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Untold Tales of Hollywood #6

FILM #6: Nine Princes of Amber (1979)
Directed by Robert K. Weiss
Production designed by William Stout

(Above: Searching for an Amber logo style)

Nine Princes of Amber, based upon the popular Roger Zelazny Chronicles of Amber series of books, was a presentation art project — the most elaborate I’ve ever done. Robert K. Weiss, a big, jolly fellow with a perpetual twinkle in his eyes, hired me for this project. Robert is known for his comedies. He produced The Blues Brothers, Police Squad!, Amazon Women on the Moon and Tommy Boy among many others. Back then, The Kentucky Fried Movie was his sole film credit. Bob was also a partner in a rocket company.

Amber had the potential of being a new and different kind of film genre, a sort of blend between sword & sorcery and high tech sci-fi. Creating this mash-up in 1979 served me well when I became the production designer for Masters of the Universe years later.

Bob had hired Boris Vallejo to do some presentation paintings — at least half a dozen as I recall. Boris had already executed a series of drawings in this regard. Bob asked me to contact Boris to get his permission for me to complete these drawings as fully rendered paintings. Boris graciously gave me his permission and we became friends from that moment on. Boris is a very kind gentleman, talented artist and a great guy. His sweet wife, Julie Bell, is an incredibly talented painter as well. She and I are both Signature Members of the California Art Club, the oldest art organization west of the Mississippi.

It was fun working from Boris’ drawings. They were very dynamic. The compositions were already complete, so I didn’t have to worry about the designing of each piece. I focused solely on the color and rendering and capturing the effects in the way Bob wanted. I painted these with acrylics. They weren’t anywhere as slick as Boris’ finished art — I’m generally not that kind of painter. My interpretations had a gutsy, painterly roughness to them, and each had a different color scheme.

Above: Some Amber creature designs and an Amber comic book cover rough.

After those were completed, Bob had me work on ancillary licensing presentations. I did sample designs for an Amber Tarot deck, an Amber comic book (cover and sample page) and lots of Amber toys.

With my comic book background I was a natural to execute the Amber comic book cover:

(Above is a rough layout for an Amber comic book page)

I also painted a faux Amber movie poster.

(Roughs for my Amber poster. The design directly above was chosen to go to finish)

I gave Bob the price of $2500 for everything (decent money back then when my Hollywood apartment rent was only about a hundred bucks per month). Bob asked me, out of curiosity, how I came up with that figure.

“That’s the price of a Charles R. Knight Tyrannosaurus rex bronze that’s up for sale back east.”

I got the gig and I got the bronze (the only casting ever made by Knight).

When it became known I was working on a Zelazny Amber film, the Amber fans began emerging from the woodwork. They badgered me endlessly, trying to get cast in the film. One particular fan always dressed as Corwin (one of the series’ main characters) in public and insisted that everyone he met call him Corwin. This was my first taste of true fan loonyness. After this film experience, I tended to be more secretive when it came to talking about my current film projects.

Sadly, the film never ended up getting its financing.

I stayed friends with Bob. He invited me to The Blues Brothers set and introduced me to Robin Williams, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. I was also invited to The Blues Brothers wrap party at which The Blues Brothers performed. Bob also insisted to Universal that I paint the poster for Amazon Women on the Moon.

Good guy, Bob.

PS: I’m still looking for finished color images from this project. When (if?) I find them I’ll add them to this post.

3 thoughts on “Untold Tales of Hollywood #6

  1. I am loving your tales from the movie biz! This one is great. A film based on the Amber series would be great but definitely hard to pull off. And a Charles R. Knight T-Rex bronze! Amazing. Thanks again for these wonderful posts.

  2. Wow, I had no idea! Huge fan of Zelazny’s Amber, this is a lost opportunity. Would love to see more of the work generated for this project. Huge fan of your work William, we met briefly at SDCC in 1977. Gray Morrow did the only illustrations of the main Amber characters that I found appropriate in the Illustrated Roger Zelazny oh so long ago.

    Also a huge Charles R. Knight fan, envy on that bronze!

  3. Thanks for sharing this story, among the many others. As an Amber fan, been imagining the movie in my head for nearly 50 years. I think Mel Gibson in his prime would have been a good producer or director for the project, since he has a strong take on modern action (Lethal Weapon) and swords/knights (Braveheart).

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