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Trailer for the Farrelly Brothers' feature film "The Three Stooges."

CREATIVE BOOM: Daft Punk's Discovery at 20: Collaborators on Crafting the Iconic Robot Look and Revolution

Daft Punk's Discovery at 20: Collaborators on Crafting the Iconic Robot Look and Revolution

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March 2001: former humans Daft Punk unleash Discovery onto the world, their seminal sophomore LP which changes the dance scene forever. A month or two earlier, the French house duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter showcased their robotic new look in legendary UK magazine The Face, changing the look of music with equal impact.

A whole generation of producers would disguise themselves over the next twenty years with masks and helmets of their own making. The main man behind the revolution was the founder of Alterian Inc. and Co-founder of Oxcart Assembly Tony Gardner, a Californian SFX legend who’s helped transform everyone from Sacha Baron Cohen to director Spike Jonze. As Creative Boom learns, it was actually the latter who recommended Gardner to the act, having worked with Tony on 1999’s Three Kings and Daft Punk themselves on classic videos Spike directed for them like ‘Da Funk’.

“They were looking to create personas that were more specific and long-term because they’d usually put on a disguise or a mask for performances for the sole purpose of masking their identity, without thinking of the image,” Tony tells us over video chat. “The goal was to create an identity for them that would continue with longevity. They had an idea they wanted to be robots which they wanted to incorporate into cartoon form into anime music videos for Interstella 5555, and then have the robots ‘come alive’ for the new album.”

Luis Sanchis remembers this real-life realisation well; after all, the French creative was the one who photographed the duo for Face magazine’s rather eye-opening spread. As these (NSFW) scans demonstrate, the robots were posed in some very human scenarios indeed, chilling with a bunch of laughing nudists being the most memorable example.

“They wanted to portray a day in the life of Daft Punk,” Luis tells us in a phone call from New York. “I came up with some of the scenarios, like the one with the people naked. That shot was actually taken in the Los Angeles house they were staying in at the time. We hired people from a real nudist colony, and as I was preparing the lights they came in – and all of a sudden, they were naked!”

Original gauntlets and helmets (Courtesy of Tony Gardner)

The Face shoot took place in late 2000, by which point the playful, textural work of the photographer defined the magazine’s look. Though already a seasoned pro with years of experience behind him, working with robots still posed a unique set of challenges for Luis.

“They had to wear the helmets with a backpack (powering their LED displays), so their clothes had to be bigger sizes to hide the backpacks. The tricky part was one shot where they’re reclining in loungers by a pool. We had to make a hole behind their heads to put the cables connected to the backpack: There was no Photoshop back then, everything had to be done in-camera. But people like to hire me for very challenging projects, so I know how to execute them well.”

Tony reveals the helmets and backpacks were equally challenging to make. At the time, he and his colleagues at SFX studio Alterian Inc. were busy making prosthetics for the Farrelly Brothers flick Shallow Hal. Their stock-in-trade came in handy when making ribbed hoods for the costumes out of foam latex. Everything else, though was a real journey of discovery.

Townspeople helmets for Daft Punk's Electroma (Courtesy of Tony Gardner)

“Inside our shop was like two different worlds,” Tony recalls. “It was big bodysuits over here (for Shallow Hal), and on the other side, it was all hardware and robotics and people figuring out how to vacuum-metalise fibreglass. We had no real previous experience in things like metalising, chroming, metal plating, LED technology, or anything this complex! Stuff like the circuitry, the readouts and the manufacturing of the LED screens themselves, it was all within learning distance, but how to program that and create a console that Daft Punk could then wear on their arm to control those facial features? We needed to reach out to people that were already experts in the field.”

Experts who got involved included one of the main brains behind those Jumbotrons which embarrass couple spectators in baseball stadiums. The result allowed Daft Punk to communicate with those around them through their sci-fi helmets.

Behind the scenes filming Daft Punk's Electroma (Courtesy of Tony Gardner)

“We pre-programmed a bunch of responses and visuals on Guy-Manuel’s helmet and taught Thomas how to do the keypad on his arm so that they could really be in control of their characters. Thomas got into the programming right away. He’s such a smart guy, and he came up with some really cool stuff. He’s also a very communicative person, so that’s why he has literal text on his face. It’s literally sort of who he is.”

Guy-Man, as Tony calls his old friend, is a quieter and more introspective sort of Punk, which inspired the team to output all his communication as pictographs. As he says, “Whether it was a heart showing up or rain coming down, there was never a word on his face, ever.”

Early concepts of the bots by Alex Courtes and Martin Fougerol were inspired by cult movies like The Man Who Fell to Earth and Phantom of the Paradise. These designs originally envisioned a red visor for Thomas and a golden NASA-style one for Guy-Manuel, until it hit that the latter was impossible for photographers like Luis of The Face to shoot.

