Friday, 26 January 2018

Forgotten Gems of Visual Effects Part Nine - WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970)


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.


Although known mostly for horror pictures, Hammer actually had a wide, across the board range of genres and topics from the 1930's through to the mid 1970's, from comedies such as DON'T PANIC CHAPS to meaty war pictures as THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND and YESTERDAY'S ENEMY swashbuckling adventures like THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER and the wonderful CAPTAIN CLEGG; sci-fi excursions MOON ZERO TWO and the QUATERMASS series, and crime dramas such as the excellent little bank heist film CASH ON DEMAND through to delvings into the occult with the sorely under-rated Dennis Wheatley chiller TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER as just a few examples.

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
In the excellent 2010 book Hammer Films - The Unsung Heroes by Wayne Kinsey (a book I simply cannot recommend highly enough if you are a fan of Hammer films ... it doesn't get any better than this splendid, massively detailed tome), long time Hammer producer Aida Young spoke about the trials of bringing WDRtE to the screen after already acting as associate producer on ONE MILLION YEARS BC a few years previously.  "Oh, the animation [on WDRtE] took forever.  With Ray Harryhausen [on OM BC] you couldn't ask.  Ray was God and we just sat and waited, but I wasn't the producer then, so I didn't have to take the flack.  Now I was the producer [for WDRtE] and Ray was busy, and we had a guy called Jim Danforth from America.  His work was excellent but he was slow, and a couple of times I knocked on the door and said 'Jim, how's it going?' because the months were going by and this time I had nobody to go to, so the buck stopped with me, and they kept saying to me 'When is this bloody picture going to be finished?', and I used to say the same thing to Jim.  He was such a sweet man and his eyes would fill with tears, and he'd say, 'I'm doing my best you know...it's a slow job'.  And it really was."  I'm sure Aida wasn't he first, nor the last movie producer to question a stop motion expert as to what the hell is taking so long.  The obviously time consuming work and constant pressure for any animator would be lost on most of the 'front office suits' who see things in a completely different light, and usually in columns filled with figures.  I'll bet both Ray and his mentor the great Willis O'Brien had similar conflicts over the years.


Val Guest with lead cast.
Interestingly, director-screenwriter Val Guest wasn't particularly proud of his film as he is quoted in an interview with Wayne Kinsey as stating:  "We were at our holiday pad in Malta, and Aida Young flew over to see me with a barebones sort of a story and said 'Would you like to do it?'  And I thought, what a wonderful idea if we could shoot in Malta, then I could have my holiday pad and get paid.  So we scoured Malta but couldn't find any mountains or anything which even looked prehistoric, so we shot in the Canary Islands.  Jim Danforth did the special effects.  We had storyboards and we knew exactly what we were doing all the way.  It was not my favourite picture by any means.  I wasn't happy with that one at all.  I wasn't happy on it or after it". Val's favourite expression was "How long do we have to wait?"



Budding stop motion enthusiast, David Allen with a 'fan'.
As the visuals make up a considerable component of WDRtE, we should look at the creative people involved.  As already mentioned, Jim Danforth needs no introduction - already a renowned and multi talented effects artist in his own right - was the key figure here and either supervised or personally executed the many visual effects.  Jim provided most of the stop motion footage himself though when the pressure was on to get the film completed, a few sequences were handed over to one of Jim's old associates from Cascade Films, David Allen, who flew over from the US to work on the Chasmosaur chase scene and some of the crab attack.  David was an exceptional animator and would go on to provide stop motion shots in many films such as FLESH GORDON and BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED among many others.


Roger Dicken with LAND THAT TIME FORGOT creatures
British special effects expert Roger Dicken had been heavily involved with Gerry Anderson's tv series and the feature length THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO (I can't even begin to count how many times I went and saw that as a kid on various double bills, often paired with something odd like KING KONG ESCAPES) and was actually approached before Danforth as a possible candidate for the animated effects. Roger talked about his call from Hammer in an interview in the truly dedicated and eminently worthy fanzine that's still in publication, Little Shoppe of Horrors: "I got a call from Tony Hinds at Hammer.  He was looking for someone to do animation for WDRtE;  he'd seen my showreel and wanted to talk.  The problem was that I didn't feel experienced enough to tackle such a major project, but after Jim Danforth was hired, Tony was back on the phone saying that Jim would need an assistant and was I interested?  Well, I'd read about Jim in Forry Ackerman's Famous Monsters so I couldn't wait to work with him.  We worked together for about a year.  I did the donkey work.  I sculpted the animals, made the moulds and did anything else that came along." 

