Q+A: "The Terminator" FX Artist / "Land of the Lost" TV Director Ernest Farino

Ernest Farino is an double Emmy winner for visual effects who, as a television director, worked on episodes of the cult favorite series, Land of the Lost. But did you know on The Terminator, he pushed to hire Linda Hamilton and worked with real electricity for scenes where the Terminator and Reese arrive from the future? Read on in an amazing interview created for you Terminator fans and aspiring visual effects artists, and enjoy the beyond incredible imagery provided by Mr. Farino!

I just interviewed Mark Sawicki about his first time reading The Terminator script. He said he thought it would be a hit right away. What caught your attention most with the storytelling?

I don’t know that there was anything specific about the storytelling that jumped out at me, just that the script was exceptionally well-written and read the way the movie plays. I had first met Jim Cameron a year or two earlier at Roger Corman’s studio on Galaxy of Terror. I was head of the animation/rotoscope department on that film and among other tasks, designed various animated computer screen readouts, heavily influenced by the computer displays in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Jim was taken with my computer readout effects in particular, as I recall, so when it came time to do The Terminator I was one of the first two people to be given the script (as he told me). I put off reading it for a couple of days but, knowing he wanted my feedback, I finally sat down at 10pm on a Thursday night and started in. About two hours later I was nearing the end and whipping through those last pages at the pace of the movie itself. Like Mark Sawicki, I, too, knew there was something pretty terrific there.

Terminator_01.jpg

Did anything turn out wildly different from the script reading to the finished film you worked on?

Not really. The only thing I can think of, probably since it was directly connected to the work I did on the film, was that Jim had written a different main title sequence. He described a 2001-like “slit-scan” tunnel effect to suggest Arnold’s travel through time back to 1984. That idea remained for quite some time until I gradually formed the basic concept for the main title as it appears in the film. I pitched that idea to Jim and he quickly embraced it and we revised the opening to work the way it is now.

Frames from title sequence to   Tag–The Assassination Game  , including Linda Hamilton.

Frames from title sequence to Tag–The Assassination Game, including Linda Hamilton.

Was the story in the end the way you imagined it on the page?

Yes, I’d say so. Details are always altered or revised or adjusted on any film once it gets into physical production, but, without having gone back to look at the script recently and compare, I’d say the film adhered to the script pretty closely.

Wasn’t this your second film featuring Linda Hamilton?

Previously, I had designed and created an elaborate main title sequence for Tag—The Assassination Game in 1982. I was able to tap in to my James Bond influences and made certain segments an homage to Maurice Binder’s Bond titles (complete with “ripple” titles and a generic “Bond girl” inside the gun silhouette). The main title won at the 25th International Film & TV Festival of New York.

Later, Jim mentioned that he was considering casting Linda Hamilton for The Terminator and asked me if I had ever seen her in anything. I said, “You bet!” I gave him a handful of nice “film noir”-style photos of Linda that had been provided to me for the TAG main title. So I like to think that I had something of a hand in launching Linda Hamilton’s career…

Linda Hamilton

Linda Hamilton

Linda Hamilton in  The Terminator

Linda Hamilton in The Terminator

Linda Hamilton in  The Terminator

Linda Hamilton in The Terminator

The “electric arcing” effects appear to be real, rather than animated.

Yes, rather than use drawn animation, which had always struck me as less than effective in other films over the years, I had heard that a fellow named Ed Angell had acquired the original Tesla Coil equipment built by Kenneth Strickfaden for the original Frankenstein labs in the classic Universal horror films of the 1930s. I tracked down Ed and we made a deal to rent his equipment.

We set up at Fantasy II Film Effects in Burbank. Fantasy II, run by Gene Warren Jr., who had the contract to do the miniatures effects for The Terminator, the stop motion robot, etc. I had an office in the Fantasy II building, and, having worked with Gene and his optical department on several projects since Galaxy of Terror, (including the optical compositing of my main title for Tag—The Assassination Game, rotoscope animation effects for Gene’s work on the Dan Curtis miniseries The Winds of War, the opening title sequence for a short-lived series called The Powers of Matthew Star), I recommended Gene and Fantasy II to Jim for The Terminator. Gene ended up with the overall contract for the visual effects. In the 1960s Gene’s father, Gene Warren Sr., had been a partner in a company called Project Unlimited and had won an Oscar® for The Time Machine in 1960, as well as having created visual effects for many other films.

