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 Goozée‘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).
Producer-director Steve Miner wanted me to production design his filmsWarlock 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):
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.”
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.
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.
Someone on Stan Winston‘s talented team created that super cool four-pronged mouth.
How I Screwed Upthe Great OriginalEndingto 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!“
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:
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:
Film #21: Red Sonja Directed by Richard Fleischer Production Designed by Danilo Donati
Red Sonja began life as a Conan film. The script was so bad, however, that Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to be in the film if his character was named “Conan”.
“It will destroy the Conan franchise.”
The producers buckled and changed his character’s name to Kalidor.
I believe I got a call from Raffaella DeLaurentiis to do the creature design for the film. As I recall, I think the gig took me no more than a week or two to do. I honestly can’t remember a single thing I did for this movie — but I know I did something… (Hey! See end of this post. I found it!)
The following picture isn’t it. I love Jack Kirby‘s work. My pal Mike Royer (Jack’s regular inker at the time) gave me an opportunity to ghost-ink most of The Demon #15. I learned a lot, inking Jack’s amazing pencils. After that, I was asked to ink a couple of Jack Kirby pin-ups. Jack had done an entire book of pencil drawings of every one of his characters for his beloved wife Roz. These drawings got published as a book. Someone came up with the idea of having a lot of contemporary artists ink these drawings and publishing them as a companion book. Most inked just one; some, two or three. I was asked to ink Devil Dinosaur for obvious reasons. These were all collected as a book. I had so much fun, I decided to ink Jack’s pin-up of The Demon, since I had worked on the comic. I think this was a request from either another book or a magazine article on Jack. I decided a few weeks ago to ink three more: Witch Boy (who was in the issue of The Demon that I had inked), The Sorceress (because the picture had monsters) and Ka-Zar (this character and his sabertooth were right up my prehistoric alley).
Here’s how I did it: I made a photo copy of each drawing, enlarged from the size they were in the book to original art size. I took these big xeroxes and with a soft pencil, I scribbled on the back of the xeroxed drawings, making a sort of residue-free carbon paper. Then, I taped the xeroxes onto sheets of illustration board. Using a sharp, hard pencil, I drew over every single line and speck that Jack had made, transferring his drawings to my illustration boards. Upon completion, I took away the xeroxes and meticulously, once again, re-drew every single one of Jack’s lines, perfectly and faithfully reproducing every speck of his pencils, exactly as Jack had drawn them. Then, I inked each piece. So, I was inking Kirby but not actually inking an original pencil drawing by Kirby — Jack never touched the boards whose pencils I inked.
I didn’t want to make any changes to Jack’s work. Out of respect for Jack (and following Mike Royer’s fine lead), I wanted these drawings’ inks to be as purely Jack Kirby as I could make them. The only exception was my drawing of Ka-Zar and his sabertooth. Jack’s great at drawing superheroes, but sometimes his animals can be a little wonky. His woolly mammoth was fine, but I re-drew his sorta goofy-looking sabertooth, making its face more realistic and adding the proper number of claws to its feet. I thought you might like to see how it turned out:
Back to Red Sonja:
The following tale is not “untold,” as it appeared in a prominent Los Angeles magazine publication not long after it occurred. It was related to me by a close friend on the production staff who was there when it happened. I tell you this because I want you to know that I am not “telling tales out of class.“
Red Sonja was played by Brigitte Nielsen. Brigitte had a remarkable physique with highly defined musculature. She was considered by a lot of the crew as the flip-side of Arnold, a female Arnold, so to speak. Both Arnold and Sylvester Stallone had the hots for Gitte, both falling head-over-heels for her, which caused a slight rift in their friendship.
At one point, Arnold confessed to one of his entourage that he was going to dump Maria Shriver for Ms. Nielsen. Being good friends and not being dummies, Arnold’s muscular crew knew this was a horrendous idea. They kidnapped Arnold and took him out to the middle of the desert. They refused to let him go until he changed his mind about leaving Maria. Arnold finally relented and his bros returned him to the set. Sylvester Stallone married Brigitte the following year.
Here’s the piece mentioned above that I was looking for: