Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Part 36: Into the tunnels with the Martian Drones

I wish I could recall how long we were down on set in San Pedro putting performers in Drone suits, etc.  If I had to guess, I would say about four weeks.  However, looking back and recalling the day to day work, it seemed like months.  And during that time, while a group of us would meet in the parking lot behind Stan's studio and get into our car pools, Rick Lazzarini remained in Stan's shop by himself, trying to work out the intricate mechanics that would make a Face Hugger run for the movie ALIENS.  In fact, most nights when we would return, he would still be there, working.

One of the mechanical attempts was conceived by Jim Cameron, himself, who suggested that Rick use a small gasoline-powered motor (the kind used for COX model racing back in the day).   These engines generally required an external starter motor that looked like a small drill or dremel tool.  however, the starter port was in accessible.  Jim suggested that Rick use a flex-shaft that would run down the length of the tail.  I can still see Rick's tormented face as he tried in vain to get the little gas motor started using the flex-shaft.  It turns out the the length of spring in the flex-shaft reduced the torque and the motor wouldn't start.

And, when the engine did start, blue gray exhaust smoke would putter out of the side of it.  Back to the drawing boards!

A quick note to the readers: I looked through my photos and discovered that after the Drones ate Mrs. McKeltch, I didn't take any more photos!  However, someone posted the entire movie on youtube and I have cut and made commentaries on some clips that will help illustrate what we accomplished.


But first, since I now have "video assist" I'd like to show you some Drone footage that I have described in the last blog.  Here is the first scene we worked on, the appearance of the Drones and the Supreme Intelligence:

Here is Mrs. McKeltch being eaten:

As I was looking through the footage, I studied the scene that I described last time of the Martian Supreme Intelligence being shot to death and the set catching on fire.  You can see the fire starting in this clip, take a look:

Crazy, right?

Up to that point in shooting, we had avoided needing the little performers to be in the suits, but now all of that was going to change because the Drones would have to perform tasks like loading a shooting their guns, etc.  So now, we would rotate which little performer would get strapped into the rig and because no two of them were the same size and weight, it would affect not only the larger performers, but how the suit would go together.  The lightweight aluminum frame would bow under the weight, making the removal of the head (which was now a necessity to get the little performer in and out) much more difficult.  Then, once that was done, we would make the extra effort to make sure that the skin was lined up and closed correctly.

With the added weight the larger performers would need to take breaks more often which also slowed things down.  Our first scene which utilized the full Drones was when we worked with actor, Bud Cort (from HAROLD AND MAUDE), who played a S.E.T.I. scientist.  If you watch the following clip, you'll see a good example of the little performer's contribution to the creature.


Unlike their larger counterparts, the little performers were completely blind inside of the suits and had to be coached via headsets by Alec Gillis on the outside.  When it came time to load the Martian gun, all of the steps were done in cuts so it appeared that the action was natural and purposeful. I believe for the extreme close up shots of the martian hand putting the copper rod into the gun, we had a little person, wearing a Drone glove on a ladder between the two drone suits that were pushed side by side.

There was no way that the little performers could hold those guns because of weight issues.  I recall that we even tried removing the claws from the gloves so that the performers could attempt to hold the guns with their bare hands but it was not to be.   Dave Nelson, with the help of the physical effects department, mounted the gun to the side of the drone by an aluminum rod that could pivot on one axis.  Unless the gun had to move, we could then dress an empty glove from the Drone body to the gun and the little person wouldn't have to suffer in the suit.

Let's take a look at the "Needle Room" - it is a cool set and the Needle Machine, itself was impressive:

Getting the chance to work with so many incredible people on INVADERS was a delight, but there was still one more treat in store.  Toward the end of the schedule, as the Martian spaceship was set to explode, a group of extras was hired to evacuate as marines and scientists.  Among them was none other than legendary Science Fiction icon and collector, Bob Burns!  Alec had known Bob previously and introduced him to those of us on the crew with whom he was unfamiliar.  If you don't know who Bob Burns is (shame on you, he and his wife Cathy are two of the most delightful people you will ever have the pleasure to meet), here is a link to his web site, there is so much to see: Bob Burns

INVADERS was a film that many friendships were forged both in the shop and on set.  It was also a very important film in my career as it would lead not only to projects run by some of the talented artists on Stan's crew, but also back to Stan Winston's less than a year later.

