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Rubber bands and chewing gum: How practical effects shaped  Doom

Rubber bands and chewing gum: How practical effects shaped Doom

April 13, 2016 | By Chris Kerr

April 13, 2016 | By Chris Kerr
More: Console/PC, Art, Design

"The spider creature was made out of parts I had literally just found at hardware and hobby stores, pieces of tupperware and PVC pipes."

- Greg Punchatz on creating one of Doom's final bosses

Mention the name Doom to someone in the games industry and they’ll either give you their two cents on id Software's upcoming reboot, or wax lyrical about how the original shooter changed the face of video games forever. 

They’d be quite right, too. In the early 90s Doom was seen as nothing short of masterpiece, introducing many players to realistic 3D graphics, networked multiplayer gameplay, and player-created mods for the first time. 

One of the side effects of Doom’s flashy 3D engine - aptly christened the 'Doom engine' - was the need for a new approach to character design. 

In Wolfenstein 3D, all the characters had been hand drawn, but this time around id wanted to make full use of their new tech. Abandoning that flat approach altogether, the team reached out to budding practical effects specialist, Greg Punchatz, to see if he could imbue their game with some movie magic. 

Fresh from working on the likes of RoboCop and Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Punchatz was brought in and tasked with creating one of Doom’s most iconic bosses, the Spider Mastermind. 

How did he do it? Using anything and everything he could lay his hands on. 

"It was what I like to call a little bit rubber band and chewing gum effects," said Punchatz, speaking to Develop. "The spider creature was made out of parts I had literally just found at hardware and hobby stores, pieces of tupperware and PVC pipes.

“The main body started out as a sculpture, then a plaster mold was pulled from that. Then we made the armature to fit that mold, and then foam latex was injected inside the mold and put into an oven.”

While such a pick and mix approach to design might seem strange now, this was before 3D character modeling had become the norm. Unless you were a huge movie studio about to release one of the highest grossing films of all time, it really wasn’t an option. 

"You needed $60,000 computers to do that kind of work, and this was right before Jurassic Park had even come out, so very few people had done much character animation for video games in 3D," explains Punchatz.

"Everything was still created with sprites at the time, but instead of just drawing them, it was a lot easier to make a model, photograph it in one position from 360 degrees, change the position, photograph it from 360 degrees, change the position and so on.”

Find out how Punchatz's creation was transported into Doom's digital hellscape by reading the full interview on Develop.

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