Science Fiction Filme.) I think you´re a busy man and I don´t want to interrupt while you’re working just for an interview with a little fella who loves good effects like me. So thank you.
You were involved in shows like HARRY POTTER, GoT, DR. WHO or THE FIFTH ELEMENT of course.
Could you please tell us something what you did before you come into film business. Why have you choose the way of being into special effects?
Gary Pollard) You are very welcome! I am passionate about my work, and I am more than happy to talk about it with enthusiasts such as yourselves.
Before I entered the film industry, this kind of work was my hobby-I was one of those kids with a room full of comics and monster model kits and masks. I had a deep interest in animals, anatomy and natural history...in fact, my primary career choice was to be a veterinary surgeon-but I couldn't pursue that as I needed stronger chemistry and mathematics to go with it.
So I went to Plan B, which was my art. By far, making things was a strength from a very early age.
I studied a B.A. (Hons) Degree in 3D Design (Theatre) at university, and this experience was invaluable as it made me aware of lighting, costume, set, performance etc, in fact the whole environment around a character and how it contributed to its' effectiveness. Things became even more interesting in the third year of the degree when we studied puppetry, masks and makeup, and elements of my beloved monster-making hobbies started to creep into the work.
SFF.) Your first experience, if I´m correctly informed, with films was for LABYRINTH (1986) where you’re working on “Worm” and “Nipper Sticks”. Am I right? So how did you get the job and what did you do especially for this classic 80ies movie?
G.P.) My first film project was indeed LABYRINTH with the Jim Henson Organization in London. This was a fantastic training ground, suddenly I had to sculpt ten hours a day while being surrounded by hordes of very talented people in many disciplines. At the end of my degree course, tutors had indicated that the detailed nature of my work was perhaps more suited to film craft than theatre (I was considering a career as a theatrical prop-maker), and one of them gave me the address of a mould-maker in the film industry to whom I could write to get advice. I sent a number of photos of course work and hobby creations, and he very kindly supplied me with a list of more relevant addresses-Stuart Freeborn, Christopher Tucker (COMPANY OF WOLVERS, THE ELEPHANT MAN), and Nick Maley (LIFEFORCE, KRULL, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK).
They all responded well to my photos I am happy to say. Maley and Tucker subsequently offered me work after looking at my portfolio and makeup legend Stuart Freeborn said on the phone he had shortlisted me-and then advised me in the meantime to show work to The Jim Henson Organization. Their offer came through first, which is the best thing that could have happened rather than be a trainee, I was sculpting creatures from day one. Nippersticks, goblins, bits of Ludo, armour and of course, the Worm.
SFF.) Do you have any personal idols or favorite movies in your business? Mine is the GODZILLAS-movies and PHASE IV for example. And which movies do you really don´t like and why and what do you think about the glorious decade of the 80s and 90s? Why do people love this period of movies?
G.P.) The final year at university was awesome in terms of movies to inspire; it was a golden period with THE HOWLING, THE THING, AMERICAN WEREWOLF, SCANNERS, ALTERED STATES, THE TERMINATOR. We used to leave the cinema just blown away. And the beautiful DRAGONSLAYER creature! I watched the puppet torch the cave with a firestorm and I was awestruck! Not a common feeling nowadays. As for pursuing that as a career, I didn't consider that option until the end of the theatre course as I mentioned.
My idols are the great horror actors-Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, and also Lon Chaney Jr, Boris Karloff. They taught invaluable lessons about the crucial value of the acting over everything else. When I was very small I asked my mother if I could stay up to watch the Universal monster series late on friday night. They were up to FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN and when I saw Lon Chaney Jr exposing the frozen face of the Frankenstein Monster in the ice. I was hooked forever to the genre. Not forgetting the invisible Id monster from FORBIDDEN PLANET and the incredibly atmospheric THEM! (possibly my favorite movie of all time). I usually dislike any films that replace acting and story with special effects (especially CGI heavy ones). With an actor as strong as Peter Cushing in the title role, I can easily forgive a weak story full of plot holes-but I easily switch off cg creatures fighting each other no matter how many things get to explode, and when the lead villain, even though he may be essentially human and effectively done as a makeup, is cg, it rarely works for me and I wish it was an actor.
Poor efforts include Ultron, Steppenwolf, Abomination, Snoke, and going back a bit, the Scorpion King.
My favorite moments in any project are well written 1:1 conversations between protagonists, subtle but loaded with menace then we can bring on the physical monsters and model spaceships sequences! When you have seen a model miniature masterpiece being destroyed by explosions or trampled underfoot by a beautifully shot undercranked rubber foot, I cannot imagine why you would want to do all that completely digitally instead. For a while, the most appropriate relationship between digital and physical effects evolved, where sensible decisions were made regarding which elements were which, matched into a single sequence. Working with Guillermo del Toro was a joy as he blended effects like this, while on the other hand Stephen Somers seemed to dislike having our physical mummies in his movies.
