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Untold Tales of Hollywood #116

Mention should also be made of my award-winning children’s book, The Little Blue Brontosaurus.

Byron Preiss and I co-wrote the book, I designed all of the characters, painted and lettered the cover and did a handful of original illustrations before handing my layouts over to Pogo artist Don Morgan.

The book won the Children’s Choice Award for 1984.

Caedmon Records was the publisher of the book. They also released the book as an LP and cassette, both of which included a Little Blue poster.

Caedmon was a spoken word record company — and that was the problem. This was their first book — and they didn’t know how to sell it. Every store that carried the book promptly sold out of the book. Yet Caedmon wasn’t there to follow-up with more orders. I also noticed just how difficult it was to get copies for myself, so their marketing and distribution departments appeared to be filled with useless individuals.

Back Cover

I felt that Byron and I had a terrific intellectual property. I pressured him to begin the second Little Blue volume. Plus, I wanted to create a Little Blue coloring and activity book. He dragged his feet for what seemed like forever. I finally gave up and wrote the sequel myself. I titled it Little Blue’s Big Race.

The color here is a bit garish — not so in the original; I don’t know why.

This was the cover I designed for the book. Instead of saying “Thank you” for moving this project along, Byron became upset that I had written the sequel without his input. I told him to edit and contribute to what I had written. I was happy to share the writing credit.

There was no more communication on the sequel project for several months. I instructed Byron to return my original. It’s known among artists and writers that worked with Byron that he was cheap. He countered his cheapness by offering artists and writers dream projects to work on. He underpaid his employees, so he didn’t always necessarily get the brightest bulbs from the box.

Byron had one of his interns take care of shipping my Little Blue’s Big Race original painting back to me. The idiot packaged my art between two sheets of cardboard — no bubble wrap or extra padding — and shipped it off. The original arrived with huge gouges in the packaging. The art was folded in two, ruining the carefully airbrushed gradation of the background. There were rips through some of the characters. Until this happened, I had a buyer for the original art.

Fortunately the piece was insured — but I would have preferred to receive the picture in good condition instead of getting the insurance money.

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #115

Film #24: The Natural History Project (1985)
Directed by Jim Henson
Screenplay by William Stout
Production Designed by William Stout

This begins an interesting and ultimately ironic story.

Lisa Henson, the daughter of Muppet Master Jim Henson, wanted to make a film or mini-series on the great war between two of the earliest and greatest paleontologists, Edward Dinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh. At the same time, Jim was looking for what he called his third “serious Muppet movie” (his first two were Dark Crystal and Labyrinth). Jim thought that maybe a dinosaur film would work both as his next film project and as a visual test for aspects of Lisa’s project, perhaps making Lisa’s film or series more likely to happen.

They took a vacation in the Bahamas to research and discuss ideas for both film projects. They were having lunch on the beach while perusing a stack of dinosaur books they had brought with them. Their cook saw what they were doing.

“You think those are dinosaur books?” she harrumphed. “I’ll show you a dinosaur book.”

She went back to the house and retrieved a copy of my book, THE DINOSAURS – A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era.

Jim and Lisa examined my book, getting more excited with the turning of each page. Then, they got to my bio in the back of the book and discovered that, lo and behold, I had also worked in the film business.

Lisa promised to contact me as soon as she got back to L.A., which she did. She set up a meeting at Warner Brothers between the three of us.

The first meeting consisted of Jim, Lisa and me agreeing that it would be great to make a serious Muppets dinosaur movie.

Our second meeting consisted of Jim, Lisa and me agreeing that it would be great to make a serious Muppets dinosaur movie.

“Uh oh,” I thought “— this isn’t going anywhere.”

The next day I wrote a treatment for our dinosaur film. I surprised Jim and Lisa at our third meeting by giving them copies of my treatment. They read my treatment and loved it. I turned my twenty page treatment into a screenplay. I wrote two, actually. I did not want the dinosaurs to speak, so I gave them a choice of having a film with narration or a film with no voice-overs whatsoever, a completely visual telling of our story (My preference, as we’d end up with a film that could be shown in any country without dialogue or subtitles).

