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Untold Tales of Hollywood #56

So, Pierluigi Basile and I set about designing Conan the Destroyer. This is a joke photo of Piero and me attempting to deal with Yugoslavian brushes when we were in Zagreb on Conan the Barbarian:

I designed the sculpture of Dagoth (before he gets transformed into the monster at the end of the movie).

Ron Cobb suggested I design Dagoth as a reclining Buddha. I promptly agreed. The funny thing was, I had no idea (until much later) what a reclining Buddha looked like –– so this doesn’t really look like a reclining Buddha. Nevertheless, my design worked for the movie.

Initially, Ron Cobb took the first stab at depicting Dagoth after he had been transformed into a monster. Because of Cobb’s cartooning background, his Dagoth was very humorous in appearance. It would have brought laughs instead of screams. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of Ron’s design. I do have, however, my two attempts at making Ron’s design scarier:

Trouble arose when Carlo Rambaldi (1925-2012) got involved. I have no respect for Rambaldi –– not as a designer nor as a human being. As director Joe Dante once put it, “Little kids in Nebraska know Rambaldi’s a fraud –– why don’t Hollywood producers?”

Rambaldi was down in Mexico with us because he was creating the sand worms for David Lynch‘s sci-fi epic Dune. I noticed something strange right away. All of the local Mexico City girls hired to help out Rambaldi all looked alike. I found out later that Carlo would go to discotheques to find his potential workers. He had a physical type that really turned him on –– it was doe-eyed hippy chicks. Carlo’s plan was classic Hollywood: jobs in trade for sex.

To make the sand worms look huge on screen, instead of sand, Carlo used microballoons: tiny bubbles of silica that functioned well as miniature sand, as they fell slowly. The problem with the microballoons, however, came if you were to inhale them. They would stay within your lungs for the rest of your life and begin to slowly cut through all of your lung tissue over the years. Wearing a mask was crucial to one’s future health. Yet Carlo never told his workers that. I saw them all working unmasked. He clearly didn’t give a damn what happened to those gals later in life.

Carlo insisted that he was the film’s creature designer. Fine by me, except for the fact that, in my not-so humble opinion, his designs were crap. Here’s his design for the transformed Dagoth:

I did a joke version of this design:

I drew this Dagoth design:

Then I drew this very H. P. Lovecraft/Cthulhu-inspired creature (Conan creator Robert E. Howard was friends with Lovecaft and contributed to HPL’s Cthulhu mythos):

Sadly (for the film), Rambaldi won out.

Originally, Wilt Chamberlain was going to wear Rambaldi’s monster suit. I watched Carlo sculpting the Dagoth creature.

“You know,” I commented, “that Wilt is not going to fit in this suit design of yours.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. This will fit Wilt perfectly.”

“I’ve stood next to the guy. Your suit would fit me ––– but Wilt? No way. You should have made a body cast to sculpt over instead of eyeballing it.”

(An attempt at a body cast of Wilt was made at one point. Unfortunately, Carlo delegated the task of making a plaster cast of Wilt to two of his girls –– neither of whom had ever made a body cast before. They mixed the wrong ratio of plaster to water, so the cast never took. This mishap nearly got Rambaldi fired, as we were working on a very tight schedule that did not allow for re-dos)

Carlo continued to disagree and kept sculpting.

Guess what? The suit didn’t fit.

The sleeves and the legs of the suit had to be cut open to accommodate Wilt’s girth. That’s why in the end of the film, when Dagoth gets transformed, it takes place at night during a lightning storm. That was done to make it deliberately difficult for the movie audience to see that the Dagoth monster suit was being barely held together by diaper pins.

Andre the Giant (an even worse fit for Carlo’s suit) has credit for playing the transformed Dagoth. I wasn’t on set when those scenes were shot, so I can’t tell you who was in the suit. I can tell you that I never once saw Andre the Giant while I was on the film.

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