Wednesday 19 July 2017

Forgotten Gems of Visual Effects Part Three - THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974)

As a kid in the 1960's, I was shaped considerably by the numerous television shows of Irwin Allen, where much excitement, spectacle and out of this world adventure was to be had on a weekly basis.  I, like many of my readers I'm sure, grew up on things like VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, LOST IN SPACE, LAND OF THE GIANTS and THE TIME TUNNEL - 100% kid friendly escapism one and all with LOST IN SPACE being my favourite of the bunch.  Perhaps the only other television film maker of the day able to capture the mind and imagination of a young NZPete to the same extent would have been the great Gerry Anderson who's THUNDERBIRDS, STINGRAY, CAPTAIN SCARLET and UFO were the equivalent of an obsessive compulsion in viewing enjoyment.
T.I's Action Unit cinematographer Joe Biroc with Irwin Allen.

Irwin's shows were always a guarantee of grand spectacle (even though those vividly saturated colour schemes were only ever broadcast here in New Zealand in good ole' b&w until the mid 1970's when colour and a second channel came in!).  Irwin loved special effects and his programs were ample showcases for all manner of trick photography.  Miniatures, matte paintings, optical effects, split screens, crazy assed monsters and always those gratuitous explosions, often for no apparent reason other than to thrill kids like me to bits.  Those wacky, over the top electrical explosions with sparks and flashes showering all over the actors just blew my mind, especially when Allen introduced his crazy 'rock n' roll' camera with the cast swaying this way and that as the camera sways in tandem, suggesting the whole set of the Seaview or the Jupiter II was about to flip over!  Insane, but essential, as were those dramatically scored cliffhanger endings where we had to wait a whole god damned week to see what happened to the Space Family Robinson in LOST IN SPACE or David Hedison and pals onboard that wonderful VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA submarine.... Entertaining like nothing else of the era.  Great days!!
Effects wizard Bill Abbott at left with Irwin and Mrs Allen.

These shows were the first that drew my attention to 'special photographic effects', with the name L.B Abbott (and sometimes Howard Lydecker) always up on the screen during those end credits.  Abbott's name stuck with me as it was pretty rare to even see an effects credit back then on screen, especially on TV.  I'd often see John P. Fulton's name on re-runs of older Paramount and Universal pictures, which made Fulton a "name" trick shot star to me as well.  These gentlemen certainly managed to gain my attention back in the day.

As a producer and occasional director, Irwin turned out many feature films over the years, often with a bent toward grandiose spectacle such as THE STORY OF MANKIND, THE LOST WORLD, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE SWARM and the dire WHEN TIME RAN OUT (aka THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED).  Allen was the last of the 'showmen', from an era where flamboyantly shameless promotion and mass media gimmicks were the norm to sell one of these 'event' pictures.

FX chief Lenwood Ballard Abbott
I used to work for the NZ office of Warner Bros. from the late 1970's for several years and I can remember the huge and often outrageous publicity campaigns orchestrated by the production sales department in Burbank in order to promote these sorts of films.  The pressbooks alone were jam packed with often ludicrous gimmicks that would even put a shonky used car salesman's dubious modus operandi to shame,  Some of Irwin's latter films such as BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and WHEN TIME RAN OUT were tired excuses for a night at the movies, with even the distributors and exhibitors realising that Irwin-esque box office magic had in fact had it's day.

THE TOWERING INFERNO, the tale of a disastrous fire on opening night in the world's tallest (fictional) building in San Francisco, - the 138 story Glass Tower - was indeed a box office smash and I vividly remember seeing it on the huge screen at Auckland's Cinerama theatre back on it's initial run.  The mighty Cinerama (long gone to sadly be replaced with an awful, characterless, 'modern' and ultimately failed muliplex, which has also been mothballed, and not a moment too soon) was the gig for all of the big films, usually at Christmas Holiday period which is our peak movie release time in this part of the world in which only the most worthwhile movies in terms of guaranteed seat filling-queue around the block cinematic events.

Not one but two separate novels - The Glass Inferno and The Tower -  provided the basis for THE TOWERING INFERNO screenplay.  If that weren't enough, not one but two major studios joined forces to produce the film - 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros, each of whom were racing to get their own burning skyscraper epic off the drawing board - with the former providing studio space and soundstage facilities and the latter handling worldwide distribution.  I don't know if Warners provided any studio production space.  Some $15 million was spent on this film (double that of competitor Universal's modestly budgeted EARTHQUAKE that same year). THE TOWERING INFERNO certainly had the look of a hefty price tag affair when viewed up on the big screen. Kudos belong to Production Designer William Creber and co-Directors of Photography Fred Koenekamp and Joseph Biroc for the great look and texture of the film.

I was, and remain, a sucker for 70's disaster movies.  I saw 'em all back in the day and eagerly awaited the next one.  Some were good and some were pretty bad.  I loved TOWERING INFERNO then and have seen it countless times since and I'd still regard it as one of, if not the best from the genre.  Tight helmsmanship from director John Guillermin maintained a good pace and surprisingly fast clip for a two and a half hour plus feature.  Producer Irwin Allen co-directed, handling all of the action set pieces, with the finished result not for a moment suggestive of alternate directors.  The disaster genre was generally prone to stock characters, sugary sub-plots and 'oh give me a break' back stories, though to it's credit this film generally manages to keep that flotsam and jetsam to a relative minimum with any extraneous fluff quickly overtaken with scenes of frighteningly intense peril, fire fighting and rescue.  I loved the fact that the fire fighting stuff was totally real and closely guided by actual fire rescue people, much as another disaster film a few years later, AIRPORT 77 did with a knuckle biting ocean rescue carried out on screen largely by the actual Coast Guard and US Navy utilising real procedures and personnel.

Who gets top billing? - Paper, Scissors, Rock.
The casting can make or break any film as we know, with INFERNO's cast being great.  Leads Paul Newman and Steve McQueen were superstars and perfectly cast, with the often under-rated McQueen in particular being superb.  I recall the promotional materials for the film very specifically spelling out just how these two top stars must be billed on all advertising as both felt they deserved top billing.  Very explicit memos from Warners head office dictated Newman's name exactly the same size as McQueen's but Steve's billing first to the left and Paul's billing second but slightly higher up (thus before McQueen's credit in effect ... or not?) by precise measure on all the ad art and one sheets than Steve!  A veritable megastar pissing contest me thinks.

William Holden faces off with a questionable Richard Chamberlain
Other key cast members were the always excellent William Holden and a most loathsome Richard Chamberlain - each in strong roles - and the glamourous Faye Dunaway, somewhat under utilised as a flimsy sort of love interest with not a lot to do aside from look cute.  Interestingly, Dunaway had a run of great films in the 70's with the sensational thriller THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR and the utterly brilliant blacker than black satire NETWORK (co-starring again with William Holden in definitive career best performances for both actors) being two of my all time favourites, though as usual, I digress.
Many other name stars also feature such as Fred Astaire and Robert Wagner.  Supporting cast are also good with even a certain now notorious O.J Simpson carrying his thespian weight rather well.  He ain't no Orson Welles but he did okay.  Established character actor Don Gordon - long time pal and costar of Steve McQueen is on board as are Dabney Coleman and one of my fave 70's support players Felton Perry (great in Clint Eastwood's MAGNUM FORCE as well as a particular guilty favourite of mine, the ass kicking, jive talking, revenge blaxploitation cheapie SUDDEN DEATH with Robert Conrad... a real hoot and then some! ... there I go digressing yet again)

L.B Abbott & A.D Flowers at the TORA Oscar ceremony.
The special visual effects naturally play a large part in the film's success, with longtime Irwin Allen collaborator L.B 'Bill' Abbott being an essential member of the production team.  Lenwood Ballard Abbott had been in the motion picture business since the late 1920's as an assistant cameraman and would go on to have a life long career at 20th Century Fox as special effects cinematographer under Fred Sersen, Ralph Hammeras and Ray Kellogg.  Bill would work on hundreds of films, eventually assuming the headship of the effects department in 1957 when Kellogg left to pursue a career in direction and 2nd unit work.  Abbott would stay with Fox until they closed down their effects department, at which time he would freelance on many pictures.  Among his key credits were his Oscar winning work on TORA!, TORA!, TORA!, JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH and LOGAN'S RUN.  Bill was a four time Oscar winner for best visual effects, though oddly TOWERING INFERNO wasn't in the running.
The other vital member of the production was Oscar winning mechanical effects man A.D Flowers.  A.D, whose actual name was Adlia Douglas Flowers, was another old time veteran with a career dating back to the late 1930's at Metro Goldwyn Mayer where he worked as part of A.Arnold Gillespie's special effects department on such classics as THE WIZARD OF OZ, 30 SECONDS OVER TOKYO, GREEN DOLPHIN STREET and many more.  Later achievements would include such films as THE GODFATHER and the gargantuan project that was APOCALYPSE NOW.  Some of Flowers' finest work can be seen in Steven Spielberg's 1941 where he would work with frequent associate Logan Frazee devising and constructing remarkable wire rigged aerial miniature dogfights and various other sequences which would see Flowers nominated for best special effects.  For the whole rundown on the phenomenal trick work in 1941, click here to view my extensive article.

