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Biography: SPECIAL EFFECTS

John Dykstra

John Charles Dykstra, A.S.C (born June 3, 1947 in Long Beach, California) is an Academy Award-winning special effects supervisor and pioneer in the development of the use of computers in filmmaking.

After studying industrial design at California State University Dykstra landed a job working with Douglas Trumbull on Silent Running (1972) filming model effects.

When George Lucas was recruiting people for the special effects work on Star Wars, he approached Trumbull (who was working on Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind), who pointed him towards Dykstra. Dykstra led the development at Industrial Light & Magic of the Dykstraflex motion-controlled camera, which was responsible for many of the film’s groundbreaking effects. The system was made possible by the availability of off-the-shelf integrated-circuit RAM at relatively low cost and second-hand Vision Vision cameras.

However, there was tension between Dykstra and Lucas, who later complained that too much of the special effects budget was spent on developing the camera systems and that the effects team did not deliver all the shots that he had wanted. These tensions would reportedly culminate with Dykstra’s dismissal from ILM following Lucas’ return from principal photography in Tunisia. Regardless, following the release of Star Wars, Dykstra secured his status in the industry with Academy Awards for best special effects and special technical achievement, and having completed a number of scenes which appeared in the final edit.

Dykstra had a Production credit for the television series Battlestar Galactica (1978), and contributed to the series’ effects. Around the same time, Dykstra was a target of Lucas’ legal ire. His fledgling visual effects house, Apogee, Inc., consisted of several ILM employees who did not want to relocate to San Francisco from Van Nuys, and used whatever equipment Lucas had left behind. Lucas attempted to get an injunction against Apogee to prevent the company from using what he considered to be his equipment to work on a project that was in direct competition to the Star Wars films. Several members of Apogee, including Richard Edlund and Dennis Muren, would return to ILM.

Dykstra also worked on the effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), with some of his effects being recycled in subsequent films. Dykstra’s next major achievement was the effects work on the Clint Eastwood movie, Firefox (1982). Here, he took on the same challenge that Lucas had set with The Empire Strikes Back of combining miniature effects with actual backgrounds and matte work on white backgrounds using reverse bluescreen. The film secured further awards but was only a modest box office hit.

Dykstra was worked on the effects crew for Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985), and Invaders from Mars (1986) before becoming supervisor for the special effects on My Stepmother is an Alien (1988), Batman Forever (1995), and Batman & Robin (1997). He was also Senior Visual Effects Supervisor for Stuart Little (1999). Dykstra was Visual Effects Designer on the first two Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man films, and was rewarded with an Oscar for Best Visual Effects for his efforts on Spider-Man 2 (2004).

He also acted as Visual Effects Designer on Hancock (2008), Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) and X-Men: First Class (2011).

Check out this excellent article HERE from 1977, written by Dykstra for American Cinematographer.


Stan Winston

Stanley Winston (April 7, 1946 – June 15, 2008) was an American visual effects supervisor, make-up artist, and film director. He was best known for his work in the Terminator series, the Jurassic Park series, Aliens, the Predator series, Iron Man, Edward Scissorhands and Avatar. He won four Academy Awards for his work.

Winston, a frequent collaborator with director James Cameron, owned several effects studios, including Stan Winston Digital. The established areas of expertise for Winston were in makeup, puppets and practical effects, but he had recently expanded his studio to encompass digital effects as well.

Stan Winston was born on April 7, 1946, in Arlington, Virginia, where he graduated from Washington-Lee High School in 1964. He studied painting and sculpture at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville from which he graduated in 1968. In 1969, after attending California State University, Long Beach, Winston moved to Hollywood to pursue a career as an actor. Struggling to find an acting job, he began a makeup apprenticeship at Walt Disney Studios.

In 1972, Winston established his own company, Stan Winston Studio, and won an Emmy Award for his effects work on the telefilm Gargoyles. Over the next seven years, Winston continued to receive Emmy nominations for work on projects and won another for 1974’s The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Winston also created the Wookie costumes for the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special.

In 1982, Winston received his first Oscar nomination for Heartbeeps, by which time he had set up his own studio. However, his ground-breaking work with Rob Bottin on the science fiction horror classic The Thing that year brought him to prominence in Hollywood. Between then, he contributed some visual effects to Friday the 13th Part III, in which he made a slightly different head sculpt of Jason in an unused ending.

