Community Spotlight:

Metroid: Encounter at Ceres Colony

A fan movie
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We are highlighting a great project called Metroid: Encounter at Ceres Colony. It’s a parody fan movie put together by a group of friends prior to the events of Samus Aran’s adventure in Super Metroid where she takes the baby Metroid to Ceres Space Station. We talk with various members of the cast in further detail to get their thoughts on their project.

Interview features the following cast members and their roles:

Michael Underlin (MU) – story, camera man, lighting, post production editing.

Marcus Ross (MR) – story, post production graphics, helped with lighting etc during the shoot.

Kelly Johnson (KJ) – built the Power Suit a few years ago for a Halloween costume (minus the helmet, all the LED lighting, and the newer paint job), played Samus Aran.

Johnny Mello (JM) – acted as one of the scientists.

Ryan Fitzpatrick (RF) – built the Power Suit helmet, did the LED lighting for the whole suit, repainted most of the Power Suit, built the Metroid hatchling, built the Metroid egg, helped with general lighting etc during the shoot.

Special mention to Daniel Newell – who also acted as one of the scientists, but wasn’t available for this interview.

SS: Hey guys, thanks for agreeing to this interview with us! Can you please introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about who you are and how you contributed to this project?

MU: I am Michael Underlin and I was responsible for the original story concept, casting, directing, filming, lighting, and editing.

MR: Hi, I’m Marcus. I’m a long-time friend of Mike’s and I helped write and storyboard this project.

KJ: Hello, my name is Kelly Johnson, and I was the actress and cosplayer in this production. I made the majority of the Samus costume and I’ve done costume design and production for three student films.

RF: Hi, my name is Ryan Fitzpatrick. I’m an artist, tinkerer, and retro gamer who goes by the pseudonym “Platinumfungi”. I created the props, the Power Suit helmet, and helped out with little odds and ends during filming for this project.

SS: Metroid: Encounter at Ceres Colony was a fun, humorous project with references to Super Metroid and other games. Why did you decide to create a project like this, and how did the team feel about it?

MU: We always look for video games that have never really been done live action before and try to pave new ground. We started this with a Half-Life fan film, but Metroid was something that we had always talked about doing from pretty early on. We had many limitations to deal with such as the set, costumes, limited budget, and of course, our female lead to play Samus. Then we found Kelly Johnson and things started falling into place.

MR: We were all excited about the possibilities since nothing like this project had ever been attempted in the YouTube community. I’m the group’s resident Metroid expert, playing all the originals, Prime games, and most recently Other M, so I was particularly excited about the opportunity to write a short based on one of my favorite video game series!

SS: A lot of detail and effort went into the props in this fan movie, the tanked Metroid and Metroid egg were among my favorites. How long did it take you to put these together and what resource material did you use to ensure they looked the part?

RF: I’d estimate the Metroid hatchling in the canister took around 9 hours and the Metroid egg took around 6 hours to create. As a lifelong Metroid fan, I have the original manuals, boxes, posters, issues of Nintendo Power with Metroid coverage, etc. I dug out all these visual references I could find and also did Google image searches to locate more. My final reference point was watching the intro to Super Metroid over and over.

SS: The Power Suit was certainly the star of the show in terms of costume design. I believe that Kelly, who starred as Samus in the fan movie, also created the suit? Please tell us a little more about how this was put together.

KJ: I did make the suit, and it took me two full months of working on-and-off. I originally made it for Halloween, but that was honestly just an excuse to own a sweet Samus cosplay. It’s based on the Power Suit from Super Metroid. I made the armor very cheaply from papier-mâché which I layered over aluminum foil that was formed to my appendages.

I then covered the papier-mâché with craft foam, which bends easily and smoothly. I sealed the craft foam with school glue so that paint wouldn’t soak in so badly, and spray-painted over top. The breastplate and shoulder pads are carved from foam insulation, covered in craft foam. Underneath, I just wear black leggings and a black turtleneck, and the shoes are just loafers covered in craft foam and spray-painted. Everything is attached using velcro, staples, and hot glue.

The entire suit minus the helmet cost me $40. It’s very lightweight. I ran out of time and didn’t get to make the helmet, so I went without it that Halloween. That’s where Ryan comes in. Ryan made the helmet, and did all the great LED lighting.

RF: Kelly created the original suit, sans helmet and LED lighting, as a Halloween costume a few years ago. I created the helmet, added the LED lighting to the helmet and suit, and did some painting touch ups on the suit. The helmet was by far the most laborious aspect of this entire project for me. I had never created a replica helmet before, so it was a serious undertaking. The unique shape and design create some interesting challenges.

I started out with a cheap motorcycle helmet I found at a Salvation Army thrift store to use as a foundation to work around. To get the proper shape, I had to carefully cut off the visor and front of the original helmet and create my own. After some experimentation, I created a custom visor from sheet acrylic, and made a new front from, of all things, layers of paperboard. The “ears” of the helmet were made from extruded polystyrene, the “breathing tubes” were electrical conduit, and the grill was more layered paperboard. The LED lighting was wired up to a battery pack, and has a switch so it can be turned on and off.

The inside of the helmet has plenty of padding that was custom fitted to Kelly’s head to be as comfortable as possible. Everything was primed and painted with generic spray paint, and finally the “battle damage” was brushed on by hand. Due to inexperience, I had to play around with different techniques throughout the whole helmet building process. In the end, I believe it took me around 50 hours of labor to create.

SS: The addition of the Ceres Scientists were a good way to add dialogue to a game which had practically none. This was a part where the team had to be original and come up with some dialogue. Tell us more about the script and how it was to play the scientists in this movie.

