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  • Building the “Normally This Weird” Death Ray

    Posted on February 26th, 2011 dstipes No comments

    Sometime you just have to do a project because it is too cool to pass up and you just know it will be fun.  

    While I am semi retired (I am not retired yet!) from the visual effects biz, I still get the bug once in a while to do “just one more project.”  My son, Nathan Stipes, has been the Art Director and de facto prop master on a web series called, “Normally This Weird.”      It is a creative, web-based series of episodes written and directed by Phoenix film maker, Nathan Blackwell.  

    The series covers the strange adventures of a normal young couple who move into a neighborhood filled with some kinda’ unusual people. You have an eccentric inventor who is married to what may be an alien disguised as a 1950  ‘June Cleaver’ housewife.  There is the ‘Men in Black’ style FBI agent and his men constantly trying to expose the strange goings-on. And more! 

    My son Nathan (aka ‘Nate’ on this production) shared that he had some unusual items to come up with for the newest batch of episodes. One of the show calls for the FBI agent, Danford, to raid the garage of Archeval, the inventor, seeking evidence. 

    Danford and the Agents walk across the street to the Archeval house. He BANGS on the mad scientist’s garage door. 


    Archeval! Open up! You and me, right now! 

    The garage door does indeed raise. As it opens, Archeval is glaring face to face with Danford. In the workshop is a DEATH RAY.   

     The production needs a Death Ray!??!  I can’t pass that up! Wow! I just gotta’ build a death ray weapon! 

    My son, Nate, and I started brainstorming.  We went on on-line and looked at a number of 1930’s and 40’s movie props as well as comic art.  We both liked the long cylindrical look with long gun barrel out the front. 

     I came up with a few sketches and ran them by director, Nathan Blackwell.  He liked this one.  

    Death Ray

    Approved "Death Ray" concept

    Because of extremely limited budget we had to have Blackwell decide which way the gun would be pointed so we only had to detail out or finish one side of the weapon. 

    Nate Stipes began a phone search for repair stores with dead canister vacuum cleaners and old hoses. He scored two old vacs. We both liked the Electrolux with the rounded front. As near as we can tell it was the model 9000 or similar. It had the advantage of being a later model made with a plastic cast skin, not heavy metal of earlier machines. 

    Electrolux in action

    It was still pretty heavy so the first operation was to gut the poor old thing. With motors, recoil devices and wheels removed, it was a lot lighter. 

    Now that we had approved concept sketches and a basic body shape we could go about to the local Goodwill and ‘Dollar-discount’ stores for parts and shapes. It was a bit hit-or-miss but sometimes serendipitous. 

     This is a design / construction approach that I learned from a terrific visual effects designer and model maker, Tom Scherman, 

     Tom was a master of finding discount objects and turning them into cities, submarines and flying machines. So I did my best to channel Tom as Nate and I went scrounging through stores. 

    A disgustingly nasty chair from Goodwill became the base of the gun after removing the cushion seat and back.  A high pressure water sprayer became a basis for the gun barrel. Some strange, what-is-it, open grill containers became the frame for the required glowing gun barrel chamber. 

    What is this thing?

    We also used household items like 2 lb coffee canisters, maple syrup bottle, coffee creamer bottle, tooth paste and soda bottle caps, tupper-ware type containers, and a broken lap-top keyboard. 

    We still made a number of runs to several hardware stores for plywood, PVC pipe, connectors, lumber, tubing, electrical sockets, bulbs, bolts and screws. 


    As I began working I had some sobering realizations…. 

    (To be continued…)




    4 responses to “Building the “Normally This Weird” Death Ray”

    1. Nice to see you back here, David!
      Can’t wait to see what your sobering realizations are! Although, I can probably guess since I am right in the trenches with you on this one.

    2. My realization was that after all this effort, it still won’t disintegrate anything!

      Oh, darn!

    3. […] by Cookster on Aug.31, 2011, under Blog Shorts, Non-fiction, Props, Stories Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to help on a web series project with former Star Trek VFX supervisor, David Stipes. Local filmmaker, Nathan Blackwell, has been making short films for some time and has recently been showcasing his two new web series on the internet. For this project on “Normally This Weird”, David and I needed to build a death ray prop and help David’s son create a time machine from a derelict old sports car. I am going to focus on the time machine for this post, but to see the making of the death ray for the series “Normally This Weird”, see David’s blog at […]

    4. Hey, this is sounding interesting and fun. Looking forward to more on the Death Ray!

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