Untold Tales of Hollywood #45

September 20th, 2019

When Steve Miner made me the production designer on Godzilla – King of the Monster in 3-D, I immediately began putting together my dream art department.

There were effects in almost every scene, so I knew we pretty much needed to storyboard the entire film. I continued to do boards, designing the film as I drew them. I also hired Dave Stevens and Doug Wildey to do storyboards, giving each of them sequences to board. I offered Alex Toth a job on the film, but he passed. Dave and Richard Hescox were sharing the front third of my studio, so I saw Dave every day. Dave and Doug were close friends (Dave based the Peevy character in The Rocketeer on Wildey). To speed things up, I drew the layouts for most of Dave’s boards.

It was a little embarrassing for me to be Doug’s boss. Doug was the creator of the great prime time animated series Jonny Quest and knew much more about storyboarding and storytelling than I did. I was lucky to have access to Doug. I always had him check my boards to make sure I hadn’t left out an essential panel or two.

My pal Rick Baker got hired to create a gigantic robotic Godzilla head. I got stop motion animator/dinosaur sculptor par excellence Steve Czerkas to build the Godzilla armature and sculpt and cast the Godzilla body based upon my redesign of Godzilla. He did a great job.

New Godzilla-Meets-Old Godzilla. The foam rubber dorsal fins are already starting to deteriorate and fall off on Steve Czerkas’ animatible Godzilla figure.

David Allen was hired to do the film’s stop motion animation (our Godzilla was not going to be a guy in a baggy suit). Like I said, a real Dream Team was put together to bring Fred Dekker‘s brilliant script to life on the big screen. Fred at that time was one of the Pad o’ Guys, the hottest group of screenwriters in Hollywood. Shane (Lethal Weapon) Black was another Pad o’ Guys member.

Steve gave me a lot of leeway in designing the film. I even set my boards to music. I made a cassette tape of some stirring Peter Gabriel music to accompany the scene near the end of the film when young teen Kevin must sacrifice Godzilla on Alcatraz.

I think Steve was amazed by how much that music supported the screen action and captured and enhanced that scene’s mood — so much so that a short time later Steve told me that following our Godzilla film, Steve wanted me to direct Rodan (!).

MondoCon and LightBox

September 18th, 2019

Today’s my birthday. It’s one of those landmark numbers that ends in an “0” — but I don’t want to talk about myself today.

I am back from several back-to-back appearances around the country, promoting my book Fantastic Worlds. There were two art conventions which were amazing: MondoCon (this last weekend) and LightBox (the previous weekend). Both were outstanding and carefully curated; not a single piece of bad art in the room! I felt honored to be included in both shows.

MondoCon is in Austin, Texas and is sponsored by MondoTees, the terrific company connected to the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain. They hire top contemporary artists to create new posters for classic films and then sells serigraphs (limited edition silk screen prints) of those designs. They have also branched out into three-dimensional objects of art, too — like their series of Tiki mugs (I designed their Cthulhu Tiki mug, as well as posters for King Kong, White Zombie, Metropolis and Nosferatu).

The show is incredibly well-run and both guests and attendees are treated with prompt, thoughtful care. I got to hang for a little while with my pals (and neighbors) Drew Struzan and his lovely wife Dylan (Dillon?).

LightBox is the brain child of my wonderfully energetic and creative friend Bobby Chiu. It focuses on the creators of concept art and design in the film and television industries. Two of my close friends were honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards for their work in Concept Design (I believe I might be the first person to have received a Concept Designer or Concept Artist film credit): Ron Cobb and Jean “Moebius” Giraud. Also honored were Syd Meade, Ralph McQuarrie and H. R. Giger.

I wrote the speech about Ron Cobb; it was delivered by my pal Iain McCaig (on Saturday I was still guesting at the Salt Lake City Comic Con). Here is what I wrote:

THE GREAT RON COBB
There is no artist better to inaugurate this lifetime achievement award than Ron Cobb.

