Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Part 1 - Early Childhood Days: The Brain Damage Begins...

Where to begin?  Or more accurately, who is to blame?  Who do I blame for being 49 years-old, sitting in a temporary office at Rick Baker's Cinovation Studio on my lunch break, typing into my laptop?  (Yes, Rick, this is what I'm doing at lunchtime in the office, now that I've put the other VFX laptop away for a while).

It seems silly to begin with: "I was born..." but I suppose that is how everyone starts on their individual adventures, and so - I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1962 on St. Patrick's Day. My childhood was a steady parade of green birthday cakes.

My mother, Janet Shea, was a public school English/Speech teacher with a penchant for acting.  My father, Al Shea, was an on-camera, Entertainment Journalist for the NBC affiliate in New Orleans, WDSU-TV.  My older, brother, Scott, was heading for his third birthday in September when I arrived that late winter of '62, and it would be nearly two years before our sister, Jennifer, was born.  Okay, so that is the cast of characters: Janet, Al, Scott, Shannon, Jenny.  The scene is set: New Orleans, Louisiana, and the clock moves forward to 1965.

Few people believe this, but I have a VERY strong memory that year.  On a grainy black & white television, I saw a dinosaur moving through the jungle!  Not just ANY dinosaur, it was a Stegosaurus!  Since most of my home-media world was black and white, I had no idea that the film I was watching was not filmed in color.  I just accepted the reality of the television and was transfixed. Soon a group of men were shooting it with rifles and the giant reptile turned and thrashed its spiked tail before collapsing to the ground in its lush tropical environment. The movie was RKO's 1933 classic KING KONG, and that was my introduction to the fantasy world of motion picture creatures.

From that moment on, I had dinosaurs on the brain and my parents were more than supportive.  My father took me to any dinosaur film that happened to open in the local theaters and I was luck that one of the first that I saw was ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. - I was four.  Again, I recall the halftone ad in the newspaper that my father cut out and showed me.  Cavemen!  Cavemen fighting dinosaurs behind that annoying girl standing in front of them!  I was agog.  At night, my fevered brain would imagine being in dense green jungles surrounded by immense dinosaurs.  Then, I would have to pee and a nightly ritual began.

I am still pigeon-toed and have been since birth.  I have no idea how or why it happened, but nevertheless, doctors tried to correct it by having me sleep in brown leather shoes attached at the heels by a flat, chrome bar that turned my feet out.  In retrospect, I was attached to a base like a plastic army man.  This meant, I couldn't just climb out of bed and go to the bathroom.  Instead, I would just call out, "Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom." until my father would appear, half-asleep and irritated.  He'd grab me under the armpits and carry me to the bathroom, holding me over the toilet until I finished and then drop me back into bed.

No wonder he was such a joy during the day. But it was more than that.  My father had a secret that I wouldn't learn about until I was much older.

It didn't take much of a shove to broaden my horizon to include Stop Motion Monsters made by Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen and even modest efforts like THE LOST CONTINENT starring Caesar Romero.  However, the affect was not one of making movies about dinosaurs, it was studying dinosaurs.  I wanted to be a paleontologist. I had books, toys, banks, anything I could get my pudgy little fingers on - I was a paleo-file.

Brontosaurus, Tyrannosaurs Rex, Styracosaurus, all of the exotic names rolled off of my tongue with equal parts of enthusiasm and intrigue.  But then....something else happened: Color Television.

Suddenly television shows like VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, BATMAN, LOST IN SPACE, LAND OF THE GIANTS and STAR TREK came into our little suburban home "in living color!" Week after week, superheroes, aliens and MONSTERS invaded our living room and my fertile imagination.

Because of his profession, my father and mother went out often.  He had movies and plays he needed to review during the week and us children were often left with sitters.  To quell our restlessness, Dad would give us coloring books, comic books, and the odd issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND.

Seeing those old Basil Gogos covers brought new life and depth to the old Universal Horror movies we'd see at the Coliseum Movie theater downtown and on television on Sunday mornings. Every now and then, I'd see photos of dinosaur movies that I had never heard of: THE LOST WORLD, BEAST FROM HOLLOW MOUNTAIN, and THE ANIMAL WORLD.  But all of the comics, magazines, stickers, model kits, etc. never seemed to be enough.  I started drawing monsters.

In books, notebooks, on construction paper pads, I began drawing dinosaurs and monsters, often creating my own monsters with their own origins and stories that I shared with my family.  I don't think anyone thought anything of it when I was a kid.  It probably just seemed like immature flights of childish imagination but the mania had begun!
Me in my back yard at 7 years old.  Note the Aurora Model Kit on the picnic table.

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