Matte painter Matthew Yuricich
Other technical staff included matte artist Matthew Yuricich who'd already had a long association with Bill Abbott from their days together at Fox through the early 1950's under Fred Sersen.  For such a big film the number of matte paintings required were relatively small.  In addition, Abbott hired another old Fox effects associate, optical cinematographer Frank Van der Veer to assemble the numerous blue screen composite shots. For the full story on Matt Yuricich's fascinating life and film career, check out my exclusive oral history from the man himself by clicking here.

So, let us take a look at one of most successful and memorable event films from the 1970's.


Under Bill Abbott's supervision, technicians and craftsmen built a very large miniature - some 70 feet in height - representing the 138 floor Glass Tower in the Sersen Lake at the 20th Century Fox Ranch, in Malibu, California.
An original storyboard and photographs by Production Illustrator Joe Musso demonstrate the scale of the project with not just one skyscraper being required but also the fictional neighbouring building as well, for it too would play an important role in the ensuing drama.
The 'open' reverse side of the Glass Tower highlights the network of gas piping supplying flame jets as well as water pipework for the spectacular climax sequence.
Another Joe Musso photograph taken of the finished miniatures at the Fox Ranch.
One of Bill Abbott's camera crew adjusts the mirror set up utilised in photographing the skyscraper model from as low a vantage point as possible, as viewed by Fred Astaire in an early scene.

Bill Abbott operates the camera for the mirror up view.
Some of Production Illustrator Joe Musso's storyboards.  Joe would pursue a long career in motion picture illustration, occasionally branching out into matte painting on projects such as FLESH GORDON and others.

                                   THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974)

Special Photographic Effects:                  L. B Abbott, ASC
Mechanical Effects:                                  A. D Flowers & Logan Frazee
Optical Cinematography:                        Frank Van der Veer
Matte Artist:                                             Matthew Yuricich
Special Effects Men:                                 Fred Kramer, Johnny Borgese, Gerald Endler, 
                                                                    Gary King, Jay King, Paul Wurtzel


...and rightly so ... a special breed.

The big reveal ... building architect Paul Newman flies over San Francisco and there she is. John Williams' stirring score sells the shot superbly too.
A sensational effects shot where the Glass Tower and adjacent tower The Peerless Building have been matted flawlessly into an actual San Francisco cityscape.  The (real) helicopter flies across the skyline with precise frame by frame rotoscoping for the few frames where the chopper passes in front of the matte painted skyscrapers.  The enlargement at lower right allows us to see the roto matte at work though the building does bleed through.  In motion nobody ever notices this and the shot is indeed a dandy if ever there were one.  Note:  There is some confusion about the elements.  Matt Yuricich once mentioned  this as a matte painting while Abbott wrote of the buildings being miniatures in his memoir.  Probably the latter.
If there is one thing that all of Irwin Allen's shows have in common it's this ... endless boards of flashing lights.
Fred Astaire arrives for the grand party and looks up in astonishment at the glass and steel marvel before him.
Party time... let's light her up.  The Glass Tower comes to life.
The lights come on as seen from afar.  Probably the large scale miniatures matted in.

Same scene as viewed from across the bay.  Abbott shot the city plates at magic hour in order to get enough reflected light to make the busy illuminated skyline visible.  Later on once the miniatures were ready, Bill placed the camera in the correct position out at the Fox Ranch and used a line up clip of the city plate in the camera's viewing tube, carefully framed so that the miniature buildings would be in just the right position when they were matted into the shot
A beautiful effects shot with miniature elevator ascending the tower.
I must make mention of the first rate stunt work as coordinated by Paul Stader.  Of the many scenes of people on fire, this one caught viewers completely off guard and caused a collective 'gasp' in the cinema when I first saw the film.  A superbly filmed and edited scene that hits hard.
The protective suit, hood, mask and gloves worn by Norman Burton's stunt double are evident in this frame, but not visible in the actual sequence.
Miniature destruction, half inch scale.
An out take from the above shot showing effects crew quickly extinguishing the flames for a re-take.

Full scale on set physical effects by A.D Flowers and Logan Frazee
Fire chief Steve McQueen gives it his all.

Out take from Bill Abbott's fx camera.
Most of the closer in shots of pyrotechnic carnage were photographed by remote control using the Snorkel Camera Crane, largely for reasons of safety.
Panic stricken revellers making a hasty exit from the Rooftop Promenade Ballroom aren't aware that their elevator has stopped at the 81st floor where a raging inferno incinerates all.  A frightening scene that also drew an audible 'gasp' from the packed Cinerama theatre when I saw this back in 1975.  The people here were protected by a special perspex barrier.

Seeing the conflagration enveloping the crowded elevator, McQueen attempts in vain to extinguish the inferno, but to no avail.
The elevator eventually arrives at the lobby where the one survivor staggers out.  Another in your face shock moment that left quite an impression on me and others back in the day.  Paul Stader was Irwin Allen's long time stunt coordinator.

Generally, the fx scenes were photographed at 72 fps.

The rather lovely Susan Flannery is doubled here in a fire gag, again with the protective attire clearly visible (and a most curious hand covering the face to conceal stunt person).
The small flare you can see is the miniature puppet of Susan Flannery falling to her untimely death.  Photographed with the Snorkel Camera Crane.
Steve McQueen ... died far too young.  Steve's friend and frequent co-star Dan Gordon just passed away the other day aged around 90.  Great character actor of many a film.
In his Oral History Matthew Yuricich In His Own Words, which I published in this blog in 2012, Matthew spoke very highly of L.B Abbott, with whom he had worked on a great many motion pictures.  "Bill was the First Cameraman, and Director of all Effects Photography at Fox when I was there and he later became head of department and he did some really amazing stuff....he knew the technical end of it all backwards and forwards."  "He was such a nice man, I'll tell you ... the nicest guy I've ever worked with.  He was a great guy to work for ... he helped everybody.  Bill was responsible for me getting an Academy Award of course (for LOGAN'S RUN), and for getting me a screen credit too."

Bill Abbott wrote about the film's many effects in his invaluable memoir Special Effects-Wire, Tape and Rubber Band Style.  "The half inch scale of the tower miniature made it mandatory that the fires be in half inch scale too.  Small scale miniature fires are notoriously unsatisfactory; they are lazy and transparent".  Abbott explained "We decided that any use of flammable liquids would be far too dangerous and that we would have to use gases.  Behind each window we built a metal firebox 8 inches deep with openings 6 inches square.  Each box contained 3 jets, one emitting butane gas, one emitting acetylene gas and one emitting air.  Each gas jet was equipped with a spark plug ignitor.  Butane gas makes a slightly blue coloured flame and no smoke; acetylene gas makes an orange coloured flame and produces black smoke.  With this combination we could adjust the valves to get the proper colour and amount of smoke.  The air jet was used to agitate the flame action".
During a rescue attempt a gas leak blasts out the fire escape stairway leaving Newman dangling a hundred stories up.  A minimal set was augmented by a Matthew Yuricich matte painting that stretched into near infinity.  The matte art was added in under Newman by means of the blue screen travelling matte process by Frank Van der Veer.

Abbott wrote:  "After some three days of testing we came up with a formula that produced very acceptable half inch scale fires when photographed at 72 frames per second.  Overcranking was necessary because we knew some of the scenes would have falling dummies and water action."

Another death defying view courtesy of Matthew Yuricich's paint brush as Paul Newman clambers across the abyss that is the Glass Tower's ventilation shaft.

Our hero has again been matted into the shot via blue screen with excellent results.

A curious one this.  This birds eye view looks to me like a painted matte?

An excellent piece of in camera miniature visual effects cinematography that still convinces all these decades on.  Computers be damned.

In this important and shattering sequence the rescue services attempt to land a chopper on the roof top amid strong winds.  Panic ensues and a bunch of hysterical women rush the chopper causing immediate mayhem.  No visual effects but an unforgettable mechanical effects set up by A.D Flowers and Logan Frazee. Note the 'fake' looking mock up chopper in the pyro frames which is only really evident here in freeze frame and appears entirely convincing in the final cut due to quick edits and alternate cameras.
Stunt players roast marshmallows.

