The drive takes us through a middle-class residential area that looks like an unlikely place for an effects shop. The streets are narrow and divided by small traffic circles that slow our pace. We turn onto a side street and wind up missing the entrance to Almost Human…several times. There’s nothing to distinguish one building from the next. Finally, we spot fellow SV attendees in a parking lot and turn in. As more people show up, we collect near the entrance. The shop looks like a converted warehouse or garage, and it’s absolutely sweltering. The big garage doors are open, but there’s no wind, and no air conditioning in the adjoining offices.
As Rob greets us, he seems a little nervous, and I can almost hear the wheels in his head turning: how to make this a worthwhile trip for us all? After a few minutes of us milling around, gawking at the various creatures, Rob starts the tour in the design room, where initial sketches are drawn and scale models sculpted. Rob tells us that the shop has done work for “Buffy” and “Angel” and several movies. Along one wall, several drawings of various creatures attest to this.
We then move out to the shop and spend the first few minutes looking around while Rob answers questions. I ask him how long it typically takes to create a cast or a creature. And the short answer is: however long the shop is given. He and his small staff prefer more time, of course, and sometimes get a month or two to work on a creature or effect. In some cases, they’ve had to produce something in a few day’s time. Yee-ikes. Now that’s scary.
Everywhere we turn are various human heads and busts, creatures, or full human--or semi-human--figures, most of which are designed to look like they met a violent end. In the lobby is the figure of a man in overalls, a human foot and hand hanging out of his pockets. He’s so life-like, several of us have to catch ourselves before we ask him where the bathroom is. A winged creature oversees the reception desk. In the shop, Rob’s head, resting in quiet repose, sits next to the smashed and bloodied head of “Greene’s” mom from “Lightning Bug.”
A full-scale werewolf looms over the shop from one corner. I notice a sign on another wall. It’s one of those nauseatingly perky things: “Now Hiring Smiling Faces,” only “Hiring” has been covered over with “Firing.” Above this is a huge poster of a leering demon. I grin. Hmm…my kind of sensibility. In the center of the shop is a half-completed dolphin suspended in mid-leap. Rob can’t tell us too much about it, only that it will be featured in the sequel to “Deuce Bigalow.”
Quite frankly, I’ve never liked horror films, or at least the really gory ones, but I have always loved sci-fi and grew up watching old B-movies with my dad on Sunday afternoons. And I’ve always been fascinated by special effects and what happens behind-the-scenes. You can thank “Star Wars” and George Lucas for that. When I learned at the age of 11 about George Lucas’s effects house, Industrial Light and Magic, and what they did, I gave some thought to becoming a special effects artist when I grew up; I thought it would be cool to build and blow shit up for a living. (Should give you some sense of what a tomboy I was.) Now, more than twenty years after my appetite for movie knowledge was whetted, part of it is finally being sated. I’m strangely happy here, even if all the creatures’ eyes do seem to follow you, like something out of an old Vincent Price movie.
By now, Rob is starting to get into playing tour guide. He leads us toward a series of shelves that house the plaster casts of many a famous face. He takes out casts one by one, asking us to identify whose face it is. I’m quickly frustrated, as I recognize the faces of older film stars, but can’t come up with the names. Luckily, a few among us are quicker on the draw and correctly identify each visage. Someone asks Rob to find Hal’s cast, but Rob doesn’t know where it is.
Rob directs our attention above the shop. Up in the loft, up a narrow wooden ladder, is the graveyard, where all old corpses go to…languish in the heat. We’re allowed up the ladder four at a time. The space is small and cramped, the ladder precarious. The loft is a hodge-podge of bodies. Someone picks up a baby and gets a picture taken with it. Headless bodies lean back against the wall. An armless man wears a cowboy hat. It’s even hotter up here than it was below, so we carefully pick our way back down the ladder.
Rob leads us into his office. Thank god. Ceiling fans. We breathe a collective sigh of relief and squeeze in. A few plunk down on the couch nearby. Rob relaxes in his chair. Someone quizzes him on just how organized his desk really is by asking him to find random objects. We compliment Rob on having a really cool office. He tells us we’re welcome to hang out as long as we want, watch him work if we so desire. He offers to play a few songs from the forthcoming HSB CD on his computer, but worries Hal will probably kill him if he shares the unfinished tracks with us.
A few of us meander back out to look at all the creatures again. Wanda tells us about the night’s plans for the comedy clubs. Hal will still perform a set at the Improv Olympic for everyone 21 and older. Later on, he’ll do another set at the Improv on Melrose for all ages. Apparently all those calls Hal took at the luncheon have paid off.