Although generally CGI took over too much and disengaged the audience, things may be returning to a more convincing blend these days-if a director wants the audience to "feel more peril" in the scene he can again comfortably take the time to shoot a sequence "for real" instead of dealing with it in post-production. It seems often that in a creature sequence where elements are achieved in camera, and the VFX is forced to match those shots, the results are good-for example the famous JURASSIC PARC Tyrannosaur attack, or the Basilisk attack in HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBERS OF SECRET that I was involved in. If the director wants to take it on, you can even shoot a thing like the Devil's Snare from Harry Potter entirely physically (using 'old school' reverses) and not assume it should be entirely cg! And of course you get the added 'bonus' of our heroes being really wrapped up in slimy tentacles to react to!
SFF.) Your are a master of sculpturing whether it be for prosthetics or for creature effects. Can you please describe what a sculptor is and what did you do in movies.
G.P.) Sculptor is a broad term and requires a little more specific explanation each time it is applied. For example, if you specialize in only one area, for example prosthetic makeup, this is actually a very narrow band of techniques. For my part, I have enjoyed moving across many departments-so far the list covers prosthetics, animatronics, costume armour, sets and props, modelmaking, and the greens department in film. I have been involved in themed environments providing characters, architectural elements or landscapes. I should point out that I have applied many makeups, art-finished and been on set with a wide variety of rigs and effects, and supervised teams of artists internationally, so I have enjoyed a wide variety of experiences and locations.
This movement allows me to learn new techniques, be involved from the outset to the last dressing in front of camera, and keeps it interesting. In every case, my level of responsibility and design input has varied, from script meetings and designing the effects to solo sculpting from locked designs. Even if I was sculpting only, I still have an extensive awareness of what exactly I am providing that is appropriate and helpful to the manufacturing of that object, and how it will perform. I must confess, that although supervisory roles can be rewarding in some ways (you get to hire and work with the talent of your choice) I generally don't seek that out, as it means I don't have enough hands-on time.
SFF) Your Portfolio is a wonderful compilation of fantastic work. Do you have some favorite works of yours and is there a project that, unfortunately, never came to fruition, even though you had already designed a lot for it?
G.P.) My current favorite involvements at the moment are the Mangalores from THE FIFTH ELEMENT and Iraxxa the Ice Warrior Empress from DOCTOR WHO Series 10 episode "Empress of Mars". Critical to our work is the way it is directed and shot, and in both cases this was top notch. The design phases were satisfying-in the case of the Mangalores I was developing the characters from the basic design, and went on to sculpt, artwork, make teeth and mouth interior components, art direct the builds and supervise on set-and delightfully, Luc Besson directed their performances with great enthusiasm to memorable results.
As for Iraxxa, I was a Dr Who fan since I was a kid so supervising creature builds for Series 10 was a dream job...and you can imagine that designing, sculpting and overseeing such a classic Who monster was deeply gratifying. When she turns in the light and her iridescent scales flash, with her dreadlocks and cape and brandishing her twin guns, she looks beautiful. I am very critical of my own work, so it is great to be able to point to a few projects and say "well done team (lighting, performance, costume, makeup, script, direction, sound effects and music etc etc), we nailed it!!"
I am happy to say that most design phases I have been involved in have gone ahead, but within those periods an awful lot of design work never sees the light of day. Millennium Fx and other workshops have shelves full of unused designs in the form of maquettes or scale models, and I have many sketchbooks (delightfully free of photoshop). Some of these are going down the right path to evolve the characters, others were never accepted, but all of them served their purpose in starting a dialogue with productions regarding what might eventually appear on screen, and how it may be achieved.
SFF.) If you have to choose three tools which you need for your work; which would it be and why?
G.P.) You will understand that the tools required for every job are different-I may be detailing the skin on a prosthetic makeup, filling and sanding a helmet, carving polystyrene, slapping huge slabs of clay on a dinosaur-so to choose 3 favorites is difficult. So I will have to give the smart answer and say, my hands and my brain. I do though have a favorite large wooden spatula made for me as a gift by Jamie Courtier at the old Henson Organization in London.
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 fantasy movies 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.P.) Movies about Dystopian futures are commonplace, so I think we have become used to their bleak message. It's easy to predict outbreaks of deadly viruses and destruction by rogue computers, and maybe these are imminent...but I don't think anyone is listening. The more subtle approach in eco movies such as SILENT RUNNING leaves a sadness with you that stay. The issues explored around artificial intelligence in the new BLADE RUNNER sequel I found deeply moving.
SFF.) Your monsters are marvelous and absolutely beautiful with full of details. Sometimes it seems, that our nightmares come true. Do you take some (personal) fears into your creations? Where did you take your inspiration from?
G.P.) In creating monsters, rather than referencing personal fears, I am actually inspired by natural history, anatomy and observations made of the world around me. Then I will give that a twist. I do though have a couple of scary creatures from childhood nightmares that I will bring out one of these days...
