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Last Updated: Friday, 29 April, 2005, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Students help to mould Hitchhiker
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News education reporter

Student Jemma Stidston inside part of her "Bump" costume
Jemma Stidston found performing in her creature costume hot work
Students from a London art college designed and made some of the creatures in the film of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

They also appeared in the film in some of their foam creations in a collaboration between the film industry and the Wimbledon School of Art.

A group of second year students on the college's degree course in technical arts and special effects were asked to create eight creatures.

They worked with Jim Henson's Creature Shop in London's Camden Town, which specialises in creature costumes and special effects for film and television.

Professionals from the group picked their 15 favourite designs from about 60 the students came up with.

The students then made 6" models from those designs before the final selection was made by the Henson team and the film's director Garth Jennings.

Student Jemma Stidson, 22, came up with designs for three of the eight creatures chosen.

She told the BBC News website the experience had been incredible.

"I was fantastic. To be able to do this in our second year was amazing. I learned so much.

Creature named "Squidge" created for the Hitchhiker
Students took their ideas from all sorts of shapes

"We followed the whole process through from the design table, to making the creatures, to performing in the costumes."

The students' brief was to come up with designs for creatures in a scene at the Vorgon police station. The characters are waiting in a queue to pick up their relatives.

"The costumes had to be quite abstract, so we began by looking at all kinds of shapes or forms, for example organisms and sea creatures.

"The designs had to be striking but feasible for us to make."

Once the small models were ready, the process of making the actual costumes out of foam began.

The students were given a budget of 5,000 - about a third of the usual cost of one model - according to the head of the school of theatre at Wimbledon, David Burrows.

But he said they also had the considerable support of the Henson team, who led sessions at the college.

David Burrows said: "The collaboration came about because of visiting lecturer Val Charlton, a special effects model-maker of considerable experience, who has worked on many films, such as Brazil, Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

"The Henson team took a risk, but they had faith that with Val running the project here that they would get good results.

"It was a great project and now the students' CVs are carrying a professional credit."

"Bump" creature made for the film
The idea for "Bump" came out of organisms

The students perfected their creatures and this time last year, performed in them for the film.

Student Jemma Stidson, worked with colleague Ruth Edwards, in her "Bump" costume.

"On set, it was quite overwhelming and surreal," she said.

Wearing big foam suits, some covered in fur, under hot studio lights for hours at a time, the students learned about the reality of filming.

"It was very hot - a big shock to the system. We had ventilation holes in the suits and could undo them in breaks between filming, and Ruth used to give me water or food, but it was like being in a sauna."

The experience would help them as designers, she said.

Once they had filmed their scenes, the students then worked for a few days as extras on the set.

For David Burrows, the collaboration shows the value and need for such courses. Wimbledon began offering the BA in technical arts and special effects in 1990.

"We are supplying skilled and creative technical professionals," he said. "It was a skill base which had collapsed; apprenticeships had stopped and the workforce was becoming quite elderly.

"We have a great employment rate for our graduates. About 90% have jobs a few weeks after finishing their course."


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