Bleeding Art moving into variety of fields

In a perfect world, the president of Bleeding Art Industries would do nothing but supervise special effects for international feature films and television, as he did last year for ace director Terry Gilliam.

But production work tends to be sporadic. So Leo Wieser has cultivated scores of customers who've never squinted through a viewfinder.

Forestry officials, for example, have used Wieser's giant fog machine to help them simulate forest fire conditions.

"With this special fog fluid we used in Kananaskis Country, we got about 400 feet in elevation. Fire spotters could see it for 50 kilometres," says Wieser, clearly pleased.

Larry MacDougal, Business Edge
Bleeding Art Industries partners Leo Wieser and Becky Scott have their versatile fingers in many endeavours, including the movies with severed finger props.

He also got a call from the City of Calgary's waterworks department, seeking a smoke-generating machine to be used as a tool for leak detection.

A one-time magician with long experience in pyrotechnics and theatre design, Wieser spent 10 years doing stage lighting for Ronnie Burkett, the marvelous master of marionettes.

As such, Wieser's work has been appreciated in London's West End, as well as off-Broadway.

He's also a premier perpetrator of mechanical special effects, which he manipulated during filming of Gilliam's Tideland in Regina last year.

But sheer versatility helps account for the fact that sales for the Calgary company have doubled over the last three years. During that time, Bleeding Arts has demonstrated remarkable diversity, creating billboards for Subway, making it snow during Theatre Calgary's Macbeth, simulating avalanches, renting bubble machines and confetti blowers, helping out with music videos, building stage props and scale miniature dioramas while rigging up stuntmen to "fly" across a stage.

Bleeding Art has also chipped in special effects for flicks starring such luminaries as Jackie Chan (Shanghai Noon), Steven Seagal (Exit Wounds) and Harrison Ford (K-19).

In fact, business is so buoyant that Wieser and partner Becky Scott (in charge of sales, communications and financial) are struggling to cope with the challenges posed by runaway growth.

Meanwhile, it's somehow reassuring to learn that not every film effect has been crafted via a computer keyboard. That's one aspect of the business in which Wieser declines to dabble.

"Computer-generated (CG) effects are beautiful, but you never quite get away from the impression that it's animation you're watching ... watching a computer doing its work," Wieser says. "I love stage illusion - just being able to create something that isn't actually there before the audience."

Bleeding Art's biggest break has been the recent connection with Gilliam, the edgy American director who supplied the dazzling animated bits for Monty Python's Flying Circus (remember the sinister stomping foot?)

"With Terry, we clicked in a way that was amazing," Wieser continues. "Terry has a theatrical eye. We talked the same language."

From Bleeding Art's perspective, one highlight was the creation of an over-the-top fantasy scene, during which the youthful heroine is swimming through prairie grass magically transformed into seaweed.

"The idea being, the prairie turned into an ocean. We used large fans blowing silk fabric strips... ," Wieser explains.

He hopes his work with Gilliam will lead to more assignments from international producers.

"It's a matter of building contacts, getting filmmakers' comfort levels up and acquiring a reputation," he adds.

Last week, however, Wieser was back in Regina, burning an outhouse for one 30-second scene and "peppering" roads with safe, silicon-free dust for use during a miners' riot. It's scripted into location shooting for The Tommy Douglas Story, a TV mini-series.

Pyrotechnics is a particular specialty and the company is heavily insured in case of blunders. However, Wieser has built a reputation for eliminating risk, sometimes in surprising ways.

"Some (special effects) people blast the heck out of a fire," he points out. "But I want to take risk management to zero. Accidents aren't good for business."

By way of illustration, Wieser was asked to simulate a horrific fire (setting: A historic building in Fort Edmonton Park) during filming of one of the Ginger Snaps series of Canadian cult films.

With fire marshals keeping close watch, Wieser improvised under difficult conditions: "I could not bring fire into the building. That was the agreement."

So Wieser turned to an effect that he copped straight out of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean, stretching plastic across a window, aiming a wind generator at the plastic to set up a vibration and playing simulated light across the window, while adding another key element: smoke.

"No fire involved. It fooled everybody," Wieser flashes a satisfied grin. "When they saw it, the park managers freaked. Then we showed them how it was done."

Web watch: www.bleedingartindustries.com (Tom Keyser can be reached at keyser@businessedge.ca)