Science Fiction Filme) First of all, I would like to thank you for your time doing this Interview. I think your work has a huge fan base here in Germany, especially for films like STARSHIP TROOPERS, AIR FORCE ONE and ARMY OF DARKNESS of course. A lot of moviemaniacs know the films you´re involved in. Could you please tell us what you did before you came into the film business. Why did you choose sfx/ modeling as a career?
Bruce MacRae) Getting into the movie industry was a fairly long road. I got interested in building model kits when I was 7 and never stopped. Still modeling to this day. In 1968, at 15, I discovered the IPMS (International Plastic Modeling Society) where I was astounded by the quality of modeling possible. People were turning "mere" plastic kits into museum-quality pieces. I found very talented people I could learn from, and they indulged me by answering all my questions. Within a few years I was competing successfully in monthly and regional competitions. Those competitions are meant to encourage improvement in modeling skills, and soon I was winning.
Many of my winning pieces were featured in Scale Modeler magazine in the 70s, which began to open other opportunities for me. I ran a hobby shop in Santa Monica, California for a year or so and my models on display there were very popular. I left the hobby shop when my professional career started up.
I was chosen by a few model kit companies to build their kits for "box art," the pictures you find on the front of a kit when you buy it. This was a golden opportunity because they had just stopped using paintings for their boxes and instead wanted photos of the actual kits, which meant I was building kits before they were available to the public. Those companies included Intex, Testors (who credited their artists on the boxes), Bandai, AMT, and I spent 2 years at Revell. I did about 50 box arts.
I did some commissions during the 70s, for people who saw my work in Scale Modeler. I did enough commissions that I found it interfering with my personal kit-building, which just wasn't that much fun. But it was great exposure!
One day in 1978 I was displaying my scratch-built Star Wars Stormtrooper at a show when I was approached by some people "from the movie industry," who asked me if I wanted to work on Star Trek the Motion Picture. Naturally I jumped at the chance. I wound up at BPMM making props for the TV series "Project UFO" and soon was building props for Star Trek TMP, including tricorders, phasers, bio-belt buckles and the like. Because of Star Trek, I was eligible to join the Union, IATSE Local 44 - and that opened more movie industry doors.
SFF.) You’re a model builder and fabulous maestro of kits. As far as I am informed, your first kit from Revell was the Flying Fortress from the B-17 F series. With this kit basically everything started. Can you tell us what was special about this kit and how it influenced your later professional life?
B.M.) I never missed an episode of "12 O'Clock High," and am a big fan of WWII military aircraft. After I built Revell's kit, I visited their facility to discuss some of the details of the kit as produced, including their painting instructions. I wanted to discuss some details which had been left off but which I felt should have been included. Lloyd Jones was the head of Research and Development at Revell at the time, and he kindly came down to talk to me. He listened patiently and then explained that Revell "wasn't in the business of making models, but of making money." Without denigrating the company, he explained that they had the missing information, but didn't include it in the produced models due to costs. He also told me about the history of the company and how the 1/72 scale was chosen because it would fit in available boxes. Mr. Jones gave me a tour of the full production, from conception, to design, to tooling, molding and boxing. The lunch room was a real eye-opener: Its walls were covered in glass cabinets FULL of model kits. I had never seen so many built kits in my life. In all, Revell was very kind to my young notions of model production.
Mr. Jones introduced me to the IPMS, which met in that lunch room. I enjoyed their meetings there for about 10 years.
So because of that B-17, I met the IPMS which fostered those skills. And because of IPMS I was able to enter the film industry during the Golden Years of Movie Miniatures.
SFF.) To date you have worked for four model kit companies. What fascinated you about model making? Did each of these companies have a special profile that motivated you to work there?
B.M.) I was lucky enough to be recruited by those model companies to do something I loved doing, and would have done anyway: building model kits! Every now and then I was able to take one of those kits to a model competition, and that was fun. Working for the kit companies didn't really interfere with my hobby of entering kits for competition, instead it enabled my kit-building hobby in rewarding ways.
I continued to enter competitions until about the late 70s. My work in the Industry was beginning to take up most of my time and energy, and when, one day, a kid stole a sword from one of my dioramas at a competition, I finally decided it was time to take a break from model kit shows.