It's getting worse... the building's too tall for conventional fire fighting.  McQueen's character early on emphatically states to Newman "You know our equipment can only reach 15 floors at most, but you guys keep on building these higher and higher" to which Newman responds "Hey, are you here to take me on or the fire?"   Great exchange courtesy of screenwriter Stirling Silliphant.
McQueen and crew tackle a very deep lift shaft...  Not sure how this shot was set up?

... and a burning fireman suddenly plunges past to his death.  

The Navy send in helicopters to try something new.  Miniature chopper here.

A close look at the miniature helicopter.

A superb effects shot by Bill Abbott photographed with the video equipped (new at the time) Snorkel Camera Crane to allow instant playback.  The camera system had remote control pan and tilt as well as focus, all of which was managed by Abbott from ground level in the Sersen Lake where the miniatures were set up.  Everything here is miniature - the tower, the chopper and all of the background buildings.  Terrific shot.

Elaborate full miniature set up where a 'breeches buoy' cable and rescue chair are strung between the two skyscrapers as a means to hoist people down one at a time.

Foreground set of the Peerless roof with actors; background is the burning miniature doubled in via the blue screen travelling matte method.

One of my favourite shots in the show - a dizzying downview with a somewhat reluctant survivor fastened into the breeches buoy and cabled across to the adjacent building.  The actor and buoy are blue screened into the miniature plate.

Success - but it'll take all night at this rate.  We'll need a better plan.

After a grave mishap with the outdoor scenic elevator, Fire Chief McQueen will be suspended on the chopper cable to attempt a rescue...  Blue screen shot here.

The view from the top is actually a vast scenic backing painted by Gary Coakley at 20th Century Fox.  This is part of a 340 foot wide cyclorama.  Bill Abbott wrote: "The flickering lights and subtle sparkle on the water were achieved by punching small holes in the backing and placing small quartz lights three feet behind them.  The shimmer on the water was simulated by cutting slightly curly slits in the backing and hanging silk strips behind the backing.  The strips were lit from a few feet behind and 'activated' gently by fans".

Steve McQueen atop the damaged elevator holds on desperately to fellow fire fighter Ernie Orsati as the entire rig is slowly lowered by chopper cable.  Miniature background with live action foreground blue screened as one.

Keep holding on mate ... just 200 feet more.
Dramatic downview with McQueen and Orsati blue screened into background plate, with Orsati dropping into a fire service airbag - successfully.

Irwin just loved explosions!  The guy was a frustrated pyromaniac in an earlier life me thinks.

In his memoir, Bill Abbott wrote:  "We needed some footage showing the fire consuming the tower.  We spent a considerable amount of time adjusting the valves controlling the gas and air pressure on each floor.  Unfortunately, when we turned the whole system on, the ignitors didn't work immediately.  After about 10 seconds they did work and there was one hell of a big explosion.  This cut was used more times on TV spots and trailers than any scene I've ever been involved in.  When the explosion occurred, a lot of debris fell from the building.  I was standing adjacent to one of the cameras and was so awed at the explosion that I didn't see my personal menace coming.  A four inch by four foot piece of L-shaped metal imbedded itself in an upright attitude about six inches from my right foot.  Fortunately nobody was hurt.  From then on we made it a point to have a roof over our heads."

Ahhhh, yes - the best visual effects shot in the picture.  I love this one!  All miniature of course.

Plan B (... or is it 'C'?) consists of blowing open the vast water tanks in the roof space in the hope that the deluge will extinguish the out of control fire.  Newman knows just where to set the charges while McQueen has the demolition experience.  This shot is a partial actual setting greatly extended with Matthew Yuricich matte art. There were just two giant water tanks initially, with Yuricich painting in the rest plus generator equipment on the right.
Miniature roof tanks explode...

The cast are securely strapped in as the tanks on the floor above rupture and unleash a massive deluge.

Part of the floor caves in and causes havoc to the Promenade Room beneath...

"Raindrops are fallin' on my head...." - Sorry, wrong Paul Newman flick.  A.D Flowers set up enormous dump tanks above the actors and stunt guys, with four tanks each containing some 800 gallons of water.  The physical effects crew also blasted high pressure water hoses to complete the effect.