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.
The various physical effects, or mechanical effects were handled by technicians Allan Bryce and Ted Samuels.  Samuels was head of special effects at Shepperton and had been a part of that studio for many years along with his brother George who was chief matte artist for a while.  Ted had been one of Wally Veevers' crew for decades and was with Shepperton until the effects department (and all other departments for that matter) were disbanded and closed down in the mid 1970's.  To the best of my knowledge, Ted handled the studio effects such as the sea storm scenes in a giant tank, while Allan Bryce, also from Shepperton, looked after location special needs in the Canary Islands


Brian Johnson
Brian Johnson, known at the time as Brian Johncock, was a part of Bowie Films, an independent special effects house run by industry veteran and all round effects wizard Les Bowie.  Brian started off in the mid 1950's when, as a young man, his role was sweeping the floor in Bowie's earliest incarnations of an FX studio sited in an old converted cinema.  Brian went on to become one of the legions of highly sought after UK effects men who were trained by Bowie and owed more than a nod of gratitude to Les, with many such as Johnson receiving Academy Awards later on for their work. For WDRtE, Brian contributed a number of optical gags for lunar eclipse and solar event sun flare scenes (described later in the blog) that set a particular tone to the film and utterly confound the primitive tribes therein.  Brian would go to work on big shows such as 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and ALIEN.

Matte painter Ray Caple
Originally the plan was that WDRtE would only have a few matte shots, though due to problems arising from lack of planning on the part of the Val Guest - Aida Young partnership when shooting on a completely viable, perfect natural location, opportunities were missed that might otherwise have broadened the scope of the main unit footage, with the end result being the requirement of a number of painted mattes to flesh out the scenes.  Being an experienced matte artist himself, Danforth personally rendered most of the glass paintings that were needed to extend set ups involving stop motion action.  With a number of hats to wear throughout this production it soon became apparent to Jim that other reliable matte artists would need to be recruited to take some of the workload.  Jim asked his old friend Albert Whitlock if he could recommend any artists in the UK, with Whitlock suggesting Ray Caple as a good choice.  Caple was another of Les Bowie's 'boys', having trained with Les from about the age of 15, and later becoming one of Britain's most successful artists in the field.  At the time Ray came on board he had just finished work on the huge 65mm matte shot project MACKENNA'S GOLD and was in play to paint the mattes for THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN.  Ray ended up collaborating with Jim on a pair of WDRtE mattes (detailed later in this article).

Matte painter Peter Melrose.
Another veteran matte painter who had began in matte work back in the late 1940's at Pinewood with Les Bowie, Cliff Culley and Albert Whitlock was Peter Melrose.  Peter was enlisted by Jim to paint a key shot toward the end of the film.  Although Peter pretty much completed his matte, it was ultimately never used due to an editorial change of design for the scene.  Jim wanted to further utilise Peter's talents for other shots, especially as he painted at Bray Studios alongside Danforth's effects stage which would allow ideal circumstances in which to collaborate, but the film's producer, Aida Young failed to secure Melrose for the time required to supply mattes and he accepted another more prestigious film assignment at Shepperton.

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.
One key establishing shot of the coastline, village and moody evening sky was farmed out to the matte department at Shepperton Studios - a shot that Jim found especially good.  Gerald Larn and Bryan Evans were Shepperton's matte painters at the time so it's likely that one of them had a hand in the making of that shot, with Doug Ferris likely to have been responsible for the animated surf and other elements.  John Grant - the son of old time Hammer Lighting Cameraman Arthur Grant -  was matte cinematographer.

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DINOSAURS, DRAGONS AND DRAMA - THE MEMOIRS OF A TRICK FILM MAKER

No fan of traditional era special effects should be without Jim's indispensable and exhaustive memoir Dinosaurs, Dragons and Drama - The Odyssey of a Trick Film Maker, arguably the most complete first person account of a lifetime involved in creating movie magic, an account that, no exaggeration, leaves no stone unturned.
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
Miniaturist...........................................................Rodney Fuller
Blue Screen Composites...................Dick Dimbleby, Technicolor Laboratories, UK
Miniature Process Projection System................George Randle

The show was one of several Hammer/Warner Bros hybrids made around that time.  As far as screen credit goes, Danforth could never get his desired 'Special Visual Effects Designed and Directed by...' due to Warner's deal with the Director's Guild of America who refused to grant such a credit

Shooting took place in the sun soaked Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa, with studio work completed back at Shepperton and most of the visual effects carried out at Hammer's Bray Studios in the UK.  Oh, and before I overlook it, co-star Imogen Hassall (seen at left in top) was an astonishing beauty who, although she stole the show here, had a most miserable life, with all manner of tragedy and mishap.  Known in the industry as 'The Countess of Cleavage' she took her own life at age 38 I know it has absolutely no relevance, but, hey......

Misguided attempt to make a prehistoric re-boot of Hitchcock's LIFEBOAT sinks at the Bedrock Box Office.

With so many matte shots being required for various reasons, this wonderful establishing shot of the beach side village was farmed out to one of the matte artists resident at Shepperton Studios, though Jim couldn't recall the name.  Most likely Gerald Larn, Bryan Evans or Doug Ferris - all of whom were matte painters at the time.  Danforth told me in his 2012 interview how much he liked this shot, how well painted and composited the elements were. "The most 'multi-element' shot was the establishing shot of the Sand Tribe village as seen from the sea.  I took that one to Shepperton matte department for both painting and compositing.  For that shot I had filmed five elements.  I combined the Plesiosaur and one close shot of the village and then gave the Shepperton department that 'pre-comp', plus two other shots of villagers moving in a village set, plus a shot of the ocean I made in the Canary Islands.  They blended it all together with their painting using miniature rear projection.  They did a really good job of it, but I couldn't use them on the other shots because those had to be started and finished 'in situ', as part of the animation set ups as glass shots."  The animated surf on the beach may have been supplied by Shepperton veteran Doug Ferris who seemed to specialise in this sort of gag. A small stop motion Plesiosaur made just for this shot was used while the main 'beauty' model was still being fabricated by Roger Dicken.   