“Genius” is a word I use only on the rarest of occasions and only for those most deserving of that word. Ron Cobb is a true genius.

Just out of Burbank High School and with no formal art training, Ron became a breakdown artist on Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. In 1960 Cobb was drafted into the Army, becoming one of the first American soldiers sent to Vietnam.

In 1965 Ron began contributing remarkable editorial cartoons, unlike anything else being done in that genre, for the Los Angeles Free Press. For five years, the Underground Press Syndicate distributed Cobb’s cartoons to underground/alternative newspapers all over the United States, as well as in Europe, Asia and Australia. Forrest J. Ackerman became Ron’s agent and commissioned Ron to paint covers for LPs as well as covers for Famous Monsters of Filmland and Monster World.

In 1967 he designed the wraparound cover for the Jefferson Airplane LP After Bathing at Baxter’s and a famous poster depicting Los Angeles slipping into the Pacific Ocean after The Big One. In 1969 Cobb designed the Ecology symbol and Ecology flag. He donated them to the Public Domain. Within two weeks Ron’s ecology symbol designs were being used all over the world. Ron’s original cartoon creation of the Ecology symbol is on permanent display at the Smithsonian.

In 1972 Cobb toured Australia, lecturing at all of that country’s universities. He brought along his friend, folk singer Phil Ochs, for musical relief. Ron met the love of his life (and future wife), Robin Love, in Sydney and moved there, drawing political cartoons that commented on the life and societal problems of Australia.

In 1973 Ron hopped back into film, creating the space ship for John Carpenter’s first film, Dark Star, which he designed on an International House of Pancakes napkin. During this time Cobb created a painting of a desert rider atop a huge alien lizard for director John Milius. Upon seeing this painting, George Lucas was inspired to create Star Wars. Cobb was hired to design creatures for that film’s memorable cantina sequence.

Cobb then worked on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune, prior to designing the Nostromo for Alien. Milius hired Ron to create conceptual designs for his mountain man feature, Half the Sky, and then made him the production designer on Conan the Barbarian. This is when I met Cobb, who hired me to storyboard and help design Conan. I have always said that the best two years of my life in film were the two years I spent in a room with Ron Cobb. It was like sitting next to a fountain that gushed great ideas all day long, seemingly effortlessly. I learned an enormous amount from Ron, much by example. Besides what I learned art-wise from Ron, with his phone calls to Robin he showed me how to be sweet and kind to women in a gentle, caring way.

Ron became the production designer on The Last Starfighter, the very first film to extensively make use of CG animation. Cobb convinced the Pentagon to loan him two Kray super computers — the most powerful computer in the world at that time — to generate the images for this technically groundbreaking film. Always at the forefront of new technology, Cobb also was one of the first — and best — artists to plunge into creating graphic art with a computer. Ron also production designed Leviathan, and contributed key designs to films such as the revised Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Total Recall, True Lies, Real Genius, My Science Project, Aliens, The Abyss, Robot Joxs, The Running Man, The Rocketeer, Space Truckers, Titan A. E., The Sixth Day, District Nine, John Carter of Mars and Firefly. He also designed the ill-fated American version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but became good friends with Douglas Adams. Much of Ron’s conceptual design was uncredited, done as favors for friends.

A consistency throughout Ron’s conceptual work is that everything he designed was fully functional. If you built it, whether it was a passenger craft traveling to Mars or a “Wheel of Pain”, it would work.

His debut as a feature film director, Night Skies (co-written with John Sayles), eventually changed direction and changed hands to become Steven Spielberg’s E. T. – The Extraterrestrial. It was Cobb’s idea to make the time traveling car in Back to the Future a redesigned DeLorean.

In the early 1980s, NASA approached Steven Spielberg to design their space exhibit for the Smithsonian.

“You’ve got the wrong guy,” Steven declared. “You want Ron Cobb.”

After spending half an hour with Cobb, the NASA officials sheepishly observed, “Ron…this is a little embarrassing. We think you know more about NASA than we do!”

And he did.

