Photo 2: Of all the Spielberg projects I got to work on, Lincoln was probably the simplest for me. No futuristic spaceships to engineer, oversized dinosaurs to scale, entire cities to build. My job was to take all the existing civil war reference the research department collected, and turn it into small scale physical models for Steven to plan shots with. The first round of models were VERY simple, put together with purchased plastic soldiers and crude cardboard houses. We assembled the earliest versions, like this layout of Henry House Hill, where the battles of Bull Run were fought, on a block of foam in my backyard. I would carve the foam to match the contours that Steven and Production Designer Rick Carter were looking for, and Steven could place the figures around to see how the "landscape" would work.
Photo 3: As the scale and layout started to make more sense, I would elevate the detail of the model to make it more understandable to other crew members that were joining the production. By adding more soldiers, horses, wagons, trees, and a more accurate model of the house, people handling locations, extras, animal, stunts, and special effects could get a stronger sense of what Steven was looking for.
Photo 5: A slightly more complicated aspect of my job during pre-production involved recreating the original battle fields on the topography of the current filming locations. Many of the actual sites are historic landmarks, or have been severely altered, or are surrounded by modern structures that made filming too difficult. Production had to find other spans of land that had similar properties to the actual sites, and we added specific landmarks to make them more accurate. I used satellite photos and geographical maps to construct miniature landscapes that perfectly matched the locations production would rent for filming, then built all of the structures and miniature armies for Steven to move around for planning. Some of these models got pretty fancy. The one pictured on the left actually folded up like a briefcase so Steven could take it to set and use it as a table top model in the field!
Photo 6: As I mentioned, Lincoln was the last Spielberg release I worked on, and over the course of the 13 projects before it, I earned the unofficial title of "souvenir maker." Steven enjoyed my models so much, designers and producers started making sure that I made at least one piece that would be designated to the director's collection. These models always had purpose in the design process, but as the creation of them developed into a staple, the subject of the models usually became an element of the script that Steven was most excited about. For Lincoln, Rick Carter chose to set me loose on a diorama of the Battle of the Wilderness.
Photo 8: I always talk about my model work in a general sense, but I guess I should take this opportunity to clarify the various categorizes I have worked in. Concept model making is were I take film makers' ideas, either verbally or from concept illustrations, and bring them to physical dimension ( I used to say 3-dimensions, but these days everybody assumes that means CG!) as a model or maquette. Set design models are built from blueprints, usually unpainted, simple foamcore, often called "White Models". Screen Miniatures are fully detailed scale models used within the film to simulate larger structures or objects. A model such as this Battle of the Wilderness would be considered a presentation model, or as Producer Colin Wilson once called them, "ridiculously expensive toy trophies!".
Photo 12: The main reason I kept getting called onto Spielberg projects was the fact that Steven liked how quickly I could "sketch" in physical dimensions. Ordinarily, the design process would start with drawings, work into blue prints, then be made into white models. This could take days, often weeks, and sometimes months. Steven thinks very spacially, his camera work has lots of movement. Even the greatest illustrators (and he has ALL the greatest ones) are still only capturing a single frame of the film at a time. He likes to use models so he can see all the angles, and move around them to find the greatest way to convey the emotion of each shot. But he wanted models to look at BEFORE designs were done, so I was given the task of taking a small amount of information and jumping right to the final steps. This model of the town on Site B was the first model I built for Lost World, based on some short discussions and some napkin sketches Rick and Dave did over lunch. I worked non stop for 48 hours, and when Steven saw it, he ran into the office exclaiming, "Toys? For me!?!"
Photo 16: The best example of "sketch modeling" for Lost World is probably the lab. Rick gave me a magazine clipping of a dinosaur ribcage, and a photo of some curved tin roof from a Frank Lloyd Wright building or something. He liked the way the two items echoed each other, and wanted the lab to pull from both. The idea was that it was the highest tech money could by, but once the island claimed it back, it just became another fossil. I took the concept and just started building, using the photos and clippings as inspiration. The "sketch" was integrated into the town model, and finished to look like what you see in the final film. Once approved, the set designers actually drafted plans based on the model, which is completely reverse of the norm!
It was amazing to see the lab built full size on the Universal backlot. I felt like I had shrunk to 1//4 scale walking through the front doors. Every detail I had put in the miniature was matched full size. The set is still there, hidden behind the plane crash for War of the Worlds. Sadly, as life imitates art, the backlot is reclaiming the lab as its own, and it has deteriorated so badly that I can't imagine they will let it stand much longer.
Photo 22: I've mentioned in previous posts that it was Batman Forever that inspired me to start my merchandising company. By the time I was employed at Amblin/Dreamworks, Legends in 3 Dimensions was in full swing. I usually had works in progress, factory samples, or just my favorite pieces on my desk while I was working on Steven's films. One day while he was in to review some models, he noticed a bust of Greedo sitting there. He asked if I had done it, and I explained that it was part of my tribute to all my favorite sci-fi movies. He said, "Where's E.T.? George gets one and I don't?" I said, "Lucas gave me the license. Universal won't!" He picked up the phone on my desk and called someone, and the next day I was in a meeting about making this E.T. bust for the 20th anniversary collection.