So we set up the Tesla Coil electrodes at Fantasy II and Jim came by that day to watch the filming of the electrical arcing elements. We filmed against black velvet in order to isolate the electrical arcs for superimposing over the live action backgrounds. I had worked out a method by which I rotoscoped the live action scenes onto clear animation cels. (Rotoscoping is the method by which film is projected through the camera on the animation stand onto paper or cels in order to precisely trace the elements in the live action scene). After inking black outlines onto clear cels of, say, the shots of the garbage truck in the opening scene of Terminator’s “arrival,” I could then hang each cel in front of our camera on the stage and, while looking through the camera, position the Tesla Coil electrodes so the electrical arc would start and end at specific physical points in the scene. Once the electrodes were in place, we’d swing the lineup cel out of the way and film the electrical arcing. Very basic and “old school,” but it worked quite nicely. I also shot “generic” lightning strikes and electrical patterns to lay in over the scenes as needed.

Then, on Fantasy II’s optical printer, I first exposed the background scene and then, back winding onto the same piece of film, printed in the electrical arcs bit by bit Sometimes as many as 4 or 5 exposures of separate elements of electricity onto the same piece of film. I composited these shots myself, since I was most familiar with the elements, and was able to fine-tune the alignment and position of the electricity to precisely match the background images.

 My friend Bret Mixon, a rotoscope/title expert in his own right, did a lot of the roto work on the film, including the closeup profile shot of “Fats,” the garbage truck driver, in which electricity is seen in the foreground as well as out the far side window of the truck cab. A “holdout matte” allowed us to place electrical arcs outside the far window. Jim later commented that that was his favorite shot in the sequence, as it conveyed a distinct feeling of foreground/background depth.

Tesla Coil electricity /  The Terminator

Tesla Coil electricity / The Terminator

Tesla Coil electricity /  The Terminator

Tesla Coil electricity / The Terminator

Tesla Coil electricity /  The Terminator

Tesla Coil electricity / The Terminator

Is this something anyone uses these days?

It’s possible, but I have no specific knowledge of any other uses. Once we had our 1,000’ feet of Tesla Coil electricity elements on black, that became our own “stock footage.” A few years later Mark Goldblatt, the editor of The Terminator, directed his first film, Dead Heat, and I used the Tesla Coil electricity in the sequences in which Treat Williams is rejuvenated in the “zombie machine” (and a few other scenes in the film). 

The Tesla Coil electricity is also seen in Jim’s film Aliens in the climax in which the giant “Atmosphere Processor” structure disintegrates. I was originally going to go the England to work on Aliens, but at the last minute the British unions clamped down on the number of Americans who could come over and work on the film. I thought that-was-that and moved on to other things, until some months later we got the call: the UK visual effects guys couldn’t animate the electrical arcing to Jim’s satisfaction, so would we do them a favor and send over a print of the Tesla Coil elements? We did, of course, and Fantasy II gets a credit in the end titles of Aliens (although technically that was part of my contract on The Terminator, but that didn’t matter to me). When completed I was kindly invited to a “cast and crew” screening of Aliens at the Academy and Jim saw me and said, “What’d you think?” And I said, “Great lightning…”Which he found quite amusing.

Tesla Coil electricity /  The Terminator

Tesla Coil electricity / The Terminator

Tesla Coil electricity /  The Terminator

Tesla Coil electricity / The Terminator

Joe Viskocil preparing miniature of tanker truck for explosion.

Joe Viskocil preparing miniature of tanker truck for explosion.

What safety precautions did the crew take with the Tesla Coil equipment? I started a small fire plugging in an antique lamp when I was growing up. Using old FX equipment seems very cool…and risky.

There were no special preparations, other than common sense. I don’t know all the technical terms, but the electrodes were grounded –or whatever– so there was no real danger. I remember just grabbing them and moving them into position (although not while they were arcing, of course).

The high-speed miniature of the tanker truck explosion was also shot at Fantasy II, in their parking lot. A scale model of the side of the building in the scene was made and attached to the side of the Fantasy II building. In fact, my office was right behind that wall, and the door to the outside was blocked for about a week. Joe Viskocil, who had previously blown up the Death Star in Star Wars, and later won an Oscar® for blowing up the White House in Independence Day, was in charge of the pyro and did a great job with a terrific explosion.