However, once the show wrapped, Alec Gillis and Rick Lazzarini left for England and ALIENS, while the rest of us were scattered through Los Angeles, in search of our next gigs.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sorry For The Inconvenience!

Dear Friends,

I just wanted to write a short note of apology.  FIRST PERSON MONSTER HISTORY will return next week, July 27, 2011 with new stories! My laptop has suffered a physical trauma (broken lid hinge) and I'm waiting for news of its repair.  With any luck, I'll receive it at the end of the week and I'll post twice next week to make up for time lost.  Thanks so much for your interest and support.  In the weeks to come, I'll be covering work on: FROM BEYOND, ALIENS (miniature unit), STAR TREK IV: The Voyage Home, EVIL DEAD II, and so much more!  Now is your chance to catch up on your reading and I'll see you soon!

Shannon Shea
First Person Monster Blog

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Part 35: Martian Madness!!

The day before our martians went before the movie cameras was a load in day so we packed all of our gear into a rental truck and drove down to San Pedro (which was about an hour and fifteen minutes away from the shop) to an old retired naval building where the set had been built.

It was enormous.  The art department had fabricated the interior of the Martian spacecraft as well as a few underground tunnels that led to the ship's interior.  The facility provided the Stan Winston crew with a couple of rooms to store our gear and the drone suits.  Judging by the state of the rooms, I would have guessed that it was scheduled for some major overhaul.  While some of us unloaded the Martian Drone suit pieces, the others broke off to move the Martian Supreme Intelligence to his platform which was easily 30 feet or so from the ground.

The Supreme Intelligence makes its appearance by flying out of a portal above an altar-type structure and that altar-type structure was on the second story of the set.  Using a scissor-lift, the puppet and controls were raised into the air, while crew members, including chief mechanic, Dave Nelson, moved the puppet onto the platform.  As Dave oversaw the preparation of the puppet for rehearsal, some of the rest of us returned to continue setting up the rooms under the direction of Alec Gillis.

The Drone Crew Clockwise from left: David Nelson, Scott Wheeler, Everett Burrell, Alec Gillis Steve Wang, Matt Rose, Shannon Shea, Gino Crognale, and Brian Penikas
One of our "Drone Rooms" (l-r): Alec, Everett, Scott, Steve, Brian
 One of Alec's functions was to coordinate with the other departments, especially when there would be what I would call "overlap." For example, when the Drones or the Supreme Intelligence were shot by U.S. Marines, it would be required for them to be squibbed by the Physical Effects department led by Phil Cory.  There were other instances of overlap, including a scene that was shot, but cut out of the film where the Drone eats a pile of "W&W" candies (get it? M&M's upside down) in a gentle but ineffective jab at E.T.   However, one of the major concerns was the Martian blood.

Going into the project, it was understood that this was going to be somewhat of a family picture and gallons of red blood spurting out of the Martians just wasn't going to cut it.  It had been decided, therefore, that Martian blood was a combination of yellow and lavender fluids.  Normally, when we make studio blood, we use corn syrup as a base, but the Art Department was concerned with how this would stain and affect the sets, especially when we had to dress gallons of it in puddles around fallen Martians.  I don't know who at Stan Winston's studio found the substance, but we had gallons and gallons of the base of what Mattel Toys used to use for their popular "Slime" toy.
Remember this crap?
With the absence of green coloring, this slime looked translucent white and was soon referred to as "Bull Ji--" well, let's just say we had a rude term for it.  Oddly enough, it turned out to be exactly what we needed to do the job.  It took color extremely well, was able to be poured into thick, controlled puddles, the two separate colors could be swirled on set with out homogenous mixing, and it "peeled" off of the floor with relative success leaving almost no residue.