In 1983 he also worked on a short-lived TV series Manimal. However, Winston reached a new level of fame in 1984 when James Cameron’s The Teminator premiered. The movie was a surprise hit, and Winston’s work in bringing the titular metallic killing machine to life led to many new projects and additional collaborations with Cameron. In fact, Winston won his first Oscar for Best Visual Effects in 1986 on James Cameron’s next movie, Aliens.

Over the next few years, Winston and his company received more accolades for its work on many more Hollywood films, including Edward Scissorhands, Predator, Alien Nation, The Monster Squad and Predator 2. 

In 1988, Winston made his directorial debut with the horror movie Pumpkinhead, and won Best First Time Director at the Paris Film Festival. His next directing project was the child-friendly A Gnome Named Gnorm (1990), starring Anthony Michael Hall.

James Cameron drafted Winston and his team once again in 1990, this time for the groundbreaking Terminator 2: Judgement DayT2 premiered in the summer of 1991, and Winston’s work on this box office hit won him two more Oscars for Best Makeup Effects and Best Visual Effects. 

In 1992, he was nominated with another Tim Burton film, Batman Returns, where his effects on Danny DeVito as The Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman and in delivering Burton’s general vision for what was an increasingly Gothic Gotham City earned him more recognition for his work ethic and loyalty to what was an intrinsic ability to bring different directors’ ideas to life.

Winston turned his attention to dinosaurs when Steven Spielberg enlisted his help to bring Jurassic Park to the screen in 1993. The movie became a blockbuster and Winston won another Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

In 1993, Winston, Cameron and ex-ILM General Manager Scott Russ co-founded Digital Domain, one of the foremost digital and visual effects studios in the world. In 1998, after the box office success of Titanic, Cameron and Winston severed their working relationship with the company and resigned from its board of directors.

Winston and his team continued to provide effects work for many more films and expanded their work into animatronics. Some of Winston’s notable animatronics work can be found in The Ghost and the Darkness and T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, James Cameron’s 3-D continuation of the Terminator series for the Universal Studios theme park. One of Winston’s most ambitious animatronics projects was Steven Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence, which earned Winston another Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects. 

In 1996, Winston directed and co-produced the longest and the most expensive music video of all time, Ghosts, which was based on an original concept of Michael Jackson and Stephen King

In 2001, Winston, together with Colleen Camp and Samuel Z. Arkoff’s son, Lou Arkoff, produced a series of made-for-cable films for Cinemax and HBO. The five films, referred to as Creature Features, were inspired by the titles of AIP monster movies from the 1950s — i.e., Earth vs. the Spider (1958), How to Make a Monster (1958), Day the World Ended (1955), The She-Creature (1956), and Teenage Caveman (1958) — but had completely different plots.

In 2003, Stan Winston was invited by the Smithsonian Institution to speak  about his life and career in a public presentation sponsored by The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.

In 2004, he expressed great disappointment when director Paul W. S. Anderson did not come to him for the creature effects for Alien vs. Predator, seeing as how he designed the Predator and the Alien Queen. “They’re like my children to me,” he stated

At the time of his death, Winston was working on the Terminator sequel, Terminator Salvation. He was also helping his old friend, film director James Cameron on designs for Avatar.

Stan Winston died on June 15, 2008, in Malibu, California after suffering for seven years from multiple myeloma. A spokeswoman reported that he “died peacefully at home surrounded by family.” His special effects still live on through his studio Stan Winston Studios, now renamed Legacy Effects, continuing to work on films after his death such as Pandorum, GI. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, Avatar, Enthiran, and Shutter Island thus continuing his legacy.


Lon Chaney

Lon Chaney (April 1, 1883 – August 26, 1930) was an American actor during the age of silent film. He is regarded as one of the most versatile and powerful actors of early cinema, widely renowned for his characterizations of tortured, often grotesque and afflicted characters, and his groundbreaking artistry with makeup. Chaney is known for his starring roles in such silent horror films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera. His ability to transform himself using makeup techniques he developed earned him the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Faces.”