Filming tanker truck explosion in parking lot of Fantasy II in Burbank.

Filming tanker truck explosion in parking lot of Fantasy II in Burbank.

Tanker truck explosion.

Tanker truck explosion.

Tanker truck explosion as rear-projected behind Linda Hamilton.

Tanker truck explosion as rear-projected behind Linda Hamilton.

How did you decide on that look for the infrared “Terminator vision?”

We called this “Termo-Vision.” Basically, I took the live action background film of a given shot and extracted hi-contrast black-and-white mattes from it. These were then used to print back onto color film in the optical printer with red filters. The final look was just a matter of testing different filters and exposures.

On a follow up pass on the same piece of film, I then printed-in the white computer data and diagrams, which had been photographed on the animation stand. I went to a local newsstand in Burbank and purchased a magazine on electronics that had a lot of diagrams and schematics. I cut these up, had a local graphics camera service shoot Kodalith sheet negatives, and then I pasted these onto cels with tape-reveals and other matte cels that could be animated. I took care to make sure that the data on the cels would not be recognizable (as, for instance, the workings of a record turntable, which was one of the schematics I used). Nevertheless, a few years ago, after all this time, somebody wrote to me and said they had looked at the computer readouts frame-by-frame and recognized some of the “code” of the then-in development Apple QuickTime movie player software. Of course, it was just fragments that meant nothing in piecemeal form like that, and even though 1984 was the year the Macintosh home computer was introduced, I had no involvement with computers so never knew what I was looking at to begin with. Just a bit of amusing trivia now.

“Termo-Vision” simulated infra-red computer readout display.

“Termo-Vision” simulated infra-red computer readout display.

“Termo-Vision” simulated infra-red computer readout display.

“Termo-Vision” simulated infra-red computer readout display.

Computer readout display of HK (Hunter-Killer) machine in Future War sequence.

Computer readout display of HK (Hunter-Killer) machine in Future War sequence.

The movie opens with this depiction of a horrible outcome. If anything, this visual set the standards higher for future action movies of the era and has influenced today’s millions of apocalyptic future films. When designing the look with the crew, what ideas were sharpened or changed to acquire that aesthetic?

I had no involvement with developing the look of the Future War sequences. That was strictly Jim Cameron’s vision, and he had made some rather nice drawings to illustrate his ideas. No doubt Gene Warren and the model builders at Fantasy II had much more direct involvement in transforming Jim’s ideas into reality.

I did the animation of the laser beams, along with Bret Mixon who did much of the rotoscoping and animation camerawork. The lasers were simply two-pass backlit animation cels, a clear shape for the laser on an otherwise black (opaque) animation cel. On the first pass we’d expose the white “core” of the laser, and on the second pass, repeating the same sequence of animation cels onto the same frames, put a color filter on the lens of the animation camera along with a fog filter for diffusion to create the outer magenta “glow.” This is all pretty standard, and was the approach used on Star Wars and many other films in those days.

Rotoscope two-pass laser beam animation.

Rotoscope two-pass laser beam animation.

Rotoscope two-pass laser beam animation.

Rotoscope two-pass laser beam animation.

Rotoscope two-pass laser beam animation.

Rotoscope two-pass laser beam animation.

Rotoscope two-pass laser beam animation.

Rotoscope two-pass laser beam animation.

Rotoscope two-pass laser beam animation.

Rotoscope two-pass laser beam animation.

As a VFX supervisor on the first film, was it true that The Terminator was one of the more emotionally draining films to work on because everything was so new and unexplored? 

There were some intriguing story ideas and time-travel concepts, but production-wise, and in terms of visual effects, I can’t think of anything that was “new and unexplored.” As with most films, you build upon the existing technology; and while there are distinct leaps forward from time to time, such as the development of full motion control for Star Wars in 1977 and the advent of computer based digital effects (CGI) for the “water tentacle” effect in The Abyss in 1989, most of the time it’s a question of how you are going to apply the tools at hand in a creative way.

Sometimes it's just common sense, and/or the application of the principle known as “Occam’s Razor” (“when all possibilities have been considered, the simplest solution is usually the best”). For example—

Reese saves Sarah Connor from Terminator’s attack in the Tech Noir nightclub and they flee in his car, speeding backwards in an alley, at night, chased by Terminator. At one point, Terminator jumps on the hood of the car, which is still speeding backwards, and punches his fist through the windshield. The “punch” was going to be done by a huge pneumatic ram with a lead casting of Arnold’s arm and fist (the arm away from camera in this profile shot). But this huge, industrial pneumatic ram was enormous, weighed a ton, and was mounted on a solid platform. How to get this action with a moving car? Blue screen? Animation?

