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About the Series

Set in a bizarre 1960's inspired version of World War II, Danger 5 is an action comedy series that follows a team of five spies on a mission to kill Hitler.

In 2011, GooRoo Animation created stop motion animated dinosaurs to interact with the live action characters in the show. The first season went to air on SBS in early 2012 and has received a number of awards since. Our stop motion dinosaurs can be seen in Episode 2 "Lizard Soldiers of the Third Reich". Danger 5 DVDs are available online or from JB Hi-Fi in Australia.

Mike and Cam from GooRoo Animation got to know the writer/director of Danger 5, Dario Russo, back in high school, when they were all entering short films into the South Australian Young Film Makers Awards, and cleaning up the competition. In 2003, all 3 were jointly named Best Young Film Makers. Since then, Dario went on to create the successful youtube series Italian Spiderman, whilst Mike and Cam established GooRoo Animation. Danger 5 was the perfect opportunity for them all to finally collaborate on a project.

Making the Dinosaurs

Whilst it is usually the painstaking task of animating that makes stop motion projects take so long to create, in this case most of our time was spent constructing the dinosaur models. To get a rough idea, it took about 4 months to design and build the models, compared to about 1 month of shooting. This is partly due to the complexity of the models required, and partly because we were delving into some new model making techniques, which took quite a bit of experimentation. The animating was completed rather quickly because there was only around 1 minute of screen time required.

Our characters have generally been quite cartoony in the past, so it was a challenge to aim for something relatively realistic. The brief was to look similar to Ray Harryhausen's stop motion T-Rex and Triceratops from the 1966 film One Million Years BC, both in appearance and movement, as they had to fit in with the 1960's setting of Danger 5.

Initially, we drew designs and sculpted models out of clay to get the shape figured out. However, the difficult part was to create a fully functional animatable puppet. We had bought some ball-and-socket human shaped armatures for a previous project that we could modify into the shapes we wanted. We used sections of this for the arms and the legs, the parts that required the most movement, and used wood and aluminium wire to construct the rest.

For the T-Rex, we decided to base the model on a toy we found, and even use some parts of it. This proved handy later on when we needed to make a replica body to explode, when shot by a tank.

For the Triceratops, everything needed to be created from scratch. We sculpted individual sections, like the torso, head, and each limb out of plasticine. All the details and skin texture was sculpted into these parts. We made various textured rollers out of Sculpey oven-bake hardening clay, that could be rolled along the plasticine to give a scaly dinosaur skin texture. Then we created plaster moulds of these plasticine parts. In the moulds, we painted a layer of latex, which eventually formed the outer skin of the dinosaur. Then we placed the armature inside the mould, elevated in the appropriate position.

Next came the fun part. This project was the first time we'd used 2 part polyurethane expanding foam. This stuff is crazy! You mix together a small portion of parts A and B, and they react, expanding about 20 times the original volume in less than a minute. We bought a hard and soft foam formula, each required for different sections of the models. We poured this mixture over the top of the armature, into the plaster moulds, and closed them up. The foam then expanded to fill the mould.

When we opened the 2 halves of the plaster mould up again, we had the final shape of that section, with the armature on the inside, covered in expanding foam to fill out the bulk of the model, without making it too heavy, then covered in a latex skin. Each of these body parts needed to be joined together at the armature, so we left the ball or socket joint exposed so we could join them together. Then we covered the seams by painting latex into the gaps.

Finally, we gave the latex skin a paint job, using special latex paints that stick to the latex and stretch when it moves without cracking. We also added a few final details like eyes, horns, swastika drapes and machine guns to complete the model. The eyes were purchased from a doll maker, the horns were made from 'Knead It', a 2 part hardening material, the swastikas were ironed onto material and attached to the model with string, and the machine guns were toys that we modified a bit to suit the situation.

The T-Rex was created in much the same way, except we had the toy model to mould the original shape from. One of the challenges for the T-Rex was that it required a highly moveable jaw, which was constantly snapping at people. We made a hinge mechanism inside the head that was controlled by a external handle, sticking out the back of its neck. This handle could be rotated to control the opening and closing of the mouth in very small increments, ideal for animating. It just meant that we either had to try to hide this handle in shot, or remove it in post frame by frame.

We also created the neck and head of a long necked dinosaur. It did not need to be anything specific, but we decided to base it on a brachiosaurus. The body didn't need to be seen and it didn't require much movement, so the armature was pretty simple; just a piece of aluminium wire bent into shape. We did the same techniques, using plaster moulds, expanding foam and latex, but only required the one mould, so this model only took one week to make. Despite being a relatively simple model compared to the others, it came up great on screen and its limited movement made it really easy to concentrate on animating just a few aspects really well.

Much of the 4 months making these models was spent waiting for plaster or latex to dry. We tried speeding things up with fan heaters, which may have helped a bit, but didn't really help the power bill. It was frustrating at times but if we were working on multiple things at once it didn't matter too much. We learned a lot from this project and will definitely be using expanding foam and latex more in the future.

Shooting the Dinosaurs

There were quite a few challenging shots to animate. The T-Rex was the most difficult, and also had the most action. He was tricky to balance and often didn't hold in the correct position, despite all the work we put into the armature and model. Fortunately, the part that needed to move the most, the jaw, was the easiest to animate. There are only a few shots where you see the whole body, so we could secure the model in a clamp or vice for more control. We often clamped his whole body to the end of our camera dolly so we could do measured movements forwards and backwards. There weren't any moving camera shots needed so we always had the dolly available to use to help with animating. It was particularly useful for the scene where the T-Rex was stuck in the window frame and lunging forward to snap at Jackson and Ilsa, because the model needed to continually move forwards and backwards.

Some of this scene with the T-Rex was shot on blue screen to composite over the live action footage. This footage was already shot, so we had to synchronise the T-Rex's lunges in time with the actors rearing back and forth. The long necked dinosaur was also shot on bluescreen and composited over the top of a miniature background. The miniature background jungle set was roughly the same scale but it was easier to do it this way, as there were a few moving elements in the miniature establishing shot, one being a live lizard.

The Triceratops was awkward and complicated to animate too, as a four legged walk cycle can be quite difficult. We watched a bit of footage of rhinos and hippos walking to give us something to base it on. It needed to look like it was supporting a lot of weight, which was achieved by slow body movement, but quick leg movement, especially on the downward part of the step.

For the firing of the Triceratops's machine guns, we just changed the lighting each frame so the flashes lit up his face, and jittered the guns a little. We added a few airborne shells flying off in post, before handing over the footage to the editors for the final touches. They added muzzle flashes, which made it look much more believable (if that's possible for a Nazi dinosaur firing machine guns!)

Blowing up the T-Rex was good fun. We worked with pyrotechnician Mark Hollowell of Explosive Effects to get the explosion done really well. We did numerous tests, splattering a mixture of paper mache, mince and red food dye (to make up the insides of a dinosaur) all over poor Mark's shed. We had to get the balance right, between explosion flash, and seeing the chunks fly everywhere. The tendency was often to go for too much gunpowder, perhaps because of Mark's background in live action special effects. With miniature explosions, we eventually learned that less looked better, as you were able to see more of what happened, especially shooting in slow motion.

When it came to the actual shoot day, we had everything prepared and just put our replica model on set, filled with our nasty flesh mix, and painted over with brown T-Rex skin coloured paint so it looked almost the same as the main models skin. It was captured brilliantly, as pieces of the dinosaur splattered all over the surrounding building and street. This explosion was a great way to finish the project. It marked the end of shooting for our dinosaurs and the end of production altogether for the first season of Danger 5.