Lon Chaney was born Leonidas Frank Chaney in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Both of Chaney’s parents were deaf, and as a child of deaf adults Chaney became skilled in pantomine. He entered a stage career in 1902, and began traveling with popular Vaudeville and theater acts. In 1905, he met and married 16-year-old singer Cleva Creighton and in 1906, their first child and only son, Creighton Chaney (a.k.a. Lon Chaney, Jr.) was born. The Chaneys continued touring, settling in California in 1910.

Lon_Chaney_by_Clarence_Sinclair_Bull

Between the years 1912 and 1917, Chaney worked under contract for Universal Studios doing bit or character parts. His skill with makeup gained him many parts in the highly competitive casting atmosphere.

By 1917 Chaney was a prominent actor in the studio, but his salary did not reflect this status. After leaving the studio, Chaney struggled for the first year as a character actor. It was not until 1918 when playing a substantial role in William S. Hart’s picture, Riddle Gawne, that Chaney’s talents as a character actor were truly recognized by the industry.

In 1917 Universal presented Chaney, Dorothy Phillips, and William Stowell as a team in The Piper’s Price. In succeeding films, the men alternated playing lover, villain, or other man to the beautiful Phillips. So successful were the films starring this group that Universal produced fourteen films from 1917 to 1919.

In 1919, Chaney had a breakthrough performance as “The Frog” in The Miracle Man. The film displayed not only Chaney’s acting ability, but also his talent as a master of makeup. Critical praise and a gross of over $2 million put Chaney on the map as America’s foremost character actor.

He exhibited great adaptability with make-up in more conventional crime and adventure films, such as The Penalty, in which he played an amputee gangster. Chaney appeared in 10 films directed by Tod Browning, often portraying disguised and/or mutilated characters, including carnival knife-thrower Alonzo the Armless in The Unknown (1927) opposite Joan Crawford. In 1927, Chaney starred in the Tod Browning horror film, London After Midnight, considered one of the most legendary lost films of the era. His final cinema role was a sound remake of his silent classic The Unholy Three (1930), his only “talkie” and the only film in which Chaney utilized his versatile voice. The actor signed a sworn statement declaring that five of the key voices in the film (the ventriloquist, the old woman, a parrot, the dummy and the girl) were his own.

Chaney’s most celebrated roles were that of Quasimodo, the bell ringer of Notre Dame, and Erik, the “Phantom” of the Paris Opera House, Chaney created two of the most grotesquely deformed characters in film history. However, the portrayals sought to elicit a degree of sympathy and pathos among viewers not overwhelmingly terrified or repulsed by the monstrous disfigurements of these victims of fate.

“I wanted to remind people that the lowest types of humanity may have within them the capacity for supreme self-sacrifice,” Chaney wrote in an article published in 1925 in Movie magazine. “The dwarfed, misshapen beggar of the streets may have the noblest ideals. Most of my roles since The Hunchback, such as The Phantom of the Opera, He Who Gets Slapped, The Unholy Three, etc., have carried the theme of self-sacrifice or renunciation. These are the stories which I wish to do.”

In the final five years of his film career (1925–1930), Chaney worked exclusively under contract to MGM, giving some of his most memorable performances. His portrayal of a tough-as-nails marine drill instructor in Tell It to the Marines (1926), one of his favourite films, earned him the affection of the US Marine Corps, who made him their first honorary member from the motion picture industry. He also earned the respect and admiration of numerous aspiring actors, to whom he offered mentoring assistance, and between takes on film sets he was always willing to share his professional observations with the cast and crew.

During the filming of Thunder in the winter of 1929, Chaney developed pneumonia. In late 1929 he was diagnosed with bronchial lung cancer. Despite aggressive treatment, his condition gradually worsened, and seven weeks after the release of the remake of The Unholy Three, he died of a throat hemorrhage. His death was deeply mourned by his family, the film industry and by his fans. The US Marine Corps provided a chaplain and Honour Guard for his funeral. He was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California.