SFF) Was or is there a kit that presented you with enormous challenges, and if so what were they?
B.M.) There have been many over the years, but the 1/9th scale Star Wars Stormtrooper was one of the most challenging. Revell was checking their old dies and had turned out 3 or 4 of their Flash Gordon figure from 1964, just as a test. They gave me the figures since they weren't really going to produce them, and I found myself visualizing a Stormtrooper. It was about 8 inches tall. I cut it apart to re-pose it, then built the Stormtrooper armor with putty and sheet styrene. The biggest challenge was that I had to completely scratch build the helmet as, in those days, there was absolutely nothing like it out there. No Stormtrooper kits had been produced yet; it was years before Bandai came out with theirs. I spent about 50 hours just on the helmet, especially making it symmetrical. I spent an additional 50+ hours on the rest of the figure. I even had a model car maker give me a lesson on spraying gloss to get the finish right. That Stormtrooper was a real challenge, but it paid off, as it was seen by the representative from BPMM who offered me a job.
That Stormtrooper went with me to several job interviews, including at Heartland Universal where Pete Gerard interviewed me for possible work on Airport '79. I showed him the Stormtrooper and he commented, "What a nice kit." When I told him it was scratch-built, he didn't believe me, but I pointed out, "if it's a kit, have you seen it on the shelf? And how did they do those undercuts with a steel tool?" He looked at it again, and said, with his eyes as big as saucers, "Wow, it IS scratch built!" I worked with him for several years, and we still laugh about that. Pete is an amazingly talented model maker.
SFF) What was your first film you worked on and how did you get the job?
B.M.) Doug Trumball and John Dykstra were at Future General working on models for a theme park. I was still in college, and Gregory Jein, with whom I worked on and off for the next 30 years, hired me part time for that project, but it wasn't really a movie.
The first "real" movie I worked on was Star Trek The Motion Picture (above), but before that I had small opportunities including The Shape of Things to Come at BPMM and The Space-Watch Murders, a made for TV movie which has never been seen since. I was referred to them by Bob Shepherd, who had been unable to find a place for me on Star Wars due to script delays.
SFF) Is there any special event or movie which made you think: “Alright, I want to do the same thing?” Do you have any personal idols or favorite movies in your business?
B.M.) The movie industry just came up and grabbed me out of the sky. I used to visit Wilshire Hobbies in Santa Monica, CA, while Bob Shepherd was working for a then-new company called Magicam. Bob asked the shop for referrals to young model makers, and while I didn't get a job right at that time, it put my name "out there."
Films that really impressed me (that I didn't work on) included Jason and the Argonauts, especially the fighting skeletons. Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still were also intriguing. And of course, when I was little, Invaders from Mars scared me so much I wouldn't go near sand - even in a sandbox - for a long time.
One of my favorite movies that I worked on was Air Force One. (I recently heard that Boeing has our Air Force One model and will be putting it on display. Some day.)
Titanic was also a good movie. Unfortunately I worked on a lot of projects that produced movies that, let's face it, weren't so good. Still some of the projects were a blast, such as a series of Sunkist commercials where we animated oranges all over the place. It was quite possible to have a really good time making great models, working on a project that just wasn't a success. You know what they say, "I just play the notes, I didn't write the music."
SFF) You have worked for 33 years in the film industry in various positions. Which ones did you particularly enjoy and/or were there films where you were under a lot of pressure?
B.M.) We were always under a great deal of pressure, in fact a relaxing job was almost unheard-of. When there wasn't a tight deadline we always wondered when "the next shoe is going to drop."
I think I enjoyed being a painter the most, but mold-making and casting was also enjoyable. Super-detailing areas was always a joy. Greg Jein once had me detail the nose of a Klingon D-7 Cruiser and I put hundreds of little chips of plastic on it. I think that was for an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Possibly my favorite paint job for a movie was doing all of the military aircraft for Air Force One, 4 KC-10s (a hero and 3 pyros), 4 F-15s, 11 Mig-29s (10 were pyros) and a C-130 Hercules. I painted all of those myself. I didn't paint all of Air Force One itself, but I did take the research photos for it when Air Force One visited Los Angeles, and even wound up consulting with the White House and Andrews Air Force Base about it. There's nothing funnier than hearing, "Bruce, you have a call from the White House on Line 2" over the shop PA system. The Pentagon called too.