MR: The first thing we decided was that Samus should play it straight and keep her dialogue to a minimum, out of respect for the character. Since we needed someone to crack jokes, we struck on using the scientists, as they were the only human characters we ever see Samus interacting with directly in the classic games. Plus, since we don’t ever hear what the Ceres crew says to Samus in the game they could have been saying literally anything. That allowed us to write within the canon of the game, without contradicting the story.

MU: Marcus and I struggled a bit in the beginning to figure out what we could do with our available locations. The scene where Samus delivers the baby Metroid had always been an iconic part of the Metroid series, so we used that as a starting point. Then we decided if Samus was a legend and always had her helmet on, most people (like the original players of the first game) thought she was a guy.

We decided to base our sketch surrounding this idea that Samus was a very competent, intelligent warrior and poked fun at the scientists not taking her seriously after finding out she was a woman. While giving direction to Kelly as she played Samus, I felt a very stern no nonsense almost military demeanor needed to be her basis for characterization. Someone that tough doesn’t mess around. Since really no live action film had been done for Samus, I felt I could take some creative liberties while still honoring Samus’ character.

JM: My main job was just improv one liners here and there. 90% of them were nerd references. 10% of them made it in the final product. I am not bitter about that…at all.

SS: Kelly played a no-nonsense Samus in the movie, which I feel she executed reasonably. What was it like playing the star of the movie and how do you feel about Samus and her characterization?

KJ: It was pretty fun to play as Samus. The costume looked even more fantastic than it used to, though it was somewhat difficult to move around in. Since the costume was about 3 years old, it was getting a little bit tired and a few pieces wanted to come off occasionally. Near the end of production I was really tired of wearing it; it was fun but tiring.

I thought the character of Samus was written pretty accurately; I mean, if I had just gone through a bunch of killing and evading death from various space monsters, the last thing I’d want is not to be taken seriously by the first human beings I’ve seen in awhile.

SS: The settings and locations looked somewhat authentic and fitting for the movie. Please tell us more about these locations. Why did you decide to use them?

MR: Thanks! There were some bits that didn’t belong in a spaceship (cinder block walls) but we tried to match the color and look of the Ceres Colony with lighting, pipes, machinery, etc. The location is part of an actual science lab, so we thought it was fitting!

MU: We had originally discovered our Ceres Station location at a local university while scouting for the Black Mesa set our first major fan film Half-Life: Portal to Black Mesa. We felt some of the unused sections from Half-Life would be a great area to use for Metroid. For the cave scene, there is a park not too far from where we live and it has a really interesting cave. The big problem was while trying to film kids kept trying to get in the cave and mess up the shot because they wanted to see the filming.

SS: When putting together a project like this, I imagine there are some memorable moments throughout its production, good and bad. Please tell us about some of those rewarding and challenging moments during the production.

MU: I’d say there are rare times while shooting where I feel like I’m actually in a scene from the game, but when I was shooting Kelly in the cave, it just felt like I really was on SR388 and she was going to really find a baby hatchling. It’s moments like that where everything comes together and looks amazing and I’m honored to have been a part of it.

RF: While filming, there are always unexpected challenges. The lighting gear was generating so much heat, the adhesive that held the Metroid hatchling right where I wanted it in the canister kept coming loose and falling to the bottom. We hardly had any tools or supplies to work with, so I had to improvise on set. Luckily, someone had some duct tape and that sufficed. Stressful, but I learned a lot.

The positive feedback we received right after posting some early “teaser” images was just amazing. It was a breath of fresh air after so much work. Also, there was point while we were on set and Kelly comes walking around the corner holding the Metroid hatchling, with the green lighting and the smoke machine rolling…for just a moment it almost felt real – I didn’t see my friend there, it WAS Samus. That was an amazing moment.

SS: The fan movie went viral fairly quickly on the internet. What has been the general feelings regarding the movie and how does the team feel about the attention it received?

MU: I’m always glad that lots of people can get the opportunity to see the things that I create. Whether they like it or not, I feel at least I’m given a chance and my ultimate goal is not just entertainment but to make a difference in someone else’s life. That’s part of the reason I tried to make Samus a good role model for more women out there who love video games. I wish there were more games like Metroid that break the damsel and distress stereotype and make women the hero.

MR: I was very happy that our film found an audience. Of course there will always be haters, but I really enjoyed the feedback and publicity we received, even the negative responses. One person remarked that a “first year computer graphics student” could do better special effects than I did (Samus’ visor, space station/asteroid field, etc) – and they’re probably right – but as an RN with no computer graphics experience I take that as a compliment!

JM: Very surprised and pleased with how much fans received the film.

RF: It’s an honor to know that so many people have viewed and enjoyed our Metroid project. We had a lot of fun creating it, and most Metroid fans seem to enjoy it. I’m very happy with the outcome and plan to continue making more Metroid props and costumes in the future.

SS: Thanks for your time to chat with us guys, we really enjoyed Metroid: Encounter at Ceres Colony. Do you have any final comments you would like to make?

MU: I thank you for taking the time and allowing us to express our thoughts and ideas. It just makes me happy that the creative projects I do matter to someone.

MR: Thank you for this opportunity! It’s great to know that people out there enjoyed our production and all the hard work we put into it. As a fan of the games, it means a lot to me!

KJ: Thanks for the nice words! I’m really glad that my costume got more exposure than just a couple Halloween’s worth.

RF: Thank you for the opportunity for the interview! The positive feedback I’ve gotten on my props and costume work from this project really means a lot to me. I’ll be making more cool things from video games, so stay tuned! For build photos and in-depth information about Samus’ helmet’s construction, check out my website.

We wish everyone on Encounter at Ceres Colony the best of luck with all of their future projects and thank them for the interview.

© 2012 Darren Kerwin
Interviewed 5th September 2012