Willis O’Brien

Willis Harold O’Brien (March 2, 1886 – November 8, 1962) was an Irish American special effects and stop-motion animation pioneer, who according to ASIFA-Hollywood “was responsible for some of the best-known images in cinema history,” and is best remebered for his work on ‘The Lost World’ (1925), ‘King Kong’ (1933) and ‘Mighty Joe Young’ (1949), for which he won the 1950 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

Willis O’Brien was born in Oakland, California. He first left home at the age of eleven to work on cattle ranches, and again at the age of thirteen when he took on a variety of jobs including farmhand, factory worker, fur trapper, cowboy, and bartender. During this time he also competed in rodeos and developed an interest in dinosaurs while working as a guide to palaeontologists in Crater Lake region. He spent his spare time sculpting and illustrating and his natural talent lead to him being employed first as draftsman in an architect’s office and then as a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Daily News. He subsequently worked for the railroad, first as a brakeman and later a surveyor, as a professional marble sculptor, and was assistant to the head architect of the 1913 San Francisco World’s Fair, where some of his work was displayed. During this time he made models, including a dinosaur and a caveman, which he animated with the assistance of a local newsreel cameraman. San Francisco exhibitor Herman Wobber saw this 90-second test footage and commissioned O’Brien to make his first film, ‘The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy’ (1915) for a budget of $5,000.

Thomas A. Edison was impressed by the film and O’Brien was hired by the Edison Company to animate a series of short films with a prehistoric theme. These films led to a commission from Herbert M. Dawley to write, direct, co-star and produce the effects for another dinosaur film, ‘The Ghost of Slumber Mountain’ (1918), for a budget of $3,000. The collaboration was not a happy one and Dawley would cut the 45-minute film down to 11-minutes and claim credit O’Brien’s pioneering effects work, which combined realistic stop-motion animated prehistoric models with live action. The film grossed over $100,000 and Dawley used the cut effects footage in a sequel Along the Moonbeam Trail (1920) and the documentary Evolution (1923), but O’Brien received little financial reimbursement from this success.

The film however did help to secure his position on Harold H. Hoyt’s ‘The Lost World’. For his early, short films O’Brien created his own characters out of clay, although for much of his feature career he would employ Richard and Marcel Delgado to create much more detailed stop-motion models (based on O’Brien’s designs) with rubber skin built up over complex, articulated metal armatures.

O’Brien worked with Hoyt on a series of cancelled projects included Atlantis for First National studio, Frankenstein, and Creation for RKO Pictures, which was finally cancelled in 1931 with only 20-minutes of effects footage to show for an estimated $120,000 development cost. The studio’s head of production, Merian C. Cooper, had recommended the cancellation of O’Brien’s project as he thought the story was boring but he was impressed by the effects work and saw how it could be used to facilitate the development of his own pet project about a giant gorilla battling. O’Brien and the dinosaur models he had created for the cancelled project were put to work on what was to become his most famous film, ‘King Kong’ (1933).

The success of King Kong led to the studio commissioning a hurried sequel ‘Son of Kong’ (also 1933), which O’Brien described as cheesy. With a limited budget and a short production schedule O’Brien chose to leave the animation work to his assistant and asked the studio not to credit him on the project.

O’Brien continued to work with Merian C. Cooper at RKO on a number of projects including the epic ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ (1935) and ‘The Dancing Pirate’ (1936). He did some special effects work, re-using one of the mattes from Son of Kong, on Orson Welles’ American classic ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941) and George Pal’s Oscar-nominated animated short ‘Tulips Shall Grow’ (1942), as well as developing his own project, Gwangi, about cowboys who encounter a prehistoric animal in a “lost” valley, which he failed to sell to the studio.

The film ‘Mighty Joe Young’ (1949), on which O’Brien is credited as Technical Creator, won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 1950. Credit for the award went to the films producers, RKO Productions, but O’Brien was also awarded a statue. O’Brien’s protege (and successor), Ray Harryhausen, worked alongside O’Brien on this film, and by some accounts Harryhausen did the majority of the animation. O’Brien worked with Harryhausen one last time on the acclaimed dinosaur sequence for Irwin Allen’s nature documentary ‘The Animal World’ (1956).

Allen hired O’Brien was hired as the effects technician on his remake of ‘The Lost World’ (1960), but he was given little to do as the producer opted for live lizards instead of stop-motion animation for the dinosaurs.