Stanley Kubrick had left his final opus to Spielberg. Stanley had been developing A.I. Artificial Intelligence for twenty years, and wanted Steven to finish it. Steven idolized Stanley, as we all do, and was excited to start the project. But he owed Sony Memoirs, and Fox had Minority Report well underway. He knew the art department was key to keeping Stanley's vision, so he decided to have a to secret unit start working on the project before anyone even knew he was going to do it. The "untitled project" team consisted of myself, Rick Carter, illustrator Warren Manser, and my friend from New York, Glenn Urieta. Glenn came on to assist me with model building, and it was his first feature film. he had no idea that he would be one of only 5 people in the world to know what Spielberg was going to do next!
We spent the first few weeks in a private bungalow pouring through thousands of pages of notes, drawings, film clips, and research that Stanley had collected over the years. Chris Baker is a British concept artist that worked with Kubrick to develop a style for the world of AI, and we used his sketches and story boards as both a jumping point and an anchor as we progressed with the designs. An instant favorite of Chris's early work was the Rouge City Toll Bridge, which featured suspended road that spanned into tunnels running through women's heads!
Photo 33: Here's a similar angle of the final model. You can see some of the alterations and additions. You can also note the insane amount of miniature lighting that went into this presentation model. The marquee even has mini neon, which actually exists now, but in 1999 we had create it ourselves. Milk was also delivered to your door in glass bottles!
Photo 35: AI probably had more original city designs than any other movie ever. And each one had its own unique style. The most memorable one for sure was Rouge City, or Sex City. Every building was inspired by either breasts or phyllis. Stanley's original concepts were way crazy, like Clockwork Orange on EXTRA acid. But being that Spielberg represents a more family oriented audience, the breast count needed to be pared back. But Steven wasn't ready to let it go completely. We built multiple versions of this city in design model form, and Steven would pick out buildings he thought we could get away with. I remember him unveiling one model to Producer Kathleen Kennedy, who gasped, "Oh, Steven!" Spielberg shrugged and said, "Hey, it's Stanley's vision! The final version did not disappoint, thanks to the help of amazing concept illustrations like the above version done by the great Warren Manser.
Photo 41: I needed a break after AI, so I started working on my own projects. Selling a few scripts led me to taking on the role of Executive Producer for ABC's Power Rangers, and I found myself with a few months of free time as that production was gearing up. John Myhre had taken over Production Designer duties on Memoirs of a Geisha, which was now up and running, even though Spielberg would now only produce. John knew I was on the project the first time, so he asked me to come back and pick up were I had left off. The schedule was much tighter this time, so most of the models were made of foam core, but I incorporated the color printout technique used on Rouge City to make everything look more finished. This is the final model of the Okiya House.
Photo 42: The first time around, Steven was making preparations to film the exteriors in Kyoto, Japan, where most of the story takes place. This time, however, circumstances made it impossible to shoot over there, so we had to actually recreate the village of Kyoto in Valencia, California! It was a massive, magnificent set, and John and Art Director Tomas Voth deserve the Oscar they got for it. I never got to see filming take place, as I had to leave right after pre-production to direct Power Rangers: SPD in New Zealand.
I made this 1/4 scale Kyoto model with my friend and assistant Scot Erb. He took over for me after I left, and started heading up model departments such as Dream Girls and Tropic Thunder. He's watching the academy awards right now hoping to celebrate a win with his Life of Pi art department.
Power Rangers led me on the path of producing and directing, so even though I can't resist building a prop or set here and there, I haven't gone back to full time studio art department jobs. Memoirs was the last time I built models for Steven. Wait, what? I know what you are thinking. But I said Lincoln was the last of Spielberg's films I worked on, but it wasn't at the time I worked on it. I guess I left that part out.
That big presentation meeting I was talking about? The distributors who attended all agreed that there wouldn't be enough interest in a presidential bio-pic, even one directed by Steven Spielberg. So we shut down. In 1994! I was there as it went through changes, saw different actors discuss the lead role, including Liam Neeson and Harrison Ford. Steven switched projects, but he never gave up on Lincoln. Almost a decade later, he got it in those theaters, and there was plenty of interest. Oscar levels of interest. That's why I believe Spielberg deserves the Oscar for Best Director tonight. He did much more than bring a vision to the screen. he championed a dream and made it a reality. As our forefathers would want us all to do.
You have been an inspiration to me all of my life. It has been the greatest honor to work with you, and I am thankful that there is no end in sight to the entertainment you bring to this world.
Thank you, Mr. Spielberg