Originally created 07/11/97

Slime time



LOS ANGELES (AP) - The movie business always has been a little slimy. But these days it's downright disgusting - and we're not talking about talent agents.

From "Anaconda" to "Men in Black," Hollywood is swimming in slime. Glop, mucus, spittle and saliva are drenching more alien creatures than ever - and the next surge of monster movies promises no drought of ooze. "Alien Resurrection," "Spawn," "Mimic," "Starship Troopers" and "Species 2" are mired in muck.

"We would never put an alien on screen without slime," says Tom Woodruff Jr., a leading slop specialist. Adds Frank Mancuso Jr., the producer of the "Species" films: "Anything that our creatures do is slime-heavy."

Hollywood's fascination with viscous, glutinous gel dates back to 1956's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (featuring mucus-covered pods) and 1958's "The Blob" (where a town is attacked by something resembling extraterrestrial Jell-O).

More recently, sputum factored in "Ghostbusters," in which Bill Murray yelled, "He slimed me!," to the original "Alien," where a space creature spent as much time excreting slime as devouring astronauts. Sprays of the sticky stuff also grossed out audiences for "The Exorcist" and "The Legend of Hell House." Cable TV's Nickelodeon has made its comical green slime, called "gack," a children's favorite.

What sets the new crop of movies apart is not only slime's frequency but also its permutations. "Men in Black's" gunk is bright blue in one scene. The reptilian vomit in "Anaconda" was enhanced by computer-created digestive juices, with separate technicians making digital drool, spittle and slime.

The next "Alien" movie, due Nov. 26, promises to deliver a Niagara of slime: The sequel's special effects team used no less than 15 55-gallon drums of the stuff.

The appeal is twofold. Slime is just plain yucky - think snails, dead fish, reptiles and Mickey Rourke's hair. One of the slippery characters in "Men in Black" is called "The Slug Guy."

Slime is also photogenic.

"The great thing about slime is that it adds depth and another layer to the creature," says Alec Gillis, who teamed with Woodruff on "Alien Resurrection" and Nov. 7's "Starship Troopers." "It gives you the feeling that something is oozing out - you're seeing into the wet inner-workings of the creature."

"Slime is very gross," says Christophe Hery, the associate visual effects supervisor for "Spawn," opening Aug. 1. The movie's Violator creature is particularly phlegmy, with mucus hanging from the beast's mouth, armpits and elbows. "He's an ugly monster from hell so we wanted to achieve different levels of drool and saliva," Hery says.

Because slime is both shiny and translucent, it photographs well.

"It allows you to play with light and highlight certain aspects of the creature," Mancuso says from the set of "Species 2," scheduled to come out next summer. "It allows filmmakers to guide the audience where they should be looking."

A telltale trace of slime can also portend bad news.

With complex programs not unlike those used to animated dinosaurs in the "Jurassic Park" movies, Hery's Industrial Light and Magic and other special effects houses are now generating slime on computer screens.

"It's a real three-dimensional entity and it reacts to lighting," Hery says of the digital slime. "And we can give it the speed we want and make it stick to anything we want."

When Jon Voight's character is ejected from the guts of the giant serpent in "Anaconda's" signature scene, he's drenched in drool. When the film was actually shot, Voight's stunt double was gooed up in "practical" slime - stringy gunk applied by hand. In post-production, layer upon layer of digital slime was added via computer. The scene lasts no more than a few seconds and took Nelson's Sony Imageworks two months to complete.

"It was the grossest shot - we had different people add digital drool, spittle and slime," says John Nelson, "Anaconda's" visual effects supervisor. Nelson explains slime is what covers Voight, drool is what drips from the snake's mouth and spittle is the mist the animal spits out.

"If something is throwing up something, you expect it to be covered with viscous stuff with junk in it and our character was," Nelson says. "It's one of those scenes that is just over the top."

It's one thing to study a whale in crafting a digital Moby Dick, but how does a computer animator research drool? "Well, I've got a three-week old baby and a 4-year-old, so I've seen a lot of dripping saliva," Hery says.

Despite the advent of high-tech duplicates, some slime specialists insist on using practical goo whenever possible. The slop, made largely of harmless methyl cellulose, comes as a ready-to-mix powder and pre-stirred liquid.

"Digital slime doesn't look nearly as good as real slime," Mancuso says.

"Practical slime always looks better," says Gillis. "It's always best to start with the real and add the digital later."

Working with real slime has its drawbacks. The set can be as slippery as greased ice. And even though movie slime is non-toxic, it's not non-messy.

"The alien was constantly drooling, leaving a trail behind him," says Woodruff, who donned an alien suit and was drenched in slime for "Alien Resurrection." "I can't tell you how much equipment came back just covered in slime. There was a lot of cleanup."