O’Brien died in Los Angeles in 1962. In 1997, he was posthumously awarded the Windsor McCay Award by ASIFA-Hollywood, the United States chapter of the International Animated Film Society ASIFA (Association internationale du film d’animation). The award is in recognition of lifetime or career contributions to the art of animation.

The 1969 film ‘The Valley of Gwangi’, completed by Harryhausen seven years after O’Brien’s death, was based on an idea he had spent years trying to bring to the screen.


Dick Smith – Honorary Academy Award

The most important Oscar awarded at this years ceremony was an Honorary Award for Dick Smith.

The haunting leer of a demonically possessed girl in “The Exorcist” (1973) is one of the more terrifying examples of the work of makeup artist Dick Smith. Widely considered the 20th century’s maestro of movie makeup and affectionately called the Godfather of Makeup, Smith has influenced and inspired generations of artists. He has gladly shared his secrets with up-and-comers in the field as well as elevated the standards of the craft, both of which helped to establish makeup as a respected discipline of the cinematic arts.

Filmmakers have consistently turned to Smith for persuasive renderings of time’s effects on the human body.  For artfully aging F. Murray Abraham from his forties to his eighties in “Amadeus” (1984), Smith shared the Academy Award® for Makeup with Paul LeBlanc. He earned his second Oscar® nomination for making a spry 65-year-old Jack Lemmon a persuasive octogenarian in “Dad” (1989), and created an iconic masterpiece with the jowly look of Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” (1972).

Though his fantastical creations for such films “Altered States” (1980), “Scanners” (1981) and “Starman” (1984) pack a punch, Smith steadfastly believes in making movie magic look natural. His artistry is often unnoticed – and that’s just the way he wants it. “A good makeup doesn’t look like makeup,” he has said.

After spending his early childhood in suburban Larchmont, New York, Smith was pre-med at Yale University, majoring in zoology. In his sophomore year, his life took a dramatic turn when he happened to pick up a textbook detailing makeup tricks used in Hollywood. Smith began doing makeup for the theater group at Yale and roamed the campus at night in comical monster makeup of his own design, giving the unwary a playful scare.

Smith got his professional start as the first staff makeup artist for the fledgling NBC television network, pioneering techniques using foam latex and plastic for what were initially live broadcasts. His tenure as makeup director spanned from 1945 to 1959 and he expanded from a staff of one to 25.

After 14 years, Smith moved on to movies. In short order he was sculpting the face of Anthony Quinn’s battered boxer in “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1962), making a dozen stunt doubles resemble the stars of “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” (1963) and helping Peter Sellers become strikingly handsome for “The World of Henry Orient” (1964). Remarkably, for almost 40 years he would create all of his effects in his basement studio in Larchmont, flying to the set with the makeups whenever shooting began.

In 1965, Smith penned the seminal Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-up Handbook, which protégé Rick Baker credits as inspiration for his own illustrious career. By 1967, Smith had returned to television, working on such projects as Dan Curtis’s classic vampire series “Dark Shadows.”

Smith’s method of gluing on multiple foam latex appliances in overlapping pieces permits actors their full range of facial expressions. His technique was demonstrated to marvelous effect in “Little Big Man” (1970), which transformed Dustin Hoffman from a man in his early 30s to age 121. At that time, single-mold masks were still widely used and Smith became a Galileo of sorts, shunned within the insular community of professional makeup artists. Today, he is recognized as one of those rare artists who opened new avenues of expression for others.


Rick Baker

Richard A. “Rick” Baker (born December 8, 1950) is an American special make-up effects artist known for his realistic creature effects. Baker was born in Binghamton, New York, the son of Doris and Ralph B. Baker, a professional artist.

As a teen, Baker began creating artificial body parts in his own kitchen. He also appeared briefly in the “lost” classic fan production “The Night Turkey” a one hour B&W video parody of “The Night Stalker” (winner of the Best Short Film award at an early San Diego Comic-Con) directed by William Malone (who went on to direct feature films like the science fiction thriller Creature) and included in its cast Bill Mills and Robert Short (a fellow special makeup artist who also went on to win an Academy Award for his work in Beetlejuice).