He and his wife Robin co-wrote a Twilight Zone (“Shelter Skelter”) for the 1980s reboot of that TV series. His designs for ZZ Top’s “Rough Boys” won Ron the 1986 MTV award for best art direction in a music video.

During the early 1990s, Cobb co-founded the game company Rocket Science in 1992. Ron finally directed a film of his own, the hilarious 1992 Australian comedy Garbo.

The phrase “Conceptual Designer” was tailor made for Ron Cobb. It was he who broke that important ground with absolutely brilliant, always droll, humorous and slightly subversive and amazingly functional design concepts, showing the rest of us a truly inspiring path forward into the future.

Untold Tales of Hollywood #44

September 10th, 2019

Film #13: Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1982)
Produced & Directed by Steve Miner
Written by Fred Dekker
Production designed by William Stout

When I was in the thick of painting movie posters, I was also creating something called presentation art. Presentation art usually looked just like a movie poster. Typically, it was commissioned for a film project that a producer wanted to make. It’s hard to get people to read your script in this town but almost no one has a problem looking at pictures.

The presentation art solves a couple of problems. It tells the viewer just what kind of movie you want financed, and it also indicates how that movie might be advertised and sold. Producer Sandy Howard used to come to me each year with a dozen titles. For example:

“Bill, this one’s called Terror Train — teenage girls get terrorized on a train.”

On the basis of that title and Sandy’s (very) brief description, I would come up with the art that I thought would sell the project. Sandy didn’t have any scripts, mind you — just titles. On the basis of each title and my art he would then go to Cannes or MiFed and get the financing for each of his twelve movies. I created the presentation art for Terror Train (it got made with Jamie Lee Curtis) and lots of other movies. My batting average when it came to getting the financing for a film based upon my art was incredibly high. That’s how Re-Animator got its money and green light.

Those were exciting times! It was so much easier (and cheaper) to make movies back then…

One day I got a call from horror director Steve Miner (Steve directed Friday the 13th 2 and 3). He needed a presentation painting for an American Godzilla movie he wanted to direct. He planned to shoot it in 3-D and wanted the presentation art to reflect that. In Steve’s movie Godzilla attacks San Francisco, beginning with the Golden Gate Bridge. I drew up this charcoal piece:

After Steve approved it, I did a full color painted version of it. Unfortunately, that color piece seems to have disappeared.

Steve was very impressed by my painting and visual storytelling skills. When he found out that I had storyboarded First Blood, he hired me to start storyboarding Godzilla, King of the Monsters in 3-D. I read the screenplay by Fred Dekker. It was great; one of the best screenplays I have ever read. It was told from the point of view of a junior high school boy with a fascination for reptiles (he has his own pet iguana). Since there were going to be special effects in almost every shot in the movie, the entire film needed to be storyboarded. The boards also helped in Steve’s presentations to the movie studios. Because the storyboards were also being used as presentation art, I made the panels fairly large and detailed.

During this time Mentor Huebner was considered to be the best storyboard artist in the Film Biz. He boarded North by Northwest for Alfred Hitchcock. He and Sherm Labby storyboarded BladeRunner. As an unusual side note, Mentor’s wife Louise Huebner was the Official Witch of Los Angeles.

Mentor was also a friend of mine. He was visiting my studio when he saw some of my Godzilla storyboards.

“My God, Bill,” he exclaimed, “With the detail you’ve put into these boards, you’re actually designing the film. They can build from your drawings. You should ask to be the production designer.”

I hadn’t thought of that. I decided to take Mentor’s advice. I called Steve Miner and asked him to consider me as being the film’s production designer.

“Let me make a few calls,” he said. After doing a background check on me with some of the people I had worked with in film (including Ron Cobb), Steve called me back.

“You’ve got the job.”

Untold Tales of Hollywood #43

August 28th, 2019

Another great artist whose work I sought out while I was living in Madrid and working on Conan the Barbarian was the incredible Spanish fantasy artist José Segrelles.