On Titanic I was supervisor for the Paint and Mold departments for the Second Unit, which means I was in charge of the paint for both the "hero" (the famous 44'x10'x17' model) and "wrecked" Titanic models, lifeboats and tugs. I had to see that all the molds and castings (hundreds of them) were produced for those models. It wasn't so much that the job was a challenge, it was very straight-forward. But most of my crew, over half, was inexperienced. There were a total of about 75 model-makers on the project, but with such a high percentage of newcomers, they needed a lot of supervision. We called them puppies. They were excited, and happy, and enthusiastic, but you had to watch them constantly or you'd never know what they were going to do next. They really kept me on my toes. But it was definitely a fun job and the challenge was enjoyable.
Details are everything in a job like that. We made over 100,000 hand-placed rivets - you drilled a hole and placed a rivet, just like the "real" thing. We made hundreds of deck chairs. We invented the process for making the rustcicles for the wrecked Titanic - out of Cheetos. Hundreds of bags of Cheetos. I'll never eat Cheetos again. Those details paid off though. Cameron told us that our wreck "looked more real than the real thing," and used much of our model footage instead of "real" footage of the wreck he'd intended to use.
One of the perks of being the supervisor was that I got to paint the name "Titanic" on the hero model's bow and stern.
SFF.) What is your opinion about education to become an expert in special effects/model builder? Is there any requirement or talent you need to have next to enthusiasm?
B.M.) Almost all of us were already passionate model builders when the Industry needed us. When people ask how to become a model builder for movies, I tell them you FIRST have to build models. I didn't really get a special education to do the job. In fact, in college I took an air-brushing class which I hoped would help me, but I turned out to know more about it than the teacher did. I took a pattern-making (for props) class which helped me pick up a few skills such as the use of RTV rubber and how to cut wood to make patterns, but it didn't really help much either. Model making is all about - - model making. Some people specialize in scratch building. Some specialize in electronics, or work in machine shops so they can make finely lathed products. Some make molds or paint. Sculptors are in a universe all their own (I envy them. How do they do drapery?) All of these are special skills. In the film industry I never knew anyone who could do it all. My particular skills are molds, casting, painting and detailing.
If you could get in the door with your basic skills, you would learn a whole lot more than you could ever learn in any school. By the time I started at Boss Films in 1986 (Masters of the Universe) I was a model maker and painter. There Ron Gress mentored me in painting and the best thing he taught me was how to "see" colors and how to mix them. I learned a terrific amount about color from him.
Art classes, woodshop and metal shop can be useful, but really there is no model-making education. You have to learn it yourself from other people. The beauty of the Industry was that we got to learn from truly amazing people who would answer our questions. We're proud to pass those skills on to the next generation.
SFF) You were a model builder for movies for a long time. What do you think of your kind of work in film? Is it just a technical one or is it art? Do SFX/ Modelling get enough recognition?
B.M.) My kind of work in the movies was always done under a deadline, and those deadlines influenced everything we did. So though it's a combination of art and technical expertise, those had to be fit into the timeline. Craftsmanship is making your art, or your artwork, fill the needs of the client. We were artistic craftsmen.
We were always proudest of making art that was never "seen" because it just looked too "real."
Academy Awards ("Oscars") were given for special effects (called visual effects) beginning in the 50s. Recipients included such ground-breaking work as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mary Poppins, and of course, Star Wars. I think the first time my work was nominated was in 1988, Die Hard. (Now you have to understand that a LOT of people's work goes into any visual effects package, not just mine by any means.) In 1997, two movies we worked on were nominated for Academy Awards in Visual Effects, Starship Troopers and Titanic. Of course Titanic won, and all of us were very, very proud of that. Subsequently, Hollow Man and Poseidon were also nominated.
SFF.) What do you think about CG comparing to modeling back in the days? Is there, in your opinion, a kind of renaissance of this art?
B.M.) We could see CGI coming over the horizon with The Last Starfighter, but you could see it just wasn't "there" yet. Tron did a much better job because it frankly wasn't really trying to look real.