Baker’s first professional job was as an assistant to the legendary Dick Smith on the film ‘The Exorcist’. He received the inaugural Academy Award for Best Makeup for his peerless work on ‘An American Werewolf in London’. He also created the “werecat” creature Michael Jackson transforms into in the music video ‘Thriller’. Subsequently, Baker has been nominated for the Best Makeup Oscar ten more times, winning on seven occasions, both records in his field. Baker claims that his work on ‘Harry and the Hendersons’ is one of his proudest achievements.

On 3 October 2009 he received the Jack Pierce – Lifetime Achievement Award title of the Chiller-Eyegore Awards. Known for his love of lyBaker most recently created the special makeup effects for the 2010 film ‘The Wolfman’ for which he also won an Academy Award in 2011.

Baker played the title role in the 1976 remake of ‘King Kong’. He also had cameos as the pilot and gunner (with director Peter Jackson) who shot down Kong in the 2005 remake of ‘King Kong’ and as a drug dealer with a business card in the John Landis film ‘Into the Night’. He also made a cameo appearance in the aforementioned Michael Jackson music video ‘Thriller’ as one of the zombies. He also makes a cameo in ‘The Wolfman’ as The Wolfman’s first kill. He would eventually win the Oscar for his work with the film’s makeup.

Baker also contributes commentaries to Joe Dante’s web series Trailers From Hell for trailers about horror and science fiction films. He was awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters from the Academy of Art University in 2008.


Georges Méliès

Georges Méliès (8 December 1861 – 21 January 1938), was a French filmmaker famous for leading many technical and narrative developments in the earliest cinema. He was very innovative in the use of special effects. He accidentally discovered the stop-trick, or substitution, in 1896, and was one of the first filmmakers to use multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted color in his films. Because of his ability to seemingly manipulate and transform reality through cinematography, Méliès is sometimes referred to as the First “Cinemagician”.

He directed over 530 films between 1896 and 1914, ranging in length from one to forty minutes. In subject matter, these films are often similar to the magic theater shows that Méliès had been doing, containing “tricks” and impossible events, such as objects disappearing or changing size. These early special effects films were essentially devoid of plot. The special effects were used only to show what was possible, rather than enhance the overall film.

Méliès’s early films were mostly composed of single in-camera effects, used for the entirety of the film. For example, after experimenting with multiple exposure, Méliès created his film The One Man Band in which he played seven different characters simultaneously.

His most famous film is ‘A Trip to the Moon’ (Le voyage dans la Lune) made in 1902, which includes the celebrated scene in which a spaceship hits the eye of the man in the moon. Also famous is ‘The Impossible Voyage’ (Le voyage à travers l’impossible) from 1904. Both of these films are about strange voyages, somewhat in the style of Jules Verne.  These are considered to be some of the most important early science fiction films, although their approach is closer to fantasy. 

In addition, horror cinema can be traced back to Georges Méliès’s ‘Le Manoir du diable’ (1896). A print of the film was acquired by Thomas Edison, who then duplicated and distributed it in the United States, where it achieved financial success; however, Edison did not pay any revenues to Méliès.


Tom Savini

Thomas Vincent “Tom” Savini (born November 3, 1946) is an American actor, stuntman, director, award-winning special effects and makeup artist. He is known for his work on the ‘Living Dead’ films directed by George A. Romero, as well as ‘Creepshow’, ‘The Burning’, ‘Friday the 13th’, ‘The Prowler’, and ‘Maniac’. He also directed the 1990 remake of ‘Night of the Living Dead’. As an actor he has appeared in films such as ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (and its remake), ‘From Dusk ’till Dawn’, ‘Grindhouse’ and ‘Machete’.

Savini was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was raised Catholic and graduated from Central Catholic High School, before attending Carnegie-Mellon University. Savini served in Vietnam as a combat photographer. Savini continued to practice with makeup in Vietnam, often frightening indigenous peasants by appearing to suddenly transform into a “monster”.

Savini is primarily known for his groundbreaking work in the field of special makeup effects. He got his breakthrough working with Pittsburgh filmmaker George A. Romero, providing a convincing wrist slashing effect in the opening scenes of ‘Martin’ (1977). The following year, working with an expanded budget on ‘Dawn of the Dead’, Savini created his signature palette of severed limbs and bite-marks.

