Posted on Leave a comment

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.
Posted on Leave a comment

Untold Tales of Hollywood #106

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:

Posted on Leave a comment

Untold Tales of Hollywood #102

I intentionally channeled the clean, well-designed storytelling skills of Alex Toth in my boards for The Hitcher.

The Hitcher was a box office success. Robert Harmon called me to board his next feature, Eyes of an Angel. I passed. It was a dark, nasty script with a dog fighting background. I’m really glad I didn’t take that gig. The dog fighting subject matter was incredibly distasteful. I heard later that the set on that film had the ugliest of vibes. I was told there were fights on set, as many of the crew tapped into and were affected by the set’s and story’s mean atmosphere. The film was released direct to video, making The Hitcher Robert Harmon’s first and only theatrically released feature film.

I recalled the sage advice of director George Pan Cosmatos when he told me, “Getting your first film to direct is easy — it’s the second one that’s hard. With your first film, you could be the next Steven Spielberg. After you’ve made it, there is now visual proof that you either are or are not the next Spielberg. If you did well, your second film comes relatively easily. If you did not, you probably will never get another chance to direct.”

Posted on 1 Comment

See You at POWER-CON!

Tomorrow (Saturday, September 11) and Sunday I’ll be guesting at Power-Con, the convention devoted to Masters of the Universe. Come by my booth!

It’s at the Anaheim Hilton. I’ll have MOTU original art on display and will be selling my German Masters of the Universe book with a translation of my long MOTU interview.

Cos-Play expert Rebekah Cox will be appearing dressed as She-Ra — wearing MY She-Ra costume design. Sadly, She-Ra was cut from the film.

I hope to see you there!

Posted on Leave a comment

Untold Tales of Hollywood #101

Here are more of my storyboards for The Hitcher:

The similarity between my storytelling style and Robert Harmon’s caused a bit of embarrassment.

There are a lot of folks in France who are fans of my film work. The French pop culture magazine StarFix ran an article on The Hitcher. They printed some of my storyboards next to shots from the film and (wrongly) concluded that I had secretly directed The Hitcher!

Understandably, director Robert Harmon was not real happy about this.

Dennis Gassner quickly became a top production designer. He received Academy Award nominations for his work on Barton Fink, Road to Perdition, The Golden Compass, Into the Woods, Bladerunner 2049 and 1917. He won for Bugsy.

Posted on 2 Comments

Dragon Con 2021

I have been selected by Dragon Con as their Artist Guest of Honor for this year. I’ll be doing lots of panels and sharing a multitude of fascinating stories, many about the 75 film projects in which I have been involved. I had more than twenty pieces of original art shipped to the show, including a new Dragon Con poster and a new poster for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I hope to see as many of my friends and fans as possible — and safely. Instead of my usual location at AmericasMart, I’ll be set up in the Art Show room. Please follow my lead and take all necessary precautions. I take COVID very seriously. Do not approach me if you have not been double vaxxed. Even though I’ve been double-vaxxed, my grandchildren aren’t. I do not want to bring this terrible disease back to them, nor do I want this to be my last Dragon Con.

Let’s make this a Dragon Con to remember for all the right reasons!