On the Set: Dragonball Evolution
Interview with Colin Thurston

by Bamboo Dong, Apr 1st 2009

Dragon Ball wouldn't be the same without the Dragonballs and Goku's magic staff. We spoke to prop master Colin Thurston about his creations.

This interview was a recorded, group interview with multiple news organizations. Credit for the questions is attributed in part to Comic Book Movies, Comics2Film, IESB, IGN, MovieWeb, SciFi.


Can you talk to us about some of the stuff you've got here?

One of the main problems on this particular film was that everyone knows the history of Dragon Ball, so we had to match the props with the cartoon, to a certain extent. One of the specific ones was the bo staff, which appears in the cartoon. It's quite an important feature. In the cartoon, it's just a red stick, because it doesn't really have to do anything. So we went through quite a few different designs to come up with what we've got now. We actually went to a custom bo staff maker, a guy named Mark Taylor, in America. Everyone had their input on it. And when we started the film, it was going to do a lot more. It was going to be this magical staff and it would be in all the fights. We ended up actually only using it in one fight in the end. Goku and Gohan are practicing in the beginning with it, too. It appears right at the end with Chow Yun Fat. So we have rubbers, woods, different lengths for different parts of the fights, and a nice big 12-foot one which is the one that extends, magically extends. There are two prop men who screw it together on the set. So that's the bo staff.

There's also the Dragon Ball locater. Quite a nice little prop. Again, lots of designs, and we incorporated an iTouch, which plays … there ya go, let's see… There we go.

So what we've done is saved the visual effects. Visual effects that would have put in an effect like that afterward costs quite a bit of money. So we've actually got a live action working object which everyone is going to think is really good, except it's an iTouch with a nice bit of computer graphics in it. So you'll see that in toy shops. Probably not with the iTouch in it.

Umm, guns. We've made up guns for quite a few of the guns for this film. Bulma has two sets. She has two on her back and one on her cycle, which we are cleaning out now. All original designs. The designer was a guy named Harold Belka, who also designed the Batmoblie from the new Batman movie. Very well known movie designer. We had them made by a guy named Rick Gamez who also made guns for Men in Black. So, a good prop maker. They all have lights on them. None of them actually fire. We had conversations about whether we were going to adapt real guns to make them work with real weapons, but we could never come up with a really good design that didn't have to have the whole basis of a real gun in it, so we went completely independently. We put the lights on them so the visual effects have a key, so that when you actually pull the trigger, you can actually see something. Visual effects later can put in whatever it's going to be. I'm sure there are going to be loads of discussions about all of that. We've also got laser lights on them, which is already freaky.

So this is the capsule.

That grows into the motorcycle?

Exactly. Bulma puts it down on the floor, presses her remote control, and then it just opens out into the speedster. I wish it did, because then we could carry our cars in our back pocket. It would be really nice. These are the Mafuba pots, which play quite a big part in the last sequence. Again, something we had to make up. It took a month to get to that design. Everyone wanted it bigger, smaller, bigger lids, different designs, different handles, but anyway, there it is.

What exactly is it?

Sifu Norris gives it to Roshi, and it's to contain Piccolo right at the end, so it has all of the good prayers in it. What Roshi actually does with it right at the end is, when Piccolo jumps off one of the spires, he puts it underneath it and opens up the lid. Piccolo gets sucked into it. And supposedly, he's supposed to stay in there. But the pot has a crack in it. This particular one doesn't, because it's a pre-crack pot, and Piccolo, with his energy bursts, breaks out and the fight continues. So you'll think it's all over and go "ahh," and then bam! he breaks out.

You just ruined it.

Yeah, sorry. *laughs*

I also have the swords that the Fu Luns have, who are in the lava lake sequence. Piccolo makes them in the Genesis Chamber and then they first appear without swords. A nice feature of this particular film is they break off one of their own spines, and then it grows into the sword, so they're organic-looking. It's like part of who they are. So we got rubber ones that they'll be working with on the sequence there.

What is that made out of? Is that metal?

