Anza-Borrego Stout Lecture on Antarctica

January 9th, 2020

On Saturday, January 11, I will be giving a PowerPoint presentation for the Anza-Borrego Paleontology Symposium: Dinosaurs to Deserts.

This will be at the Borrego Springs Performing Arts Center, 590 Palm Canyon Drive, Borrego Springs, California.

My talk will be “Dinosaurs, Penguins and Whales: The Wildlife of Antarctica”.

The $25 ticket for this event includes the Friday, January 10 lectures as well. The other speakers are Jack Horner, Tom Demere, Greg MacDonald and Dr. Jessie Atterholt.

I hope to see you there!

I am Back and Ready for 2020!

January 2nd, 2020

Unusual for me, I took some time off in late November and more than half of December. I owed my wife a big vacation, so just before I left for my Australian adventure in October I planned and booked a fairly elaborate vacation in Costa Rica, a place my wife has always wanted to visit.

I researched and booked all of the hotels and inter-Costa Rica travel, our nature hikes, snorkeling and other tours, the restaurants, plus our in-country flights and air travel to San José, Costa Rica and back to Los Angeles International Airport. I like doing that kind of stuff. If the bottom falls out of the art market, maybe I’ll become a travel agent…

We enjoyed Costa Rica at just the right time: after the end of the rainy season and right before the big Christmas/New Year’s tourist crush.

The Costa Rica people (called Tikos) were incredibly kind and good-spirited. We saw lots of wildlife, from sloths to tapirs, from macaws to toucans and lots of incredibly colored hummingbirds. The food and accommodations were wonderful. We were there for about three weeks, all over the country. We saw and experienced a lot!

More on Costa Rica later!

¡Pura Vida!

Return of the Living Dead Appearance Tonight!

October 27th, 2019

Hi, Return of the Living Dead fans!
There is going to be a special screening tonight of the movie, followed by a Q & A with Yours Truly, Beverly (Tina) Randolph, Allan (Tarman) Trautman and make-up maestro Kenny Myers.

This is going to be an only-in-Hollywood experience, part of the Rooftop Cinema Club series. Yes, we’re going to watch our little zombie film under the stars at 6121 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood on the third floor rooftop (3rd floor access off of El Centro). Doors open at 6:30 PM; the film screens at 8:00 PM. There will be cocktails and food being served as well.

Here’s the website for ticketing and other information:
https://rooftopcinemaclub.com/los-angeles/neuehouse/film/the-return-of-the-living-dead-1985/

See you there! Happy Halloween! More Brains!

Where The Heck Has Bill Been?

October 25th, 2019

Long time no blog!

The reason is, I’ve been traveling, promoting my book Fantastic Worlds all across the USA and the world…well, part of the world (Australia). I guested at about twenty shows and conventions this year in promotion of my book. Since most conventions are in the summer/early autumn, I was doing a lot of them back-to-back recently.

I recently appeared in Tampa, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Salt Lake City, Utah; Austin, Texas; Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns, Australia; and Baltimore, Maryland (this last weekend).

I spent three weeks in Australia. Besides the cities mentioned, I also journeyed to the Daintree Rain Forest (near Cairns), the Blue Mountains (to visit the home/museum of artist Norman Lindsay), Lamington National Park and Phillip Island, where I saw the fairy penguins emerge from the sea and head for their land burrows. I attended the annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting, which was in Brisbane this year and I delivered Ron Cobb‘s Lifetime Achievement Award for Concept Design to his family in Sydney.

So, lots of travel and adventures (I did a twelve mile hike through the rain forest in Lamington National Park and earlier watched as a twelve-feet carpet python slowly crossed the road in front of my car).

I shall resume my Untold Tales of Hollywood stories shortly; my body is still adjusting to all of the time changes this past month.

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.