Science Fiction Filme) First of all, I would like to thank you for your time doing this Interview. I think you´re work have got a huge fan base here in Germany. Especially because for films like THE NEVERENDING STORY, CONAN, THE BARBARIAN or SIRENE 1 of course. A lot of movie maniacs know the films you´re involved. Could you please tell us what you did before you come into filmbusiness. Why have you choose the way of being into special effects?
Colin Arthur) That’s an easy one looking back it seems a foregone career choice almost inevitable.
My parents were both artists in that they made a living before the 2nd world war as graphic artists in commercial advertising when things were done mostly graphically.
My father Rupert had his studio in central London employing many other artists as freelance designers, and Draughtsmen. Dorothy my mum went to work for him and “stayed!” During the first world war my father had worked in early aircraft design at Farnborough, Between the wars he had an engineering and Machine workshop in Cobham just south of London working principally on Hydraulics for braking systems on all the iconic aircraft during the early forties,
So creativity and engineering were going on even in my present home from a very early age. Also I lost my father in 1952 when I was 9 years old. Dorothy went on to work in Ceramics at the time it was something she thought she could do to earn a living.
So there was clay in the “house” almost immediately I started sculpting. The Family dog etc. Dorothy was incredibly encouraging and suggested I do some studies from drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci. By the time I was 14 my mother was doing evening studies from models at Guildford School of art under Sir Michael Rizzello. When my school holidays permitted Michael allowed me to attend his classes, he became a close family friend.
At 18 I left my principal schooling to do a course of 4 Years at Guildford school of Art with Michael as my professor.
As I neared the end of my degree course at Guildford there was student unrest, my course finally closed down.
I went onto the City and Guilds in London, for a while during the Hiatus at Guildford I would study from life at Guildford Monday Tuesday Wednesday and in Kennington Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday. A blissful 7 days a week. Doing what I loved and developing my skills in Portraiture.
Michael used to do freelance portraiture for Madame Tussaud’s wax works in London. Following a new CEO and reorganisation I found myself with the good fortune of being offered work as apprentice to Bernard Tussaud to run their studio. He was way past retiring age so very quickly I found I was in a position to control my destiny there to some extent. In particular, the film industry would contact us for reference for the aspect of various historical characters for make ups etc. (no Google!)
Word spread very quickly that Madame Tussaud's would and could collaborate on film projects.CASINO ROYAL with David Niven needed portraits of various world Politicians (Chairman Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh etc). We had moulds of these people so their need was easily served.
At almost exactly the same time Hawk films, the original production company for Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY contacted us for assistance in life casting for the Dawn of Man sequence. I was to become involved with the creation of the now iconic opening to the film.
I collaborated with Stuart Freeborn the head of the Make-up department, organising some 3D visuals for the “apes”. This was at a time when there was very little available material on what is now a very familiar subject for all of us. Stanley liked what we had supplied, and soon after Stuart offered me a place in his laboratory in MGM Studios at Elstree, Borehamwood.
I persuaded Madame Tussaud’s to allow me to take a provisional 6 - 8 week sabbatical to MGM. Some 20 months later I had neither concept nor imtention of returning to Madame Tussaud’s. In fact we had moved on!
I was fascinated with “animated realism” in the film industry, and my next project was to make planes for the film BATTLE OF BRITAIN with some of the same materials that we used for the masks for 2001. Who would want to go back!
SFF.) Do you have any personal idols or role models in your business? Is there a movie or an event which make you think: “I want to do the same thing.”? Do you have any collaboration which was the most influential in your career and why?
C.A.) The quality of a sculptors work always commanded respect on my part, my professor at art school Michael Rizzelio was an Artist and draughtsman of exceptional ability, a Google search gives a good idea of his work. His portraiture for Madame Tussaud’s was exceptional.
My father’s work in his early years while making his entrance exams to the Royal Academy School of art are of a similar standard.
Throughout my career I have had the luck to work with a handful of art department directors who have the ability to do Inspirational designs. Ron Cobb from ALIEN and CONAN, THE BARBARIAN and Gonzalo Gonzalo a Spanish art director it was always a pleasure to work from his designs.
Then early on I worked with Ray Harryhausen on his last 3 films, he was a draughtsman and sculptor of truly exceptional talent.