On the other hand, the Physical Effects crew prepared their squibbing blood with an oily glycerine base.  After a disastrous initial test, Alec realized that the inside of the polyfoam Drone skins would need to be sealed to prevent damage from the glycerine.  This meant that someone(s) would have to craw into the suits with premixed wax cups of a flexible but strong urethane and paint the entire inside of the skins.  As luck would have it, Brian Penikas and I lost the toss and had to do the brushing duties.  Not wanting to get covered with streams of dripping, catalyzed urethane, I protected myself appropriately.

Ready to do paint urethane into a Drone Suit!
 When the Drone suits an pieces were stowed, and the batteries for the radio controls in their chargers, we returned to the platform where Dave Nelson and John Dykstra were ready to begin rehearsing with the Supreme Intelligence.  The two wires that were assisting with the flying of the puppet were fed through the portal and, as I recall, suspended by a couple of physical effects guys in a scaffold above, while the rest of us were behind the set, on the platform, ready to push the puppet on a boom arm attached to a counter-weighted dolly on a track.  On action we would push and the Supreme Intelligence would emerge, displacing layers of copper-colored, soft polyfoam "fingers" and would lite upon its throne.  Then, on action we would pull the puppet back, all the while assisted by puppeteers on controllers attempting to keep the Supreme Intelligence from looking straight at the ground.  After a few tries, the puppet was covered with a plastic tarp, we secured the Drone rooms and returned to Northridge, and the Stan Winston studios parking lot.

Most of us lived in the valley within a few miles of the studio.  I didn't, however.  In fact, during the build of the show, I had purchased my first car, a white Honda Civic from Alec Gillis for $800.  It was the only car that Tracy and I had between us and since I would basically be on set for 12 -14 hours, she would get up early in the morning, drive me to Stan Winston's studio where I would meet a carpool, drive home, go to work, drive home and then drive back to the studio that night to pick me up and take me back home.  Although the trip was not as long as it would take via a bus, it was, however a good haul back and forth - twice!  Yes, I married well.

Our set calls were generally very early, between 6:30 and 7:30 in the morning which meant having to leave Stan Winston's no later than 5 a.m.  I can recall one trip driving south on the 405 freeway when I was at the wheel of Stan's car as he lay back in the passenger seat.  Every morning the drive was easy until we reached the hill at Mulholland Drive where traffic consistently backed up. Frustrated, I asked a rhetorical question aloud: "Why is there always traffic right at this point?" to which Stan answered, "It's because of all of the people who live in this area, all trying to get on the freeway."

"Really?" I asked. Stan sat up in his seat looking shocked at my naivete, "Shannon, look around you.  Do you see tons of street lights and houses in this area?" No, the hills were dark.  In fact there were nearly no lights on the hill. "Oh." I said and Stan sat back and closed his eyes for the rest of the trip.  What was the answer?  I don't know and now I just try to avoid the 405 whenever possible.

The Drone Suits would be the first thing we would prepare for camera.  There were four main Drone performers: Lonny Low, Matt Bennett, Scott Wulf, and Doug Simpson and basically two Drone suits.  The idea was that the performers could trade off during the day, should one team or individual get tired, another one could step in and continue shooting.  This did mean, however, that each of them had a pair of custom Drone boots that fit just their feet.  Suiting them up went something like this:

Scott Wulff assists Doug Simpson, in Drone Suit.  Note the video monitor just below his face.
 The suit was divided into several parts: the head, the body, the boots, and the ski pole arms.  The performer would step into the suit while it was on a frame, suspended by a spring-button pin.  As their legs came through the holes, one of us would be there to guide their feet into the boots.  Then, shoulder and waist straps would be adjusted and tightened and finally a video monitor would be locked into place on their chests.

The head would slide onto the frame and get locked into place with pins while the skins were stretched closed using very wide velcro patches, then the performer would stand, taking the weight of the suit, and the pin would be pulled from the top, enabling them to walk out from under the frame.  Then, they were handed their ski poles.  A long opening in the rear of the creature was held open with two aluminum braces so the performer could talk with director, Tobe Hooper, or stunt man, Steve Lambert.  Most of the early shots of the drones did not require any mouth or vestigial arm movement, so the little people including Debbie Carrington, Phil Fondecaro, Sal Fondecaro, Tony Cox, and Margarite Fernandez, wouldn't be required to be strapped onto the performer's backs right away.