CGI does best when it mimics "real" stuff, because no matter how beautiful your CGI model of the USS Enterprise space ship is, we know it isn't real, so we're expecting CGI or at least a miniature. When we see humans doing impossible things, (such as Spiderman), we know it's CGI. Directors are famous for designing choreographed stunts that just can't be real, and deep in our minds we know they're just CGI. Look at Peter Jackson - he just doesn't know when to stop and his CGI just overwhelms the viewer.
So I think CGI is a tool that's been over-used and abused and it's losing its impact. Like eating too much chocolate cake until you can't taste the chocolate anymore.
Miniatures and other special effects do a much better job of looking "real" to our minds. For one thing, they actually are 3D instead of mimicking it. Light moves over a miniature realistically. They look "real" because they are. When photographed with the proper lighting, one cannot tell the difference between a miniature and a full size object. Our minds do a great job of seeing and detecting reality by processing infinite details of light, shadow and scale without our consciousness needing to understand the details. When a miniature is used, because light, shadow and scale are actually present, our minds see them as real.
The room you're sitting in is full of billions of bits of information in light, shadow, color. We process that information without thinking about it. If you focus on one book cover, you see it in detail, but normally we see only about 10% of it. Your mind focuses only on the information it needs, but all the information is still there. When we photograph something, we record all of the information to present to the viewers' brains.
In CGI the computer artists would have to create all of those billions of details, and they don't. As a consequence our minds can tell the difference between CGI and a miniature.
One good thing about CGI is that it can give you infinite depth of field on any subject, where on a miniature, the closer the camera gets, the shallower the depth of field becomes and that can give away the scale.
The classic example of this is any old naval film from the 40s. There the sub captain is, looking through his periscope at a ship. The ocean is leaping in front of his lens, in perfect focus, yet the stern of the ship in the "distance" will appear out of focus.
During Coppola's Dracula, we had to film a scene in which Van Helsing burns Dracula's coffins to flush him out of Carfax Abbey. The rule of thumb for both fire and water is that miniature scale can be no less than 1/4 scale. Therefore, the Carfax Abbey set was huge because we built it in 1/4 scale, so it was over 20 feet tall and the base was about 40-60 feet square. When we set fire to our miniature coffins, because they were 1/4 scale, the flames (which cannot be forced to change size) looked scale. Viewers were easily able to believe they were seeing "real" coffins burning. That huge detailed set was built basically for that one shot.
In one of the early Batman films, Batman's plane is shot down by the Joker and crash lands on the steps of the Gotham City Cathedral. The flames seen on the street, cars and the crash were out of scale because the cars were only about 6 inches long. The scene just screamed, "I am a fake!" because the miniatures weren't large enough to be in scale with the flames. Perhaps that would have been a good place to use CGI.
In Die Hard, we had to put a fireball up a thirty storey elevator shaft. Naturally we had to use a model, because the owner of the actual building somehow didn't want us to put a real fireball up his real, operating elevator shaft. We built an elevator shaft that stood over 20' tall in the Boss Films shop. It could have been taller, but when we stood it up in the soundstage, it almost brushed the ceiling. The elevator shaft used "forced perspective" to make it look taller on the inside. The bottom necked down to about 8 inches square and the top was 4 feet square. This provided a natural vanishing point. We set off a pyrotechnic charge at the bottom of the shaft (which involved our pyro expert lying on his back underneath a platform at the bottom) to produce the fireball that exploded up the shaft. Naturally, Bruce Willis' head looking down the shaft was blue-screened in later.
Interestingly, the forced perspective of the shaft worked so well that when we worked on it, we would feel like we were looking down hundreds of feet of shaft and would experience vertigo. I had to close my eyes and then look carefully at the floor of the stage outside of the shaft to keep from being too dizzy to work. There was a zone in the middle of the height of the shaft that couldn't be reached from the top or bottom, so I would stick lights and glue onto a long stick, reach down the shaft, and position the lights onto the wall. It was strange to watch the work stick "get longer" as we lowered it into the forced perspective. I would lower the stick and try to hit the mark with the gluey light while a friend dribbled accelerator onto it. Then I'd rotate the stick to see if the light stuck. Half the time the stupid things didn't stick, they'd fall to the bottom of the shaft, and I'd have to crawl after them - - and try again.