Savini has also worked on films by Dario Argento (Trauma, Two Evil Eyes) and Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2). His signature realism livens genre films such as ‘Maniac’ (1980), however, perhaps Savini’s most noteworthy special effects occurred in the zombie epic ‘Day of the Dead’ (1985).

Savini has noted that most of the characters he has played are bikers. He played a relatively straight, innocuous character in ‘Martin’ (1977), but played a menacing biker called ‘Blades’ in ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978), a role he reprised with a brief cameo appearance in the 2005 continuation of the series, ‘Land of the Dead'; as well as a cameo as a sheriff in the 2004 remake of Dawn. He also played the whip-wielding, vampire-fighting biker ‘Sex Machine’ in the 1996 Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez film ‘From Dusk ’till Dawn’. (This character was a riff on the “Blades” character Savini created for Dawn of the Dead replete with the same costume.)

As a director, Savini helmed episodes of the syndicated television series ‘Tales from the Darkside’, the aforementioned 1990 color remake of ‘Night of the Living Dead’.

In 2007, Savini took on a role in Planet Terror, one of two stories in the film ‘Grindhouse’. “Planet Terror” was directed by Robert Rodriguez: the other story, Death Proof was directed by Quentin Tarantino. He plays Deputy Tolo, who tries to save his town from an infestation of zombies. In 2008, Savini played another vampire in the movie ‘Lost Boys: The Tribe’ and he has completed the film The Dead Matter, also featuring Andrew Divoff and Jim O’Rear.

He had a cameo in the 2010 film adaptation of the faux trailer ‘Machete’. The american filmmaker Jason Baker filmed the life of him, in his documentary The Story of Tom Savini.

Savini runs the Special Effects Make-Up and Digital Film Programs at the Douglas Education Center in Monessen, Pennsylvania and is the author of several books on special effects including Grande Illusions I and II (1983, 1994) which detail the production and mechanical workings of many of his famous film effects. He is also associated with other books in the horror genre including Book of the Dead and Horror 101 for which he wrote the foreword. Savini is an associate of Dick Smith, who used to, but no longer, incorporates an advanced professional make-up seminar into the last semester of the program. Among other projects, Smith is known for his groundbreaking work in ‘The Exorcist’.

In recent years he has taken a break from special effects, but has continued to direct, produce and star in several movies. Savini has been known to refer movie make-up effects projects to graduates of his school. However he has been hands on with Australian productions ‘Redd Inc’ and ‘Mary Doe’ earlier this year.


Douglas Trumbull

Visionary filmmaker, innovator and entrepreneur Douglas Trumbull, has been selected by the Visual Effects Society Board of Directors as the recipient of the 2012 Georges Méliès Award. The award will be presented at the 10th Annual VES Awards, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills on February 7, 2012.

The Méliès Award honors individuals who have “pioneered a significant and lasting contribution to the art and/or science of the visual effects industry by a way of artistry, invention and groundbreaking work.” One of four effects supervisors [on] 2001: A Space Odyssey, he subsequently influenced moviegoers with stunning visual effects in films such as The Andromeda Strain, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Blade Runner and more recently the stunning 20+ minute sequence for Terence Malik’s The Tree of Life.

Previous recipients of the George Méliès Award were Robert Abel (2005), John Lasseter (2006), Phil Tippett (2009) and Ed Catmull (2010). Trumbull was given an Honorary Membership in 2002, a Lifetime Membership in 2009 and made a VES Fellow in 2010.


Ray Harryhausen

Ray Harryhausen, born on June 29, 1920 in Los Angeles, California, is an Producer and special effects creator. Check out the official Ray Harryhausen website

After having seen King Kong for the first of many times in 1933, Harryhausen spent his early years experimenting in the production of animated shorts, inspired by the burgeoning science fiction literary genre of the period. A friend arranged a meeting with Harryhausen’s idol, Willis O’Brien, animator of ‘King Kong’  O’Brien critiqued Harryhausen’s early models and inspired him to take classes in graphic arts and sculpture to hone his skills. Harryhausen became friends with an aspiring writer, Ray Bradbury, with similar enthusiasms. Bradbury and Harryhausen joined a Los Angeles-area science fiction club formed by Forrest J. Ackerman in 1939, and the three became lifelong friends.