His whole way of drawing and explaining what he was trying to achieve was wonderful. Thanks to him for so much that he showed me, giving me confidence to conceive an effects sequence and the logical way to go through all the steps to achieve what you want. Yes Ray goes down as one of the biggest influences in my Career.
With Stuart Freeborn on 2001 I probably learned the most at a technical level. But also he was a very secretive technician. However the 20 months working with him on 2001, and 14 of those just myself and Stuart developing ways to make the masks meant we had a great deal of shared knowledge that has been invaluable.
I would have loved to work on GREYSTOKE perfecting the Gorilla masks, for me close to perfection; an assistant of mine Nick Forder developed some new techniques for putting hair on prosthetic body parts, a very important part of the look that helped Rick Baker achieve such realism.
If only Ray had been able to get funds together for his last project based in Egypt. CGI by then had pushed him to one side.
SFF.) You worked with Stuart Freeborn on the monkey masks for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. How should I imagine working on these masks at that time? What research did you have to do to make these masks the way we know them now? In what way was the production a challenge?
C.A.) The principal of having a mask for each of the 32 monkeys was one of logistics there were not enough makeup men with the necessary skills to fulfil the work necessary for so many on set at the same time; this was why Stuart came to Madam Tussaud’s looking for assistance.
There was so little visualization of Phil Leakey’s Austeolopithicus available when we started on 2001, In fact the public and the production only had monkeys in Zoos, KING KONG (thanks to Ray) and very little else. Hawk Films sent a photocopy of Leakey’s early conceptual drawings, but it was fairly inconclusive for our needs.
Poor Stanley had nothing to refer to, to explain what he was looking for, in retrospect a blessing in disguise for our first attempt came out looking retrospectively like something from the Planet of the Apes. Not a bad thing but defiantly not primitive enough, lacking a protruding jaw.
So with lack of reference and Stanley feeling his way we had the opportunity to work through technically and creativity each step of the development. It was a steep learning curve. Dick Smith the makeup artist from LITTLE BIG MAN with Dustin Hoffman visited MGM, and showed Stuart a little bit of foam rubber; it fell to me to find ways to make the foam with mixing machines from Kenwood, totally different from the Sunbeam, American equivalent.
The second camera tests led to our using Polyurethanes both rigid and flexible. The result was a little like a Martian with a head the proportion of a motorbike crash helmet, clearly not workable but it did demonstrate the possibility of a protruding jaw and how to transmit movement from the artists face to the surface of the mask,
Radio control had not been developed at that time, but as we researched we learned and progressed. It was a wonderful opportunity for me, A university post graduation research project second to none.
The whole production was a challenge for nothing like this had ever been done before; thank goodness working with Stanley made it possible to take everything to perfection, the costume, the choreography nothing was left with any loose ends.
There were so many young under 25 year olds working on 2001. Douglas Trumbull (responsible for those incredible light sequences in the film) was only 2 doors away from our mould filling workshop.
All of us who "survived" on the production had something to contribute, otherwise it was a case of "don’t let the door hit you in the arse when you leave" That is a quote from Sam Pekinpah!
One very interesting part of the project for me was doing a critical path analysis on the production of the masks, a very early introduction to the computer world and early implications for me in the mental challenge of producing budgets. If you know what you want to do, if the designs are clear and unambiguous and you know the materials you need, and no one moves the goal posts, and especially if one man has total control. If he is up to it, job done!
SFF.) You have lived and worked in Spain for decades. How do you experience the spanish film landscape in comparison to other european countries and the us film industry?
C.A.) The Spanish film industry has had some great productions of its own, the old school with its wonderful actors. I arrived in Spain as the industry slowed down from the era of multiple foreign productions working all over the country.
I worked with Juan Piquer on THE RIFT and on Dino de Laurentis’ CONAN but after that I found A COMPLETE LACK OF RESPECT FOR SPECIAL EFFECTS. Production managers and producers squeezing the budgets, and behaving in my opinion in a manner that was and still is not conducive to creativity.
From my Studio base in Madrid the show went on, bringing many opportunities, tremendous creative possibilities, and my mainly Spanish crew and many wonderful Spanish colleagues and friends. A selection of American, German and English producers has kept me sane and solvent and projects in Portugal and South America brought their share of interest and excitement.
