Hi there friends and fellow trickshot enthusiasts. It's time once again for a re-evaluation of another classic event in special visual effects, with todays topic being the substantial visual effects showcase that was Hammer Films 1970 diversion away from their standard fare of vampire bats and stitched together reanimated corpses, WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH - the genre and theme of which pretty much speaks for itself.
I've always been a big fan of Hammer films and still regard their catalogue and output as standing in a class of it's own for the most part, with often quite impressive films produced under modest circumstances to say the least. The British studio was a stock company of talent both in front of and behind the camera, with quality showing in most every case. The film being discussed here today is probably a unique entry in the Hammer catalogue as it's the only film I know of that was deemed worthy of an Oscar nomination, with the category of course being for Best Special Visual Effects. The film lost out to Disney's BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS that year which suggests that it would have to be a cold, cold day in hell before a little British Hammer film won out over a big budget American film with the Disney name attached.
Hammer delved more than once into Prehistoric territory with classics such as the Ray Harryhausen picture ONE MILLION YEARS BC and the 'less said about it the better' turkey PREHISTORIC WOMEN (both of which I saw together on a double feature at the dreadful and now thankfully demolished Astor theatre in Auckland - your 'classic', somewhat less than desirable, suburban fleapit of the Grindhouse variety ... though I digress). I saw the topic of today's blog also on a double bill, this time paired with, I think, Harryhausen's VALLEY OF GWANGI, though mercifully at a far more upmarket movie house, the beautifully managed and maintained Mayfair cinema, Auckland. You couldn't get two venues at more opposing ends of the cinematic spectrum, though I'm certain many of my readers have likewise tales from the old days where double, triple, quadruple bills (and then some!) were standard fare each and every weekend, and with dozens of movie houses to select from and so many flicks on offer it became tough to choose what to see (oh, I'm digressing again .... a time long gone ... ahhh, memories!)
|"I've got a good mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it."|
Anyway, on with WDRtE (as it will be known henceforth) - the film is rightfully deserving of rediscovery and praise as it's actually a pretty good film of the genre for a number of reasons (many of those being the very appealing female cast who leave the other Hammer effort ONE MILLION YEARS BC in the dust), and also of course for the outstanding visual effects work by Jim Danforth which is primarily what we're about here at Matte Shot.
While I have always been a confirmed devotee of Ray Harryhausen's films and grew up on his shows, I hope it doesn't come across as sacrilege when I make comparisons between the effects work in OM BC and WDRtE, as I feel that on many occasions with these two comparable films Jim's work probably surpasses Ray's work on that earlier film, with, in some cases, smoother animation, miniature lighting design and most especially in terms of the integration of stop motion puppets into live action settings with a number of quite flawlessly executed composites via a variety of means such as split screen-rear projection process (more or less the same as Ray's Dynarama process) which for the most part exhibit far less tell tale grain and illumination issues as was commonly evident in Ray's work, with some shots looking quite amazing indeed. As will be explained later, some of Jim's animation set ups were incredibly complex and time consuming, with that effort giving the modest production the gloss of a picture of somewhat greater budget.
As part of my 2012 Matte Shot interview with Jim I asked about WDRtE and how he became involved. Jim told me that, for him, it all came about with photographic effects specialist Linwood Dunn recommending Jim to Warners. "The screenplay had been almost completely written by the time I joined the film, so my control over basic content was limited. However, I had a lot to do with the fine tuning of the sequences, including the shot design. I was the 2nd Unit Director. I directed or co-directed all the scenes that would have stop motion added to them, and I also directed some scenes that did not involve animation, usually with doubles for the principle actors."
|Dinosaur sculptor and fabricator Roger Dicken; Producer Aida Young, and Visual Effects Director Jim Danforth shown here in Roger's workshop at Bray Studios.|
|Jim Danforth directs Victoria Vetri|
|Val Guest with lead cast.|
|Budding stop motion enthusiast, David Allen with a 'fan'.|
|Roger Dicken with LAND THAT TIME FORGOT creatures|
By Danforth's own account, both he and Dicken got along extremely well throughout the production and proved absolutely vital in setting up the animation and workshop areas at Bray and was very handy when it came to building miniature sets, carrying out pyrotechnic effects and more. In more recent times Dicken contributed some grotesquely fantastic alien life forms to the still brilliant space chiller ALIEN, imagery that still unsettles many a punter.
|Ted Samuels at Shepperton Studios.|
|Matte painter Ray Caple|
|Matte painter Peter Melrose.|
|Les Bowie, considered the father of UK effects|
Les Bowie's name has come up more than once here. Bowie Films was a leading supplier of all types of trick work for British films throughout the 1960's and well into the 1970's. His company specialised in everything really; mattes, models, opticals, physical effects, mechanical rigs, special photography, make up effects and just about anything else one desired. Les was first and foremost a skilled matte artist, having trained under the legendary Walter Percy 'Poppa' Day. Les was approached by Aida Young as he'd done many mattes and other trick shots for Hammer over the years as far back as the 1950's with the QUATERMASS films as well as ONE MILLION YEARS BC. Jim visited Les and, after viewing some of his many old painted glasses in storage at his studio, signed Bowie on to supply some matte art for several shots.