It's aluminum. And we use different types of metal for various things. Originally, there was going to be a sword fight sequence between Roshi, Goku, and the Fu Luns, so we had to make metal ones and fake ones and then we ended up with rubber ones, because they changed the whole sequence. And then last but not least, the Dragonballs.

Can you give us a brief history of the Dragonballs?

When we first started this movie, everybody wanted the Dragonballs to basically do what they were supposed to do. So we had lots of conversations about how they were going to look, and how the stars were going to be in them, whether they were going to glow or not, and as we got closer to filming, we realized that if we could make the Dragonballs do what they were supposed to do in the film for real, I'd be working for NASA or the US government, and probably not working on a film set, because it's really difficult. So our first design was this, which was very much light. So they glow when you have them in your hand.

And this is plastic?

Yup, it's just an acrylic ball with a light sequence inside, but that dims out. We also have other ones which we made, which we don't have here. They're with the second unit, which have an exterior light source. The problem with these is that light around it is a problem for visual effects. They wanted a really shiny surface so they could get all the reflections of the lights and the actors. But they didn't like that, so we went to a solid glass ball. And then we put in a nice little...

Oooooooooooooh

At this point, he showed us a globe that slowly changed colors as it was moved.

*laughs* Exactly. And that's really good because when the Japanese came over here, they were really into it and they looked at it when I first took it out, and went "huh?" and then I tilted it, and they had exactly the same reaction.

So is the principal of that like a snow globe?

Exactly. It's water and a non-soluble pigment. Don't give my trade secrets away. *laughs*

Anyway, what we do is get rid of the bubble. Unfortunately, as soon as we are done shooting, within a day, there is a bubble back in there. So, what we can do with that is we can use that for a mirrored close up, and also give visual effects some movement inside the ball, which they're going to enhance, and then they have to put the stars on and any other features they want to put on afterward. So we got those, and then we end up with these. Different ones for different effects. If one of the actors has to pick the ball up and hold it in his hand, we use ones of these, which are the plastic ones, because it doesn't have light on it. So day one, first sequence with one of these, I gave it to Justin, who plays Goku, and he drops it. It cracks and water went all over the floor. And I thought, "There we go, Dragon Ball is going to be breaking balls all through the film." So if they pick it up and hold it in their hand in action, it's one of these. If it's already in their hand, it's a glass ball.

Uh huh.

It's a little hard to get the picture with just text, but at this point, Thurston had a whole case full of Dragonballs, each with a different composition and made of different materials.

If it's on the set and its visual effects are reactive to lighting or effects we have on the set, it's one of these. And if it's a lighted effect, we need it's one of these. And if it's a lighted effect in the hand... like when Goku actually holds the Dragonballs after he's given the first one as a gift. Every time he holds them, they react to him. He starts to get visions of what's going to happen and who he's going to become, so they glow and he drops them. So those ones that glow in his hand, we got a dimmer switch. An exterior light source, which gives visual effects, the lighted effects on his hands and a little bit more on his face as well. So dependent of what we have to do, we've used all four balls in one sequence. And visual effects will put in their post effects and all the other stuff on it afterward.

And that's really it, other than more weapons and Mai's weapons, her throwing stars which we designed.

How long have you been working on this?

On this? With the original prep, it was more like four weeks before we started the main unit, so I'm now onto my 13th week and it feels like I've been on it since I left school. *laughs*

It's been really hard working on this film. A lot of the problem with this film has been, we come up with designs that have had to go up to the executives of 20th Century, and they've been very good, but because I think they know how big this film is going to be, with all the press it's going to have, and a bunch of toys and everything else, they've taken a long time to come back with approvals on designs. So all of the guns, for instance... With Bulma's guns, we started shooting her scenes, and I didn't have final approval of the design. So we had to make up just the back half of the guns, which were in her holsters which arrived... I think they arrived two hours before we shot on her and then we had to get the rest of them made. That was really difficult. But it worked out pretty well. Everything looks good on film, which is great. And especially the Dragonballs. One has to look at them when they finish up on film. Everyone's going to say, "fantastic, great, great prop work," and I'm going to go, "great, thank you very much. All done by visual effects."


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