Toby, Dr. Pepper in hand, tries to figure out just what the hell is going on.
The first shot we did with the drones was their reveal in the throne room of the Supreme Intelligence.  In order to add confusion to their appearance, Tobe decided that the two drones should be face-to-face, snuggled close so that at first appearance they looked like one, big, eight-legged blob that was "bouncing" lightly.  On cue, they would back away from each other and turn to face the altar.  Raising their ski-pole arms in salute, they would beckon for their leader who would then emerge from the portal, etc.  Easy, right?  Well, it was very manageable when done in stages.

After we finished filming the drones doing their bounce and separating, we moved the Supreme Intelligence down onto his altar.  He had two long tentacles strapped to the sides of his body for when he was "flying"; these were detached and draped behind the altar.  Two mechanical tentacles were then dressed over the sides of the altar and their controllers concealed.  Three puppeteers then moved beneath the body of the Supreme Intelligence via the hollow altar and opened up the skin. This gave two puppeteers access to directly puppeteer the mouth and the two little arms in front of the creature that Dave Nelson lovingly referred to as the "croissants".  The last puppeteer hooked plastic tubing to an array of valves controlled by a custom keyboard to operate the air bladders in the creature's body.

The Supreme Intelligence is position ready for filming.
 What this meant for the crew was that we were doing double duty for a lot of the scene.  When we weren't assisting and dressing the Drone performers, we were busy doing maintenance on the Supreme Intelligence puppet.  And in the middle of all of this chaos was director, Tobe Hooper.

I think I can sum up my experience of working with Tobe Hooper by repeating how someone (who I can't remember right now) described him: "He's the Yosemite Sam of the D.G.A." Determined, easily aggravated, short-memoried, reactionary, funny but...but...a very sweet guy.  It would be easy for me to criticize Tobe and the resulting film, but in retrospect, I can imagine the immense obstacles that were in his way between him and directing a classic science fiction movie.

Lonny Low, in the Drone suit, seems please with whatever Tobe has just decided.
 Hunter Carson, who played David, was the son of co-star, actress Karen Black. Neither of them seemed to be excited about the film but in fairness to Hunter, he was a little kid and this was how he was spending his summer - on a hot set in San Pedro, California.  Karen Black could be found in between set ups, sitting on stage, on her mark, singing while grips and electricians moved lights and stands around her. Weird.  However, her friend Roscoe Lee Browne visited the set once and Matt Rose and I geeked out - BOX was on set. "Food, sea greens, plankton from the sea.  It's my job, to freeze you!"

On the other hand, James Karen who played the army colonel and Louise Fletcher, who played David's teacher were both professional and a joy to be around.  Whenever they were on set, they were ready for the day's work and would give their all for the takes.  When Ms. Fletcher had to be eaten by a Drone, Dave Nelson mounted one of the Drone suit heads onto a large lever (a see-saw type device).  Ms. Fletcher started the shot, by getting pushed into one of the Drone suit's mouths, then, stuntman, Steve Lambert in dress and wig was hooked up and dragged into the Drone's mouth that was rigged on the lever.  Finally, we dressed a pair of dummy legs wearing a matching dress, stockings and shoes into the Drone suit's mouth and Doug Simpson was able to move in a fashion that appeared that he was swallowing the teacher.

The Drone Rig is prepared to "eat" Mrs. McKeltch
Everett touches up the head before shooting.
Steve Lambert, in dress and wig, goes into the maw with assistance from Dave Nelson.
He's okay folks!  Now clean him up for take 2!
 Of all of the ingenious things about the shooting of INVADERS FROM MARS, I would have to go on record as saying that Tobe really got a lot of mileage out of the Drone suits.  They way it was edited, you would have thought we had at least eight suits on set, however it was just clever cutting.

We pulled off one cheat where a couple of us got underneath the painted stand-in drone and marched it forward like a Chinese dragon while another puppeteer reached for Hunter with an insert ski-pole arm.  Hunter then ran past the other two Drone suits so it strengthened the illusion that we had more than just the two Drones.

