Science Fiction and Fantasy movies and TV shows have been a huge influence on me since I was old enough to watch them. Growing up in the 1970’s, my exposure to them wasn’t limited to going to the Craterian Theater in Medford, Oregon, or to watching Bob Wilkins’ Creature Features on Saturday nights. If I was lucky, it was going to the drive-in to see movies like “Laserblast”! It was mostly things like Famous Monsters of Filmland, and later Starlog, Fangoria, and a variety of other publications that helped fuel my interest. It was drawing and sculpting monsters, talking with my friends about them and even making masks and foam latex appliances for my friends to wear. Making super-8 movies about aliens or monsters attacking innocent bystanders. Certainly, the previously mentioned Famous Monsters of Filmland got me looking at the artifacts of these movies as the editor, Forrest J Ackerman had a huge collection of movie memorabilia. It was known as the Ackermansion and was a very fabled place. His magazine introduced me to the people behind the scenes, special effects legends like Lon Chaney, Jack Pierce, Rick Baker, Dick Smith, John Chambers, Willis O’Brien, Marcel Delgado, Phil Tippet and Ray Harryhausen. I was, and always will be a “Monster Kid”, but this isn’t about me. This is about the art involved in planning, producing and marketing movies and TV shows in the science fiction and fantasy genre, and the incredibly talented and dedicated artists who bring works of science-fiction and fantasy to life. The art and artists involved are becoming more mainstream as evidenced by the current display in Los Angeles of Guillermo Del Toro’s items from his “Bleak House”. http://www.lacma.org/guillermo-del-toro#about-the-exhibition TV has also added to this with shows like Face Off, Making Monsters, etc….
Over the next few articles, I hope to give you a glimpse of what and who is involved in this process as well as some artists on the cusp of the big time. I hope you will stay with me through this artistic journey through the lens of sci-fi and fantasy film makers!
So let’s start with the beginning. A movie or TV show generally starts with a basic concept, or pitch. This pitch gives the audience (studios, money people?) an idea of the story premise and what makes it exciting. This is intended to get interest and perhaps even a deal. For independent filmmakers, there may be other ways they build interest and resources for a project (Kickstarter, GoFundMe, etc…) Regardless of the start, there generally are artistic renderings at the early stages of a project. Those can be drawings, or character sculptures known as maquettes. These images or sculptures often provide a greater sense of vision to the project and help translate ideas to reality. They really begin to tell the feeling of the story and the visual aspects of scenes or characters. Many times the characters developed in pre production go through a number of variations or edits until they become the final character used in the production. These edits often help bring out the personality of the character or creature. Effects artists are often involved from the early aspects of the pitch through the final production work. Sometimes their efforts go beyond production and enter into the collectibles area after the film or TV show is released.
The Artists: If you are a Star Wars fan, you may be familiar with Ralph McQuarrie’s wonderful work. Other names include Syd Mead, Ron Cobb, Doug Chiang, Tony McVey. Additional artists involved in pre and far into production include; Ricardo Delgado, Chris Walas, Tom Hester, Steve Wang and many, many more. Much of their work can be seen here from Star Trek, Gremlins, the Fly, Alien Vs Predator, Enemy Mine, and Dragonslayer.
While most projects today end up being done with Computer Generated Images (CGI), there is still a need for design work, including drawing and maquette sculpture. While many of the films referenced here are films from several years ago, there are still some rare projects that use practical effects. The last installment of the Star Wars series, episode 7, used ample practical effects along side many digital effects. While it appears that CGI has no intention of going away, perhaps we will see more films go to practical effects for the more tangible feel that they provide.
Ricardo Delgado answered a series of questions about his work. He has been involved in a number or film and television productions. You may also know his name from a number of comic books he penned involving dinosaurs. I am a huge fan of his comic work and consider his “Age of Reptiles” to be a masterpiece ( I have copies I look at and others that stay in their plastic sleeve, never to be opened). Ricardo has done several pre production efforts including developing some of the Borg characters for Star Trek. Here you can see the Borg queen in an earlier stage as well as another Borg character.
Ricardo has worked on films including Star Trek: First Contact, Men in Black, Eraser, Species, The Mummy, Laura Croft: Tomb Raider, Jurassic Park III, X-Men 2, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and many more. These don’t include his many television episodes he has worked on. He has been instrumental in designing characters and “looks” for many of these projects. While there are naturally adjustments to designs or characters as they develop, his general look and feel of the character often remains into production.
Ricardo has a blog. You can see it here: http://ricardodelgadoart.blogspot.com/
Another talented effects artist is Steve Wang. Steve took the time to answer questions about his career and his art. He is an amazing sculpture and special effects genius. He was born in Taiwan and began collecting latex masks at an early age. That got him hooked on monsters and special effects and he moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980’s. Steve worked with Stan Winston on the original Predator, and has worked with a variety of other artists or teams for projects like Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Underworld, Underworld Evolution, The Devil’s Advocate, Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem, Blade Trinity, Bicentennial Man, Godzilla, Deep Star 6, and Harry and the Henderson’s (to name a few of his many efforts).
Steve has also delved into other areas of production like directing. He has worked with extremely talented people over the years including some of my idols. They are masters like Rick Baker, and Stan Winston, as well as legendary director Guillermo Del Toro. Steve has since moved away from film work and now does other types of sculpture that relate to video games.
Chris Walas is a legend in the special effects world. He has worked on such films as Dragonslayer, The Fly and The Fly II, Gremlins, Enemy Mine, and Raiders of the Lost Ark (melting Nazi faces!). Chris grew up watching Universal monsters and Godzilla on TV. The first movie he saw in a theater decided his future career. The movie was Ray Harryhausen’s “Jason and the Argonauts“.
Chris has taken his inspiration from other artists. Basil Gogos and his cover work on the old Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. He also mentions Monet and the Impressionists. The reason he has found inspiration with these artists is they work more from feeling which Chris has been able to express very well in the larger-than-life creations he and his team have done for films.
Chris said he was usually one of the first people brought onto a project because so many of them were very effects heavy films. Many times, the question was “if” it could be done. Something that is less an issue now with CGI. A quote from Chris: “I’d do a few napkin sketches to narrow down the look and then I would do a series of smaller rough maquettes to get to the final design. That’s when all hell would break loose and it turned into a mad panic to get all the work done while coordinating with the production designers, wardrobe and FX departments before getting to production.”
I plan to have more on Steve, Chris and Ricardo in the next article as well as a few other artists. I will discuss production work as well as some of the things they are doing now.
With all of the pre-planning and such, there are also those times when things go a completely different direction. The incredibly talented Rick Baker was doing pre-production work for a Steven Spielberg film that was known at the time as Night Skies. It was intended to be a dark, alien on earth film. Rick did some amazing sculpture and design work for the main creature seen here. The director eventually changed direction and the rest is history. The film went on the be somewhat of a success and was renamed E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
What’s coming up:
Please stay tuned for upcoming articles on production phase of filming and the artwork of creature creators. From complex creatures to simple illusions, you won’t want to miss it. Later, we will discuss the artwork of marketing a picture. Future articles will discuss artist to be on the look for, as well as collecting film and tv art.