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Untold Tales of Hollywood #43

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.

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #42

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.

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #41

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.

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #40

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:

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #39

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:

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #38

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.

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #37

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.

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #36

Film #9: Tanya’s Island (1980)
Directed by Alfred Sole
Art direction by Angelo Stea

My pal Mick Garris brought me aboard on this one. I don’t recall what role Mick had on this picture. My pals Rick Baker and Rob Bottin were on this stillborn baby, too.

The movie starred D. D. Winters (Denise Katrina Matthews). Years later, Prince changed her name to Vanity (he originally wanted to call her “Vagina”, but she refused) and she embarked on a singing career with her group Vanity 6. In 1995 she left Hollywood and the entertainment business to serve the Lord and practice her Christian faith. Her Tanya’s Island experience may have been one of the reasons she left The Biz. There was a sex scene in the film. I don’t recall whether or not it was a rape or consensual according to the script. As related to me by some of my friends who were on set, both D. D. and the male actor in the scene were instructed to have real sex on camera, which is completely unprofessional if not illegal.

I was asked to paint some fairly large paintings that appear in the film. One was of a mastiff with a human face (which reminded me of that composite creature in the Philip Kaufman Invasion of the Body Snatchers).

The painting originally looked much nicer than this. The beautiful background and foreground I had created for this picture was sloppily painted out by someone in the art department up in Canada. This job, which I did mostly as a favor, falls under the heading of “No good deed goes unpunished.” D. D. wasn’t the only person abused on this picture.

The other painting was a bloody silhouetted night time cityscape. I think I may have painted a third piece as well — I hope not.

Director Alfred Sole is best known for his second film, Alice, Sweet Alice, Brook Shields‘ movie debut, an okay horror film. He also directed Pandemonium (I created the one sheet art for that movie but didn’t notice he was the director until a few minutes ago). After directing about five films, in a sort of reverse career move, he became a production designer, most notably on the great TV series Veronica Mars.

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #35

There’s a great scene with a gigantic snake in Conan the Barbarian. Originally, the script called for Conan to drip sweat on the snake, which makes it open its eyes.

Being a reptile enthusiast, I approached writer-director John Milius.

“There’s a problem with this scene, John.”

“What is it?”

“Snakes don’t have eyelids — but here’s what we can do: When Conan drips sweat onto the snake, have the snake’s pupils dilate, to show its been awoken from its slumber.”

And that’s what we did.

Moral (from the Unwritten Rules of Hollywood): Never present a problem unless you already have the solution.

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #34

Here’s another Conan warm-up sketch:

While going through my archives, I came across a sheet of paper filled with a story that became legendary within the DeLaurentiis family.

Here’s the set-up and the story:
One evening I met two of Dino’s daughters, Raffaella (who was one of our producers) and her younger (sixteen-years-old) sister Francesca, both very attractive women. The next day I performed a little personality test. At breakfast, I presented Raffy with a beautiful red carnation, which I had purchased from my favorite flower stall in Zagreb. I then presented Francesca with my breakfast sugar cubes, knowing that she had a sweet tooth for lots of sugar in her morning coffee.

Raffy was gracious, but complained she had no boutonniere.

Francesca seemed charmed and delighted by my humble gift. I then showed Francesca my Conan art, which she had never seen, and we became fast friends.

About twenty minutes later I was approached by Sigo, who beckoned to me to come out of my (and Ron Cobb‘s) office. I don’t recall what Sigo’s job on the film was; he was probably a DeLaurentiis “fixer”. Sigo looked like a Yugoslavian hitman, dressed head-to-toe in black leather, with a dead-eyed look on his face. Lurking not too far down the hallway from Sigo was Francesca’s uncle, Alfredo DeLaurentiis, his usual grim countenance appearing grimmer than ever.

Sigo leaned forward, searching deep into my eyes for intentions. He spoke slowly and seriously:


“Don’t worry,” I joked. “There are plenty of sixteen-year-old Yugoslavian girls.”

Alfredo glanced away when I looked over to him.

Sigo’s cold expression melted into his more familiar gap-toothed grin.

“Of course, you know I’m only joking…” he laughed.

I stared deep into the eyes of this human crocodile and knew he wasn’t.

“Oh, of course,” I reassured him.

Sigo’s eyes then caught Alfredo’s. The slightly grim and anxious old Italian’s brow knit in acknowledgement. He turned and retreated silently back into Cobb’s office, followed by Sigo. I trailed Sigo with Nino Rota’s The Godfather theme playing inside my head.

This story spread and became part of the film’s backstage lore. Many decades later I ran into Raffaella at Dino’s funeral service in L. A. When her eyes caught mine she burst into a huge smile of recognition.

“Don’t touch leetle girl!” she laughed.