As we prepared to leave the throne room to move into the tunnels for filming, we had to begin our interaction with the United States Marines.  Led by military adviser, Lt. Col. Dale Dye, a real battalion of marines joined a few stunt men as they raided the throne room and shot the Drones and the Supreme Intelligence.  It was time for a few things: Squibs on the Drones and the Supreme Intelligence, changing out the face of the Supreme Intelligence to a new skin that was sculpted in a duress expression and putting everything back on set and puppeteering as Phil Cory and his guys fired spark and dust hits from air guns at the set.

All of us took our positions with one exception: Gino Crognale was now duct taped to a slant board in a Superman-Flying pose inside of the Supreme Intelligence.  On action, Dave Nelson and Everett Burrell would push down on the slant board from behind, causing the creature to rise and shift in pain as the squibbs detonated.  Inside, Gino would be puppeteering the "croissants."  I was one of the puppeteers on the camera-left tentacle.  We all tensed as the cameras rolled.

"Three, two, one, GO!" the A.D. shouted and suddenly the air was alive with miniature explosions, colored glycerin, sparks, dust and then...fire?  During the fusillade, the spark hits ignited the flammable paint on the set and soon burning debris began to rain down from the set walls.  I saw a small fireball hit Brian Penikas' foot and I grabbed a fire extinguisher and put it out.

Mind you, behind us was a sheer drop of about 10 feet with no railing or protection.  We  moved off of the set as fast as we could with just a narrow space between the altar and the studio floor far below.  Meanwhile, thinking quickly, Dave Nelson whipped out his knife and thrust it into the side of Supreme Intelligence and cut Gino out. He was still puppeteering since he hadn't heard anyone yell "Cut!".  Luckily no one was hurt and the fire was contained quickly.

The Supreme Intelligence in all of its glory!
 That sequence spelled the end of our filming in the Martian throne room, but then we were ready to take our drones into the tunnels to continue the shoot.  To do this, for some reason, we needed an extra hand and a friend of Everett Burrell's showed up on set to meet Alec Gillis and help out for the rest of the shoot.

Alec shook his hand and said, "You're that rich kid from Pittsburgh."

It was the first time most of us met Greg Nicotero.

FEAR NOT!  Next we move into the tunnels and finish INVADERS!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Part 34: "Droning" on....

With the majority of Stan Winston's "lifers" in England, that left the running of INVADERS FROM MARS to Stan's then most recent permanent employee, Alec Gillis.  It was clear from the outset that Alec was born to lead. If his Dudley Do-rite chin wasn't enough, he had a innate sense of diplomacy and a calm confidence that got the most results with the least amount of dramatics.

The build list, superficially seemed modest: 2 drone suits, 1 mechanical supreme intelligence puppet, one bullet riddled puppet of the supreme intelligence, a bunch of bullet hit appliances that we had to be able to apply and remove, a pair of insert mechanical drone "arms", a Mrs. McKeltch "eating rig" and one drone stand in (which would play a significant part during shooting). However, it was very challenging work.

Since his skateboard accident, Stan had a cantaloupe-sized contusion on his hip and he would hobble around in stretch work-out pants assisted by a cane.  He was going to join the crew in England just as soon as the drones and the supreme intelligence had made their debut on stage.

Here is the drone frame/backpack from the side.  Look closely and you can see the chair meant for the little performer riding on the larger performer's back.
 Before I began work at Stan's, the lifers had sculpted the drones and sent them off-site to be molded by the Reter brothers (who specialized in large-scale fiberglass molding).  With the exception of the molded maquette and the under-structures,  I had no idea how large a drone was going to be until the molds were delivered.  I couldn't say who made the decision how to run them and in what material, but it was probably Stan who decided not to attempt to run foam latex into the molds.  At that time, I don't recall there being a large, walk-in, foam oven there, so it was decided that the drones would be run completely in urethane.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with urethanes, they are chemicals that when mixed together (or in some cases just exposed to air) form a plastic-like compound in different densities and flexibilities.  They tend to be oil-based and, in general, dislike moisture.  Being oil-based, they also tend to be difficult to paint. At that particular time, we were using a combination of urethanes for the drones: BJB Enterprises' SC-89, which we were using as a "skinning" urethane, and Polytech Corporation's 10-14, which was a two-part, expanding, soft polyfoam.