Thank goodness the last 10 years have been a pleasure working with the new school of Producers and Directors and a special mention goes to my friend, colleague and sometimes collaborator Victor Matellano, a director who knows what he is doing!
SFF.) How should I imagine the work of a make-up artist in the 1960s till 90s? A lot of things were certainly new and a lot of things were tried out. In retrospect, how do you feel about that long period of time?
C.A.) Stuart Freeborn and Charles Parker between them did so much for make up in the 50s and 60s for English cinema.
Incidentally Charles and Stuart both mentioned W Guy Pierce as being very influential in their own early years in cinema.
Stuart working with Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers on their differing characters, and Charles on many of the famous Roman Empire movies BEN-HUR, KING OF KINGS and later RYAN´S DAUGHTER where I assisted him. Charles also worked with us on 2001 for the last 6 months of preparation sculpting Austiolepithecus faces.
It was Charles, also, who got me through the politics of the English Make-up Union a couple of years later. My application to join the Union was turned down on the grounds that “5 years at art school working on 2001 and at Madame Tussauds” was "insufficient qualification to become a make-up trainee." At that time there was no category within the Film Technicians listing for Special Effects Make-up. A new addition to the listings as a “Prosthetic Technician” was created with me as the only members, and also Secretary of the department!
Charles was such a generous character, Canadian born he studied in Canada under the same professor that taught my own father in Sheffield, a Mrs Macnutt, it’s a small world!
It was a time when many of the films I remember as a young cinema goer were made with innovative work being done with very limited materials. 2001 was prepared in 66 – 68. IIt was a ground breaking time for all of us, films like STAR WARS would not have had the look they had without Stanley pushing the boundaries as he always did.
It was not until CGI that the art and science of sfx in character makeup began to have other ways of being created, to some extent the magic of the relationship of the artist the makeup man director and script has become diluted with so many people involved. Fortunately, more recently producers and directors are becoming increasingly aware that the way films are made using CGI often misses something.
It was Kubrick’s 2001 that introduced foam rubbers, early silicones urethanes just to mention a few of the materials we use now. It’s the understanding of materials that is a key to creativity.
Make -up is in continuous development all the work of the 60 to 90s contribute to the Wikipedia of techniques that are available to us today. Fewer technicians know how to handle the latex foam nowadays and the silicones have replaced much of what is put in front of the camera. Also our directors can refer to past films so they have shared images to refer to when trying to get an idea across.
There is always room for innovation and individual creativity in cinema if the Producers have the confidence in their department heads. In some scenes the fewer people that are involved in an image the greater possibility of that magic coming to the screen.
SFF) One of your greatest and best works in films ist he giant snake from CONAN, THE BARBARIAN (1982). Can you tell us a little bit about the production? How long did it take to build? Who makes the mechanics?
C.A.) Before working on Conan I had worked with Ray Harryhausen and Juan Picker Simon, building monsters full-size for use in real time with the artists, so the concept of what the Director would need to get his shots was self-evident to me.
I joined the film quite late in the shooting, my wife was working in the editing department, so I had visited the set and seen friends, the Snake had been sculpted and molded and a full foam rubber skin had been made by Carlo de Marquis an assistant to Carlo Rambaldi of ET fame.
I saw the mechanism made by the English special effects department in England. I felt that its mechanical design had some concept weaknesses. Carlo De Marquis was colouring the skin with make up! (choice of materials?) I saw that everything was not as it should be and offered to help De Marquis. He turned me down, luckily it was a Dino Production, with skilled management, and they soon found out if anything was not as it should be. So the production contracted me direct to help them splitting a part of the special effects to my responsibility.
My first concept was to make a full length filling of the snake head to tail in liquid latex and Urethane flexible foam, painting with special paints for latex so we now had a passive, flexible rubber toy that Arnold was able to bend around himself and do all the movements.
This saved the day for the first day’s shoot with Arnold. The mechanical snake broke beyond rapid repair, so our stand-in was brought on set.
Most importantly for me an assistant to De Marquis, an Italian mechanical engineer Giuseppe Tortora was working on the film, we came to an immediate understanding, we clicked on all things. Guiseppe had worked on ET with Carlo Rambaldi. For me it was the beginning of a long collaboration and friendship for us in cinema.