Paramount executives gave Harryhausen his first job, on the ‘Puppetoons’ shorts, based on viewing his first formal demo reel of fighting dinosaurs from an abortive project called Evolution. H also produced a variety of other short animation demos during the post-World War II 1940s. He put together a demo reel of his various projects and showed them to Willis O’Brien, who eventually hired him as an assistant animator on what turned out to be Harryhausen’s first major film, ‘Mighty Joe Young’ (1949). O’Brien ended up concentrating on solving the various technical problems of the film, leaving most of the animation up to Harryhausen. Their work won O’Brien the Academy Award for Best Special Effects that year.

Harryhausen was hired to do the special effects for The Monster from Beneath the Sea. While in production, the filmmakers learned that a long-time friend of Harryhausen, writer Ray Bradbury, had sold a short story called “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” to The Saturday Evening Post, about a dinosaur drawn to a lone lighthouse by its foghorn. Because the story for Harryhausen’s film featured a similar scene, the film studio bought the rights to Bradbury’s story to avoid any potential legal problems. Also, the title was changed to ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’ (1953). Under that title, it became Harryhausen’s first solo feature film effort, and a major international box-office hit for Warner Brothers.

He followed that movie with minor hits, ‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ (1955), ‘Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers’ (1956) and ’20 Million Miles to Earth’ (1956) before his greatest masterpiece (and biggest hit) of the 50s, ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad’ (1958).

After ‘The Three Worlds of Gulliver’ (1960) and ‘Mysterious Island’ (1961), both great artistic and technical successes, his next film is considered by film historians and fans as Harryhausen’s masterwork, ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ (1963). Among the film’s several celebrated animation sequences is an extended fight between three actors and seven living skeletons, a considerable advance on the single-skeleton fight scene in Sinbad. This amazing stop-motion sequence, never since equaled by a single individual, took over four months to complete, and helped to inspire an entire generation of subsequent filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Tim Burton, Sam Raimi and James Cameron, among many others.

Harryhausen was then hired by Hammer Film Productions to animate the dinosaurs for ‘One Million Years B.C.’ (1967). It was a box office smash, helped in part by the presence of shapely Raquel Welch in a cavewoman bikini. Harryhausen next went on to make another dinosaur film, ‘The Valley of Gwangi’ (1969); the movie is set in 1912 Mexico, in a parallel Kong story—cowboys capture a living Allosaurus and bring him to the nearest city for exhibition. Sabotage by a rival releases the creature on opening day and the creature wreaks havoc on the town until it is cornered and destroyed inside a burning cathedral.

After a few lean years, Harryhausen re-teamed with Schneer, who talked Columbia Pictures into reviving the Sinbad character, resulting in ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’, often remembered for the sword fight involving a statue of the six-armed goddess Kali. It was first released in Los Angeles in the Christmas season of 1973, but garnered its main audience in the spring and summer of 1974. It was followed by ‘Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger’ (1977), which disappointed some fans because of its tongue-in-cheek approach. Both films were, however, box office successes. The latter was my first cinematic experience of Harryhausens work; I’d been a fan as a little kid watching his movies on saturday matinees but seeing his effects on the big screen blew me away.

The last feature film to showcase his effects work was the ‘Clash of the Titans’ (1981), for which he was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Special Effects. It featured an amazing set-piece with a Kraken, however despite of the relatively successful box office returns of “Clash of the Titans”, more sophisticated technology developed by ILM and others began to eclipse Harryhausen’s production techniques.

Amazingly, none of Harryhausen’s films were ever nominated for a special effects Oscar. Harryhausen’s contribution to the film industry and he was finally awarded a Gordon E. Swayer Award for “technological contributions [which] have brought credit to the industry” in 1992, with Tom Hanks as the Master of Ceremonies and Bradbury, a friend from when they were both just out of high school, presenting the award. This recognition made Harryhausen an international celebrity. A long series of appearances at film festivals, colleges, and film seminars around the world soon followed as Harryhausen met many of the millions of people who had grown up enjoying his work. On one of these tours he visited the Disney studio in Sydney where I was lucky enough to meet him and score an autographed copy of ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ DVD… it’s still my favourite piece of memorabilia.


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