Monster Hunter Props Master Brings Video Game Weapons To Real Life
Prop master Kerry Von Lillienfeld explains how cosplay videos helped him create the iconic Monster Hunter weapons.
If you want to hunt some serious monsters, you’re going to need some serious weapons. Serious enough to dispatch fearsome beasts like mega-spiders, burrowing horned worms, or fire-breathing dragons. Sometimes, only a flaming sword (or two) will do. Or maybe a weapon made from dead monster parts. (Don’t waste the bones!) All of these things are easily acquired in the pixellated world of Capcom’s blockbuster Monster Hunter fantasy game franchise. But should you need to lay hands on this weaponry in real life, as the crew did for the film adaptation of Monster Hunter (or cosplayers do for fun or competition), then you might need some tips. Just in time for Monster Hunter anniversary week, props master Kerry Von Lillienfeld talked with Cosplay Central about getting inspired by the original games and by fan cosplay, about replicating the great sword and bow, and about storing magical props in his garage.
Cosplay Central: What was the process like, having the in-game design as a model?
KL: We were so particular about getting it from the games. We would ask Capcom to get models from them, and we could actually go into the games and pull images, pull frame grabs from every single angle, and then the concept artist took it into ZBrush and sculpted it. Once we knew it was perfect, then we could 3D print it, get the parts, and my fabricators could start putting that together. And then you have to mold and cast and do the scenic art for all those things. We made doubles, so we had probably at least seven great swords and seven bows? I have an amazing photo of me sitting with all these weapons, and there were hundreds of them. No wonder I was so stressed! We looked like we were about to go to war on an alien planet against monsters.
CC: Did you see any cosplay from the video games? Did cosplay ever influence you?
KL: You know, it’s strange, but when we were getting into pre-production, I actually watched a lot of cosplay videos. It was extremely inspiring. Kinpatsu (Tayla Barter) won some of the cosplay competitions with this amazing bronze, spiky Nergigante armor. They were making what I was supposed to be making, and we were thinking, “How do we make some of this?” We wanted something lightweight. We actually were thinking of copying cosplay things, like using EVA foam with different paint techniques, which just works so beautifully in cosplay armor. But none of that could work for our extreme stunt sequences, or the brutal environments that we shot in, from the Atlantis Dunes and the Tankwa National Park in South Africa to the Namibian desert. It would just be ripped apart in the first minute. So that quickly went out the window, which is quite sad, because cosplayers have got some incredible tricks up their sleeves. Our stuff is much tougher, molded rubbers and leathers which can take a beating. It had to endure.
CC: Let’s talk about the Slinger, which can be both act as a catapult for projectile weapons and a grappling hook.
KL: Nearly every character wears one. We took a lot of time making those right. That was probably the closest step we actually did to a cosplay piece, because that’s just sculpted out of EVA foam and made to look like the bone it’s supposed to be.
CC: What was your trick for making blades look like bones?
KL: Having a good scenic [designer]! Sticking something in the plaster, you can stipple it, and you can get that bone look. And then you just do washes in paint, a very thin liquid-y wash, with a normal polyvinyl acetate –PVA -- paint. It will start running into the little indentations and the little sculpts that you’ve done, and then it will start looking more 3D-ish. Sometimes it will look like the first wash hasn’t done anything, but you do a second wash, a third wash, and a fourth wash, and it starts bringing to life your Slinger or your sword.
CC: What were your favorite weapons to make and how did you make them?
KL: Definitely Hunter’s bow and the giant sword. It may be one of my favorite props I’ve ever made in my life. There are very few that have brought me such pride, or have been of such sheer size and unwieldiness.
To make the sword, we started out sculpting it in digital, in ZBrush, for guidance. Then we 3D print everything, and get a bunch of 3D parts. The model is kind of chopped up and then you put it together. Unless you do extremely, extremely high resolution and different materials, there are these fine lines, tiny fissures where the components fit together. We just use the normal polylactic acid -- PLA – printing substrate. And then we covered it in a plaster material called M1, which you can then go in with paintbrushes and sculpting tools. Remember, a lot of these weapons are basically bone and metal mixed together with a little leather around hilts and stuff like that. We’d wrap the handle in leather. And then we’d mold and cast them. Because of the weight, Through a lot of trial and error, we discovered that visco foam was the way to go. You pour into the mold and just skin over that visco foam. That made it light enough to actually use. Your armature has to be strong, so it doesn’t bend, because of the size, so eventually we settled on aluminum rods and visco foam.
The bow was the hardest to make. It’s very fragile, and it’s got this spike that sticks off the front of it, so just putting on a props strap is to risk breaking it, you know? It’s big. We wanted it to be practical. It needed to work as a bow, as compared to something you’re just swinging around. You need to shoot those arrows. They would fly like five meters, and then CGI would take over. So that’s tough, because the bow needs to bend, and the visco foam material that we were using was light enough but it was also brittle.
CC: You attached the weapons both by strapping and bolting them on the actors?
KL: A lot of the stuff, you can’t just strap it on. The reason we started bolting stuff on is the amount on each body. Like Milla Jovovich’s dual blades were challenging to keep them on her back. If you look in the videos, they seem magically attached to the character. So in the beginning, we offered up a harness for that, and the director Paul W.S. Anderson said, “No. In the video game, there is no scabbard holding the dual blades. They’re just stuck to the back.” Well, you can’t just stick them to the back. They’ll fall off. So that’s why it’s bolted on. One of the blades that Tony Jaa used, we bolted that onto his back, and that was quite heavy. The armor was all cast out of rubbers, to get that thick feel, and they were given a specific paint that would last through all the heat and the violence they went through. And what we do often, we attach little pieces. If you look at Tony Jaa’s character, he wears a huge distinctive belt, and we could hide straps for the bow there. Otherwise, those pieces just would slide down his leg.
CC: I hear you have a room filled to the ceiling full of props? People might think you’re hoarding.
KL: I do have a room, but because of COVID, it’s now in a container in the garage. I keep a couple of things from movies. On the wall, we have Ron Perlman’s axe. We’ve got the great sword; Tony Jaa drew a magical rune on it for me, and Paul, Milla, and Ron signed it for me. That’s very close to my heart, that one prop. Monster Hunter was a prop master’s dream, to make those weapons, to make that armor. I hope I see lots of Monster Hunter cosplayers when we can finally go to conventions again!
Monster Hunter is available on 4K, UHD, Blu-ray and DVD March 2. Follow Kerry Von Lillienfeld on Instagram.