The first key effects sequence shows this Plesiosurus rampaging through the Sand Tribesmen's village - a showstopping set piece if ever there were one, and possibly the best sequence in the film.  Jim stated in his memoir the following:  "There was an unusual photographic effect in the Plesiosaur sequence which came about as an afterthought.  As I was animating the sequence I realised that, despite all the panic of the people, the Plesiosaur never actually caused much destruction of the village.  Behind the running people there was a palm frond hut, around which I had intended to use a stationary matte so that the Plesiosaur could enter the scene from behind the hut.  I decided to use a hand drawn animated matte instead, to create a vertical wipe-off of the hut image.  I placed a miniature hut, aligned with the image of the real hut, in front of the Plesiosaur model, then I animated the Plesiosaur bringing his flipper down onto the hut.  The effect was that the hut was being crushed by the Plesiosaur just as the people got out of the way.  I started the hut crushing action a few frames too soon, relative to the live action of the background projection, so I had to skip-frame the last few frames of the running people to make them 'exit' before their image was also obliterated by the descending matte.  The mattes were made on about 12 individual sheets of glass, which apparently had not been made by the 'float' process that would be used today.  The result was a flickering 'heat wave' distortion of the image caused by a slightly different refraction of each piece of glass, though occured only briefly during the rapid destruction of the hut when the panes of glass were being changed every frame."

At the time the film was made, it was agreed with the various UK movie companies and the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) that all upcoming productions submit scripts for the Chief Censor's approval and recommendations (Ken Russell had endless problems with the UK Censors both before and after production with a number of his films).  The Censor at the time, John Trevelyan, noted that this Plesiosaur sequence be tamed down to make the burning of the creature acceptable for younger children, and also to not have too many shots with the creatures roaring directly into the camera.  Kind of interesting in retrospect as the film has several nude scenes and a brief scene of debauchery, none of which made it into the US release print which lost some three minutes.

More action from the Plesiosaur sequence where tribesmen hurl spears at the beast.  This shot is typical of the attention to detail that might otherwise be overlooked by other stop motion exponents.  Here we have a subtle glow across the belly of the beast from the burning torch at left
A tour de force of imaginative trick photography.  The sky, hilltop and upper half of the sand dune were painted on glass; The crashing surf in the distance has been rear projected through an unpainted area of the glass; The live action plate of the group of  Sand People at right pulling on ropes is also a rear projected plate blended into another unpainted area of the same glass; The crouching figure in mid frame is also a rear projected element and is on the same piece of film as the group at right.  A split screen matte has enabled the figure to appear to be in front of the creature even though the process image is actually behind the model Plesiosaur;  At the rear left can be seen a stop motion puppet of a character complete with animated wire rope;  An additional sheet of glass has been positioned in the foreground in such a fashion as to pick up 'reflections' from the animated puppets and torches;  The foreground is painted as well. 
For a couple of cuts in the Plesiosaur sequence Jim experimented with a technique to lend a motion blur effect to certain stop motion moves by way of multiple exposure onto the same individual frame.  Though relatively effective, Danforth felt that the effort required wasn't worth it for the result achieved.
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.
Curiously, the people are partially obscured behind the painted sand dune and the Plesiosaur is seen reflected in the glass for several frames.  Unavoidable no doubt, on such a big film made on a tight schedule and 'secretive' budget that Danforth was apparently never able to ascertain.


The very effective demise of said beast involving multiple elements.  The background sand dune and sky was a glass painting onto which a rear projected image of miniature high-speed flames, photographed against a black background, was double exposed.  The film of the painting, plus flames, was then projected behind the model Plesiosaur during the animation process.  Additional miniature high speed flames were bi-packed with a hold out matte to prevent the flames in the foreground of the Plesiosaur becoming over exposed and washing out the background flames.  The composite was then used as a travelling matte plate and combined by optical cinematographer Dick Dimbleby with actors on a limited set shot against blue screen at Shepperton.
From the final demise. Luckily it just happened to be Plesiosaur season.

Jim Danforth animating the larger of the two Plesiosaur puppets in front of a glass painted background and miniature foreground set up.  British effects artist Roger Dicken sculpted and built the puppets for most of the creatures.                        * Image from Dinosaurs, Dragons and Drama.

Roger Dicken was a multi-talented special effects technician who proved versatile in many areas, from pyrotechnic work, special effects make up, miniatures, animation, design and more, as evidenced by films such as Ridley Scott's still vital ALIEN.  Roger got his start with British pioneers such as Les Bowie and Derek Meddings.  Note the various stills on the wall from the other Hammer Dino flick ONE MILLION YEARS BC.  *Image from Dinosaurs, Dragons and Drama.