I was next to Jim in a pre-production meeting with about 20 other people sitting around a long table, and we were all deliberating this problem. Then Jim and I looked at one another and at the same moment said, “Move the background!” And we started talking about a mockup and a track and whatnot and someone on production said, “Hey, you guys—wait a minute! Slow down! What are you talking about?!”

So we explained it, and what transpired was that the Art Department fabricated a vacuform plastic façade of a brick wall and painted it realistically and attached to the side of the trailer of an 18-wheeler truck. The camera faced Reese’s car, in profile, and Arnold crouched on the hood, his body obscuring the lead-cast arm and fist attached to the pneumatic ram behind him (the base and major part of the mechanism out of camera range). So, camera rolls and the 18-wheeler speeds past, and at just the right moment, the pneumatic ram is triggered and the lead fist smashes the windshield. Because the “wall” of the alley (the plastic façade) is speeding past in the background, the illusion is that the camera is tracking with the speeding car as Terminator punches out the windshield. It’s only on screen for about half a second. Very old school, very much the “C-clamps-and-2x4s” approach, but it totally works. And it’ “real” with no optical work required, as would be the case with a blue screen.

Even so, yes, overall The Terminator was a grueling experience, although mostly due to the work needing to be done within a very tight time frame and budget. Which, of course, is something that causes most films to be a grueling experience.

I was on The Terminator for just over a full year, exclusively, full-time, including pre-production, on-the-set and on location during principal photography, and then all the effects work throughout post production. It was very intense in those last few months, keeping the lab open around the clock, and so on. My opening main title was delivered just a few weeks before the film’s release into theaters. I recall that I hit “my personal best” in terms of an uninterrupted period of work: at one point I was at Fantasy II for 52 hours straight, which is like going to work on Monday morning and going home Wednesday afternoon. I literally saw the sun come up twice.

As it happens, the editing rooms were on the lot of the lab in Hollywood, Consolidated Film Industries (CFI), and although one usually picked up VFX dailies to screen before showing them to anyone, the crunch in the final weeks was such that every morning, to save time, the editorial staff would walk across the CFI lot, pick up our dailies, and call us at Fantasy II. One shot that I composited on the optical printer was one of the Termo-Vision computer-readout shots of Terminator's point-of-view of the gearshift when he gets in the tanker truck at the end and analyzes the vehicle. I was at Fantasy II overnight, as usual, and got the call at dawn– "Gearshift shot is OK, it's in the movie, move on." Right– on to other shots. So I never even saw that shot until about two months later when I finally saw the film in the theater. The sequence began and I suddenly remembered I had a shot coming up and I almost stood up, scrutinizing it as if evaluating dailies, since I was literally seeing it for the first time (along with everyone else). I remember thinking, “Well, it’s okay, I guess,” although there wasn’t much to be done about it at that point anyway.

In the same sequence, when Arnold pulls the driver from the truck and gets in, he turn to the second driver and exclaims, “Get out!” The day they filmed that shot the small red LED light in Stan Winston makeup of Terminator’s now-disfigured face didn’t work. So Bret and I had to add the little glowing red dot. This was before the advent of motion tracking, of course, and Bret rotoscoped the “eye” frame-by-frame twice in order to get it just right. Then, very subtly tweaking the brightness, diffusion and other aspects each time, I remember compositing that shot on the optical printer eleven times before it worked correctly. Just one of those things that required delicate adjustments in order to look completely real. (And keep in mind that in those days, running a shot meant putting it in the lab for processing overnight, looking at it the next day, making best-guess changes, running the composite again, putting it in the lab once more, and so on. So basically, including the rotoscoping, that shot took about three weeks to get right. Sometimes you nail it on Take 1, other times it’s a pain.)

Typeface for main title showing modified (flipped “A”) and final art.

Typeface for main title showing modified (flipped “A”) and final art.

Magnified “steel” letters (artwork) gliding across frame.

Magnified “steel” letters (artwork) gliding across frame.

Final main title zooming back to infinity.

Final main title zooming back to infinity.

