Scottish-born Peter Montgomery is a man with an obsession. He is engaged in a cinematic project that’s been in the making for 8 years — though its origins go back much further. The project is called B.L.I. (Bizarre Life Institute) — an ambitious trilogy that utilises the techniques of one of his greatest sources of inspiration, stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, to tell a multi-part story about an Earth transformed into the surreal habitat of strange and dangerous mutations. Since 2002, Montgomery (pictured below with the model for one of the monsters, a “Grub”, appearing in B.L.I.) has immersed himself in his self-developed film world whenever possible, completing almost single-handedly one part of the trilogy and much of the preliminary work for the other parts. It has been a long process, which he hopes will speed up once people see what has been achieved so far.
“There isn’t a group of film makers making these films,” he commented. “I do it all myself. The directing, the writing, the producing. I even act in them [though obviously there are other actors as well]. I do the editing, visual effects, and the stop-motion work, all from scratch. Everything.”
Now that’s ambitious!
The films are low budget, and driven by passion rather than studio backing, but they reflect a belief that the old-style stop-motion animation (suitably modified by a technique of Montgomery’s own devising) is still a viable SFX technique in the age of CGI. Scifi adventure fantasies, set in a sort of post-apocalyptic environment inhabited by giant monsters of all kinds and weird surreal creatures that are the product of a mysterious radiation that has bathed the Earth, the B.L.I. films offer the perfect “playground” for Montgomery to explore the technique and to realise the imagery that has churned about in his imagination for so long.
The B.L.I. Trilogy
The Cape War was in full swing until the arrival of a strange form of radiation that put everything on hold, as vast areas of land and the animals that inhabit them were mutated beyond recognition. It was decided that all efforts be re-directed from the world’s conflicts into a global collaboration to study the strange phenomena and hopefully find a way to reverse it.
Two years later the Bizarre Life Institute (or B.L.I.) was formed, made up of game hunters, trappers, crypotzoologists and scientists whose job it was to work together in an attempt to find a way of returning the Earth to its natural state. To this end outposts were set up around the world to facilitate the B.L.I. mission.
B.L.I. Outpost (UK; approx. 60 min.; dir. Peter Andrew Montgomery)
“This is the first film set back in the days of old — Victorian times, when the B.L.I. was outposting the globe for the study of the strange mutations. This film has dinosaurs and the rest of the creatures are surreal Dali-like things. This is my favourite screenplay.
The only existing footage of B.L.I. Outpost was shot in 1997. No stop-motion FX have been created for this film yet. The footage of the live-action stuff is unrepresentative as I intend to undertake a full reworking of the original screenplay later in the coming decade. What exists represents a sort of test-run but it was far too visually complex for the technology available to me at that time.
The screenplay for B.L.I. Outpost is written and design is finalised.”
In the year 1901, some time after the coming of the strange mutating radiation, the B.L.I. have nearly completed outposting the entire planet. One of the first outposts is headed by hunter and trapper William McShea, great grandfather of Bill McShea (who will be significant in the subsequent films). His team is expecting the arrival of a new member to replace recent losses — namely James Doyle, still a young B.L.I. member hoping to gain experience at McShea’s outpost. McShea doesn’t like the B.L.I. sending him “cannon fodder”, as he puts it, as such personnel endanger the lives of everyone. Doyle does his best to impress McShea, but trouble is on the horizon in more ways than one.
It seems that the Company has sent an inspector by the name of Brock with new instructions, as McShea’s outpost has not been doing well as far as the collection of specimens is concerned. Inspector Brock says that their B.L.I. leaders want McShea and his team, including Doyle, to trap an Arogarguss — a huge subterranean Earth worm of titanic size [see conceptual drawing below — an image used in the movie]. However, according to Steven Dempson, a relative of another of the B.L.I.’s later heroes, attempting to trap the great monster has not been endorsed by the B.L.I. and such attempts in the past have never been a success, bringing only death to all who face the beast. The inspector, he claims, wants the team out of the way for some other reason.
Horns lock and traitors emerge as McShea, Dempson, Doyle and Inspector Brock venture out to capture the legendary beast of the Montantay Hills. Along the way they must pass through some terrible domains, including Birbarious and its insect giants, the Land of the Strange, Harconia, where lives the Drone [see picture below of Montgomery with the Drone] and other wonders, and Montantay itself, with its dinosaurs and other huge monsters. Here the attempted trapping of the Arogarguss and a final showdown between McShea and the Imperialist Brock will take place. But who’s on who’s side?
The People from the B.L.I. (UK; 42 min.; dir. Peter Andrew Montgomery)
“This is the second film — and it has now been completed. It is set in 1979 some years after the B.L.I. was formed. It’s a stranger tale than the first and one that I’ve been told would have suited Doug McClure.”
Filming for this one began in 1998 under the title “Surreal Specimens”. Approximately 30 minutes of the film was shot, but remained undeveloped and in storage. Several years later Montgomery began to “repurpose” this older work.
“In 2002 I remade an old movie of mine called ‘Surreal Specimen’ and renamed it ‘The People from B.L.I., adding footage and animated sequences. The B.L.I. came in at a later stage as an established institute to form the foundation of these three pictures.”