But for this shot, it was crucial that we had a miniature instead of CGI.
In Titanic, we initially planned for the hero model to be 1/8, but that would have been over 110 feet long. That was way too expensive, so we built in 1/20th scale which was still over 40 feet. As a consequence, it was in a totally CGI ocean because that was the only way to get the water and smoke (from the ship's funnels) to be in scale. If we had used a CGI ship, it would not have had enough detail to look real to the viewers' eyes, but the water would have looked fake if we used real water and a small miniature. This was the perfect marriage of CGI and a miniature.
SFF) When you worked on a model for a film, for example STARSHIP TROOPERS, what was your approach? How accurate were the templates or did you use a lot of kitbashing?
B.M.) We often had a drawing, maybe plans if we were lucky, of the general structure of the miniature we were trying to build. Depending on what it was, like a spaceship, we would detail it using our creativity and some kit bashing. In Starship Troopers there was a huge amount of detail. We called one area of the Rodger Young "The Strip" after the Las Vegas Strip because it was so heavily detailed. It just looked like a hotel strip with lots of rectangular boxes sticking up.
The majority of the miniatures for Starship Troopers were done by Thunderstone. They were running out of time and budget for shooting their effects, so Thunderstone hired Boss Films and ILM to build 2 more 18 foot Rodger Young models based on Thunderstone's model. Thus there were three companies doing the miniature filming in a short amount of time. This caused cost overruns. I worked on the miniatures at Boss Films. We also did 2 asteroids and the close-up section of the bridge of the Rodger Young which is smashed up in the movie. We built the whole ship from scratch based on photos from Thunderstone.
Gene Rizzardi and Jim McGeachy worked on a Borg Cube ship which was completely covered in kitbashed parts (called "grebils"), including whole sprue trees. The advent of DVDs and DVR recording has made it a lot of fun to freeze-frame models and see how they're really made! According to Ken Swenson and Greg Jein, the mothership from Close Encounters of the Third Kind had so many "grebils" that it was covered in, among other things, sprues, airplanes, mail box, tombstones and even, yes, R2D2. That ship is now in the Smithsonian at Dulles and the kitbashing is there for all to see.
From 1975-1977, when Star Wars and Close Encounters were made, kitbashing really came into its own and pretty much anything sci-fi was detailed with kit bashing. The Anzio Annie kit by Hasagawa was one of the favorite kits to chop up and use for detailing, in fact, parts of it appear on Darth Vader's TIE fighter. Battlestar Galactica (the original series) bought a case of Roco Mini Tanks M-114 and used the upper hulls to line the upper structure of the Galactica itself.
SFF) Could it be that you are a big fan of R2D2? Because you and your crew hid it in some models, like STARSHIP TROOPERS.
B.M.) The reason I started placing R2D2 on my work was that when Star Wars became such a big hit, everyone in Hollywood suddenly wanted to make science fiction pictures and my career really took off. So I was just saying "thank you" to George Lucas for giving me a career.
R2D2 has been on most of the miniatures I worked on in most of the movies, whenever I could get away with it. One of my favorite places was on the top of the tail of Air Force One. He looks like a little white bump. He was on every aircraft miniature in Air Force One. I had an R2D2 that was about 1/2 inch tall that I molded and kept several castings in my toolbox. Whenever I saw an opportunity I would tuck him in. I think the first place I put him was on a Project UFO model. He really gets around. He's on the bridge of the Titanic along with a miniature Godzilla; he's in some of the buildings and is a hood ornament on one of the car wrecks in the river from Godzilla. He was also on the top of the tanks in Godzilla. He's even on the Earth Star Voyager ship model.
There were 5 R2D2s on the Rodger Young, all painted green. I put them all on the hull when my boss, Dave Jones, walked in and saw them. He said, "that's R2, isn't it?" and I said, "why yes, it is." He asked, "Are there more?" and I told him, "Yes, there are 5." I was waiting for him to tell me to take them off, so I told him, "Well, I'm not going to paint them silver, white and blue! These are military R2 units, so I'm going to paint them green, and where else should they be but on the hull to service the ship?" More dead silence. Then he just said, "OK" and walked off. Towards the end of lunch, I saw him in the paint booth taking pictures of the R2 units, so I knew they were safe.
