Forget Mitt Romney’s Threat and Watch this New PBS Show on Special Effects

By  · Published on October 6th, 2012

Mitt Romney’s comments about PBS and Big Bird during the presidential debate the other night struck a nerve with many a fan of public broadcasting and Sesame Street. And there are a lot of reasons movie fans shouldn’t favor a world without PBS, including all the documentary programming and now a new web series called Shanks FX. Part of PBS Digital Studios, the Internet-only show presents filmmaker and animator Joey Shanks (real name: Joe Schenkenberg) creating cheap and relatively easy practical special effects without a computer.

“You don’t need a ton of money to create high-end visual effects,” the synopsis for the series claims. Interestingly, PBS does offer a warning at the beginning of each episode about how Shanks is a professional and viewers shouldn’t try these “activities” at home. Of course, if you’re a teenager hoping to one day become a pro effects artist ‐ so long as non-CGI, “in camera” stuff is still of interest ‐ you’re definitely going to attempt every one of these tricks, and Shanks even lays the episodes out like they’re intended to be instructional.

Okay, so the first episode on producing the look of light speed (or warp drive), which will be of interest to any of you wanting to make an outer space sci-fi film, does feature some dangerous materials and ultimately involves steel wool on fire being spun around. Mom (or spouse) might not be too happy with the idea.

There is a supplement to that episode involving LED lights, which is probably safer. And the latest episode, pictured above, shows you how to make alien atmospheres using a fish tank, layered water and some dyes. New episodes arrive every other Friday, so expect another recipe for becoming the next Douglas Trumbull on October 19. Whichever presidential candidate you’re rooting for this fall, if you like sci-fi you’re going to find this show fascinating.

Shanks is an award-winning director whose first short is the stop-motion film Wiggle Room, which you can find out about here. He just successfully funded his next work, Sci-Fly, via Kickstarter, and from the look of the campaign video, a lot of what we’ll be seeing on Shanks FX is related to the making of that short. We’re looking forward to the film, and so we’ll definitely be following along. Join us in subscribing on YouTube here.

[h/t: Peter S. Hall via Twitter]

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.