Warner Brothers heavyweight Lucy Fisher loved it, too, and committed to a healthy $20 million budget for the film with an extra $5 million for R & D on Muppet dinosaurs. So that no one else would jump on this idea and make a similar film, we gave our film a secret, vague, generic title: The Natural History Project.

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #114

Here are the other seven United Artists logo roughs I drew:

United Artists then changed their minds and backed off the idea of having an animal represent their company. They asked for architectural symbols instead. I complied.

None were chosen.

I had fun doing these, though.

Next: Date With An Angel.

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #113

Film Project #23: United Artists logo

I got a call from my pal David Reneric from his office at Seiniger & Associates, the hottest movie poster studio in the world at that time. Tony Seiniger‘s design group produced about 80% of the movie posters being done in Hollywood. Tony always had his pick of the various studios’ most important films.

Because I came through like gangbusters on my American Graffiti poster (which came to me because, against Seiniger’s wishes, George Lucas insisted upon Seiniger using me), I suddenly became a Seiniger regular on speed dial. My annual income dramatically increased, as movie poster illustration and annual report illustration were the two highest paying jobs in illustration back then (I should have bought several houses instead of a lot of antiquarian illustrated children’s books).

Whenever I walked through the 3rd Avenue doors of Seiniger & Associates, I felt like a kid in an artistic candy shop. What great art was I going to see next? It could be Dan GoozĂ©e‘s Russian agit prop-influenced poster for Streets of Fire, or Drew Struzan‘s J. C. Leyendecker-meets Alphonse Mucha-style art, or Barry Jackson‘s powerful painting for Escape From New York, or one of John Berkey‘s huge, energetic pieces. I didn’t realize it at the time; I was working in the last Golden Age of movie posters. The arrival of PhotoShop ended movie poster illustration.

David’s job for me was a little different. United Artists decided that they needed a new logo to represent their company — and they wanted an animal — hence, the call to me (just as actors get typecast, so do illustrators. I did a lot of different stuff, but I was primarily known as the teen comedy guy, the Monty Python guy, and the dinosaurs and animals guy (Tony expressed his deep regrets in not having me do the poster for the Ringo Starr comedy, Caveman).

I drew a series of roughs…

…then finished the ideas I felt were the best.

Here are the first five:

Five more tomorrow…

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #112

Producer-director Steve Miner wanted me to production design his films Warlock and House. Regarding Warlock, I told Steve that I had just signed a contract with Walt Disney Imagineering the day before Steve’s offer.

“Well, break your contract!”

“Steve…I know it might be common in Hollywood, but I’m not the kind of guy who goes around breaking his contracts. I’m a man of my word.”

Steve was disappointed; Disney was relieved.

Steve got Greg Fonseca to production design House. For fun, Steve tried to set us up to dislike each other (people in the Film Biz love creating head games), but I didn’t take the bait. I could tell Greg was nervous and insecure when I visited the set. He tried a few bits of one-upmanship on me, which made me chuckle. His digs didn’t work on me as I could sense his insecurities, I could see right through what he was doing and I knew it was me that Steve really wanted to design Warlock. In front of Steve, I complimented Greg on his design work for Warlock.

Although I didn’t production design House, I did contribute to the film. The character played by William Katt had an aunt who was a surrealist painter. Steve asked me to paint the paintings she had supposedly done. I agreed to paint the most important one and then designed the other four for my studio mate Richard Hescox to complete. Here are some of my roughs, my finished “unfinished” painting of the aunt, and three of the four Richard Hescox paintings (unfortunately, I don’t have a record of Richard’s fourth picture):

Aunt painting sketch, first pass.
Approved Aunt painting sketch.
My finished “unfinished” acrylic aunt painting.

OK…Why finished “unfinished” painting?

Steve Miner wanted a mostly but still partially completed painting. Steve rejected my first attempt, as it really was a truly unfinished painting with the blank areas not actually being blank. The blank areas were loosely laid in — like when I make a real painting.

