Monday, January 28, 2013
Ask JKM a Question #63: What about behind-the-scenes visionaries?
A regular reader, Trent, asks:
“How much credit do you believe that behind-the-scenes visionaries like H.R. Giger, Stan Winston, Tom Savini, and Rob Bottin deserve in their contributions to sci-fi and horror's greatest films?”
Trent, the short answer is: tremendous credit.
I have enormous respect and admiration for all the above-mentioned artists, who very much changed cinema history with their remarkable creations and visions I would also add names like Rob Baker, John Chambers, Dick Smith, KNB, Ralph McQuarrie, Peter Ellenshaw, Brian Johnson, Derek Meddings and others to the tally. It’s a long list.
In terms of specifics on a few of the talents you named, Giger’s trademark bio-mechanical vision inspired a generation of silver-screen creatures and aliens, and Rob Bottin’s work on John Carpenter’s The Thing (1981) remains a benchmark in terms of practical effects.
Winston’s amazing creations -- from Pumpkinhead to Jurassic Park and beyond -- are unimpeachable in my opinion, and Dick Smith’s make-up on The Exorcist still terrifies. Similarly, Savini’s gruesome, realistic make-up effects in films such as Friday the 13th and Dawn of the Dead still convince and horrify me in a way that most CGI effects tend not to.
During my career, I have had the good fortune to interview some talents that would legitimately be termed “behind the scenes visionaries” and what has always impressed me about them -- from art directors and production designers to make-up artists -- is how they view each shot, each creature, each effect, each individual moment on screen as a welcome puzzle to solve.
How each talent solves a particular puzzle speaks to individual genius and personal artistic approach, I think. I don’t want to sound like an old guy about this, but I have spoken with visual effects geniuses who lament the rise of the digital age in part because they no longer have the opportunity to solve seemingly impossible problems to make a shot come off; because the computer, essentially, makes the impossible a whole lot easier. There was a genius quality to practical special effects in the 1920s – 1990s; like magic tricks pulled off to perfection. That razzle-dazzle sometimes seems absent today.
Finally, I must give some serious kudos to accomplished film editors here, ones who can take a creature such as Pumpkinhead or even a seemingly-impossible physical effect like those we see in Dawn of the Dead, and present such creations in the best, most convincing light. And let’s cite the composers too, who augment the horror of a monster’s approach, or go silent and scare us with a crescendo just as the beast makes its first appearance.
Lest we forget, film is a collaborative art form.
Many artists contribute original ideas that augment, improve, and focus a director’s vision in ways that, sometimes, the director could not have originally envisioned. The director must gather, harness, and synthesize the work of various departments and individuals to produce a coherent, artistic whole, but he or she can’t accomplish that task without scores of artists contributing originality, ingenuity and yes, genius.
Don’t forget to ask me a question at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com