After the molds were released, they were sprayed with thinned, tinted SC-89 using an industrial sprayer .  The solvent in the SC-89 would "flash off" or evaporate, leaving a thin, somewhat fragile skin, until backed with the 10-14.  It was Rick Lazzarini who devised how the foam would be delivered into the molds, because the size and shape of the molds prevented us from simply "open pouring" the expanding urethane into the molds and closing them before the chemical reaction took place.  In fact, the foaming of the chemicals happened so rapidly in the hot workshop, it became necessary to store all of the raw chemicals in a refrigerator to slow the reaction time.

Lazzarini referred to his urethane delivery system as "Octo-Injecting" and I will do my best to describe the process.  The mold had been prepared by drilling large holes into it that corresponded to the size of a  small, plastic, threaded, plumbing fitting.  These "vents" then had large diameter, clear plastic tubing clamped onto them, the length of which led to a huge plastic 5 gallon bucket that, too, had plastic plumbing fittings attached at the bottom of it.  The lid of the bucket had two holes cut into it, one to fit a shop-vac (set on exhaust) and the other to fit a high-pressure, air compressor nozzle.  The bucket, with all of the plastic tubes running from it to the mold, resembled some far-out, tentacled creature, hence, Octo-Injecting.

The process was far from simple, but when done correctly, yielded a perfect skin every time.  We divided ourselves into teams that would each perform one task in a chain.  After the chilled chemicals were weighed correctly, and all of the hoses were in place, we would pour, mix, dump, shut, and blow.  The urethane would travel through the tubes into the mold at strategic areas. Then we'd take the lid off of the bucket and stand back as the expanding foam pushed its way back up through the tubes.  Once set, we'd remove all of the tubes, push the excess foam through the fitting (as not to snag the skin), open the mold, remove the skin and begin the process all over again.

One of the skins, fresh out of the mold! Some assorted limbs lie on the table behind it.
 The head was one mold and the body was another LARGER mold so this process was repeated at least 12 times between the two molds.  And, to answer a question that may or may not have crept into your brain, no the process was not fool proof.

On more than one occasion we would discover that the chemicals in the refrigerator had some level of moisture contamination and would either collapse into a gooey mess or not expand at all.  When this happened, the molds needed to be scrubbed with a solvent, Methylene Chloride. Believe it or not, during this process , I once spilled about 6 ounces right on my lap.  The solvent traveled right through my jeans and by the time I ran to the restroom, my genitals were cold and numb.  Yes, eventually, feeling and function returned and I did manage to father a perfectly normal daughter.  Hey, wait a minute....(kidding)

On the other hand, once the chemicals reacted so dramatically that they expanded too rapidly, shot back up the hoses and blew the lid off of the bucket dowsing Mark Williams and Matt Rose with urethane.  Matt got a little on his clothes, but Mark Williams, whom I had already mentioned, sported a long, heavy metal coiffure, had to scissor strips of his urethane coated hair off of his head.  Speaking of Matt Rose and Mark Williams, by this time we were joined by their third roommate who would have a huge impact on the studio in the coming years, Steve Wang.

I may be remembering this incorrectly, but I recall that a half a dozen or so small maquettes of the martian drones were run in self-skinning, expanding urethane and interested crew members were invited to take a figure home, design a paint job on it, and then return the following day (clever way of getting free design work).  I'm not sure how many people fell for it....excuse me...I meant to say took advantage of the opportunity, but I recall two figures that were instrumental in designing the look of the drone paint job: One by sculptor Willie Whitten, and the other by Steve Wang.

One of the original Drone maquettes
 Adopting aspects of both painted figures, the drones would be painted with a toad-like skin pattern, while the huge, weird liver-like structure on top would be a fleshy, veiny, reddish color.  Since the traditional rubber cement paints didn't stick to urethane, acrylic paints were used instead.