Also from Danforth's memoir is this revealing photo of the work space Jim had at Bray.  "Stage Three at Bray Studios during my animation work.  I used a dolly to support the Acme model 6 camera which is shown here without the magazines.  The pieces of paper taped to the dolly boom arm are notes, and the paper slate for the scene in work.  Beyond the camera is my medium sized rear projection screen.  The large screen is beyond that, stored against a wall.  On the right wall of the stage are some simulated Egyptian heiroglyphics left over from the title sequence of a Hammer Mummy film.  The white walls here caused screen fogging problems.  In the right foreground is one of the glass paintings I did for the Plesiosaur sequence.  I cracked a glass when trying to use a 2000 watt lamp to speed up the drying time of the oil paints.  I learned that an unevenly distributed 'puddle' of bright light causes plate glass to expand unevenly, with disastrous results."
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.

Terrific miniature lighting here nicely simulates actual kelvin of daylight (often a complete failure in vintage fx work).  Stop motion fx at Bray combined with live action figure shot on the stage at Shepperton and composited at Technicolor Laboratories, United Kingdom.

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.

Danforth:  "In the original planning we had thought that there might be two or three matte paintings, but we ended up using 24 or 25 paintings - plus a few that were discarded.  During the filming of the Chasmosaur sequence, someone noticed that a photographic light on a floor stand had been positioned so that it was visible in the shot.  This was mentioned to Director of Photography Dick Bush, whose response was 'Jim will paint it out'.  It finally got to the point where the crew were becoming very cavalier about this." 

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).

Superb marriage of animated moves with live action stunts.  In shots such as this it became necessary to paint glass matte art to basically extend the quite limited Shepperton soundstage sets upward as it was impossible to film wide shots such as these without getting all of the stage gantries and rigging in the shot.

"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.  

In order to sell the shot it was decided to have it as a broad tracking shot following the action along the ridge for some distance.  The scenery was entirely glass painted, with rear projected running caveman character being pursued by animated Chasmosaur.

Danforth elaborated upon this sequence in his memoir:  "I had decided to stage it as a panning shot as I hoped this would prevent scrutiny of the painting and would also add a little kinetic energy to the sequence.  Dave had to animate the camera in a panning motion while he was animating the Chasmosaur.  Since the shot required a split screen on the painted background to eliminate the animation table, Dave had to repeat the camera pan precisely for the second exposure.  This was accomplished using a machinist's dial indicator to gauge the pan-head each frame.  Repeating the recorded positions produced an identical pan for each exposure pass." 

Jim:  "After Dave had finished the shot, he confessed to me that he'd been nervous because he had never animated a four legged creature before.  Actually, the Chasmosaur didn't really run; it did a fast shuffle.  A true run would have overtaken the character Tara before he reached the end of the trial."

The Chasmosaur comes to the end of the road.  Note the small human figure clinging onto the cliff edge.

Jim made an interesting observation about the use of mattes in his memoir Dinosaurs, Dragons and Drama:  "While I was working on the painting, Brian Lawrence and Roy Skeggs of Hammer films dropped by to see how things were going.  When Brian complimented me on the painting [for the Dinosaur nest sequence], I said 'Thank you, but there's no excuse for this being a painting.  We were in canyons like this on location, we could have filmed these shot's there'.  When I was asked why we hadn't, I said, 'When the producer tells me it's cheaper to do it this way, I have to assume she knows what she's talking about ... but I don't think she does'.  My remark produced suppressed chuckles from Brian and Roy."

This beautiful glass matte painting has an interesting history.  This was initially one of Les Bowie's renderings that Danforth had farmed out to lighten his workload. In the book Hammer Films - The Unsung Heroes, author Wayne Kinsey interviewed one of Bowie's assistants Mike Tilley, who gave an account of this and other WDRtE Bowie mattes that turned out to be inaccurate and required clarification.  "While we were doing MOON ZERO TWO, Jim Danforth asked Les to do a matte painting for WDRtE, when Jim was running a bit behind schedule.  It was the valley where the Triceratops falls over the cliff.  Some of these matte glasses were about 6 x 4 feet, set in hefty wooden frames, and he [Les] would do one of these paintings in a day.  He did it back at his studio in Slough and he took inspiration from a series of slides that he had taken of weird rock formations when making other films in Malta.  He'd have one of those little slide viewers and just glance at it every now and then, and paint away, oil on glass.  On that valley he'd painted the back of it black except for one bit where the sun was meant to be.  He then scraped that bit away and a spotlight was put behind the glass when Jim was doing the work to make the thing look even hotter."  While that part of the story is generally accurate to a point (though there was no need for any backlit spotlight to create the glow as detailed below), a number of published articles - that one included - also make the following inaccurate rider.  Mike Tilley continues:  "After that, Jim was so impressed with what Les did, he got him to repaint over the top of three of the other glasses that he [Jim] had already done because he felt it would make the scenes more consistent with the glass Les had done, in terms of colour and vibrancy".  Jim's version of the events is markedly different and is explained below.