Every Christmas, the Illustrated London News gave Segrelles four full color pages to do whatever he wanted to do. This is from his Edgar Allan Poe set:

…and two of his Beethoven pictures:

I had only seen some of the illustrations printed in the Christmas issues of the Illustrated London News in the 1930s until Al Williamson showed me the two Arabian Nights volumes Segrelles had illustrated (I searched for those two books for over twenty years before finding them.

One was in Argentina, the other I found in Portugal — within a week of each other!).

Through the comic shop Totem I met some avid art fans. Whenever Segrelles’ name was mentioned it was always spoken in hushed awe. They told me it would be impossible to find any Segrelles illustrated books. His work was the most sought after of any Spanish illustrator.

As soon as I hit the bookstores in Madrid the hunt was on. The first book i found was one of his last major works: a profusely illustrated gigantic two-volume boxed set of CervantesDon Quijote. I didn’t find any other Segrelles books, however until many years later. Finally, from a Texas book dealer who made regular trips to Spain buying Spanish art books, I purchased a huge volume on the art of Segrelles.

This led me to other Segrelles book purchases that culminated in my obtaining the two Arabian Nights volumes. About twenty years ago a book collecting all of Segrelles’ Arabian Nights paintings (and many of his studies) was published in Spain. The book includes a CD-Rom that allows the owner to enlarge Segrelles’ work to gigantic proportions. This astounding book should be in the collection of anyone seriously involved in the pursuit of great fantasy art.

I had a lot of trouble convincing the Conan the Barbarian producers that the demand for a great Conan film was huge. They had no clue.

On Sundays in Madrid I would usually visit El Rastro, perhaps the largest flea market in the world. One Sunday, I took the Conan producers to a section of El Rastro.

“Look around,” I said. “Right here there are two city blocks of book and comic book dealers selling nothing but Conan comics and books. If we do this movie right, we are tending to  a volcano that, upon our film’s release, will explode.”

The producers looked shell-shocked over the vastness of Conan’s popularity.

Untold Tales of Hollywood #42

August 27th, 2019

I loved Fridays in Madrid when I was working on Conan the Barbarian. At six in the evening I put down my pencil and dashed over to a local comic book shop down the street called Totem. The owner of the shop would close it to the public on Fridays at six — but let in any comic book creators (regulars included Alfonso Azpiri and Chiqui De La Fuente, brother of Victor) that happened to be in the area. We would talk shop for a couple of hours and then wander down the block to a local bistro whose owner absolutely loved comics and their creators.

He would have a long table all ready, just for us. The wine and tapas we enjoyed all night long while we talked were all free, courtesy of the restaurant’s owner. It was a great way to end the week.

Since I was in Madrid, during my lunch breaks I would often race over to El Prado, the home of what I call “Art’s Greatest Hits”, one of the most spectacular art collections in the world. There was one obscure (obscure in America, that is) Spanish artist whose work I desperately wanted to see in person. His name was Mariano Fortuny (not his son, the famed fabric designer of the same name). I had a book with a reproduction of a painting of his, a nude lying belly down on the beach.

It was exquisite in every way. I couldn’t wait to see it full size, as the reproduction in my book was only about 5″ x 7″ — roughly the size of a postcard. I saw that this piece was in the permanent collection of the Prado.

I scoured the museum for that damn painting. It wasn’t with the other Fortuny pics on display within the museum. I looked high and low. Finally, I returned to the other Fortuny pictures on display at the Prado for a more careful search — and there it was! To my amazement, this painting was not 3 ft. by 5 ft. or 5 ft. by 7 ft. as I had imagined. It was the exact same size as it was printed in my book. It was a miniature!

I ended up becoming a Mariano Fortuny (1838-1874) fanatic. At his peak he was perhaps the most successful artist in the world. He launched what half a decade later would become known as the Orientalist movement. He was a Spaniard painting in Spain, Morocco and Italy. His work was so popular that his wife had to publish a book identifying the legitimate Fortuny paintings because there were so many fakes and forgeries on the market.

