Nightmares Made Real

My first special effects job for a feature film occurred in 1986 at Image Engineering, a mechanical effects company owned by Peter Chesney. The movie was A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and Image Engineering was responsible for many of the imaginative ways that the maniacal Freddy Krueger disposed of his victims in the dream world. Unlike the computer generated visual effects of today which are accomplished in post-production, this was a pre-production project that required a performance with the actors during the live action shooting. Lets take a look at how we seemingly made a bathroom sink and a television come to life as the personification of the evil Freddy.

Various components used to create a faucet knob
Molds and castings used to create the faucet knob, based on Anton Tremblay's drawing.

While most of the crew focused on the inner mechanisms, my task was to make the visible exterior of the transforming props. I worked under the guidance of the brilliant Anton Tremblay, who designed the look of the specialty props for this project. The transforming faucet knobs were scratch-built, which I sculpted out of Bondo, styrene plastic, and wood from Anton's drawings. Molds were made from the original master, then many castings were produced for use in the various transformation stages. The casting materials depended on the function of each prop: rock hard fast-cast, stretchy Smooth-On rubber, flexible urethane rubber, or breakable stearin wax. One knob turned into a grabbing hand, the other morphed into the obligatory Krueger claw. Later on during the films principal photography, I also puppeteered the transforming faucet knobs. Basically, I was hidden away under the sink, struggling to perform using a video monitor to see what I was doing while interacting with Patricia Arquette!

Inner mechanism of the nightmare faucet knob
The inner mechanism designed to pop blades out of the handle and bend upward.

Scary claw pops out of a bathroom sink
Plumbing mutated into a skeletal Freddy claw; the mechanical prop posed on set.

The Freddy Krueger television
The final stage of the transforming television, with dummies of Jennifer and Freddy's head.

Anton's design for the Krueger television also was fabricated from scratch. There needed to be a watchable functioning TV, several transforming versions that housed all the mechanics, as well as one to fit actor Robert Englund. I don't know much about how the mechanics were built as that is not my expertise, however the mechanical departments work was amazing! I modeled the components on the face of the TV separately: speaker grills, screen bezel, knobs, and decorative doodads. Multiple castings of the parts were made and applied to each television, all of them carefully painted to look the same. Image Engineering did not have a ventilated spray booth, so the casting and painting process was conducted in the alley outside since the vapors were very nasty and toxic. Nevertheless, I had a fair amount of exposure to noxious fumes on this job! The mechanical arms were dressed with real electronic components including tubes that were wired to glow. As fans of the Elm Street series know, Freddy Krueger became a wise-cracking comedian in this movie. The television sequence became iconic, due to Freddy's famous line, "This is it Jennifer. Your big break in TV. Welcome to prime time bitch!"

Artist working on the TV from Nightmare on Elm Street 3
Joel Fletcher details the mechanical arm of the transforming television.

Mechanical arm
The robotic arm for the breakout version of the TV.

Special effects artists pose by the Freddy TV
Joel Fletcher, Joe Starr, Phillip Hartman, Ralph Miller, and Ron MacInnes

Three artists goofing around
Visiting artist Bruce Lau, technician Kelly Mann, and designer Anton Tremblay ham it up.

The collaborative efforts of the Image Engineering team resulted in some really impressive special effects. I'm proud of the work we did, even though it was all for a gruesome horror movie. I love sculpting and model making, bringing something into existence from raw materials. I learned a tremendous amount about the fabrication process on this job; however I urge caution to anyone considering this sort of art form as a profession. The materials, glues, paints, and exotic chemicals that are routinely used by model makers can be hazardous to your health, and even deadly in the long run! Fortunately most of my work in the film business has been in animation. If I continued to do a lot of prop and model making jobs, maybe I would be an unintentional victim of Freddy Krueger by now!

Story © 2012
Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors © 1987 New Line Cinema


A look behind the scenes of art-making and other musings by .

fractal picture

See More Articles:

Howie and pumpkin from The Nightmare Before Christmas Skellington Incident

Pillsbury doughboy baking a pie Stop-Motion Doughboy

Aliens from Encounter movie Making ENCOUNTER

mouse riding motorcycle Stop-Motion Field Trip

nimslo camera Anaglyph Technique

Frog as a knight St. Frog and the Dragon

Mother and father Umblebum Meet the Umblebums

Carrot puppets from Red Riding Hood and the Well Fed Wolf Fairy Tale Surrealism

3 cavemen Sculpting Cavemen

A reindog and elf The Red-Nosed Reindog

Disney popsicles Making Mickey's Parade

Freddy nightmare Nightmares Made Real

tattooed lady Tattoo Parlor Diorama

face of Night Scorp Gigantic Scorpions

face of Night Scorp Chroma Key Animation

bodybuilder Frank Zane posing The Living Body as Sculpture

Man runs in a sewer movie set Starting at the Bottom

Animated bottle cap character Zippy the Cap

Stone Giant stop-motion puppet The End of Dynamation

Candy on a boys face Eye Candy

Dancing figures Lucid Dream

Talking deer and moose hunting trophies Wacky Trophy Heads

Handstanding figure over river valley Making THE WANDERER

Portrait of man made of fruit Creating a Fruit Man

Portrait of Jack Skellington Nightmare Still Photos

Spacecraft Wreckage Spaceship Junkyard

Closeup of a robot Models and Props pt. 1

Watch shaped like a mouse Models and Props pt. 2

Train locomotive Models and Props pt. 3

Face of a cute dinosaur Young Iguanodon

ice skating hersheys kisses Lively Kisses

shopping mall Making Mall Mania

powerful super hero Extreme Heroic Poses

The character Kait from Gears of War Motion Mixture

Clay fox sculpture in the snow Pee-Wee Christmas Title

A singing cartoon box character Lounge Singer

An animated sea lion Sea Lion Ballet
Masked monster The Evil Within

© 2006-2022 Joel Fletcher