I finally got my chance to work with Alex Toth when I was made the production designer on an American Godzilla movie being produced and directed by Steve Miner from a brilliant script by Fred Dekker. I began as the film’s pre-production artist and storyboard man, then (with some spurring from my friend, the legendary storyboard artist Mentor Huebner) asked for and received the job of production designer on the film.
There were special effects shots in nearly every scene, so practically the entire movie needed to be boarded so that the production could get a realistic guesstimate as to the film’s effects budget. I immediately hired Dave Stevens and Doug Wildey as storyboard artists. My pal and studio mate Dave could be slow if left entirely to his own devices, so I drew rough layouts for most of his scenes to speed things up. I revered Jonny Quest creator Doug Wildey (now there was a guy who knew how to visually tell stories for the screen!) and found it ironic that he was working for me, especially as I was learning so much from him about film and visual storytelling as we collaborated.
There was still plenty of storyboard work that needed to be produced, however. A light switched on in my brain.
Here’s my chance to work with Alex Toth!
We could collaborate and I could say “thank you” to him for all of his inspiration by tossing a good job his way on a potentially great film (in addition to Dave and Doug, animation master David Allen was hired to do the stop motion animation effects, paleoartist Stephen Czerkas created the armature and sculpted form of our stop motion Godzilla figure and the celebrated make-up artist and innovator Rick Baker was taken on to create a large robotic Godzilla head)! We had a real Dream Team working on this film.
I phoned Alex.
“Alex! This is Bill Stout. I’d love to have you work with me on this new Godzilla film I’m on.”
Alex was immediately dismissive.
“I don’t do that kind of movie.”
“But Alex — you haven’t even read the script! Its not like any Godzilla film you’ve seen in the past. It’s terrific! It’s a sort of Spielbergian version of Godzilla as seen through the eyes of a 14 year-old boy. You’ll love it. I’ve been made the movie’s production designer. We need to have the entire film storyboarded, so that’s why I’ve called, hoping you’d like to work on this with me.”
“If you couldn’t handle the job, why’d you take it?”
I made some quick, parting niceties and got off the phone. That was the last time I ever spoke to Alex. I decided that maintaining our friendship was just too much hard work — especially since all the work was on my part and none was on his.
I decided I’d be much, much happier admiring Alex’s work from the distance of the printed page.
To Be Continued. . .