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 ALIENS, EVIL DEAD 2 and ROBOTJOX 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?
James Belohovek) I was born in 1957 and grew up in Rialto California. I've always been interested in making things with my hands before I could crawl. When I was around 5 years old in the early 1960s my older sister used to leave Famous Monsters of Filmland lying around for me to look through. By 1966 I began to see shows and movies on TV that sparked my interests- 7th Voyage of Sinbad-1933 King Kong, then there was Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants. I wanted model kits but my family was much to pour to buy them for me, so I began to make things out of cereal box cardboard. Through the early 1970s I had a good collection of spaceships and vehicles made out of cardboard. I even tried to film my Enterprise with my Dad's 8mm camera, By my late high school years I was trying to make simple super 8mm films and build the miniature in them. When I graduated from high school I went to Jr Collage and took 16mm film class.
My mom pushed for me to find a collage to go to and found California Institute of the Arts. I started to attend the school in 1979/1980 in film graphics classes. I also met several guys who were taking the Disney film school and we became great friends. While I was making props for my movie in my dorm, Joe Ranft came by to visit my roommate. He took one look at what I was doing and suggested that I become a model maker. I hadn't thought about that. Another Disney school friend Tony DeRosa, made arrangements for me to see a guy at the Disney studios (John Van Vliet) to look at my portfolio. I showed him my pictures of my cardboard and wood miniatures and he gave me encouragement to be a model maker. When I got home from my job, there was a phone number to call a girl, she needed help with a model. I called her up, it was Susan Turner who was part of VCE Inc. She took a look at my portfolio and hired me on the spot to work on a flying saucer in a movie called The Thing by John Carpenter.
SFF) So, your first job was on THE THING. Were you involved in the stop-Motion sequenz or just for the beginning?
J.B.) I was hired to make the vents in the saucer, then some of the surface detail. Then Susan gave me the job of making a double ring that would hold the interior miniature lights, all 144 of them. I soldered them up to a ribbon cable ready to put on to the special controls that ILM had made for us. After that I went back to school to finish up my courses. A few months later Susan called me up again to work on the Ice Cavern at the end of the movie.That was going to be made at the Hartland facilities where the makeup crew was. I built the miniature set and part of the wall behind the oil barrels. Susan sculpted the wall by making it look like cut ice. I had to make all the barrels and paint cans, Susan detailed the paint cans and dressed them all up to look like there was frost over everything. I also made some junk furniture and office stuff placed beyond the doorway in the background. She didn't give me any credit for any of this so Randy Cook did and put me under the animation section of credits.
SFF) What was your first film you worked on and how did you get the job? Do you have any personal idols or favorite movies in your business?
J.B.) The first film I worked on was the thing, the second was Dreamscape, the third was The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai
My favorite heroes were Ray Harryhausen, Jim Danforth, George Pal, Erwin Allen.
My favorite movies growing up were- Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, Towering Inferno, Poseidon Adventure, Planet of the Apes. Just to many to list.
SFF.) You’re a model builder and fabulous maestro of kits. 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?
J.B.) It doesn't bother me that I might spend weeks on a model and you might only see it for a few seconds on screen. That happened to me when I built an elevator for Gremlins 2. It was only on the screen for seven fram it got up on the screen.
After the model is shot, then it goes to whoever demands it back. Rarely do I ever get to keep a model I make. Most of the time the place where I built it gets it.
As far as your description of Kits, non of what I made was from a kit, all were made from scratch by hand. No 3D printing or laser cutting. All were challenges. I like to be challenged, the harder the project, the better I love the job. After I am done with a model, the visual effects company that hired me does the filming of it. Then they store it or break it apart.
SFF.) What fascinated you about model making?
J.B.) I don't know why I fell in love with miniatures, it might be how much detail is put into them or how they look on screen. The challenge was to see if you can fool people once.
SFF) Was or is there a kit that presented you with enormous challenges, and if so what were they?
J.B.) I've never built a 'kit', everything was hand made, no laser or 3D printing. The one that was most challenging? Each one had areas of difficulty. Building the Power Loader 'shell' was challenging only because we got most of the blue prints late and had to work almost round the clock to get it done.
SFF) You helped build the power loader for the movie ALIENS. What exactly did you build on this model? What were the concepts for this model?
