RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Summer is coming, and with it big summer movies, with computer-created aliens, battles and creatures. But not all filmmakers want to use CGI, and many of them at a recent gathering called Monsterpalooza. Beth Accomando of member station KPBS was there, too, to talk with some monsters and their makers.
BETH ACCOMANDO, BYLINE: In 1931, Frankenstein's monster was reanimated on the screen and a horror legend was born.
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SARA KARLOFF: I'm awfully glad I didn't see him in those make ups. I would have probably been a damaged child.
ACCOMANDO: That's Sara Karloff. Her father, Boris Karloff, was the man who brought Mary Shelley's creature to vivid life.
KARLOFF: Well, the make-up took almost four hours to put on every morning and three hours to take off every night.
ACCOMANDO: That's the downside to creating monsters outside a computer - it takes a lot of time and work. But Monsterpalooza pays tribute to the artists and craftsmen who achieve movie magic through practical effects. That means creating the effect on the set and in camera. It could be the Frankenstein monster's elaborate make-up, or things like stop motion animation, suit actors, puppets or animatronics. On the convention floor, there are monsters everywhere. Some are in mid-transformation as make-up artists work their magic right before your eyes. There are also werewolves, zombies and aliens wandering freely. You can also find humans like actor Chris Sarandon.
CHRIS SARANDON: The idea of being an actor and totally transforming yourself and as we're talking, I'm just looking at a woman who is carrying what looks like a baby but it's actually a little monster.
ACCOMANDO: Sarandon was on a panel to discuss the 1985 film "Fright Night" where he played a vampire.
SARANDON: Welcome to Fright Night, for real.
I don't think there's any doubt that there is more of a verisimilitude in the moment and you really look like the thing that you are portraying, rather than you're standing there with buttons all over your face so that the CGI people can go in and lay in the face later.
ACCOMANDO: The late Stan Winston wasn't opposed to using CGI. He was always on the cutting edge of new technology and co-founded Digital Domain, a groundbreaking digital and visual effects studio. But his passion was for doing as much as possible live and on the set, says his son Matt Winston.
MATT WINSTON: Acting is reacting. That's really what great acting is. And by giving an actor a live dinosaur on the set or a live zombie on the set, something that's right there in their face, no acting is required.
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ACCOMANDO: Winston now runs the Stan Winston School of Character Arts, which preserves and promotes the style of effects his dad made famous on films like "Jurassic Park" and "Terminator." The practical approach is still attractive to young filmmakers. CGI may be able to create anything but because it's not grounded in the real world and forced to obey the laws of physics your brain doesn't always buy into it, says visual effects artist Christian Beckman.
CHRISTIAN BECKMAN: You know, when you have a performer in a suit, that is the movement, that's your body, that's your, you know, anatomy. There are some CG characters that you're going to watch and they just don't have the right movement and right away you lose it.
ACCOMANDO: Make-up effects are being celebrated in reality TV shows like "Face Off" that play like extended DVD bonus features, revealing the tricks of the trade. Make-up effects artist Frank Ippolito was featured on "Face Off."
FRANK IPPOLITO: And that's kind of helping to bring a little bit of a practical effects renaissance. I think it's great for the industry all around.
ACCOMANDO: A renaissance fueled by the likes of Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings Trilogy" and Guillermo Del Toro's "Hellboy" films. These movies mix old and new technology to create fantastic worlds. Jackson's "The Hobbit" won't open until December. In the meantime, eager fans have been consoling themselves with behind-the-scenes glimpses of the Shire and all its strange and wonderful inhabitants - most of which will seamlessly blend practical effects with CGI. For NPR News, I'm Beth Accomando.
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MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
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