The experiment works!  A vast cascade of water dulls the flames (though completely buggers the wallpaper and carpets). Water is notoriously difficult to 'miniaturise', though Abbott was probably the best in the business when working with water in model settings, with so many amazing marine effects shots made at Fox during his many years there.

The floodwaters wash a few stuntmen out the windows to their doom, but we always knew those secondary 'no name' background performers weren't gonna make it, now didn't we?  Just like the old STAR TREK tv series... whenever Kirk or Spock beamed down to some planet with some extraneous secondary performer, we just knew that poor son of a bitch wasn't going to make it back to the Starship Enterprise!

And so endeth the inferno

The fantastic one sheet poster.  I had one of these on my bedroom wall in the mid 70's, along with various others such as EARTHQUAKE, GRIZZLY, POSEIDON ADVENTURE, ENTER THE DRAGON, JAWS etc etc.


  1. Thank you, this is great. I remember seeing this in 1974, so I would have been nine. Great film,and the SPFX are first rate. One thing you didn't mention is that the cyclorama view from the top of the Glass Tower was later used in was later used in Star Trek II (1982) and III (1984) as the view outside Admiral Kirk’s San Francisco apartment – apparently this was built in the same location 312 years later. From this, we can deduce that Kirk lives at 655 Market Street, San Francisco, CA, on the 135th floor.

    1. Hi David

      Ha! That is definitely cool! Another factoid for the Trekkie fans to ponder at length.
      Glad you enjoyed it.


  2. Very enjoyable piece on Towering Inferno. I enjoyed the spectacle but the constant mixing of soap opera plots with disaster of these 70's movies, like Earthquake, Inferno, etc, tended to get on my nerves. When you're young, you just want to get to the spectacle.

    Still, it's always a pleasure to see behind the scenes images of miniatures being photographed and to read the stories of those involved.

    1. Thanks Oscar,
      Yeah I know what you mean. The 'padding' in some of these flicks can be a bit much, with AIRPORT 75 and the awful AIRPORT 79-THE CONCHORD being a prime examples. At least INFERNO's initial fire in the store room happened pretty fast so we knew things were definitely taking a turn.


  3. I've been browsing pages on your site looking at miniature effects work, and old school vfx techniques, I'm an indie video director myself and while I do a lot of modern 3d animation I do have a soft spot for real-world traditional elements and like to have something real in the mix just to keep the audience unsure of how things were done.

    I started looking through your links to other VFX sites and I'm asking you to remove the 'Catastrophe in the Movies' link as it is no longer valid - has been replaced with some unexpected page claiming that your computer's just been infected by a Trojan/worm and that you should call some suspicious number claiming to be Microsoft. The warning, it turned out after a bit of research on a tablet, is BS, you can actually kill your browser in this case with task manager and your PC will still work fine. No virus as claimed as far as I could tell from Norton/Avira. Still checking though. All the same, I strongly recommend you [the webmaster] remove that link.

    1. Thanks for the info Matthew. I'll delete that one now. Those S.O.B's will try anything these days, and if I had a dollar for every Indian " tech support" guy from "Microsoft" who calls me my home telling me my machine is in dire need of a remedy of some sort, I'd be rich. Bastards!


  4. Excellent article and subject, Pete!
    I wanted to point out that there are actually two miniatures of the Glass Tower used in the movie. The first is the "full building" miniature that you have such excellent BTS stills of. The other miniature was built to a larger scale and consisted of only the top 40 or so floors. This is the model they used in any of the shots involving the miniature choppers and breeches buoy etc., where it's all in the frame together. I'd say the majority of your frame grabs utilize this model, as it was needed whenever the camera got very very close to the building.
    If you pay close attention to the scale of the flames and the water in any given shot, you can tell which miniature they're using.

    The weird thing is that, in the 43 years since the movie opened, I've never seen a single behind the scenes still of the larger scale miniature. Not one. Only publicity stills and frame grabs. I only know it exists because Abbott etc. have talked about it, and like I said, you can see two different scales if you really obsess over the footage.

    1. Hi Rick

      Always good to have a real effects guy communicate here.
      Yes, you are right on that. Abbott did in fact mention it in his book as a half inch scale model and a one and a half inch scale separate partial miniature which I overlooked when I wrote it up.
      I think the image I included of fx guys up a cherry picker with fire extinguishers up close to the smoking windows edge is the model you refer to.