J.B.) The Power Loader was my jewel, it was the first time I would be in charge of how to proceed in the construction of the patterns. Patterns had to be made first so that molds could be made of them and thin fiberglass pieces could be pulled from the molds. Tony Gardener was in charge of all of that. The parts were paper thin because Doug Beswick didn't want to add any weight to the armature that would cause it to not work. Thin cable was used and Dacronn to move the arms and legs as it was puppeteered under the table. Once the parts were pulled out of the molds, I had to clean them up and attach them to the armature. We never were able to paint the Loader at Dougs shop, and all the surface detail was placed in a box and sent to england. I gave it a color but it was repainted at the studio shop.
The Power Loader was my first job on my own, Doug Beswick was incharge of the project but he let me alone to make my own decisions on how to build it. I was responsible for creating the patterns of the Loader. Then Tony Gardener made molds and the pulled out thin fiberglass parts that I cleaned up and placed on the armature. We had three months to do the job, but didn't get most of the blueprints until six weeks into the job. My last week I worked 114 hours, it was Christmas Eve. It was being crated up with the miniature Queen Alien to be shipped to England. I did the best I could at the detail work since this was going to be a wonderful portfolio piece.
The Concept was drawn up by Jim Cameron himself, the full size Power Loader was made in England by John Richardson's crew.
SFF) Was the model of the Power Loader fully functional or were only parts of this model moved?
J.B.) The concepts for the Loader came from James Cameron himself, as designs were approved, the drawings were sent to Dougs shop. The difficulty in that was it was the old fax days and sometimes the signal would glitch and not print or skip. So the drawings had to be interpreted and measured.
Everything moved on the Loader, but during filming, Careon had all the cables cut and they used thin plastic thread to move the arms.
SFF) I found a photo of the production of EVIL DEAD 2. Can you tell me how big the effort was to build this and what difficulties there were?
J.B.) The picture you have with me standing among the Evil Dead 2 props was just a group shot. I had built the Evil Dead 2 cabin and 'Mean' tree that the corps dances around, Those props had several people building them, Tony Gardener, Yancy Calzada and others. Can't remember their names.
The Photo of me standing with other crew members on Evil Dead 2 was a group shot, I didn't work on anything in the photo. I built the miniature sets for the 'Dancing Corps' scene. The set, the trees and the cabin. Then removed the cabin and placed a tree for the corps to dance around. I made it out of paper mache and white glue mix, sculpted with a fork.
SFF) You have worked for 39 years in the film industry. Which ones did you particularly enjoy and/or were there films where you were under a lot of pressure?
J.B.) My career started in 1980 and lasted until now making models, props and architectural theme park models Like Walt Disney Imagineering comp. Time was always the bad guy. The only job I hated was working on the Terminator 3D theatre that James Cameron was directing. Had a bad time with the producer.
In all my years of working on miniatures in movies, Aliens is my favorite, Working on Cameron's Terminator 3D theatre was the worst job because of inexperienced people and no time to do the job.
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?
J.B.) I like CGI when it is used to help with the miniatures, not over power them in the shot. I think people know when a real miniature is on the screen or a flat CGI shot is used. I honestly would rather see a miniature because of the way natural light bounces off the models. Looks better.
SFF) When you worked on a model for a film, for example HIGHLANDER II, what was your approach? How accurate were the templates or did you use a lot of kitbashing?
J.B.) I worked on Highlander 2, Ron Thornton was in charge, Most of the models had been made, but needed detail. I was put on detail gluing cast shapes up inside the pyramid building and made a structure that vehicles pull up to that is out in the desert. Ron Thornton was a long time friend of mine that I had met on Robotjoxs. We used no kit-bashing parts, but parts made for Robotjox and Space Balls star ship.
SFF.) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
J.B.) I always have projects to do, hopefully next year I can release a sci fi book I've been working on.
SFF) Looking back on the glory days of the 1980s and '90s in film, what are your thoughts?
J.B.) In the 1980s there were more films to go around, my phone was ringing daily for people wanting to hire me. But producers began to cut our budgets in half and the amount of time to do the job. It wasn't fun any more so I shifted my career to building miniatures for theme parks like Tokyo Disneyland.
SFF) Dear Mr. Belohovek. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.