Case Study

Add a Little Character

Monsters walk among us, or use their tentacles, in this short film celebrating a local legend.


VFX Work » Case Studies » Zombie King

The Zombie King of Balacombé

Directed by Brian Ulrich


Hidden within the heart of historic downtown Anaheim lies the Strong Water, a restaurant and specialty bar with an iconic theme – that of a swashbuckling vessel that once sailed the seas during the romanticized time of pirates and buccaneers. More than just a theme, the Strong Water boasts its own line of custom drinks and mugs. One such drink: The Zombie King. This drink comes with a mug fashioned after the shape of a skull with an octopus taking up residence. But it also comes with a story… the story told in the short film, “The Zombie King of Balacombé.”

To bring the story to life, Brotherhood Studios Productions crafted an ambitious tale with restaurant co-owner & designer Robert Adamson that leveraged the restaurant’s built-in production values as the filming location, the perfect place to showcase the Zombie King, front & center.

The Strong Water’s “Captain” (played by Nina Nevra) regales two curious travelers, recounting the Zombie King’s transformation from man into legend. Some Guy in Anaheim created a series of 2.5D animations from Robert Adamson’s artwork. Then, in keeping with the restaurant’s otherworldly charm, two mugs were animated throughout the film. The first mug, a tiki wooden-like mug, can be seen nearby the Captain, reacting comically to her presentation of the tale. The second mug, the Zombie King, comes to life as the Captain mixes a drink and prepares it for the travelers.

While the first mug is a traditionally 3D animated composite, the Zombie King mug is a mix of CGI and live-action elements working carefully together. Director Brian Ulrich utilized the practical live-action mug and a clever approach of puppeteering to guide the mug across the bar. In postproduction, Some Guy in Anaheim digitally removed all rigging elements, painted out the existing tentacles (and one eyeball), and puppeteered new CGI tentacles to “move” the creature. Reflections, slime elements and digitally-created organic residue completed the illusion of the Zombie King.

Finally, for the finale of the short film (spoilers!), a live-action shot pulling back throughout the restaurant is combined with a handoff to an all CGI 3D environment of the Strong Water, run aground and on its side in the rocky beach waters of Balacombé, complete with a skull cavern and a stormy sea.

The short film was officially selected into the 2022 Filmquest lineup and was nominated for several awards.

Following its enthusiastic reception, a follow-up film, set in the same universe of Strong Water mythos, is currently in production, featuring another of the restaurant’s famous mugs. To Be Continued…


VFX Tasks:

  • Title Designs & Animation
  • 2D and 2.5D graphic animation
  • 2D/3D matchmoving
  • 3D Character modeling and animation
  • Digital removal of live-action elements
  • Digital Puppeteering
  • Full 3D-animated environments & compositing

Zombie King VFX Highlights

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