“We realised quickly that everything in the room reflected in the gold visor,” explains Tony. “You couldn’t take a photo of Guy-Man without seeing the camera and everything in the room! All of a sudden we were trying to dull down the visor’s metallic finish so we could infer that robot vibe, but still make it function.”

“When you shoot a flash at Guy-Man now you don’t see anything inside the helmet because his faceplate has multiple layers. We had to create another interior layer like a tight black mesh that allowed him to see through it but didn’t allow people to see him. That mesh layer had to allow the LEDs to read through it as well.” Tony reveals the tinting for the helmet was done by a company in Ohio that manufactures astronaut helmets, an interesting precursor to recent campaign work Tony has done for NASA with his creative studio Oxcart Assembly. Another interesting factoid? The Punk robots were originally as hairy as us human folk.

Daft Punk's Electroma (Courtesy of Tony Gardner)

“The characters actually had hair on their heads up until, I don’t know, half an hour before their first photoshoot,” Tony reveals. “That’s how fluid and organic the process was when we were designing and fitting.”

Once Discovery was out of the door, Tony and team worked on elements of the live show in support of the album. The collaboration continued in the form of promos for third LP Human After All. It ended with Daft Punk’s Electroma, the cult art house film celebrating its 15th anniversary this year that finishes with – spoiler alert – a rather explosive ending for the robots.

“We thought everything was gonna end after Electroma,” says Tony. “It’s like; they’re done, we blew them up, we burned them down, that’s the end of it.”

Daft Punk's Electroma (Courtesy of Tony Gardner)

Of course, you can’t keep a good concept down. The robots would make a return in TRON: Legacy and later music videos in updates on the original Alterian makes of Y2K, proving that Daft Punk would be forever associated with their robot guises. While the musical DNA of Discovery is all over any retro dance or pop track with soft rock and disco elements, the album’s visual impact remains harder to miss.

It’s easy to forget that there was little else like it on the scene when the robots first emerged in Face’s February 2001 issue. In fact, the rebranding of Daft Punk as robots was a vital push behind Discovery’s marketing. As Luis explains to us, even though his Face shoot has the feel of cinema from the ’70s-’80s period the Punks were borrowing sounds from, the music itself wasn’t available to him during the planning stages.

“The pictures weren’t influenced by the music at all,” he tells us. “They had their own identity. It was more about introducing the helmets.” The photographer’s work undoubtedly pushed the glowing, otherworldly look of these aliens into pop culture, changing the rules for how an artist could market and represent an identity in music. Not that either creative could have realised it at the time.

“I think as time’s gone by we’ve obviously realized the impact that our combined work has had,” says Tony. “When you’re in the moment, you don’t realise something can have that sort of lasting impact. You just dive in with enthusiasm and try to figure it out.”

“It was an enjoyable experience, and it was exciting, and it was new. It’s a very creative group of people, and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of that.”

“It doesn’t feel like 20 years ago,” Luis concludes. “It really feels like it was yesterday.”

The futurists of Daft Punk, timeless after all.

THE MUTANT SEASON: Episode 173: Tony Gardner

The Mutant Season

Episode 173: Tony Gardner


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Gil takes Mutant Season on the road to special effects artist Tony Gardner’s studio to talk all things special effects and his work on the upcoming Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse!

SHOCK WAVES: Episode 47: FX Legend Tony Gardner

Shock Waves

FX Legend Tony Gardner


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Join your hosts Rob Galluzzo, Elric Kane, Rebekah McKendry and Ryan Turek as they discuss all the latest horrors! First up, the gang report back from the Monsterpalooza convention in Pasadena. Elric caught THE VOID and the new Swedish Shudder series JORDSKOTT. Ryan reports back on DIG TWO GRAVES and Scream Factory's release of TALES FROM THE HOOD. Rebekah tells us about David Lynch's LOST HIGHWAY and TANK 432. Rob talks about WITCHTRAP, HOBGOBLINS and the new PHANTASM box set! Then we welcome to the show special FX legend Tony Gardner! We get to learn about Tony's formative years, getting his big break on RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, how the majority of the jaw-dropping FX were pulled off in the 1988 remake of THE BLOB, and what it's been like to man Chucky for the last 3 CHILD'S PLAY movies, including the recently wrapped CULT OF CHUCKY. All this and more on the latest episode of Shock Waves!

SPOILER ALERT RADIO: Tony Gardner - Makeup & Special Effects Designer

Spoiler Alert Radio

Tony Gardner – Makeup & Special Effects Designer


Tony Gardner is an American Makeup and Special Effects Designer that has been involved in films including: 127 Hours, Zombieland, Hairspray, A Dirty Shame, Three Kings, Jack Ass: The Movie, Shallow Hal, There’s Something About Mary, and Darkman. Tony also contributed to the Daft Punk music videos for Technologic, The Prime Time of Your Life and their feature-length film Daft Punk’s Electroma. Beyond the film-making arena, he also designed and created the popular GEICO Cavemen characters.

