”
But as with all projects of this nature, not every idea makes it into the final version, and that included the ambitious water creature sequence in an earlier draft of the script. “When I looked at it,” laughs Elsey, “alarm bells went off everywhere! It was an underwater scene involving a crustacean creature with tentacles and crab legs, and when Moya gets flooded, it gets on board, and there was a whole battle sequence with this thing. I said, ‘You've got to be joking!’ because the one thing that everybody knows is if you have no time or money, you should not attempt to do anything in water, because it’s going to add at least another week to what you’re doing. If you add an animatronic puppet and sequences of tentacles wrapping around things (and Brian and I had a lot of experience with tentacles having done Little Shop of Horrors together), this was an absolute recipe for disaster. We had a lot of meetings trying to figure out ways to do things, but there was no way we could do it on the schedule that we had. That sequence was written about two weeks before we were due to film it, and by that stage, I was really panicking about how we were going to make the creature. We were actually going to construct special ovens 20 feet long to accommodate the tentacles, and I was saying, ‘This is just nightmare. If you make the tentacles light enough to be puppeteered, they’re going to fill up with water. Half the day is going to be spent trying to sink the tentacles, and the other half, trying to get them out of the water!’ There were so many problems, and I kept saying, ‘Trust me, we will rue the day you allowed the words “water creature” to be typed!’ but luckily they saw sense and the scene was written out.”
Another sequence that wasn’t removed but simply never filmed was a shot of Aeryn’s pregnancy seen progressing at an accelerated rate. “We made a stomach for Claudia that looked like her normal slim self, but at the touch of a button, it would instantly go to six months pregnant. We tested it on some of the girls in the workshop and it worked so well that it went beyond any expectations we had about how good it looked. But it never got shot, and I was very disappointed about that.”
Looking back at his crew’s work on The Peacekeeper Wars, Elsey is still a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work they were able to create within a relatively short period of time. “There were some wonderful moments,” he remembers, “where I was standing there with an army of Scarrans, including Ahkna and Staleek on one side. On the other was an army of Luxans, as well Rygel, D’Argo and Scorpius, all on the same set. Everywhere I looked, there was not one character untouched by the Creature Shop, and I couldn’t believe we had done it in that time and money. We’ve all gotten incredibly quick at doing these makeups, and each of us was doing two or three characters. There were only four chairs in the makeup room, so we had Scarrans queuing up outside. They’d sit in the chair, we’d make them up, and they’d go outside and put their costumes on while another lot would come in and sit down. And there were teeth to be done, and contact lenses; it was an endless amount of work, but it was also so awesome to see them all together like that.”
And if the mini-series turns out to be Farscape’s final incarnation at least for the time being, Dave Elsey believes the Creature Shop has set a new standard for science fiction makeup on television. “I feel we’ve woven together a rich tapestry,” he reflects. “There’s so much detail piled in there that when people see it, I’m absolutely certain that they’re going to assume we had tons of time and money, and lots of people to do it. In reality, we had maybe 30 people and five weeks of prep, and we were doing every single bit of it ourselves. We did the makeup, the animatronics, the costumes, muscle suits, shoes, gloves, even some of the weapons and techno-gadgets, and we did it all with just 30 people in five weeks. We had such a fabulous team of people, who were willing to give up their home lives, because they were all working around the clock to get everything done, so it wasn’t much fun for them. And yet when I look at the end result, we got it done in the time we had, and some of it is a damn sight better than anything we’ve ever done before. So that’s what I’m most proud of, basically the whole body of work.”
The Creatures of Farscape Text Copyright © 2004, Joe Nazzaro