Let’s get back to the Conan the Destroyer set designs.
There was a line in the script that read something like, “Conan and his merry band of adventurers cross the desert.”
That inspired me to think, “What if we saw Conan and crew as small silhouettes off in the distance with the rotting carcass of a mammoth in the deep foreground, letting the audience know that we were in The Hyborian Age and to expect the unexpected.
This painted drawing was the result:
Production designer Pierluigi Basile showed director Richard Fleischer my rotting mammoth picture. Richard got very excited and dashed out of the art department. He promptly returned with our great director of photography, Jack Cardiff, in tow and showed him my picture.
I admired Jack Cardiff enormously. He had shot many of my favorite films, including A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes and African Queen. His magnificent work on Black Narcissus earned Jack a well-deserved Oscar. Cardiff and Fleischer first worked together on The Vikings.
Jack turned to me with a twinkle in his eye, pointed to my picture and told me, “I’m going to make it look exactly like that.”
Sure enough, everyone pitched in to get this shot in the film. The crew even got live vultures for the shot, just like in my drawing. The vulture’s wings were clipped so that they couldn’t fly away.
Unfortunately, the crew did not realize that in addition to being good fliers, vultures are really good runners. As soon as the vultures were placed on the rotting mammoth carcass sculpture and the crew stepped back to get the shot, the vultures all jumped off the carcass and took off across the Sonoran desert.
For the next two hours our crew was chasing vultures all over the Sonoran desert.
They finally captured and wrangled the last vulture. This time, the vultures all had their claws tied to the mammoth carcass with small leather straps…
…and we got our shot.