SFF.) You were working on the “super-facehugger” from ALIEN 3. What exactly did you do on this film and could you tell us something about the circumstances of producing this movie, because there are lots of rumors about this production (which is one of the best SF-horrormovies in the 90ies).
G.P.) I thoroughly enjoyed working on ALIEN 3, despite the fact that I was only on it for a relatively short time. A finished script had not come through when I started, so there was a little guesswork about what could safely be started early on. I sculpted the Newt autopsy body, and a Sigourney body to be carried from the ocean from the crashed ship. We had life cast faces, which I clay-pressed and altered slightly and integrated them into my clay body sculpts. The guys had a conveyor-belt style team system where a project would be worked on by several artists, for example I would sculpt a refined form and then hand it over to a detail artist to work on fine skin detail. On day one I met Gino Acevedo super-detailing the Alien embryo to a level I had never seen before!
I knew it would never be seen (it was for an x-ray image) but I still had to wonder if I could match it. I sculpted the super-facehugger or Queen Facehugger next (Gino sculpted the tail), enjoying inventing fine tendon anatomy and other features. I thought this was highly finished...but then Alec Gillis asked me if I wanted to go on to detail it as well! I rolled my sleeves up and took the challenge. Actually, very little of my work made it into the final cut (glimpsed, cut out or reworked later) so it was pleasing when the Queen Facehugger returned in a recent edit.
I think the film became politically tricky as the studio and Fincher were at odds, but I left to design a dragon for Patrick Read Johnson in his up-and-coming DRAGONHEART project.
SFF.) Please tell me a normal process of creating a “monster”. From the first drawing, sculpturing, texturing and modeling. Take some of your creature for example. Is there any special technic or products that helps your trough this process?
G.P.) Every journey through the creation of a monster is different- and so necessarily are the techniques used-in that sense, they are prototypes. The design can come from a number of sources or myself. In my own case, I may produce a rough sketch to clarify the direction to head in. Although I can produce a presentable piece of artwork, I leave the photorealistic approaches to the experts, preferring a dynamic starting point and the opportunities to develop the creature as I go (and not try to lock every detail of it down at the beginning). Expressive paintings are far more engaging and encourage interpretation and design input. This should be a normal part of the evolution of the character. I often begin the process with the maquette, which trials a number of features in 3D and present methods; suit, animatronic, prosthetic, and endless combinations of these.
A lot of preparation needs to be done involving life casting, armatures, cores-then I can sculpt, incorporating a great deal of practical requirements and liaising with mouldmakers, fabricators, and animatronic builders regarding what they need (not forgetting getting design signoffs from production). In the initial sculpture phase, I modify the textures and style to suit the subject matter-scary, comedic, cute-and it helps if I am aware of the action, lighting, and dialogue.
SFF.) You have your own workshops right now. Why did you decide to do these workshops? What can students learn from you?
G.P.) When supervising teams, I have enjoyed communicating ideas to other artists, and I am frequently asked advice, and I have found helping others to improve quite gratifying. So, it is an easy step to fill a room with students eager to learn.
SFF.) I grew up in a videostore. I saw hundreds of wonderful movies, even if they are direct-to-video. What criteria do you use to select your jobs?
G.P.) My jobs tend to select me, and not much the other way around! I generally don't mind what the nature of the work is, it's all a learning curve for me in some way and I embrace variety (although I may shy away from excessive gore if possible).
SFF.) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
G.P.) I am happy to say I have ticked many boxes off my to-do list (although a STAR TREK would have been nice!). Nowadays it's becoming more important for me to generate my own art and projects, under my exclusive creative control. I am beginning to find a large part of the work offered now is a repeat of some earlier project. Recently though I worked with an excellent band of midlands-based film makers (under director John Williams-no relation!) as producer on TALES OF THE CREEPING DEATH which was a great experience allowing me freedom of communication regarding the effects required. I have also signed up to produce fine art sculptures to a gallery overseas. My pet project, years in development, is "Pollard Laboratories" (prototype version on Facebook), a themed environment featuring cryptozoological specimens and alien remains to entertain the public...watch this space!
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.P.) Probably my most difficult project was MORTAL KOMBAT – ANNIHILATION. I was the Prosthetics Supervisor on this; unfortunately, after a nice period painting and artworking designs, the project took some very difficult turns. There was extensive VFX to be done in conjunction with practical rigs, but as this had not been considered properly, failings, blame and insecurities started to fly and the atmosphere became politically toxic. Arguments raged across all departments both privately and publicly, creating a huge amount of negative energy that saturated the film. My stress levels were extremely high as supervisor, and most days were spent for me just ducking the bullshit that was flying and getting my intrepid band of makeup artists through a shooting day. Unfortunately at the end of all this, we weren't rewarded with a good film either. This experience and one or two others convinced me to lean away from management positions and stay hands-on, which without a shadow of a doubt, is my comfort zone. I should say that experiences of this level of horror are very few, and I have hugely enjoyed working with very many talented artists around the world 😃
16. )Dear Mr. Pollard. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.