Here are a few of my favorite paintings by Fortuny:

Look for better representations of the above picture; the color is much richer than the example I’m showing here, especially the rider’s blue garment.

Here’s my favorite Fortuny painting:

I stand by my claim that Daniel Vierge was NOT American pen illustrator Joseph Clement Coll‘s biggest influence. It was Mariano Fortuny. Check these out and see if you don’t agree:

So, why isn’t Fortuny better known?

He died young, at the age of 36, in Rome from malaria. Dying young is usually the kiss of death for the legacy of an artist. The great Mexican painter, Saturnino Herran, immediately springs to mind. Fortuny was given a national funeral ceremony in Rome. I know of at least three huge fairly recent books on his work. Track ’em down and prepare to be blown away.

Untold Tales of Hollywood #41

August 26th, 2019

I’ll try to be chronological with most of my entries in this series, but sometimes my memory pops up something belonging to a past entry. So, that means you’re going to be getting a few out-of-sequence tales…

This tale relates back to Conan the Barbarian, when I was living in Madrid.

It was the 4th of July, and I wanted to have an old fashioned Independence Day celebration in my Madrid apartment.

I scoured to grocery stores with hot dogs on my mind. I found some likely sausages but no hot dog buns. I finally found some hot dog buns. They weren’t called that in Spain, of course. Did you ever see the wonderful art house film, Bread and Chocolate? The title of that film is a Spanish treat. It’s sold as a hot dog bun with thin bars of chocolate inside of it, making a sort of chocolate sandwich. I bought the buns but when making the hot dogs I of course did not include the chocolate. I somehow found mustard and pickle relish, too.

I was all set for making hot dogs. Now, fireworks.

I was surprised to discover how incredibly easy it was to purchase fireworks in Madrid. They’re sold year round — not just on holidays. I bought a bunch.

I lived in a very tall apartment building that faced another equally tall apartment building. They were both joined on their edges by another apartment building. From above, this would look like a big “U” — but without the curves….a squared-off “U”. If you walked on the ground towards the center of the buildings, you found yourself inside a gigantic vertical cul-de-sac.

Across from the apartment building streets was a large military building left over from Franco’s domination. It still housed lots of troops — still pro-Franco, I assumed. Very serious guys.

I invited some friends over for my 4th of July celebration. After we finished our hot dog dinner, I revealed the fireworks. It was night. I grabbed a large firecracker, lit it, and threw it off my balcony.

Ka-BOOM! The explosion amplified and seriously echoed due to the confined space of the surrounding apartments. Instantly, hundreds of lights went on in the buildings’ windows. I kept my apartment dark to avoid identification as the fireworks culprit. I heard Ron Cobb’s wife Robin say, “What was that?” (their apartment was directly below mine). The firecracker had exploded as it passed their window.

I (not too loudly) shouted, “Happy 4th of July!” to Ron and Robin.

Then, I tossed another lit firecracker.

Ka-BOOM! More lights went on. I then heard Ron’s voice.

“My eyes…I can’t see…!”

Had I blinded our production designer? Robin’s laughter clued me to the truth.

One more mischievous “Ka-BOOM!”, more lights went on and the streets suddenly filled with soldiers and military vehicles from the military complex. I could tell that a house-to-house (apartment-to-apartment, actually) search was beginning. After about half an hour, there was suddenly a loud banging on my door. We remained silent. More banging. Then, the authorities moved on.

I’ll never forget that 4th of July.

Untold Tales of Hollywood #40

August 25th, 2019

Like I indicated in the last entry, I was pretty green when it came to film making. I made one huge mistake on First Blood early on: In one of my storyboards, I crossed the axis.

“Crossing the axis” is when you have a character moving in one direction and then use the camera to cross in front or behind that character so that you are shooting him from his opposite side. In a movie, it looks like your character has reversed direction.