In my 2012 one on one interview with Jim, I asked him about this curious claim that had appeared in print in several articles and he was surprised as he hadn't heard that erroneous story until I told him.  Jim explains more in his memoir:  "I made a colour sketch of the key painting, which in it's final form would be ten feet wide - a sunset scene of a canyon.  When Les saw my colour sketch he said 'I've never seen colours like that in a sunset'.  The sketch I had painted was in reds, oranges and yellows, with a purple cast to the distant canyon walls.  Those were the colours I saw in sunsets, but heightened sleightly because it was a piece of 'theatre'.  I told Les what I wanted.  I visited Les once or twice when he was working on the paintings.  He was operating in a manner that seemed strange to me.  Les looked at the reference film clips of the live action through a magnifying device that he held up to daylight of an open door, but he was painting under more incandescent light.  The film clip was being viewed with 'blue' light, and the painting was being done under 'orange' light.  To make the painting look like the film, Les would be painting much 'bluer' than he should be.  When I asked Les about this he replied 'I've been doing this for years; I know how to compensate'".  However, problems became apparent soon after, as Jim continues;  "When Les' paintings were delivered, my red, orange and yellow sunset had been rendered as strips of unconvincing pale yellow clouds against a gray sky.  All the paintings had problems of this sort.  I called Aida and asked her to come to Bray to appraise the situation.  Aida agreed the paintings were unusable.  I didn't want to go through the same thing with a different supplier, so I suggested that I could repaint the glasses myself".  With that, it was Jim who repainted over the top of several of Bowie's mattes and not the other way around as has been reported.  In a conversation I had with Jim a while back he told me that the sunburst-glow effect was actually painted as is directly into the painting. "I was able to achieve a bright sun with paint because I painted the scene in the correct 'key' - just as Al Whitlock had taught me - whereas Les had painted that scene too light, too blue and with insufficient saturation."  Shown above are Jim and Roger posing with the Chasmosaur puppet during the filming of the valley scene.       *Image from Dinosaurs, Dragons and Drama
  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!




A rather clever bit of camera trickery here that nobody suspected.  Here is part of Jim's description of the shot:  "The hatching animation was filmed in a miniature set built by Roger.  The set was introduced with a pan, which began with a scene of Sanna seeking shelter by crouching inside a large broken egg shell.  To accomplish the shot I placed a sheet of glass in front of the process screen on which was projected the image of Sanna and the large egg shell.  On the glass I painted an extension of the rocky wall of the live action set.  On the left side of the painting I added modelling clay to the glass to create a bas-relief of the cliff.  The amount of depth in the sculpture was increased as it extended to the left until it joined Roger's fully three-dimensional miniature set.  The camera was panned in stop motion from the rear projected image of Sanna to the final angle on the miniature nest set using a nodal-point pan head so that there would be no parallax shift between the various planes of the set up."


In order to complete the numerous mattes required for the show, Jim first approached veteran British matte artist Bob Cuff who had been active in the old Percy Day department at Shepperton right around the time Day retired in 1954.  Danforth went to Technicolor outside of London where a temporary matte painting unit had been set up to do the trick work on the epic MACKENNA'S GOLD, where Cuff was chief matte painter.  Jim however wasn't sure that Cuff was the man for the job as his style appeared far to minutely detailed and fiddly (Cuff was an excellent matte artist but was well known for painting in every single detail, even those that really need not be required at all).  One of Cuff's fellow matte artists on MACKENNA'S GOLD happened to be Ray Caple - one of Les Bowie's original trainees from way back - with both Cuff and Caple operating as Abacus Films, a specialist matte painting company who provided mattes on many films (such as ONE MILLION YEARS BC) and commercials from the late 1960's through the 1970's.  Jim asked his old friend and mentor, Al Whitlock about Ray and Whitlock recommended him without reservation.  The above shot is one of Ray's mattes, though Jim did the initial block in and added a few finishing touches.

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 faced a daily frustration with never being allowed to know just what the budget was, let alone his visual effects budget.  It seemed to be a hard and fast rule with Aida that such info was on a 'need to know basis', and Jim just didn't need to know apparently.


Again, tremendous shot with great care obviously taken in getting as accurate a match with the studio lighting of the animation model with that of the actual 2nd unit background plate and the matted in actor.  I've always been so impressed at how well controlled the process work is in WDRtE.  The grain one would normally be bombarded with in re-photographed back projected images really isn't an issue, with the plates being well balanced.

Great shots, with the upper frame being particularly good.  Such a first rate composite of fact and fiction.  Jim stated in his memoir;  "There were so many scripted animation effects having nothing to do with advancing the story line.  These were wonderful but very costly mood scenes.  One example was a sequence in which a water spout lifts two aquatic dinosaurs into the air and casts them, struggling, onto a beach - one of the most difficult things I could ever imagine doing in stop motion."

According to Jim, Roger Dicken was very efficient indeed at sculpting and building models - highly skilled in fact - but regrettably some of Roger's best miniatures were never used in the final film, through no fault of his own.  It's just how the business is.