Now, in the year 1979, one man thinks he has found the answer in a creature called a Crainiachiroptera, or Drone [pictured below] — a bird mutation thought extinct by the B.L.I. The man is Bill McShea, a world-famous game hunter and trapper whose adventures in the New Earth are legendary amongst his peers. However, despite his discovery, the Company wants to close down this outpost. The question is, why? On the arrival of a debt collector (Frank Brock), McShea arranges a trip to the location of the bird and all hell breaks loose when the truth outs…
Note on The Drone, aka Crainiachiroptera. “This model was made from real crows’ wings defeathered and siliconed onto ball-and-socket armatures. The bulk of the ball-and-socket joints for this creature were made by John Write Modelmaking in Bristol and sent out to me to dress with the animal parts sent in by Heads ‘N’ Tails taxidermists. John Write Modelmaking construct the props, set pieces and armatures for all Aardman animation productions. The head on the drone is a real ferret skull. I added another ball-and-socket joint to enable the jaw to move. The rest is synthetic fur and rubber latex legs. This little chap cost £350 in total, but this was a main creature in the movie. The Drone was actual size and stood at one foot high and wings when fanned were two feet across. So the blue screen had to be 8 feet by 4 feet and was very hard to light. This is the largest thing I’ve animated to date. It was a really interesting journey for me to design and bring to life on the screen — an extensive learning-curve.”
The People from the B.L.I. Trailer:
Below is a sequence from the film, incorporating live-action with the monstrous animated “Grubs”:
Above: In the crystal cluster of Harconia
Above: Use of 1998 tent footage, with 2008 visual effects added
Above: Exploding Zeppelin of the B.L.I. airfleet near the end of the movie
Above: Montgomery filming the miniature Zeppelin
for the end sequence from The People from the B.L.I.
Above: Model for the Grub Creatures
BLI Mission to the Black Mountains (UK; dir. Peter Andrew Montgomery)
“This is the third B.L.I. film and though much pre-production conceptual work has been completed, no actual footage exists as yet. Set again in 1979, it follows on from The People of the B.L.I. At the centre of it is an island that has never been added to official B.L.I. maps, as all who go there never return. The aerial battle between the B.L.I. zeppelins and a horde of weird winged creatures provides a cool scene, with B.L.I. guys shooting Gatling guns. I created these myself. They use a fire extinguisher and rotate, looking like live-fire weapons. Another terrific scene is a fight between one of these winged things and a horrible angler fish mutation with the back body of a horse. This particular film will be stuffed full of eye candy and stop-motion monsters. I also use motion blur to give the creatures a very authentic look.”
The B.L.I. have detected huge amounts of radiation from an uncharted area of the New Territories. They obtained the information from a scouting party that passed by an island known in the books as the Black Mountains, before vanishing.
The B.L.I. want to know what happened and why the radioactivity levels are so high in this particular location. They ask John Dempson to ready a team for an expedition to the island, and that he has the B.L.I.’s full technological expertise at his disposal. Soon after, five zeppelins are dispatched to this unknown land, but on arrival they are attacked by winged insect creatures and three of the airfleet are destroyed in the aerial battle that takes place.
Dempson’s ship “Titan” sends down a sophisticated robot probe to the island that returns information about the atmosphere there. It seems the air is toxic and would cause horrific mutation to those who inhale it. Dempsey and his team suit up in special gear and descend onto the island. They attempt to obtain a sample of gas from the strange vegetation, but are attacked by a weird fish creature. When one of the winged insect monsters challenges the beast, the party uses the diversion to return to the ship. During the chaos of their departure both monsters are killed by spears — but what are the humanoid creatures that threw them?
Headquarters wants one of the humanoid creatures trapped, but after analyzing the gas, Dempson wishes to blow up the island and go. But there are too many unanswered questions and leaving may prove harder than landing…
Concept Drawings of Creatures:
Above: Bipedal Spider Stag Beetle
Above: Bull Fish
Undead Backbrain asked Montgomery why he uses stop-motion animation and what there is about it that suggests that it can survive in the Age of the Computer:
I’ve been doing it for years and I like the hands-on factor that lies behind its use. I get a buzz from creating something by hand and then seeing it brought to life as authentically as possible.
I have total faith in the future of stop-motion as it looks real because it is real and with the computer
to aid its fluidity with motion blurs and such it will once again be a viable means to create any form of fantasy creature on the Cinema screen and it’s price tag is far lower that that currently of CGI.
There is certainly room for this old art form in modern times provided it’s used in the correct way. That is, for a live-action production mixed with stop-motion, the computer can be used to enhance the FX, adding motion blur where some truly stunning results can be achieved. I’ve had CG nuts say that the stop-motion is very close if not on a par with CGI when certain computer additives are incorporated into the final shot.
Look, CGI has nothing random about it as it is code — and it’s not always practical to motion capture for something like a dinosaur or a fantasy creature. So when created solely on the computer, unless at a very high and expensive level, these tend to have that signature CG motion to them. In comparison, stop-motion is created by hand and has a natural random factor already incorporated into it the minute the puppet or whatever is moved. The low budget film-maker can’t get the instant realism of a physical creation with low cost CGI. Things tend to look plastic.
Stop-motion in the traditional sense is actually in wide use in motion pictures today — in films like Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline and Chicken Run amongst other very successful big-budget productions. I truly believe that this visual effects technique is just as viable in the 21st century as it was at the start and the end of the last one.
This is a stop-motion creature designed and built by Peter Montgomery for The People from the B.L.I. He comments: “A new way of getting very authentic motion blur onto stop-motion animation. This could be used to fix old movies like Clash of the Titans and the rest. It replicates the effects of Go-motion but without the expensive computer-operated rod system. It eliminates the need to hide the legs on a puppet. And can be done with a digital camera. The end results can produce effects that look alive. Look and compare the two shots: one is the old version of stop-motion and the other is the same clip with this special secret process added. This is not done with existing software, but through a process that requires only the ability to make AVIs. I found it by accident.
More to Follow: Bizarre Life Institute: The Trilogy — Part 2
Gallery (including location shots and more images from the BLI films):
- Source: Peter Montgomery via Kaiju Search-Robot Avery. Avery would like to thank Mattman for discovering the existence of the film and exposing him to it.
- All artwork, plot summaries and film materials in this article © Peter Montgomery 2009