THE PICKING BRAINS PODCAST: Tony Gardner: The Living Dead, Chucky, And An FBI Investigation

The Picking Brains Podcast

Tony Gardner: The Living Dead, Chucky, And An FBI Investigation


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This episode continues The series on Makeup FX artists. The guest is legendary makeup artist Tony Gardner. From his work with Rick Baker on Thriller and Harry and The Hendersons, to his stunning work on the classic designs on Return Of The Living Dead, Darkman, Zombieland, & 127 Hours. The list of credits just goes on and on for him and is truly amazing. Tony has a ton of great insight on the industry through his decades of experience in all genres of film. Thanks again to Tony for the time and discussion.

LOS ANGELES TIMES | WORKING HOLLYWOOD: Tony Gardner’s Special Effects Get Free Reign in “Robot and Frank”

Tony Gardner's special effects get free rein in 'Robot & Frank'

Working Hollywood: For Tony Gardner, the special effects whiz behind 'Robot & Frank,' taking flights of fancy is all in a day's work.

August 25, 2012|By Cristy Lytal, Los Angeles Times

One of the main characters in "Robot & Frank" looks like a robot, walks like a robot and talks like a robot, but it isn't a robot. It's a suit created by makeup and special effects designer Tony Gardner and his company, Alterian Inc.

The futuristic film stars Frank Langella as a retired jewel thief who makes a new friend who has more servos than scruples. Gardner's robot suit makes a convincing costar, thanks to the voice of actor Peter Sarsgaard and the movements of dancer Rachael Ma.

Gardner developed his talent for creating believable illusions as a child growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland.

"I was 5 or 6, and I remember my grandmother bought me a magic set for Christmas," said Gardner, 48. "It had this card box in it. You put a card in it, and you close it and open it, and the card's gone. It was one of those defining moments for me where I just had this adrenaline rush that maybe I've spent my whole life trying to re-create. That's the part of it that I really enjoy: making people invest in stuff and believe that it's real."

At age 18, a chance meeting with special makeup effects legend Rick Baker led to a job sweeping floors on the set of Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Soon after, Gardner dropped out of USC to work for Baker full-time.

Since then, Gardner has built the killer Chucky doll for the "Child's Play" movies, the fat suit for John Travolta in 2007's "Hairspray" and the severed arm for 2010's "127 Hours." His specialty is creating super-realistic body parts — and his work on 1999's "Three Kings" actually caught the attention of the FBI and the Arizona police.

"For whatever reason, they were convinced that we had taken a homeless person off the street in Arizona, shot him up with bullets and filmed with a high speed camera," he said. "It's a backhanded compliment, really, to have the FBI investigate you on what you did with a fake body. It validates that what you did was very realistic and that people believed it."

The medical community also finds his work convincing, and Gardner has a side company that supplies silicone dummies to train doctors, nurses and other professionals.

But Gardner enjoys embarking on flights of fancy as much as replicating reality.

"With something like the robot for 'Robot & Frank,' it's pretty much free rein," he said. "You're presenting it as its own identity, its own character. So those are fun to do."

The need for speed: Alterian had just over a month to create the white, humanoid robot suit. "The nice thing with something that's robotic is there's a lot of symmetry in parts, so your left thigh can be your right thigh," said Gardner. "Taking a design approach where you're trying to duplicate pieces on both sides really helped save us time. We went through our boxes of spare parts to see if there were additional pieces that we could use from other projects or even just ideas to use. And we had a couple elements that we were able to pull, just to save a few days here or there."

Woodworking: Creating the robot involved some very old-fashioned techniques. "Aaron Romero, who's one of our designers and effects technicians at Alterian, does woodworking and cabinetry," said Gardner. "He actually built all these pieces [of the robot suit] out of wood. We pulled white plastic with a vacuum pump over top of that to create plastic shells that are a duplicate of his wooden forms. So we ended up with all these pieces that were hollow and super-lightweight that we then needed to assemble into some format that a person could wear."

The shape of things: Gardner didn't want what he built to look like a person in a robot suit. "You try to do things design-wise where you're eliminating the concept of the height of a neck to make it look more compact and kill the human silhouette," he explained. "We were also trying to come up with different ideas to make it look non-human in some of its functions. There's a scene where the robot is safecracking and spinning a dial really fast. We attached the hand to the dial and spun it really fast on a motor, so that the hand was spinning faster than something a person inside a suit could be doing. So we were always looking for little things like that."

Robot sitter: Alterian's job didn't end once filming started. "You have to realize that the person inside this suit is dependent at a certain point on someone else for their well-being on the most basic level," said Gardner. "Because once your arms are locked in position, and you're thirsty or you need your head off, you really are requiring someone else to assist you. So you're the artist, and you're the parent, and you're the effects guy all that same time."