Friends, back in 1998 there were a handful of films that I had marked on my calendar as movies I just could not miss. A few of those included Godzilla, The Mask of Zorro, The X-Files, Deep Impact, and Small Soldiers. As I shared in past articles, at this time I was regularly keeping up with all of the new film releases, thanks in part to working at a local movie theater, as well as picking up Premiere and other film-themed magazines. Having said that though, the first I heard of Small Soldiers was thanks to the teaser trailer that I recall being attached to The Lost World: Jurassic Park in ’97.
When I learned that Small Soldiers was being directed by Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins) – my expectations and desire to catch the film grew by leaps and bounds. Dante was and still is one of my favorite directors and when Small Soldiers was released on July 10th of 1998 – I took the day off and made sure that I was at the first matinee showing. While I was not disappointed in the film, I was a little surprised by how much CGI was used – with Stan Winston (Pumpkinhead, The Monster Squad) being involved in the picture, I had assumed it would feature an abundance of practical effects. Thanks to an interview with Ben Sachs for the Chicago Reader from back in 2012, Dante admits that going practical was the original idea:
“On Small Soldiers, we were planning to use a lot of Stan Winston’s puppets—he had made some very elaborate puppets that could do a lot of things. But in practice, we found it was much simpler and cheaper to let the CGI people do the work after we’d shot the scenes. So, I would say, it’s one-third puppetry and the rest CGI in Small Soldiers, even though the original idea was to do mostly puppetry.”
Thanks to this short behind the scenes video from the Stan Winston School of Character Arts – you will learn what a time crunch the effects studio was truly under to work their magic on the film. It will also give you a chance to see the skills of the puppeteers at work – in addition to Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg checking things out.
In closing out this article I want to thank the Practical Effects Group on Facebook for the heads up on behind the scenes video.