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SYFY WIRE His Dark Materials

LEGO, costumers & FX artists: How the genre world is helping during coronavirus

By Jacob Oller
Helping Dress Medics

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way the world works and completely laid entire industries to waste. Theaters dodge bankruptcy as in-person activities and events become a distant memory to an isolated population. Film and TV productions are postponed indefinitely, leaving their countless workers — who do everything from build sets to balance the accounts to act in front of the camera — stuck doing...well, not their jobs, that's for sure.

Celebrities may be able to make sweeping donations, but income is drying up and those below the line are still doing the unsung work they've been accustomed to throughout their careers — just for a different cause, using their unique skills to combat COVID-19.

Some, like His Dark Materials costume supervisor Dulcie Scott, have been working for weeks sewing scrubs for healthcare workers. Her initiative, Helping Dress Medics, has banded together a group of craftspeople in the costuming world (predominately composed of His Dark Materials costume department members) to put their talents to work for those on the front lines.


Tara Parker, WellChild Director of Programmes, was the first to recieve scrubs from HDM back on April 2:

"We've got about 6,500 sets of scrubs either completed or being made and we've got more fabric on the way," Scott told the BBC. "We were getting phone calls going 'Can we help? We want to help. We'd love to join in.' So we've got crew from all sorts of other jobs. We've got the Batman crew helping us and then we've linked up with people who were on Sex Education as well and then we've got three girls from Welsh National Opera with us."

With productions halted on nearly every non-animated TV or film, the best in the business are available to chip in. "Our fabric is NHS-approved fabric and it is the highest-quality fabric," said costume design assisstant Isabelle Conaghan, "and we've got the highest-quality costume makers in the UK making them."

Nearly 150 people are now working for the initiative in various capacities, including Mad Max: Fury Road costumer Jane Law (pictured below in the mirror), and hospitals around the UK are feeling the love.

Helping Dress Medics

The GoFundMe has already raised over £66K and is putting every bit of it to work. Helping Dress Medics is still accepting donations here.

Donations have driven plenty of efforts like HDM around the world, dedicated to some of the other nuances of safety during times of pandemic. Special effects artist Eddie Yang is a renowned sculptor and creature guy. He helped sculpt and design the Iron Man suit, run the critters on Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and brought the Predator to life. Yang's an expert when it comes to working with rubber masks — but now, along with a group of his colleagues, he's making plastic face shields and masks for medical workers.

Speaking to SYFY WIRE via email, Yang confirmed that his team, which has been running since the beginning of April, is still going. "Yes, we are still making masks!" Yang wrote. "I have been making masks and specialty creature suits all of my career so making a face shield wasn't all that different."

Working with a disparate team, scattered due to California's stay-at-home order, Yang's studio (Symbolic Arts FX) has been developing best practices for what they've dubbed "Project Face Shield" alongside charities Renew Church LA and Project 614.

"Our main challenge has been locating material and creating a remote assembly line for all of our volunteers that want to help but are respecting the stay at home orders," Yang told SYFY WIRE. "Also we have to ensure that everything is top notch quality because we are making things that need to protect people and cannot have any errors." That meant having advisors on the team, like Dr. Tevan Ovsepyan and Helen Qian, making sure everything was up to snuff.

Then, an experienced effects team including Looper's Sally Ray, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance's Chad Waters, and Starship Troopers' Luke Khanlian 3D print and cut the mask parts. These head through that "remote assembly line" via some "incredible" runners to those that are putting the masks together.

Impromptu factories made of talented artists are one thing, but what about real factories repurposed to fight coronavirus? That's what one LEGO manufacturor in Billund, Denmark has done. No longer making buildable bricks branded with Batman or Star Wars, the factory has been modified to make over 13,000 plastic face visors a day:

Using six of the factory's molding machines, more than 100 of LEGO's gloved and masked workers have been cranking out protective gear - and they could ramp up production even more if need be. A video from LEGO promises that the factory could be pushed to make 58,000 visors a day in two weeks if necessary:

The visors, approved by hospitals, have already been ordered in bulk for those facing the virus every day and will soon be produced for the global community. As the world sits and waits out the pandemic, those with the highly specific skills that come with being in the geeky corner of genre haven't been resting - and have hopefully inspired some similarly talented fans to pitch in.