Here’s a simple example: Your character is moving from left to right in pursuit of someone. The camera is shooting his right profile. If you move the camera to the other side of him (and “cross the axis”), it will look as though your character just changed direction and is running back to where he just came from. You will totally confuse your audience if you do this. Your character must always move in the same screen direction (unless he actually turns around and begins running back to where he came from).

There is no such thing as crossing the axis in comics, which is why I made that mistake. Once I learned that little nugget, I never crossed the axis ever again.

Here’s another couple of sets of boards:

I loved working on First Blood. The Canadian crews were great; they weren’t as possessive of their job functions like many of the American crews I worked with. If a camera light needed to be moved and I was standing next to it, I could move it. I wasn’t in violation of some union rule; it was acknowledged that I was helping us all to film a little faster instead of us all waiting for the only guy who could officially move that light to show up and do it.

Unfortunately, I had other stuff going on in my life (I think I was also working on my first big one man museum exhibition), so I was forced to leave First Blood.

I did not come off as the most responsible guy in the Film Biz, doing stuff like that, and felt bad that I had burned Buzz in a way. Nevertheless, Buzz ended up hiring me on at least one more film — a film in which, to my discredit, I believe I did the exact same thing.

Here’s one more set of my First Blood boards:

Untold Tales of Hollywood #39

August 24th, 2019

Film #12: First Blood (1981)
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Production designed by Wolf Kroeger

I got a call from my Conan the Barbarian line producer Buzz Feitshans. He wanted to hire me to storyboard a new action film he was producing, First Blood. It was co-written by Sylvester Stallone, who would also star in the film. Out offices would be in Vancouver, British Columbia; we would be shooting in and around the BC town of Hope. The director was Ted Kotcheff. I had just seen his film North Dallas Forty and was knocked out by it. I have no interest in football whatsoever, so I considered my liking it quite an achievement. The executive producer (one of our money guys) was Andrew Vajna.

They flew me up to Vancouver where I promptly made my first mistake: I told the truth.

When checking through Canadian customs, I was asked the purpose of my visit.

“I’m working on a film here.”

BOOM! Virtual sirens went off and I was hustled to another room. I should have answered, “I’m on vacation and plan to spend a lot of money here as a tourist.” Instead, I was perceived as a thief, here to steal a job from some poor Canadian. Buzz got called and he sent one of the show’s fixers to straighten things out. When I got to our offices, the film crew looked up at me like I was an idiot, then resumed their work.

First Blood was an action picture with plenty of action. I was hired to storyboard the action sequences.

Initially, Ted Kotcheff, the director, was not happy that I had been hired. He felt as if I was impinging upon his turf as a director. I put him at ease.

“Look, Ted — I’m here to serve you. This is your film; you direct me. If I’m not telling the story the way you would, just let me know and I’ll change the imagery. If you want to experiment and try something out, then let’s do it. If we find out it doesn’t work, all we’ve done is wasted some bits of paper and a little time — not hundreds of thousands of dollars in film and crew expenses.”

Ted at first seemed greatly relieved — then truly excited by the possibilities. We began working together very closely and happily.

I asked line producer Buzz Feitshans why he always hires a storyboard artist for his films.

“When the film is in production and we’re shooting, the director on average is getting three hours of sleep per night. There are some days when the director shows up totally fried. When that happens, we shoot the boards.”

Buzz also did something else I found to be really smart. Everyone in the crew gets a daily call sheet. It tells them what’s shooting that day, where it’s taking place and who and what will be needed on set. Buzz would print the storyboards of what we would be shooting that day on the back of the call sheet, creating a visual shorthand for the entire cast and crew, saving enormous amounts of time and, therefore, money. Brilliant!

I asked Buzz why he hired me in particular. Except for Conan the Barbarian, I did not have a lot of real film making experience.

“Because you’re cheap.” (I was being paid what Buzz had been paying me on Conan the Barbarian)

Producer Andy Vajna drove me to the sets being built in Hope. It was a long drive, so we had some long conversations. He explained that he didn’t give a damn about the “art” of film making — he just wanted to make what we in the business call “popcorn movies” or hits. Andy told me he was all about making lots and lots of money.

