The ever-changing world of monster special effect is examined in Creature Designers: The Frankenstein Complex. The love of monsters comes from a deep seeded fear of the unknown, which is with us from our earliest memories. From the early works of Lon Chaney and Jack P. Pierce to the 1980s “rock stars” of Stan Winston, Rick Baker, and Rob Bottin, movies have been bringing monsters to life. With the rise of CGI effects in the 1990s, the practical work of these masters is in danger of being forgotten.
It was in the late 1970s when the “Special Make-Up Effect” credit was officially established, often in relation to the films worked on by Rick Baker, who is considered to be one of the all-time greats when it comes to these types of special effects. Creature Designers: The Frankenstein Complex features interviews with the likes of Baker, Alec Gillas (Starship Troopers), Phil Tippet (Robocop), Chris Wallas (Gremlins), Steve Johnson (The Abyss), who talk about the evolution of creature special effects, which have utilized prosthetic make-up, animatronics, stop motion, and finally CGI. The film also features the opinions of filmmakers, such as Guillermo del Toro, John Landis, Joe Dante, and Kevin Smith.
While Creature Designers: The Frankenstein Complex doesn’t give an explicit “practical effects are better than CGI” message, the film does lament how the old masters of the craft are now being overshadowed by an over-reliance on digital effects. The film even points out how the original CGI landmarks of Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park used both practical and digital effects to their strengths. Despite having a bit of a dire message when it comes to the future of practical special effects, Creature Designers: The Frankenstein Complex is still a quite fascinating look at this world that brings monsters to life.