This entire shot is an extensive Ray Caple matte painting with dinosaur split screened in and the people added presumably as a rear projection element.  As was his preference, Caple almost always painted his mattes at his home, and on many productions, he would prefer to do all his own camerawork and compositing whenever possible.

Danforth stop motion of a Roger Dicken puppet, matted into a Ray Caple painting complete with a pan across following the action.
Some of the solar event and lunar eclipse shots made by Brian Johnson at Bowie Films.  Interviewed by author Wayne Kinsey, Johnson said "After 2001 I moved on to WDRtE and did a load of semi optical bits.  That's when I first met Jim Danforth.  They wanted a series of sunrises and sunsets, so I shot all those.  I did them optically with bits of cut out black paper and flashed.  If you have a telephoto lens and look at a mountain and the sun is rising, the mountain is usually black.  I had this sun that was basically an incandescent lamp with a series of filters on the front, and was driven by a little stepper motor, and that just rose from behind these bits of mountain that I had made out of photographic paper."


No prehistoric flick would be complete without a Pterodactyl sequence where a person gets snatched up and taken away.  Harryhausen did it nicely with Raquel Welch in ONE MILLION YEARS BC so now it's Jim's turn to do something similar.  Jim described the work in his memoir:  "Animating the Pterodactyl in flight proved to be rather time consuming because all the shots were done on wires in front of rear projection backgrounds.  That way, we could see the results the next day instead of weeks later as would have been the case if we had used the travelling matte system."

Note the motion blur here.  I'm not certain, but the outcrop of rock and cacti at left looks painted or possibly a miniature.


Jim discussed the motion blur:  "Filming the Pterodactyl hanging on wires in front of projected backgrounds proved to have a fringe benefit.  I found that I could start the puppet rocking slightly just before I exposed the frame.  This gave a very natural blur to the Pterodactyl's wings.  Because of the shape of the bird, the wings of the model moved through a greater distance than the head or body when the model was rocked back and forth on it's long axis.  This gave the impression that only the wings were being blurred - exactly the effect I wanted."

Roger with Jim and pet Pterodactyl in readiness for the animation stage.

Not all of the dinosaur footage was animated as these frames demonstrate.  I don't know if the Hammer people shot this or whether it was lifted from another film?  I'd suspect Danforth would not in the slightest wish to be associated with live lizards with pasted on fins.  Far too Irwin Allen.

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.


A breakdown of the shot where the mother dinosaur interrupts the prehistoric proceedings, Danforth again has successfully utilised what basically amounts to the Dynarama (or Dynamation, or even Super-Dynarama) process as used by Harryhausen throughout his career.  The location action, sans creature, has been rear projected onto a semi-translucent process screen behind Jim's animation table.  The table is equipped with the necessary sequenced holes, drilled at appropriate intervals to allow 'tie downs' - the means in which the puppet is fastened via a threaded nut type assembly to prevent accidental unwanted movement during the stop motion process, especially when it is in full stride and balance on just one leg.  The animation set is lit as closely as possible to match the lighting scheme in the original plate photography.  A sheet of glass nearer to the camera is locked in a frame and an appropriate demarcation point is drawn out where a solid black matte will effectively isolate and leave unexposed the area of the frame where the people are interacting.  Jim will then painstakingly animate the puppet one frame at a time just above the masked off area.  A glass matte painting is also made to add in a small amount of additional foliage and palm fronds just around the point where the animal comes into view.  This is necessary so as to avoid an obvious hard matte around the real palm trees in the process footage that might be difficult to hide.  Once the animation is complete, another glass is painted opaque black to conform to the already photographed upper portion - effectively a 'counter matte' - thus allowing the previously unexposed half of the location plate with the actors to be re-photographed through Jim's camera as a second pass through his effects camera.  What results is a split-screened 'sandwich' shot, with actual live action footage having the animated dinosaur 'sandwiched' into the scene.

In an interview with author Mark Miller, Jim stated some of the problems associated with bringing the effects side of the show to completion with wasted opportunities with the Canary Islands schedule:  "I would have chosen to do a lot of things on location instead of in the studio, primarily parts of the Chansmosaur sequence.  What happened, is that their [Hammer] schedule added about 20 more mattes shots to the picture that were never planned, nor budgeted.  At Shepperton, we had to make a matte shot every time we got far enough back to show the dinosaur, whereas, in the Canary Islands all we had to do was point the camera at the best looking rocks and roll.  It takes many months to do 20 matte shots.  They started by giving me 12 months to complete all of the effects, including the mattes, then it decreased to nine, and then it went, shall we say, to hell."

