Though many know what Celtics player Kyrie Irving looks like on the basketball court, it took weeks of effort to make him and the rest of the team look older for the filming of the movie Uncle Drew. The team at Atlanta-based Blue Whale Studios worked with Irving, Shaquille O’Neal, Lisa Leslie, and more to add age their faces but not their skills.
Established in 2000, Blue Whale Studios draws upon the collective experience of its founders, Jonah Levy and Matt Silva, to bring movie characters and settings to life. Collectively, their portfolio spans working on characters for blockbuster hits like Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and The Vampire Diaries, to creating life-sized models of characters from video games like Gears of War and SMITE.
These full-service special effects utilize a variety of disciplines, including sketching, digital prints, casting and molding, sculpting, and 3D printing.
“A lot of our work involves creating sketched or digital designs before we start creating pieces or go to live tests on the actor,” says Levy. “We’ll create a few iterations to send to the producer and director so they can pick before we start creating items and prosthetics in real life.”
While working on full-body pieces like those created for He-Man or Microsoft’s Gears of War 4, Blue Whale Studios used a mix of digital modeling, 3D printing, molding and casting, and painting.
“Gears of War took two months worth of work, and we had to make 14 sets of armor,” says Silva. “We printed a lot of 3D pieces individually, which we later puzzled together.”
The Studio’s facilities includes a room, kept at a sweltering 101 degrees, full of 3D printers whirring constantly to create many of the pieces they need for a final composition.
“If it gets too cold, it can mess up the prints,” says Silva. “Air can cause lamination gaps, so we always keep the door closed. The printers working naturally heat up the room.”
While the studio utilizes several cutting-edge technologies, some of their work is still done with good old pen and paper. The final dissected symbiote look used in the movie Venom took the team four weeks to design, starting with traditional hand-drawn techniques.
It was later redrawn digitally before Blue Whale Studios started making pieces for it.
The studio even produces a custom tattoo line for the purpose of movie recreations.
“If you go online, you can’t say, ‘Oh I found this tattoo online, and I want to use that in a movie,’ because the artist who created that tattoo owns the artwork and if you do that, you’ll get sued,” said Levy. Historically, tattoo artists have successfully sued up to $2 million dollars for this.
So when Blue Whale Studios was asked to recreate Tom Hardy’s tattoo for his stunt double, Levy sketched and digitally recreated photos of the tattoo sent by Hardy’s makeup artist.
Once complete, the movie studio printed out the tattoo and applied it to the stunt double’s arm, and Blue Whale Ink was born .
“In a film, you’re not really going to see the stunt double’s face, but you’re certainly going to see his arm,” said Levy. “We took eight rounded photos and recreated it flat, so the two would look the same on film.”
Despite the variety of movies and games Blue Whale Studios has worked on, if you ask them which film was their favorite, you won’t get an answer. All of their work experiences have provided something new to learn from.
However, the two owners do have some key advice for those looking to get into this special effects industry.
“Say no, more,” says Silva.
“Save more money,” says Levy. “We grew the company from really small and kept learning and growing. If I could go back and put away some money away for rainy days, I would have done that.”