Science Fiction Films) Dear Mr. Howarth. We have already worked together for the documentary of SPACE TRUCKERS (1996). Perhaps there are indeed one or two people who don't know you yet. Could you please tell us what you did before you got into the film business?
SH) Quite a varied past. Butcher, Policeman, double glazing salesman, security guard, you name it. Being unhappy in your job helps you find one you are happy doing. I was 24 when I got into modelmaking college and not quite sure where it was going to lead, just that I was happy making things.
SFF.) What was the first film you worked on and are there particular people or films that influenced you?
SH) First film was a very small film called LANDSLIDE, making water containers that get engulfed by a flood. Working for Bill Pearson and Steve Begg at Shepperton. Still needs to be updated onto my website.
Ray Harryhausen was a big influence, but I never thought you could do it for a job. Then I saw BLADE RUNNER (1982), was blown away, but still wasn’t sure how it was all done and doing it for a living was such a dream to me, especially after the years spent in the butchers shop.
SFF) What does it take to become an expert in model making?
SH) Nowadays, modelling is all about the digital domain, so I wouldn’t be comfortable pushing anyone in the direction of modelmaking with real materials. The emergence of CGI has made a once competitive industry, even moreso. If it’s in you to make things, you will find a way to make something, even if its not the actual thing you want to make. I think its just about acquiring the skills and working really hard, others do it with their charm and ability to tell a good joke.
SFF) For many decades, handmade, practical special effects in films were an integral part of the fantastic field. Then, at some point, CGI took over. Do you think there's a film that represents a kind of end of the line in classic modelling? If so, which one and why?
SH) Not just saying this because I worked on it, but MOON. Models are still used on occasion, but not extensively, like they were on Moon. The tech was there to do it with CGI too, but costs were still very high for good CGI, so Models were used.
SFF) It can be observed that in today's movies and TV series there is a kind of renaissance of the "good old" special effects. What do you think people associate with these grandiose visual effects? Why are people turning back to them? Is it an overkill of visual impressions?
SH) Having a tool like a computer, to generate your vehicles and plan the camera move, lighting etc, has enabled film-makers to do absolutely ANYTHING and lots of it. Complex craft with complex camera moves is what I think people are tired of. Freedom from a lot of that, means you can concentrate on the STORY and SCRIPT. People are tired of weak plots and FX heavy drivel.
SFF.) You have worked for 35 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?
SH) I got a real kick out of working on a BOND (DIE ANOTHER DAY, 1997) film, even though what I made didn’t end up on screen. Bitter-sweet is often the case with these things. Not bothered by pressure so much as I´ve always worked really hard and you can´t do any better than your best. Adverts are another matter, the deadlines for those are RIDICULOUS and its stress from day one.
SFF) When you worked on a model for a film, for example MOON, what was your approach? How accurate were the templates or did you use a lot of kitbashing?
SH) On Moon, Gavin Rothreys designs were followed as close as possible within the time frame, meaning, if turning two surfaces, that were only 1 or 2 mm different, into one plane to save time, then it was fine as long as it didn’t change the basic shape. I didn’t need to wait for a drawing, if an area was devoid of detail. I just got on with it.
SFF.) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
SH) Pet Projects are often started and then finished, but left on the shelf, as money runs out. Tom Dick and Harry were three stop motion robots I wanted to make into a tv show. Nothing came of that, so I sold the robots and the rights to a guy in Hollywood. The TALON that I made, I would love to film, but don’t have the money, so it sits there waiting. I’m not in a great place for chasing dreams at the moment.
SFF) Do you have any favorite kit, diorama or model?
SH) I’d love to make the new Aries 1b from 2001, but my time is so limited now, if I do have any spare time, I’m going to be creative with something of my own. I also like the Time Machine model from the remake – again….no time or money.
SFF.) Like many very good works for little screentime in other films. Doesn't that annoy you when you only ever see the fruits of your labor so briefly?
SH) You kind of accept it, goes with the turf. It´s when its CUT out that it annoys the most. That’s why Moon was a joy because the stuff is on screen a lot.
SFF.) Could you please explain, with an example, with which materials you can work best and why?
SH) Has to be FOAMEX. Light and strong and you can cut it with a knife. Without it, we couldn’t have done Moon in time.
SFF.) What do you think of your kind of work in film? Is it just a technical one or is it art? Do animatronic get enough recognition nowadays?
SH) That’s a hard one to answer. If there’s any creative imput from the technician, then it has to be art for me. But depending on how much artistic licence there has been. If you have to follow a drawing to the letter and every nut and bolt has been decided, then its more technical and engineering, but then engineering is an art of of sorts.
SFF) What is more difficult to design: real existing objects or those that are imagined?
SH) I’d have to say imagined, because of the infinite choices you have with every lump and bump. Easier to design a turn of the century dress, than a futuristic space-suit for example.
SFF.) Which of your works have been the most challenging for you?
The last one: 8 mechanical reindeer, with silicon skin, antlers, the works. Nearly killed me. If I’d have had other options, I might not have taken it on.
SFF.) I held up with the most important question to the end: What was the most difficult effect/ model you were working on and why?
SH) Possibly the Pachyderm from SPACE TRUCKERS, only because it was my first proper movie model and making it under Brian Johnsons watchful eye. Plus, first time working abroad and the politics of other people. I found the Freon gas system a challenge, but I was probably at my peak, so breezed through it. Later peaks like MOON were created by working way too many hours and though no individual model could take this spot, the entire contract was very taxing.
SFF.) Dear Mr. Howarth. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.
SH) Thank you Till