Well, I’m Tokyo-bound but, before I go and lest I miss a day of blogging, I leave you with this Q&A courtesy of one half of Stargate’s detonative duo, Scott Stofer. If you need someone shot, blown up, or set on fire (uh, in the fantasy world of television), then Wray Douglas and Scott Stofer are your guys. Wray was originally pegged to do this Q&A but it turns out that while explosions and gunfire elicit not the merest flinch from the guy, clowns, Celine Dion, and answering questions online are another matter entirely. Fortunately for us, Scott has stepped up to take the bullet on this one. And, once you’re done, follow the link for a video of Scott taking other bullets of sorts: http://josephmallozzi.com/2008/04/20/april-20-2008-my-squibbiest-post-ever/
Riley writes: “Wray, what has been your favourite explosion on SGA, and why?”
Scott: Option #1 – I think our favorite explosion on Atlantis would have to be the blowing out of all the windows at the top of the gate room stairs. It appeared so violent with the stunt double being right in the thick of a cloud of fast moving glass before being yanked by a cable all the way to the gateroom floor, clearing that huge staircase. Option #2 – I think our favorite explosion would be in a season five episode called Vegas written and directed by the brilliant Robert Cooper who had us blow up a 30ft AIRSTREAM trailer full of wraith technology. The stuff inside justified an “overt the top” explosion and the location we were filming in allowed us to load the shit out of the trailer without worrying about breaking windows, setting off car alarms or killing innocent bystanders. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, a setting sun, etc. Robert didn’t have adequate time to choose favorable camera positions, so even though it was filmed with four cameras none of them are a really great angle. I was pressing one of the buttons to detonate the three stage event and the shaking special effects guy standing beside me with his drugstore digital stills camera got the best footage in my opinion. I’m hoping for a miracle from editing for the final cut.
AnnaLeo writes: “1) How have the special effects changed over the years from when you first started on the show? 2) Are there ever any real dangers that come with the special effects and how did you deal with them?3) Has there ever been a great idea for a special effect that you weren’t able to realize, due to budget, time constaints, etc.?”
Scott: 1) Hi Anna, I started working with the Stargate series on season three of SG-1. In those early years there were a lot more outdoor attacks from enemy fighters flying over the actors so we did large fireball strafing runs on a regular basis. When we moved into the Atlantis series there was a new enemy and they just were not into destroying stuff. They were more like cattle ranchers than egotistical system lords, so our large scale destruction level definitely dropped. We ended up doing more big sparks on the interior of ships and more rolling fireballs down hallways. Which, by the way, is physically less demanding so we have all gained about 12 pounds each.
2) Yes Anna there are constant dangers. There are dangers in testing them, building them, and executing them, usually in tight quarters with 100 people breathing down your neck asking ” Am I safe here”? We take every possible precaution and often wake at 3:00 am thinking about what could go wrong the next day and how to prevent it. But we love our jobs and are lucky enough to work on a show where they give a shit about safety and respect our opinion when we tell them what our issues are.
3) Every so often a big idea will come up that the writers think would be cool to do in an episode and we toss around some ideas and costs with them and the other departments involved. If too large or outrageous it often becomes a computer generated visual effect or it just gets rewritten.
EugenefromAus writes: “For Wray Douglas:
1] In the episode Memento Mori (and the behind-the-scenes for it), how did you make the paintball balls to do the sparks? What I mean is essentially, how did you create the balls in the first place, and what was in them?
2] How much experience does it take to develop a mostly-safe gas/flame cannon? (And also, how safe would they be?)
3] How did you get started in this business(of Special effects)?
4] What has been your favourite episode to do for the mayhem?
5] I asked this to Kenny, but he didn’t know, so i’ll ask you, What is the fire-resistant gel made of? (The gel in question I think was talked about in an Ark of Truth Special Feature. Are there actually any commercial ones that would do any good, or can you only obtain them (and ingredients) via the industry?
6] Which Special Effect in the whole of 15 seasons of Stargate would you say was the riskiest for everyone?(Even though there are standards, which is the most risky?)
7] What are you planning to do now as SGA is over? Did you already find another show to work for?”
Scott: 1) The “paint balls” in question are actually .68 cal hard plastic balls shot from off the shelf paint-ball guns. There are suppliers of these capsules here in Vancouver or we order them from suppliers in Hollywood. The sparking ones contain powdered zirconium and a fine gravel known as bird gravel as it is sold by pet shops for birds. The gravel acts as an abrasive to ignite the zirconium on impact. Other plastic balls we shoot contain marbles or ball bearings for breaking stuff, Vaseline or grease for the” bullet hitting glass without breaking it” look, or dust for ricochets off the wall or ground. These hard plastic balls are not suitable for shooting at people as they don’t break as easily as a traditional paint-ball and will cause harm.
2) To build and operate a propane cannon with any degree of safety requires a few things. You need experience with pressurized gasses. You need experience with controlling fire in many different situations and environments. You need experience with pressure vessels, electronically controlled valves, firing systems. fabrication, and setting safe distances for the stuff you don’t want to burn with direct flame or radiant heat. My advice is don’t build one unless you’re doing it with a person who has been around them a lot. I’ve seen good ones (ours are great ) and bad ones over the 25 yrs. I’ve been doing effects and trust me, they can be very dangerous if not built or used properly.
7) Now that SGA is over three of us are working on a movie ironically called “Farewell Atlantis” which has nothing to do with SG. Three of us are on a movie called “Frankie and Alice” and one of us is working on “Cats and Dogs 2 “or 3 I can’t keep track. We often split up in the off season, not always on purpose, but we all have bills to pay and need to work until “Stargate Universe ” starts. Hopefully they give us our jobs back.
Jason writes: “What explosion or special effect was the most disappointing in terms of the outcome or just didn’t work the way you guys planned?”
Scott: I think the most disappointing special effect for our department was a propane cannon fire ball we did through a door and into a room for one of Andy Mikita’s episodes. It was an effect we had successfully performed on the show before but that day it was just underwhelming and short-lived, so it ended up being enhanced or maybe even replaced by a visual effect.
We, as the ” special effects department”, work closely with the “visual effects department” and have a great relationship with them, but hate it when our stuff isn’t good enough and has to be fixed. Sometimes the shooting schedule that day just doesn’t give us the luxury of second chances.