With technology rapidly advancing in the world of filmmaking to the point where almost every theatrical genre film or big-budget blockbuster heavily relies on the use of CGI, it’s nice to see guys like Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis of Amalgamated Dynamics still so committed to the artistry and necessity of practical effects in moviemaking.

Both icons in the world of special effects, Woodruff Jr. and Gillis have collectively worked on a vast array of hugely successful  and influential films throughout their careers, including The Terminator, Aliens, Cocoon, Predator, The Monster Squad, Pumpkinhead, Demolition Man, Tremors, Alien 3, Starship Troopers, Hollow Man, Jumanji, Spider-Man, AVP: Alien vs. Predator, and X-Men: First Class.

One of the recent projects the duo were a part of was Universal’s 2011 premake of The Thing, in which they were asked to create stunning practical creature effects to be used throughout production. Unfortunately, for both Woodruff Jr. and Gillis, their creations ended up being marred by some rather shoddy CGI effects work, never giving us fans and audience a true look at what they did on the film. Discouraged by the direction that the industry is heading as a whole, both f/x maestros decided to take matters into their own hands, embarking on a Kickstarter campaign for a science fiction infused horror movie. Titled Harbinger Down, the projectboasted writer/director Gillis’ reliance on using only practical effects to complete the final film, the quintessential middle finger to Hollywood’s over-reliance on visual effects these days.

During a recent interview, Woodruff Jr. discussed what was the catalyst was that inspired him and Gillis to take the leap into filmmaking for themselves. “It came time to R&D something new so we thought, why not do it for ourselves this time? Let’s struggle at a whole new level as artists and be the ones who get to make all the final decisions. That’s when we decided to do Harbinger Down and so Alec decided he was going to write and direct it himself.”

“The fans were so, so important to both these projects, Harbinger (Down) and Fire City,” explained Woodruff Jr. “That’s the biggest reason we wanted to make these movies- both Alec and I are still fans too so we wanted to make the kinds of movies we’d enjoy as fans of the genre. And the whole social networking process throughout both campaigns was such an enlightening experience  for me because I was able to see just how many people out there love all this monster stuff just as much as I do.”

“When I was growing up, the only way I could do any kind of social networking about monster movies I really liked was if I’d call my friend Doug up after watching Frankenstein just so I could tell him how cool it was. And back then, I was also the only kid I knew that was making my own monster masks or movies in my backyard so with social networking now, you don’t feel that isolation because w there are so many ways to connect with people these days. It’s great.”

Woodruff Jr. also filled us in a little on Gillis’ story for Harbinger Down,calling it a “chilling monster movie that was made in the spirit of great monster movies like Carpenter’s The Thing or Ridley Scott’s Alien. Fans of those movies should be really like what Alec’s been working on.”

“So what we’re doing with these movies is we’re making it all about creating real, visceral effects- something that is satisfying for all the fans out there who are tired of movies with too many digital effects. That approach to effects only allows you a very shallow pool of believability and that can take the edge off of the story you’re trying to tell. Take a look at what they’re doing on Jurassic Park 4; they’re barely using practical dinosaurs. I think I talked to someone and they said they had one so far. And that’s a shame- that’s not how it should be. It’s okay to make a movie with some spectacle to it but there has to be more there too. And at the end of the day, it’s all about balancing out the spectacle versus the emotional for both Alec and I,” added Woodruff Jr.
For his own upcoming debut feature film, Fire City: The Interpreter of Signs, Woodruff Jr. is building upon the world he first established in his 2013 short film Fire City: King of Miseries where demons live amongst us hiding in human form, with their very existence depending solely on the misery of all of humanity. And if that balance between our society and the demons gets broken in any way, it will forever change the world as we know it now.

Once he decided to move forward on The Interpreter of Signs, he contacted writers Brian Lubocki and Michael Hayes to have them get started on a new script. Lubocki and Hayes, both overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the prospects of Woodruff Jr. bringing to life a full-length movie version of this world, took it upon themselves to get a Kickstarter underway for Fire City last summer that ended up hitting its goal and then some. Woodruff Jr. discussed how quickly everything came together for the project and how the resources he already has available to him at Amalgamated Dynamics made everything so much easier when it came time to begin production.

“Last year, we were moving full speed ahead on Harbinger (Down) when Fire City became a thing all of a sudden,” explained Woodruff Jr. “So everything for that all came together really quickly for us as it seemed like there were a lot of ADI fans out there who wanted to see more of this world after the short film we did last. It was incredible to see all the fan reactions to it and it wasn’t even 10 minutes long. So I thought it was the right time to maybe do something more with this idea and before I knew it, Brian and Michael had the script done.”

“They even initiated the Kickstarter campaign, which was also successful, and because of ADI, we didn’t have to raise too much money for this one either. Having those resources to do everything we needed to make Fire City successfully was a huge help to me because we could do practically everything we needed to in-house,” added Woodruff Jr. “And both movies are in post-production right now so there should be some festival announcements soon, I hope. Alec is doing a few pick-up shots of some of the practical effects on Harbinger Down right now but he is really close to having it all wrapped up.”

Now that he’s found success behind the camera as a filmmaker, I asked Woodruff Jr. if he had a creative preference between directing or working as an effects artist. He replied, “That’s an interesting choice for me just because I get to be creative doing both sides of the business, just in different capacities. That being said, I know I’m always going to want to be creating monsters; that’s something I will always be hugely passionate about. I just never want it to be this factory-like environment where I do work on a project ,but it’s become this impersonal experience where I don’t have any sense of ownership to what I’m working on. There’s no satisfaction in that kind of work- at least for me there isn’t.”

To learn more about Harbinger Down, visit the official website at:

To keep up with the latest news on Fire City: The Interpreter of Signs, visit:

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.