In the Paramount pilot for Star Ship Enterprise, a character builds a flying RC model of a spaceship. R2 is the joystick in the RC model's cockpit, and the view screens showed pictures of Gene Rizzardi and myself.
SFF) For the film GODZILLA from 1998 you used buildings and parts of buildings from other films such as THE FITH ELEMENT. Isn't it sometimes sad to see that this great work, which takes months to create, is only seen for a few seconds in the finished film? What actually happens to all these models after the shooting is over?
B.M.) We who build this stuff would like to see the whole movie about our work, but that just doesn't happen. The fact that it's made is sort of its own glory. It's sad to see something you worked on for hours being blown to smithereens in just a moment, but you were part of it and that was its purpose and you get used to just trying to make the shots perfect. It IS hard on newcomers to the business to have their work blown up, but that's just part of our life.
I painted the Akula submarine for Crimson Tide which was imploded. That was a one shot deal. One model, one paint job, one implosion. 2 to 3 months of work for a 2 second shot. It was one of the best physical effects and I was glad to get to work on it. I just wish we could have had another 5 seconds of the shot instead of 5 seconds of Denzel Washington reacting to an implosion he could not possibly have seen.
I got to watch the daily of the implosion so we got to see the whole shot. It was fantastic! We were sorry the audience didn't get to see more of it. The coolest part of the shot: At the very end of the shot, the sub drops out of frame and a split second later the propeller cartwheeled through the frame. It was perfect.
Sometimes they blow up our hard work and the shot just doesn't work. For instance, in Godzilla another company spent a long time building Madison Square Gardens for our pyro guy to blow up. Unfortunately, the roof of the miniature didn't disintegrate the way it was supposed to and just came off in one big piece, like a Frisbee. In the movie you can see the roof start to move - all in one piece - then there's a cut to later in the explosion.
Also in Godzilla, as a helicopter flies into a building, it was supposed to run down a wire, hit the building, and a pyro pro would pull the trigger to explode the helicopter. Unfortunately he jumped the gun and the helicopter exploded before it hit the building. They brought us the exploded helicopter and told us to "glue it back together really fast" so they could do it again.
We spent a lot of time in Godzilla blowing up helicopters, and they told me that if the pilot is seen blowing out of a helicopter they want the model to move like a real person, not like a toy. So I cut the figures up at its joints, waist, hips, head, etc. and wired them back together to be flexible like a marionette. On our first take, we watched a closeup in slow motion on a monitor. It was beautiful. The pilot blew out of the cockpit and arched back perfectly realistically, arms and legs flying. And then his head came off. So we had to firmly attach his head again and shoot it again, but it never really looked quite as good as the first shot.
The problem with some special effects is that, at the end of the day, you can only blow something up once.
So after 30 years in the business, I'm ok with my hard work being blown up, or sunk, or imploded or.... you get the picture.
"What happens to the models?" Well, Titanic's in a museum, along with Air Force One. Some of them were kept by the shop owner. Richard Edlund, of Boss Films, acquired the Discovery from 2010. All of the miniatures from Godzilla were boxed up and sent to a warehouse in Valencia CA where, who knows? They may be thrown away when the owner gets tired of paying the rent. Models from all of the Star Trek productions have been auctioned to fans who really love and prize them.
On the other hand, a lot of the stuff is so big and really detailed on one side; maybe it's pretty trashed from filming. That stuff winds up in landfills. Most of the ship models from Solar Crisis were boxed up and went home with Richard Edlund, but some of the larger pieces sat out in the weather at Boss Films for years, until the shop closed and they went to landfill. Smaller props find homes more easily. Army of Darkness' wonderful skeletons were tossed into a box to be trashed, so several people in the model shop, which might have included me, took some home where they have survived all those years. I might have acquired some skulls from the molds in Dracula which are now bookends.