The glass paintings were prepared though for reasons covered later in this article, were not used in their original form due to colour mismatch problems. Bowie did however provide an extraordinary climactic trick shot which closes the film in spectacular style utilising a myriad of old fashioned seat of the pants ingenuity and original negative in-camera know how. More about that later.
|Shepperton Matte Department with Doug Ferris at work.|
DINOSAURS, DRAGONS AND DRAMA - THE MEMOIRS OF A TRICK FILM MAKER
Jim's life and busy career is a compelling, frank and at times provocative - not to mention extensively illustrated - autobiography like no other of it's type.
Danforth's ability to recall each and every assignment - the triumphs and the let downs - in equal fascinating measure and with astonishing memory recall as I myself have been witness to when I interviewed Jim in 2012 for my extensive special blog (click here to read it) on his long and wide ranging matte painting career. Numerous subsequent conversations have almost always proved fruitful with minute details forthcoming about particular productions and specific effects shots that many others of us would surely have 'brain fade' in that arena. The above illustrated memoir is the first part of three, with parts one and two both available with the third and final edition to follow. These are available from Archive Editions with details to be found here.
*In the following article some illustrations and quotes have been utilised with Jim's permission from Dinosaurs, Dragons and Drama - The Odyssey of a Trick Film Maker.
Special Visual Effects Designed & Created by Jim Danforth
Stop Motion Puppet Fabrication.......................Roger Dicken
Armature Fabrication.............................Milt Ballard & George Randle
Additional Stop Motion......................................David Allen
Optical Effects.....................................................Brian Johnson
Matte Artists.................................Jim Danforth, Ray Caple, Les Bowie, Peter Melrose
Additional Matte Painting.......................Shepperton Studios Matte Department
Mechanical Effects...................................Allan Bryce & Ted Samuels
Blue Screen Composites...................Dick Dimbleby, Technicolor Laboratories, UK
Miniature Process Projection System................George Randle
|Misguided attempt to make a prehistoric re-boot of Hitchcock's LIFEBOAT sinks at the Bedrock Box Office.|
|The tribe fail to restrain the creature so a massive impromptu barbeque is arranged thanks to a handy vat of whale oil or some such fuel.|
|From the final demise. Luckily it just happened to be Plesiosaur season.|
|Charles Darwin would not be impressed with Hammer's notion of primitive cave dwellers ... or would he?|
|One of the jointed armatures constructed by Milt Ballard and Dave Allen. *Images from Dinosaurs, Dragons and Drama|
|The Chasmosaur sequence is another excellent array of animation, miniatures, matte art and first rate composite work.|
|Superb merging of live action, miniature set, animated creature and glass matte art extending the set upward.|
|Very impressive animation and blue screen composite work here.|
|Miniature animation set up with glass painted top up just above the entrance to the cave.|
|The Chasmosaur sequence continues with a rather pissed off animal taking on some caveman hooligans. Glass painted scenery, animated dinosaur and superbly integrated actors. I love the light and semi-twilight hues here.|
|David Allen, one of Jim's colleagues from Cascade Films in the US, was primary animator for the Chasmosaur sequence while Jim was kept busy painting a number of glass mattes.|
|*Image from Dinosaurs, Dragons and Drama|
|The Chasmosaur sequence during stop motion work. Behind the model are Roger Dicken (left), David Allen (centre) and Jim Danforth (right).|
|"Put a damned muzzle on that thing will 'ya"|
|The sequence where the Chasmosaur chases one of our caveman characters along a rocky precipice was a complex and demanding assignment.|
|The Chasmosaur comes to the end of the road. Note the small human figure clinging onto the cliff edge.|
|Imogen Hassall & Victoria Vetri. I am contractually obligated to infiltrate this retrospective with non VFX scenes that demonstrate 'considerable thespian merit' just to balance things out. Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it!|
|Caple-Danforth matte art with Jim's excellent stop motion work that includes not just the obvious but also a deer in the beast's mouth and a flock of birds animated exiting the cave.|
|Danforth stop motion of a Roger Dicken puppet, matted into a Ray Caple painting complete with a pan across following the action.|
|Note the motion blur here. I'm not certain, but the outcrop of rock and cacti at left looks painted or possibly a miniature.|
|Roger with Jim and pet Pterodactyl in readiness for the animation stage.|
|Star Victoria Vetri (real name Angela Dorian, and actually a brunette) does her Ursula Andress DR NO moves with great success me thinks. "Underneath the mango tree my honey and me......"|
|The baby dinosaur sequence continues. This is a typical rear projection-split screen process set up, with the addition of delicately painted in palm fronds on glass, to permit the animal to realistically appear from behind.|
|The crab attack scene is a show stopper in my book. Beautifully designed and animated, and really quite scary when I saw it as a kid (never liked the bloody things!).|
|Betty, Barney, Wilma and Fred make the best of a bad situation.|
|No caption necessary....|