Science Fiction Film) First of all, I would like to thank you for your time doing this Interview. I think you´re work have got a huge impact in the history of fantasymovies like BATMAN (1989), HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHERS STONE (2001) or BATMAN BEGINS (2005). Could you please tell us what you did before you come into filmbusiness.
Greg Morgan) I was a hopeless pupil at school, who subsequently finished at sixteen with only a grade A in art to show for it. What I did have however was a keen interest in some fairly obscure things. I was obsessed in the movie Alien, model making, armored fighting vehicles and in Bugatti Royales. After training as an auto mechanic for a year or so, I saw a job in my local job centre as a model maker, producing recognition vehicle models for the Ministry of Defence, which because of my interest was a dream job for me at the time. After a couple of years I found a model making company in the phone book called Model Effects, who built models for the film industry. They were working on a movie called ‘Gunbus’ and I was given a job on it.
After a couple of months working there they were given a lot of model work for ‘Aliens’. As you can imagine, being so obsessed in the original movie, I couldn’t quite believe my luck! Amongst other things, I made the basic structure of the Sulaco, which was completed at Pinewood Studios and helped Nigel Blake out in doing the jellutong pattern for the Drop ship. I can well remember Ron Cobb (one of my heroes from the first movie) coming into our workshop and sketching out ideas. It was a very happy time and I continued working as a free -lance model maker for the next twenty five years or so.
Alien was the film that really blew me away. I was very good at working with my hands, but in truth was I was not very interested in the film making process beyond producing the best quality product for the film crew to point a camera at and didn’t enjoy being on stand by while my models were being filmed, which consisted of long periods of boredom with the occasional period of blind panic if the model went wrong or needed attention. A model maker was considered to be low down in the hierarchy on set, which used to infuriate me.
SFF.) You were building the “Batwing” from BATMAN (1989). Could you tell us how you create such a big model for a film from the first draw till the final product. Do you use kitbashing, fiberglas, wood?
G.M.) The Batwing was a pretty straight forward model to build. The design was by AntonFurst and we were given full size drawings to work from. The shape of the pattern was verysimple. The wings were of a constant section, so they were made in MDF, with a profile around the edge. The fuselage was carved in Jellutong. The patterm was then moulded in fiberglass to produce a fiberglass component. The canopy was pulled from a sheet of heated Plexi glass over a jellutong tool. Detail was added to it, some pneumatic actuators, a radio controlled pilot for a bit of movement and that was about it. There was no kit bashing on it.
SFF.) Is there any requirement or talent you need to have next to enthusiasm to become an expert in modelling or sculpturing?
G.M.) For me, I got by because I was good with my hands and had a good eye for what looked right and a desire to be the best in my field at it. I had no education on how to do it because I took no interest at the time. I am not saying that this is the correct way to go about it, but hopefully my career shows that if you want to achieve something in life, it can come from within.
SFF. ) I believe movies doesn´t belong to awards. They´re for the audience not for prices. But what do you think of your kind of work in film? Is it just a technical one or is it art? Do SFX get enough recognition?
G.M.) I can’t really give you a good answer for that. A film is a very collaborative process made up of a lot of people, but only a very few of them could be described as artists.
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?
G.M.) Jaws made everyone afraid to go in the water so I guess so, but I think in truth that all of the films that I worked on were made as vehicles to generate money and not made for altruistic reasons.
SFF) Your´re leaving the whole industry. What do you do right now?
G.M.) When I finished on Batman Begins, in 2004, the days of big budget miniature effects were pretty much over and most of the people working as model makers had to move across to making film props, which are still in high demand. The pay structure meant that a senior technician in the miniature unit was the same as a Special Effects technician, but this did not apply to a prop maker. About ten years ago I was asked to design and reverse engineer Bugatti cars, which was always my real dream job and I have my own company doing this, so I haven’t looked back since. I have a large CNC machine and 3D printers and I am still making things for Star Wars etc. if I had these pieces of equipment in those times, my job would have been easy!
SFF.) I held up with the most important question to the end: What was the most difficult effect you were working on and why?
G.M.) The thing that would make a job the hardest was the one that had the shortest amount of time to do it in. I was running the workshop on the first Harry Potter movie and we had just sixteen weeks to build the complete model of Hogwarts, which was an awful lot of work to do in the time. The 1/4 scale working Batmobile that I made for Batman begins was quite difficult from a technical point of view, because it was such an unconventional design and had to perform extreme stunts. My solution was to make it almost entirely out of carbon fibre and it worked very well on set, but involved a lot of all nighters!
SFF.) Dear Mr. Morgan. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.