"In the light universe, I have been darkness. Perhaps in the dark zone I will be light."

How Sylak gave Vlad her amazing fangs!

Every so often we are given the opportunity to work on something really cool.
A few years back Sylak Special Effects received a call out of the blue, from Kate (a theatrical agent in the UK, representing DZ4 Productions in Canada).
Shooting on the fourth and penultimate series of the 'cult' Sci-Fi series 'LEXX - The Dark Zone stories' had hit a small snag. Last minute casting for a major new character/villain named 'Vlad' (a vampire - as the name suggests) meant that precious little time had been left to arrange for a set of prosthetic fangs to be made before the actress was due to board her flight from London's Heathrow airport to Halifax, Canada - in a matter of only a few days!  The heat was now on.

The question was: could we manufacture a pair of custom made fangs from scratch, for a major television show (already in full production on the other side of the world); to fit precisely the mouth of an actress we had never even met yet?


...of course we could.

There was no way we were going to let down such a prestigious client. Besides, We had all been major fans of the show since it first aired in 1997.
It was a bit of a 'buzz' to think that in a matter of days our work would become part of the LEXX legacy forever!

To be honest, I was really itching to get involved with the hand props.  LEXX seemed the perfect vehicle for us to demonstrate some of the bio-technology designs we'd worked on; but that aside, this was an opportunity not to be missed!

The brief was for a set of elongated cuspid teeth - upper maxilla canines  (the classic vampire fangs). Considering the bizarre off-the-wall visual concept of the entire series, one could be forgiven for considering it a bit tame.  However we are not to question why, and as it turns out, the writers Tom De Ville and Paul Donovan had good reason why they wanted them that way. Unbeknown to us at the time, the idea was to tie LEXX's Devine Order, historically, into Earth's own Vampire folklore. The fangs could not therefore deviate too radically from the traditional appearance everyone was use to, or the connection would be lost.

The actor who was chosen for the part of Vlad was to be played by Finnish born actress Minna Aaltonen (London's Burning, Dream Team). So, after Kate had made the necessary introductions by phone, it was left up to us and Mina to agree on the best rendezvous for the first of our two meetings: primarily, to take casts of the inside of her mouth, that could then be brought back to the studio, enabling us to custom make the extensions according to her exact measurements.
Mina was living in a large, terraced townhouse in Hammersmith, London (only about eight to ten miles from Sylak Special Effects). The house benefited from a spacious basement which Mina designated as a temporary work area - hastily furnished with a micro
lab I'd brought along in a couple of heavy-duty travel boxes.
Mina was simply fantastic and very easy to get along with - a real professional.
This would be her first time undergoing this type of procedure, but after explaining the process, Mina seemed confident enough for us to take the cast without delay. It was a text book operation that ran very smoothly indeed. Still, for insurance purposes we also took a few spare casts just in case.

That evening, back at our Islington studio, we wasted no time in preparing Mina's casts for the transformation process.
In the story, Mina's teeth were scripted to extend from human canines into elongated reptilian fangs before your eyes; so it was initially proposed by DZ4 that we may be required to supply several prosthetics in various stages so as to fulfil the needs of this special effect sequence. However, following talks with Alison Outhit (Deputy Showrunner), who had by this time had the chance to liaise with the visual effects department, it had been concluded that the transformation could be achieved using CGI and morphing technologies (done digitally in post production), freeing us to concentrate on producing a single set of physical fangs to be worn on set representing the final stage of her transformation.  If that simplified things any, then there was still one last thing: it had also been written in that Vlad's fangs appear as artificial metal implants!

To be honest, at the time we were not entirely sure how that would be achieved - especially given the timescale. The methods I knew of, at the time, for chroming objects required they be coated in nickel preferably on a base of copper - which was not suitable. However, after doing a bit more research I found a company in Manchester which specialised in the technique for chrome metalizing - already well established in the industry for coating various plastics. So, under advice, we were quickly able to precisely compensate for the overall thickening resulting from the coating process and incorporate this into our own fang manufacture.

Among other considerations we needed to ensure that the jig rigged up to spray on the chrome coating would keep the backs of the fangs totally bare, so as not to cause any obstruction when fitted - as we could ill afford any mistakes at this stage. Even so, since the final part of the process now needed to be carried out in the North of England, it was now going to add almost another week to our completion date.
After liaising with,
Shelly Nider (Property Master), it was decided that the best solution would be to find a plant to take on the chrome metalizing in Canada, allowing Mina some opportunity to practice speaking with the prosthetics on site, just before they were chromed in Canada and then rushed back to the set.
By the time we returned to Mina's home for the fitting, it was the day of her scheduled flight, so we were somewhat relieved (but confidently so) that the fangs fitted perfectly first time.  However, since they still needed a lot of fine polishing to prepare them for chroming, we could still not allow her to take them with her on the flight. T
he next morning however, Nicky (Sylak Special Effects) did liaise with Dave Marlow (SilverLight), to have them '
FedEx'ed so they would coincide with Mina's arrival in Halifax, Canada.
We waved farewell to the little teeth we had made - as they started their long journey towards fame and immortality, and looked forward to seeing them next time on the show.

Relevant episodes: 4.07 - Walpurgis Night, 4-08 - Vlad, 4-10 - Magic Baby, 4-18 - The Game, 4-22 - Trip. 
 

 Set photography with kind permission - Kim Ross (2001)  Silver Light (Sci-Fi) Ltd, Salter Street Films.

 

Watch it now!

 

LEXX [The Dark Zone stories] last aired in full on British TV back in 2002, on Channel(5). It has also been shown, in parts, on some Satellite & Cable networks since then.
Season four, however, has never been released on either VHS or DVD in the UK.
More recently, however, the series has been licensed to th
e on-line LEXX channel which can be watched for *FREE on your computer!

 

S Y L A K    S P E C I A L   E F F E C T S
Worshiping His shadow - on LEXX

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This page was Designed/Reviewed/Updated by the WebMaster on 15/04/2008