It was Giuseppe whom I asked to join me on NEVERENDING STORY, and without him I would not have been able to put many of the characters in front of camera.
Working with Giuseppe was such a pleasure. We worked solidly together for 20 months on the mechanical concepts of THE NEVERENDING STORY. For animatronics, I was perpetually astounded by what he could achieve alongside the designs and sculpture. Invariably perfection.
Together with Giuseppe my work with Ray was also so fulfilling as far a sculpture and creativity tied together with stop motion was concerned.
SFF.) You are currently having the book „COLIN ARTHUR: criaturas, maquillajes y efectos especiales“ (2013) translated into English. How did this book come about and what prompted you to write it?
C.A.) This book was really inspired by Victor Matellano, he is a walking encyclopaedia of cinema, and has written I think more than 20 books. He is also a very accomplished Director of cinema; we first met maybe 25 years ago when I worked to build a cine exhibition with him In Colminar Viejo, the village where most of the international films of the 60s were made. Including A FIST FULL OF DOLLARS.
He approached me asking if he could write a book about me, this involved what amounted to a psychiatrist couch in which he interrogated me for hours several days a week for almost a month.
He had completed a book about the Oscar wardrobe designer Yvonne Blake just before our interviews and was familiar with the physiological no go nature of looking over the past for creative people who so often get trampled on.
Now thanks to Victor almost all of my demons are laid to rest.
Over the last few years I have had a wonderful time collaborating with him on his projects. We have produced some really iconic images together.
SFF.) You have created a large number of fantasy creatures from THE NEVERENDING STORY. How difficult was it to turn the ideas into the final product? Where were the difficulties and how did you solve them?
C.A.) What an opportunity, I had worked with Bernd Eichinger the producer on CHRISTIANE F., a great success for him, so when my name came up for the film I had the producer on my side, it helps.
Bernd was young and lacked experience of an effects movie that was for me like working on a Ray Harryhausen film.
We had a weak art department, and a production that did not really know by instinct what problems there might be for us.
So I arrived in Munich with a small Spanish crew including my wife as a foam rubber Technician and my mother a great sculptor. I also managed to get Giuseppe from CONAN working with us.
My principal concern was the incongruous nature of having animals talking, I had seen some attempts from the 60s and realised there were creative boundaries and technical limitations.
WITHOUT either designs or creative input I was “in a desert on thin Ice”. We took only a week to set up the basic workings of a creature making department, so I proposed solving the design problems of The Snail, she did not have to talk.
Once my design solution was accepted we started modelling immediately, and within a few weeks we had a working Snail.
For me the stage was set the design for the Dragon would only work if it reflected in creative essence what we had in the Snail. I was able to start the Dragon design before the Snail was finished mechanically and the Stone Biter and Tortoise as well.
After a while Bernd changed his director to Wolfgang Petersen. Money was a preoccupation as nearly always, so Japanese toy makers were invited to participate, with the Snail driving around the studio and the Dragon as a 15 meter long piece of sculpture they joined in enthusiastically.
Falkor was dog like because I felt the public could read expression into a familiar form also the concept of a far eastern dragon was too aggressive for me. Falkor also lacked wings. Time was too short and the budget was limited!
In the end the creature that proved the most problematic was the Wolf. A case of moving the goal posts. He was a dark secretive character so in script I saw he was going to be shot in very dark conditions. Every time we see him maybe there would be a little more reveal “we would never see him clearly”.
How wrong I was, on seeing the rushes after the first days shoot I could see the wolf quite clearly. This meant I had to start a complete rebuild of a very animated wolf. Thank goodness we had by this time a very skilled and productive creature department.
My experience of designing the make up on The Night Hob Character on Tilo Prückner was one of happy accidents; I had made moulds of Thilo and therefore had a kind of working relationship with him. The designs that came from the art department were not really workable as far as I was concerned: I was lucky enough to be present during an early meeting with Tilo myself and Wolfgang when they discussed the character in detail. Tilo with his first ideas and enthusiasm and Wolfgang with his own ideas. What a wonderful experience it was for me, still one of the clearest briefs where I had the possibility of steering a way to satisfy both actor and Director. Oh that it happens that way more often!