Just for the record, among my own personal favourites in the stop motion field are, of course, O'Brien's original KONG fighting the T-Rex;  Ray's skeleton army from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS; likewise his six armed Kali from the sorely under appreciated GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD;  Willis O'Brien and Pete Peterson's astonishingly bold work in THE BLACK SCORPION - a film that never gets the praise it deserves; Phil Tippett's material in the original ROBOCOP and Aardman's first WALLACE AND GROMIT short, THE WRONG TROUSERS to name but a few off the top of my head.
This sequence was the first animation assignment for Danforth when he started work on WDRtE. The scene includes a terrific shot where the scuttling crab grabs onto a tribal guy and drags him off to do whatever overgrown crabs do with early era humans.  Jim did a masterful job of substituting the real rear projected actor with that of an articulated puppet, with the change over being imperceptible.  There's nothing I love more with great stop motion than where the old 'actual' is invisibly substituted mid shot for the 'trick', such as the hurling of a spear by an actor, with a masterful swap for an animated miniature prop while in full flight.  Always gets me!

The tribal people are set upon by not one, but two enormous sea crabs - though only one was ever actually built.  Above is Jim with the fully articulated crab puppet that David Allen constructed in the US and had shipped over for the sequence. The puppet initially didn't look menacing enough so additional subtle changes were made prior to filming to ramp up the malevolence of the creature.

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!).  

Superb blending here between the miniature set up and the process scene live action.  Very nice lighting design here and all done with a dolly like camera move following the action.  I think the extreme foreground, which is out of focus, may be part of a hastily arranged piece of model terrain put in place to conceal the edge of the animation table, especially for when the film went out as full aperture 16mm prints in the 1970's for television and schools, where typically prints were made 'unmatted' and with more info at the tops and bottoms of frames.  I used to work in the distribution branch here in New Zealand of Warner Bros and it was common to see far more than was meant to be seen in 16mm prints as opposed to 35mm theatrical prints.  Stuff appearing in frame, microphones, lights, bonus nudity not intended for public consumption etc. 

Now didn't that Plesiosaur demolish that same hut in reel one?  Interestingly, the crab puppet apparently started to fall apart during shooting, with some serious alterations needing to be made to said puppet in order to continue filming.  What started off as an eight legged crab soon became a six legged crab (but seriously, who's counting?).  That said, I think Jim's animation for the crab was outstanding.  The shot above comprises a painted sky, miniature structure to the right and model prop to the left, and what appears to be some glass painted detail around the edges of the hut and oar - probably to blend the rear projected people and full scale hut into the shot.  The post at right appears to be painted also, with the flames added as an additional in-camera element, probably carefully reflected onto a pane of glass.

A revealing look at Danforth's glass painting-rear projection animation set up for the crab sequence.  Jim is showing producer Aida Young how it all works, with (perhaps) Brian Lawrence watching on.  The foreground muddy beach and pool is entirely one of Jim's own glass paintings as the live scenes were shot in daylight on dry sand , so Jim painted wet stones, rocks and sand as if the tide had just gone out.  One of Aida's favourite expressions was "Time, Jim...time".

For a sequence showing our vivacious leading lady diving from a staggeringly high cliff into the sea, an elaborate matte painting was required to bring a vastness to the shot.  Jim painted the matte art and did a considerable amount of work in making it all come together, but the shot ended up not being used at all.  "The shot wasn't in the film, but not because of me" said Jim.  "I later did a lot of work on the painting and composite for this shot, but before I animated the dive, it was decided, by Aida or editor Peter Curran, that the shot was not necessary, and in the end just a closer angle of an actual live action dive was filmed in England as a 'pick up' shot".  In his detailed account of the filming of WDRtE in Dinosaurs, Dragons and Drama, Jim explained:  "This is a faded test frame of the almost finished painted cliff with it's ceremonial stones, from which I would have animated Sanna diving. The sky and water are real.  I also made a shot of blowing dust to superimpose over this scene suggesting the winds that accompanied the birth of the moon.  I think this shot could have added a lot of mood and grandeur to the film".      *Image from Dinosaurs, Dragons and Drama

But wait, there's more! ... Just when you think it's safe to go back in the water! ... We're gonna need a bigger boat!  Our suave and debonair leading caveman, Robin Hawdon, is sent on some rather unenviable Viking style burning pyre - and that was a million years before the Vikings came up with it!  Well, if the burning pyre isn't bad enough (and I'm sure it is), a Tylosaurus makes its presence known.  There is a bit of a scuffle, some bruised egos and name calling but I can assure you that both man and beast eventually turned the other cheek and let bygones be bygones.  Miniature Tylosaurus, animated in front of a process plate of actual sea as a split screen composite, with Hawdon filmed separately on a Shepperton stage in front of a blue backing.  Composited by Dick Dimbleby at Technicolor, UK.

The great Tsunami arrives and all hell breaks loose (main picture).  Actually this is an old Paramount effects shot made by Gordon Jennings originally for the 1940 movie TYPHOON (upper right) which was Oscar nominated for the effects; then it was recycled by George Pal for WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951) which won the sfx Oscar that year (lower right).  It possibly appeared in other films too.  Probably the only effects shot to be in Oscar consideration no less than three times over some thirty years, with WDRtE also being nominated for best special effects.  You heard it here first!
As the film nears it's conclusion, we have the so called 'New World' shot - named as such no doubt as our raggedy bunch of cave-person survivors find themselves literally washed atop a giant crag of rock by the thirty year old stock footage tsunami.  This beautiful matte shot went through several iterations before it ended up on screen like this.  Initially, Jim hired veteran freelance matte painter Peter Melrose to paint this, and other mattes.  Melrose had worked with Albert Whitlock and Cliff Culley in the old Rank-Pinewood matte department under Les Bowie, so had years of experience under his belt.  Due to contractual conflicts though, Peter didn't complete the painting, so Jim himself started a new glass shot himself, with this frame being the third and final version of the matte shot (the first version of which is shown below). Jim introduced 'slit gags' on the matte stand to simulate breaking waves on the painted rocks in the distance.

