May 9, 2024

Sasquash Sunset: Creature Creation

In the misty forests of North America, a family of Sasquatches—possibly the last of their enigmatic kind— embark on an absurdist, epic, hilarious, and ultimately poignant journey over the course of one year. These shaggy and noble giants fight for survival as they find themselves on a collision course with the ever-changing world around them. Starring Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg, acclaimed directors David and Nathan Zellner (Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter) bring you the greatest Bigfoot story ever told.

Co-directors and brothers David and Nathan Zellner’s fascination with the Sasquatch long predates this one-of-a-kind feature film. It began in childhood and was fostered by their love of the TV series InSearchof…(1977 to 1982). Hosted by Leonard Nimoy, the show was all about strange phenomena, from UFOs to the Loch Ness monster. “Bigfoot was the one that I remember being the most obsessed with, because of that footage, the Patterson–Gimlin film,” says David.

Key to the success of Sasquatch Sunset was the design and construction of the perfect Sasquatch costume. Knudsen had worked with visual effects artist Steve Newburn (Beau Is Afraid) on multiple projects and thought he’d be perfect for this film.

Says Nathan, “We had to have a conversation before approaching Newburn because this is not a big budget movie. We’d have to figure out a way to do this with good quality but also inexpensively. Luckily for us he really wanted to do a Bigfoot.”

“One of my all-time favorite movies is Harry and the Hendersons. But every Sasquatch I've ever seen has been a letdown to me,” says Newburn. Sasquatch Sunset was the perfect opportunity to create something memorable and distinct.

Campellone says, “Primates are the holy grail for FX makeup suit work in design, and Bigfoot in particular has a certain allure to it.”

Newburn’s team would be several departments—FX makeup, hair, and costume—all rolled into one. He understood the challenge inherent in the film: “Working with this cast on a film with no human roles and dialogue, I thought, oh this is really interesting. No one's ever quite done a Sasquatch like this before. The high bar, to me, was always Harry and the Hendersons—but that was a full mechanical head, and we were trying to do this with makeup, without the mechanics.” That meant no puppeteers or radio-controlled servos to create the Sasquatches’ facial expressions. “Everything becomes about the acting performance and emoting through the prosthetics.”

Using the actors’ headshots for reference, Newburn’s team created Photoshop renderings of each character. He says, “We designed over the people's faces to get the spacing between their eyes and distances between nose and mouth and chin and everything to get the proper proportions of the actors.”

Each character design was tailored to fit the role. Nathan’s character was crafted to look every bit the angry, buffoonish brute, for example, whereas Keough’s character “has always got that resigned, thousand-yard stare,” he says.

To make the prosthetic appliances, the cast flew to Toronto to have life casts made. The molds are made from having toothpaste-like silicone smeared over their entire head and shoulders which is then wrapped in a layer of plaster bandages until it hardens. Molds were made of the hands and feet as well. The prosthetics created using the life casts as models and are limited to 3/16” thick. “Anything thicker than that and the actor’s facial movement can’t read through,” Newburn says.

The actors’ tolerance for the face-and-body-casting process varied. “The face mold was very frightening,” says Keough. “I almost had a panic attack. You can't move at all and it's very heavy and it's very frightening.”

Eisenberg says, “It's a terrifying experience if you're a little claustrophobic because there's a point at which you think you're going to die. You lose sound and you realize that people could have all just left the room and you would just be stuck here forever.”

Newburn’s team also creates a plaster full-body casts which are used as molds to make mannequins of the actors, for designing and constructing each actor’s prosthetics and costuming. The technology used to make the body suits, Newburn says, is still the tried-and-true foam latex that has been used since The Wizard of Oz. “It’s the most forgiving material and has the most leeway. It's the go-to for 99 out of 100 bodysuits,” he says.

“These suits were very custom fit,” says Nathan. “So, when you move there's a level of realism, especially on the face and the hands.”

“The design of the costumes is probably the most important step in the timeline,” says Campellone. “The creature design team worked under such an incredibly shortened window of time that we really didn't know how the Sasquatch suits were going to look until two days before we started shooting. That was very nerve-wracking, but also exciting.”

Newburn, “It's been one of my favorite projects I've ever done because it's so unusual.”

Get tickets to Sasquatch Sunset (2023)

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