Cowboys, Aliens, and Giant Scorpions


The Night Scorps animation sequences!

In 1994, animation legend David Allen (1944-1999) hired me to animate giant scorpions for the feature film Oblivion. The film was a bizarre space-western, the original "Cowboys and Aliens"! It was produced by Full Moon Entertainment, a very busy studio with many movies in production. At that time, David was running the Full Moon visual effects department, but was mostly focused on planning for his dream project, the upcoming movie Primevals. He entrusted his crew to create the work for other films such as Oblivion, under his overall supervision. I worked with Joseph Grossberg, who was responsible for the visual effects camera work and lighting. My task was to bring the giant alien scorpions, called Night Scorps, to life through stop-motion animation.

Joel Fletcher animates a gigantic scorpion for the film Oblivion
I am using surface gauges to measure the movement. Note the counterweight above.

We used three different setups: the rear-projected frame-by-frame process shot (also known as dynamation) for many of the shots, a backlit "translite" for static backgrounds with miniature ground in front for the scorpion puppets to walk on, and a full miniature set with a cliff wall for the final sequence. The Night Scorp puppets were made by the late Laine Liska, with ball and socket armatures by Jeff Taylor. They were beautifully made and moved smoothly, but they were also quite heavy. If more than two legs were off the ground, the puppets tended to sag. To solve this issue, I attached a wire to the scorpion's body and added a counterweight on the other end above the stage to reverse the force of gravity. This solution worked well, but I had to be careful to ensure that the wire was not visible when photographed.

Giant scorpions tearing apart their victim
Two giant Night Scorps tear apart the alien villain Redeye.

Cameraman and stop-motion animator filming giant alien scorpions
Joseph Grossberg and Joel Fletcher on the Oblivion stop-motion set.

Approximately 95% of the final animation was my work, but there were a couple of shots that were too complex for one animator to handle. In those shots, two Night Scorps are fighting over the villain Redeye, whom they have in their claws and are tugging on until he rips in half. Fortunately, animator Paul Jessel was available to assist me, as extra hands were needed to coordinate the back and forth pulling between the two Nightscorps. It took a lot of careful planning to rip apart the Redeye puppet frame by frame, and we added blood and guts at the end for effect. Paul and I had a lot of fun animating those shots together, like a couple of kids. However, the shot where Redeye is pulled apart was cut short in the final film. The blood and guts part was considered too gruesome and was edited out. Naturally, I was disappointed as it was the most difficult shot to animate and was very effective.

Giant scorpion and victim from the movie Oblivion
The alien Redeye torn in half by the Night Scorps.

Yes, Oblivion is known for its strange and bizarre style as a science fiction western. It has gained a cult following due to its campy style and the presence of well-known actors such as Julie Newmar, George Takei, Isaac Hayes, and Meg Foster. Some standout performances in the film include Musetta Vander as Lash, Carel Struycken as Gaunt, and Andrew Divoff as Redeye. Despite being considered a "B" movie, the Night Scorps animation sequences are arguably the best part of the film. If you are interested in seeing it, Oblivion was recently rereleased by Full Moon Entertainment.

Story © 2012
Oblivion © 1994 Full Moon Entertainment

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