You can see the paint job in this horrible flash photo that I took on set.
 While we were casting drone skins in the mold shop, mechanic, Dave Nelson, was designing and building the large mechanical structure that was to support and move the main body tentacle of the martian supreme intelligence.  Using thick cables, a formidable tentacle mechanism was built in hopes of puppeteering the creature out of a small, round, portal and onto an alter/throne where it would sit.

Dave had already completed the facial mechanics which were unbelievable .  He had an innate knack for understanding the subtleties of nature and facial expression and it was the first time I had seen an eye mechanism with a "slaved lower lid."  What that mean was that even though the puppeteer could close the eyelids or blink them, the lower lids would move along automatically with the movement of the eye, like a real eye does.  Look in the mirror some time and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Mr. Supreme Intelligence awaits his set debut.  I fabricated and soldered all of the veins in the top of his head.  That is a vacu-form plastic shell on the top and since the veins had to keep their shape while appearing to be suspended in some sort of "brain jelly", I fabricated them out of brass rods that were sanded into shape.
 I need to take a moment here to mention a couple of things about Dave Nelson.  Dave was originally from Manchester, England, and was a sailing enthusiast.  These two facts affected the running of Stan Winston studios thus: Every day at 4:15 we had tea time.  Dave would not sacrifice his tea time just because he was now living in the colonies. Dave, also, was part of a sailing ship crew, which meant that he had to leave work early every Wednesday to go sailing.  Both of these idiosyncrasies had been approved by Stan before Dave's hiring, but it didn't stop Stan from sporting a mask of disbelief and confusion on Wednesdays when Dave, carrying his bag, would leave the shop around 3:00 announcing, "I'm off!  Time to go sailing." 

As successful as the supreme intelligence's face was mechanically, the body mechanics didn't fare as well.  Unfortunately for Dave and his crew, the tentacle was an inverted triangle with the narrowest part at the base and the widest part at the tip.  No matter how Dave tried to engineer the body, it just couldn't overcome the leverage problem and it was decided that it would have to be "flown" via external wires on the head.  The visual effects supervisor on the film was John Dykstra (YES!  THAT John Dykstra!!!) and when the decision was made, I'll never forget him saying: "Ahhh, if anyone in the audience sees a wire and complains, I'll personally give 'em their seven bucks back!"  (Btw - that would be Joe Viskocil on HOUSE and now John Dykstra on INVADERS FROM MARS...only two years in the business and nerd paradise!)

I don't think he's willing to pay you NOW if you see wires, so FORGET IT!
 While pieces were being finished and assembled, we at Stan's were treated to another surprise: Legendary make up effects artist, Dick Smith came by for a visit!  Stan took Dick around through the shops and just let him wander around, approach different artists and speak with them.  I was working on a drone body when he approached me and asked about the casting process.  When I described it to him, he was flabbergasted and then asked if we were all taking the proper safety procedures.  He was concerned about the off-gassing of the polyfoam (which we all knew was hazardous).  I assured him that we were (well, SOME of us were, most of the time) and then I thanked him for his encouraging letter which he claimed to remember. "See?  What did I tell you?  Now you're working for one of the best studios on the West Coast." he said.

That's right...Appear calm and professional...calm and professional....calm and professional...
 A week or so later, we finally got one of the drones put together enough to do a proper in-studio test.  Performer Doug Simpson suited up with little person, Debbie Carrington on his back.  The camera was functioning, we closed up all of the velcro tabs and Doug began walking backwards.  The effect was initially disarming!  The illusion really worked well and Stan was pleased.  So pleased in fact that for the second fitting, he called Tom Burman over to visit the shop and see the drone for himself.

When Doug had come out of the suit, he mentioned that it would be good if we mounted some fans to circulate the air around and we could see that we would need to fabricate some foam ring spacers to close some of the gaps between the legs and the suit.  We were making the adjustments quickly because shooting was just around the corner and we would have to do it at least twice!

All the guests have gone...Time to get back to work and seam that tentacle!
 To be continued - On set with Invaders from Mars!