“Couldn’t we do both?” I asked. “Why not strive to make great films that are also incredibly popular?” said the naive storyboard kid.

Andy, originally from Budapest, had a house in Hong Kong (I believe some of his early films were martial arts movies). He loved Hong Kong and claimed it hosted the best restaurants there of any cuisine you would care to choose.

“Best Italian food? Hong Kong. Best seafood? Hong Kong. Best hamburgers? Hong Kong.”

In Hope, I met production designer Wolf Kroeger. We hit it off right away. Wolf treated this green kid (me) as if I was a long-time fellow professional. I deeply admired his sets for Robert Altman‘s Popeye. I had very mixed feelings when it came to Altman and his films, though (loved his early stuff, hated his later stuff), and Wolf felt much the same way. His tales of working with Altman explained and illuminated a lot of the suspicions I had regarding that director.

I visited locations outside of Hope with the crew. I learned a lot from our great cinematographer Andrew Laszlo. He let me look through his viewfinder as Ted explained a shot he wanted to do of Rambo running up to an unseen cliff edge. Using the viewfinder, I panned across the ridge. Laszlo saw what I was doing and gently corrected my camera motion. Instead of a straight pan across, Andy slightly rotated the lens to put us in Rambo’s shoes and get the sense and feeling of a much more dizzying experience on top of the cliff face.

Here are two sets of some of my First Blood storyboards:

Untold Tales of Hollywood #38

August 23rd, 2019

Film #11: Monster in the Closet (1981)
Directed by Bob Dahlin

Monster in the Closet was a low budget horror flick directed by Bob Dahlin, a protegé of Robert Altman‘s, I believe. Dahlin and his coterie came to me to design the guy-in-a-suit title monster. Bob called in a lot of favors for his little film and ended up with Howard Duff, Claude Akins, Henry Gibson, Donald Moffat, Paul Dooley, John Carradine, Stella Stevens and many other Hollywood luminaries in his cast.

During our discussion of the film I suggested that the monster shouldn’t just be a monster —- but a monster with a big surprise. How about having the real monster living inside of the big monster?

Bob loved that concept. I briefly boarded the idea:

Then, the heavy lifting began.

Dahlin had no idea as to what he wanted either of the two monsters to look like, so I began shooting in the dark. I nailed the big monster design fairly quickly:

But Bob couldn’t decide upon the inner creature. I pitched him lots of designs, well after the time we had negotiated for my services ran out. Each time he came back to me, he had to pay me more. Ron Bakal, my attorney back then, did a great job of negotiating for the extra work. Eventually, this low budget film had no more money in the budget left for further designs, so Ron negotiated a deferred payment — and profit participation — for subsequent designs. He also negotiated that when any of film’s profits began to come in, that I would be the first to be paid — ahead of everyone else, including the director and producers. Good deal!

Here are all of my inner creature designs (not in order):

I’m not sure (I haven’t watched this movie since it came out), but I think they went with the following:

Note the notes. I always write lots of note regarding my creatures and their design.

Untold Tales of Hollywood #37

August 20th, 2019

Film #10: Heavy Metal (1981)
Directed by Barrie Nelson
Written by Dan O’Bannon

I only worked on the B-17 sequence in this film, designing gremlins. Again, my work on this was a quick favor for some friends on the movie, as I was still working full time on Conan the Barbarian.

Lots of jobs and job offers flowed into Ron Cobb‘s and my Conan art department. If we could turn a job or problem around quickly for a friend, we usually did so.

In this case, the Heavy Metal folks contacted me (I think it was through Ron), asking me to direct the B-17 sequence and design the story’s gremlins. Because of Conan, I didn’t have the time to direct the  B-17 story but I was honored to be asked. I drew up several different kinds of gremlins for them (I think Cobb drew some, too), though. I think I might have copies of those designs — but who knows where?

Now, did any of our designs get used in the movie? Maybe, but truly, I have no idea. Perhaps I should watch it again.