  5. My favorite movie so naturally, this is my all-time favorite article! Thank you for another fantastic post Pete!

    1. Thanks're most welcome my friend.
      Also thank you for those interesting photos you sent me of your very own Glass Tower miniature tribute.


  6. Terrific article as usual, Pete. I too was way into the disaster movies of the 70s - wanted to be a special effects tech, made a few attempts with an 8mm camera. Eventually started buying disaster movie soundtracks... and eventually became a musician and composer. And I still run these old disaster flicks on my iPhone while working in the garage shop!

    1. Hi Matso

      Same story here. Wanted to be an effects guy too but all I ever did was Super 8 "epics', one of which was based on Earthquake though with all other disasters also thrown into the mix too!

      Also collected many a vinyl soundtrack back in the day.

      I am however dumbfounded as to (a) how anyone could own an 'iphone', and (b) how the hell one could watch a movie on one of those stupid toys!
      It's 55 inch LCD and nothing less in my house.


    2. Heh. I don't watch 'em on the phone, I just run the audio through a Bluetooth speaker and listen to it! For actual viewing it's definitely the big screen in the living room.

    3. Phew, glad to hear that!
      Some people actually view this splendid blog on those darned contraptions, to my eternal sadness and utter disbelief.


  7. Pete,first of all fantastic work as usual. Now a question if allowed. Are you planning on doing a 007 special any time in the future ?

    thanks, William

    1. Hi William

      Firstly, thanks for the thumbs up on my latest article. Always appreciated.
      Re-Bond - well, I had thought about it from time to time, though most (if not all) of the 007 mattes have been illustrated in various past blogs. You will however see all of Al Whitlock's DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER matte shots - as crisp BluRay caps no less - in a forthcoming mammoth collection of every Whitlock shot I could lay my hands on.


  8. Pete thanks for the reply. Looking forward to the next installment as always.


  9. This movie is incredibly well done! The special effects are spectacular. Too bad the SFX were overshadowed by the great Oscar-winning SFX in the mediocre "Earthquake". The cast was amazing as well. I loved the chemistry between Fred Astaire and Jennifer Jones. That was such a sad ending for them though, I wanted to cry. Also, I love John Williams's Oscar-nominated score in this, and it was a year before the score that made him an instant celebrity in music, his Oscar-winning score for "Jaws". Glad that "The Towering Inferno" was nominated for best picture that year, and even though it had no chance against "The Godfather Part II", it is still a great disaster film.

  10. Hi Pete ! I follow your blog on a regular basis and I'm always amazed by your research work and your extensive knowledge about SFX ! We must be from the same generation, because I saw The Towering Inferno when it was released, back in 1974. I too had the poster in my bedroom and of course I bought the soundtrack album with the magnificent John Williams score !
    Loved your post, however I'm not sure that the Susan Flannery scene is stunt work. I think it was a dummy, which explains why the victim covers her eyes. I'm not sure, but I read something about it in a book about special effects (I guess it was "Movie Magic", by John Brosnan).
    I wrote a post about The Towering Inferno on my blog (albeit in French), let me know if you're interested.
    Keep up the good work !
    Greetings, d.

    1. Thanks so much for those comments. We must be of 'similar vintage' and share an appreciation of these so-called old films and methods.
      Yes, I would like to see your blog, though my French (last learned in Intermediate school in 1975!) is all but forgotten.
      I'm sure Google can translate the post through some sort of 'magic'.



    2. Here is the link, Pete !
      Hope you enjoy it !
      Best regards, d.

  11. Love this one! Matte Shots is amazing!

  12. This is one of my favorites. My father I was told as a child worked on this picture in special effects. I was hoping there was anyone still living that may have worked with him or recognize his name. Nick Carey

  13. the one shot looking straight down when the women are crossing using the Breeches Buoy, is that a mirrored shot? The triangular section of the skyscraper should be on the left side of the scenic elevator tracks, but in that shot, its on the right side.

  14. Very extensive mammoth article on a mammoth film,thanks ,just one thing what hasn't been coverd is box office gross of this block buster,can we see a added article on how much the movie made in each country

  15. Box office tallies are outside the scope (and interest) of this blog, though from my days working in the distribution side here in NZ years ago I can report that Inferno was a HUGE hit worldwide.
    You can always search online for details.


  16. This is going to sound crazy, but I wish the red detonator clock with the black second hand that was used in the scene when Newman and McQueen secure the detonating wires to it was still in existence somewhere. I'd like to have it.