“The audience is not going to understand this is an unfinished painting. You need to make the unfinished parts white.”

Steve was right, of course. I shouldn’t have expected the movie audience to understand my actual painting process. It reminds me of my favorite Billy Wilder quote.

A movie fan, upon meeting Wilder, praised Wilder for his films’ subtleties.

“Jah, subtlety is good ,” Wilder replied, “as long as you hit them over the head with it.”

Stout sketch for Hescox #1.
Hescox painting from that sketch.
Another Hescox painting for House.
Another of my sketches for Richard.
My final sketch for Richard…
…and Richard’s painted interpretation of it. This is my favorite of Richard’s four paintings.
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Untold Tales of Hollywood #111

Film #22: House (1985; released 1986)
Directed by Steve Miner
Production Designed by Greg Fonseca

I found myself working again with my producer-director pal from the aborted Godzilla project, Steve Miner, on a new project of his, House. Like Godzilla, the screenplay for House was written by Fred Dekker. I created the presentation art for Steve that got the financing for House. Here are four of the roughs I drew:

After the design above was selected by Steve, I went to finish:

This piece for House is one of my favorite pieces of presentation art. It’s bold, simple, funny, scary and sexy.

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #110

I was not the sole designer of the Predator creature. I heard there was some trouble with the suit after they began shooting in the jungle. Other special effects make-up designers were brought in who made some great design enhancements to the monster suit.

The great Robert Short came up with those cool high tech-style dreadlocks.

Recent Stout interpretation of the Predator, showing the high-tech dreads.

Someone on Stan Winston‘s talented team created that super cool four-pronged mouth.

Another fairly recent Stout interpretation of the Predator, showing the creature’s interesting quadruple fang effect.
2002 pen drawing of the Predator from Monsters Sketchbook Volume 2.

“Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan.”

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #109

How I Screwed Up the Great Original Ending to Predator

At our second meeting, I cheerfully congratulated director John McTiernan on his current film project (Hunter, later renamed Predator).

“This is going to be amazing. You’re going to attract two different audiences to this film.”

John looked confused.

“What are you talking about?”

“You’ll get your action/adventure crowd, of course — but with that ending, you’ll attract a different audience as well. At the end, after Arnold Schwarzenegger has killed the Hunter, he looks down at the carcass of the creature. He notices something odd. He looks closer; then closer still. He reaches down to the carcass and opens it up. Inside all of this scary alien armor is a tiny, frail little creature. What a terrific commentary on Man as Hunter. He has to gird himself up with all this technology to hunt other creatures.”

McTiernan thought about what I had just said. He opened his script and re-read the ending. Then, right in front of me, he tore those pages out of the script.

“John! What are you doing?!”

“We can’t have that ending,” he replied. “That would mean that Arnold beat up a wimp!

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Untold Tales of Hollywood #107

Film #21 : Predator (1985; released 1987)
Directed by John McTiernan
Production Designed by John Vallone

My pal Rick Baker called me in on this one. We had always wanted to work together. Would this be our chance?

I was thrilled to get the call, as this would officially be my first work on a big studio film, in this case, 20th Century Fox (some of my other films, like Conan the Barbarian, were released by big studios but were, in reality, independent productions). This represented quite a film career breakthrough for me.

My first Predator lunch was with Rick, director John McTiernan, and production designer John Vallone. At that time, the film’s title was Hunter. During our meeting, McTiernan opened up a bookmarked page in a book on Alien designer H. R. Giger.

“I would not be unhappy if the creature looked like this,” he said, pointing to a specific Giger painting.

I was stunned. Why not just hire Giger?

To satisfy McTiernan, I did one Giger-esque creature design:

I designed this so that the tail could extend or flip forward and attach to the head.

But, in an attempt to encourage McTiernan and Vallone to take a non-Giger direction, I also presented a few of my own takes on how the creature might look:

I liked the innovative idea of mine of a triple-eyelid instead of a standard top-lid/bottom-lid eye.