George Lucas is reputed to keep his miniatures in pristine condition, some of them in vaults. You can see some of them in footage of ILM. After Star Wars opened, which no one expected to be a hit, some of the miniatures were bagged by the crew. When it became a hit, suddenly they were worth a fortune. I toured ILM just after Return of the Jedi opened and saw maybe 1000 miniatures sitting on a soundstage waiting to be stored. It was intriguing to see how fantastically they were detailed - and in what good condition they were kept. Many film crews are rough with models, but those models were handled very carefully. They'll never see a landfill.
SFF.) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
B.M.) I've always been sad that after being interviewed for Star Wars I didn't get to work on it. I wish I had tried harder to get on the project. I also was terribly sad that I didn't get to work on Lord of the Rings, even though Peter Jackson desperately wanted Hollywood miniature makers. New Zealand required Jackson to use NZ model makers for most of the work, though Mark Stetson did make it onto the crew.
Nobody's ever made The Silmarillion and I'd love to work on that. They could shoot it here in Las Vegas.
SFF) Do you have any favorite kit, diorama or model?
B.M.) Probably the favorite dioramas that I've built were Heidi is Really Not Amused or They Said, "Home By Christmas." I also recently finished a Paukenschlag U-Boat that came out very well.
Back in about 1973 I built a diorama called The Winetasters which is one of my very favorites. I also enjoyed doing Dragon's Den (Meddle Not in the Affairs of Dragons, for Thou Art Crunchy and Good with Catsup). I often try for a touch of humor in my dioramas.
One of my favorite kits right in the box was a Pzkw V Wg 1/35th by Gunze-Sangyo. It was super detailed and the high water mark of armor model kits in 1988. A beautifully engineered kit which I really enjoyed working with was the Bandai 1/44th Y-Wing. It was superbly engineered and you just couldn't put it together wrong. Kit tooling has really come a long way since 1970.
Some kits are just from hell, though. I still talk about a resin kit American Jeep 1/16th scale by Valinden which had everything. The instructions were incredibly poor and left you with more questions than answers. Parts didn't really fit where they were supposed to so I had to keep breaking it apart and trying again. The steering column just flat out didn't fit and I had to leave the windshield down after re-building it. The absolute worst thing was that the photo-etch had no indications of how to bend it, so I had to bend several parts two ways. I built it for my wife, who absolutely loves it, but it completely cured me of wanting to build their Panther tank or Tiger-I.
SFF.) I held up with the most important question to the end: What was the most difficult effect/ model you were working on in movies, and why?
B.M.) We built a perfectly good 48 inch long Akula, an exact replica of a real Russian sub. We built the master, made a gigantic rubber mold (worth a LOT of money) and then laid out and assembled the casting. It was sanded, filled, finished and primered, ready to paint. All we needed was the director's blessing. Unfortunately John McTiernan took one look and said, "Cut 4 inches out of the middle so it'll be shorter and look meaner," and then just walked away. I stared in disbelief. Greg Jein and I looked at each other, and he said, "That's show-biz, Bruce! He just made a $5000 change." (McTiernan was famous for busting his budgets like that.)
I proceeded to plot out how to cut it in half and put it back together. It took over a week and let me tell you , "cutting 4 inches" out of a tapered cylinder is no easy trick. We got it done and you know what? It was a totally useless maneuver. It was just a case of the director wanting to mark the model as "his." When we saw the Akula during the screening, one of our model-makers yelled out, "Wow! That really looks scary! If it was a little longer it wouldn't be nearly as scary!"
This brings up "The Theory of the Burning Clown." Since inevitably the art director, the bane of all miniature makers will want to change something on a model, he'll always choose something really time consuming and difficult to do. So, what you, the model maker, do is build the model exactly to specs, except you put something on the model that's completely wrong so he can tell you to remove it and everyone is happy. He's made his mark, and you don't have to do a lot of extra work.
So you build your miniature of, say, the Die Hard building, and you hang a burning clown (on fire) on it. Now Mr. Art Director walks in, looks at your work, and says, "Wow, looks great! Lose the burning clown!" and walks off. You smugly wink at your workmates, pluck off the burning clown and are good to go. But if you hadn't put the clown on, he would have said, "It doesn't speak to me. Cover it in fur, paint it bright red, and sand it down 13% smaller. By tomorrow."
So we should have just put a burning clown on the Akula.
SFF) Dear Mr. MacRae. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.
B.M.) Thanks so much. It has been a real pleasure.