SFF.) We all have our favorite movies. Mine is PHASE IV for example. But which movies do you really don´t like and why?
C.A.) NEVERENDING STORY 3. This was a travesty of a remake lacking any respect for the public, who want and expect to see some relation to the preceding films NES 1 and NES 2.
This situation was typical of many films that do well in the first instance, and are taken forward by Producers and/or Directors who anticipate success, usually financial, on the back of the original. This sentiment unfortunately trickles down to the morale of the creative and technical teams resulting in a fantasy film with little magic to recommend it.
Back to NEVERENDING STORY 2, with which I was involved, but found less freedom of creative choice and the script lacked the empathy and again, respect for the public which we created in NES 1, which should have been left standing alone.
It’s interesting that NES 1 did not ask me to approve the merchandising; I have seen so many mediocre products offered to the public, as collectables of NES. Sadly A lost opportunity.
Disney and Star Wars are meticulous about their merchandising.
SFF.) If we look back to the movies you have done, we see that you did a lot of genre-movies. I am really into science fiction (or fantasymovies in general) because I think, that those kind of movies are the best way to show actual political and social events. For example SOYLENT GREEN or SILENT RUNNING. Do you believe that these genres can transfer something to the people?
C.A.) Yes looking back I have been involved in a fair number of Genre films, I am a little the odd man out so the producers who have an unconventional script seem to come my way to bring some “off the wall” ideas to the screen.
Whether these films have brought something significant to the party is not for me to say, certainly there are some persistent fans out there.
If you can find it there is a film called HE BLOOD OF HUSSAIN shot in Pakistan in the early 70s. The director Jamil Dehlavi made an allegory of the life of Muhammad’s grandson set in Pakistan. Politically a red hot potato, but interesting, I did all the Make- up and special effects as a very young guy, A sequence featuring a horse was voted the best non GGI effect in cinema at Cannes. Besides designing the effect I also supervised the training of that magnificent animal. He collaborated 17 times; the repeat shots were because of mechanical camera problems.
The Camera, a German newsreel 1939 Arriflex 2 C was unable to cope with being run at 4 times speed without a long run up to speed, several times one of the 3 cameras we had completely jammed solid and had to be take to pieces to get the film out. Shortage of film because of financial restraints necessitated short run up times.
On the film the IRON CROSS with Sam Peckinpah we had Arriflex 2 C cameras for the battle sequences as well; one was body number 6 that had been captured from a German combat unit by Yugoslavian Partisans. It had been returned to Arriflex in Munich several times over the years for routine service.
SFF.) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
C.A.) I would love to do another film in the style of NES if only to experience the pleasure of the crew while watching creatures interacting with actors.
The Mechanical technology for this kind of film is now much much easier.
I did a budget for THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA where my design for the Lion was in origami made with Brass and stainless steel. My idea was to have different inflammable materials inside that would burn on the surface, in different colours. And on from there, anyone interested?
It would be great to be involved in a theme park with NES as one of the themes; I have a head of Falkor that could be animated by computer very easily!
But then, I am a dreamer by nature and although we slow up when we pass the age of somewhere between 75 and 80 years, on a good day my brain tells me I am about 45 with both hindsight and experience and the capacity to continue developing ideas.
On creative energy, one frequently looks back to demanding projects and wonders how we found the capacity to keep going. Could I do it again?
There is no extra charge for dreaming. It’s free!
SFF.) Hand on heart: Which film would you have liked to be involved in?
C.A.) Ray Harryhausen’s last script, set in Egypt, we could have done some great things.
Followed by LORD OF THE RINGS which really did deliver on sequels.
SFF.) I held up with the most important question to the end: What was the most difficult effect you were working on and why?
C.A.) The next. We are always pushing boundaries to our limits with the knowledge we have up to the moment of shooting.
Many years ago I was asked to do an ageing for a commercial with very little time to prepare, so it was “out of the box” so to speak. The Director walked into the Makeup room before we were finished, and wanted the make- up changed. He commented negatively on everything I was doing and then scrubbed the shoot, somebody moved the goalposts and I was the fall Guy?
C’est la vie.
SFF.) Dear Mr. Arthur. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.