This frame is of the second version of the 'New World' shot, and was Jim's first attempt until it became apparent that for reasons of continuity, the shot wouldn't cut in to the very final shot of the film, so a new painting was in order to match Les Bowie's dramatic closing trick shot that had already been farmed out to Bowie Films.   *Image from Dinosaurs, Dragons and Drama

Betty, Barney, Wilma and Fred make the best of a bad situation.


Which brings us to the final, majestic shot in the film.  Les Bowie concocted this lovely vista completely as a multi-element in-camera trick shot, and on original negative.  The ocean, islands and night sky are all a Les Bowie painting on glass; The foreground rocks and plateau are a miniature set;  The waterfall is falling salt;  The people are real, and were photographed in unison with the matte art and model props and were in fact staging their actions some distance away on the stage and reflected in a carefully positioned mirror or 50/50 glass to appear to be within the setting.  All done as one shot, in-camera and true to the oldest forms of trick photography.  My only issue is that the perspective for the ocean seems way off and doesn't match the 'focal length' of the foreground.  It's worth noting that several modern day practitioners also used such ingenious set ups, and even on big sophisticated films.  The brothers Robert and Dennis Skotak have used this sort of gag in dozens of films like Francis Coppola's DRACULA, from the small to the epic, and taken home Academy Awards to boot for such shots on ALIENS.


No caption necessary....





11 comments:

  1. Marvelous work Pete. Thank you so much for all the work you put into these posts. I grew up watching many of the same films you did and it is a great pleasure to be able to learn so much more about them, all these years later. Cheers from CanberraPete :-)

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    1. Thanks for that mate, I'm so glad you liked it...or was it just the 'sheila's' that caught your eye??

      Pete

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  2. OfCourseNot! I only ever read Playboy - and your website - for the articles.... 8-D

    cheers, Petros

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  3. Superb, thanks again Pete, another winner!

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  4. I've been on a dinosaur movie kick lately and I have to say it was a grand pleasure to find that you were covering When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth. I've seen it once and thought it was fun in the way movies like this should be. But, as always, it's the magic that makes these movies.

    The one thing I notice in the shots is that they have a real fantasy feel. Movies seemed to have a more theatrical quality back then and for me that makes them far more memorable.

    Love that shot of Roger Dicken posing with the dinosaur models from The Land That Time Forgot.

    Keep up the great work.

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    1. Thanks Oscar,

      Yeah, that old pic of Roger is from an ancient UK monster mag I used to collect in the 1970's, though the title escapes me.

      Pete

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  5. Fantastic article! Thanks for your hrad work.
    --Ivan

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    1. You are more than welcome. Glad so many peole enjoyed it.

      Pete

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  6. I'm glad that WDRtE has gotten your full treatment. Poor Jim didn't get the respect that Ray Harryhausen got so he wasn't let in on the REAL budget and time constraints involved with the production or he would've told them NO on some of their plans. Also Val Guest didn't have Don Chaffey's experience in art direction so he didn't plan as well so Jim had to keep adding shots created almost out of whole cloth to punch up the film. He really delivered BUT he took the blame for the film going over budget. The movie isn't as good as was One Million Years BC but it sure wasn't Jim's fault. His stuff is extraordinary. Ray was actually pretty dammed fast and he didn't use anywhere near the number of matte paintings or bluescreen shots. Jim kept asking if there was the budget for all of this and the folks at Hammer kept assuring him that all was well so he kept on. The fanzine CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN described it as (as best as I can recall) "about as profound as ONE MILLION YEARS BC but boob-wise a lot bouncier." The effects ARE the movie and it might have been even more fun had Hammer allowed Jim to use more familiar (What? No T-rex or allosaurus?) dinosaurs. The film had TERRIBLE distribution in my part of the USA. Had I had the chance to see it on initial release I would've had a great time. I do get VERY tired of hearing them constantly shouting "Necro" and "Akita." At least Jim's stuff is the best stuff in the movie. I worked on JAWS 3-D and the effects were the worst part of that film.

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    1. Hi Spencer

      I always enjoy your communiques so much. As someone who has been in the business and worked at the coalface of photographic effects your comments and insider knowledge are most welcome here.

      All the best

      Pete

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  7. Hi Pete,

    Absolutely wonderful to see this entry!

    Jim's beautiful work on this film was and still is a huge milestone in the art and craft of motion picture visual effects.

    Thanks for making this review, it's great to see all the behind the scenes photos interspersed with the frame blow-ups.

    Mark

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