When you returned on set for Terminator 2, some new technology was invented specifically for the sequel! Of everything that had changed from the last film, what was the coolest piece of technology you worked with, or at least, saw around and got jealous of other people working with?

Actually, I was only on set for one day on T2, the night of Arnold’s arrival, supervising the shooting of the live action as a favor to Gene Warren who had another commitment. On T2 I mostly came in during post production to finish up the main title sequence, which had been designed by someone else. Earlier I had set up and filmed the fire elements reflected in the steel letters and brushed-steel plate of the main title.

The CGI that had been developed previously for the “water tentacle” in The Abyss was taken further here, and some of those effects were quite startling. I was up at ILM briefly and saw some of their dailies and it was pretty exciting.

Also, other people –and I’m sorry to say I don’t know who in order to give credit where credit is due– did the “Termo-Vision” shots in T2 and I thought they did a terrific job. These shots were much cleaner and more vivid, had more precision animation to them, and in general elevated the look of this particular effect considerably. I was very pleased to see what they did.

I was never jealous of what other people were working with, except maybe those who had the luxury of more time and money. Otherwise, you just tackle the job that’s in front of you.

Promo artwork with main title.

Promo artwork with main title.

Newly modified main title for  Terminator: Dark Fate .

Newly modified main title for Terminator: Dark Fate.

You designed the opening and closing title credits of Terminator that were around forever and to this day, influenced the film marketing fonts and visuals. A million copycats! If you were making The Terminator from scratch right now, would you leave the marketing titles the same?

Well, I had nothing to do with the marketing aspects, nor have I been so involved with any of the films I’ve worked on. That’s a whole separate department and area of work. It was nice to see that what I designed for the main title was used on the poster, video boxes, etc., but I had nothing to do with any of that.

As for the main title itself, I liked a particular typeface (I can’t remember the name), but the “A” looked odd, creating a distracting “V”-shaped gap. The solution was simple— flip it. The vertical stroke of the “A” was now parallel to the “N” and the angled stroke slipped under the “T” (creating a “back slant,” the reverse of “italic”). Jim later mentioned that the “A” was one of the reasons he liked and approved the typeface, as it conveyed a subtle “oddness” to the logotype.

One night during post-production, Bret Mixon and I drove into Hollywood for a late production meeting. Bret was driving. As was standard practice, I had typeset the title The Terminator in about 6 different fonts on a sheet of paper, and this was one of the topics to be discussed in the meeting. As Bret and I were driving south on Cahuenga, which opens up into a fairly wide boulevard, along comes Jim Cameron in his black Corvette, also heading for the meeting, pulling up next to me at matching speed. We made startled faces at one another, like everyone does at a moment like that, but then I had an idea. I rolled down the window and held out my sheet of paper with the font samples, extending my arm straight out between the cars. Both of us still driving, Jim looked over at the paper and reached out and jabbed a finger at one of the type samples, and sped away. That’s the one I liked, too, and that’s the typestyle used in the main title and all subsequent uses of the title logo. And that’s how we settled on it—no further discussion needed…

The latest in the franchise, Terminator: Dark Fate, modifies the basic typography into something fresh while maintaining the feel of the original. I think it’s very nicely done.

Incidentally, a few years ago someone claimed that the concept of the letters gliding across one another was an idea I lifted from the main title to the movie Altered States (titles designed by Richard Greenberg, who had earlier done the titles to the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie and many other films). In fact, I didn’t see Altered States until about 3 years after I’d done The Terminator. So no direct influence there at all; can we say “great minds think alike”…?

I came across an interesting analysis of the overall film which mentions the titles: The Cinematography of The Terminator—Part 1 by Benjamin Kantor on March 20, 2012, as posted on Analysis Posts (http://cinevenger.com/?p=537):

The visual storytelling [begun in the pre-title Future War sequence] doesn’t stop for the title sequence… we immediately associate the sleek metallic lettering with the machines we have just seen in the first scene. By being close on the letters and not being able to see their borders, we are being shown that the power of the machines is so expansive that it is unable to be constricted or bound into the frame. The cross-motion of the hard geometric shapes is reminiscent of slicing or cutting, which gives a sense of the precision and deadliness of the machines. Finally, the smooth, regular motion of the moving words shows the consistency and persistence of the machines (an idea which pays off most fully in the final scene of the film, as the machine will not stop advancing on Sarah Connor despite its almost complete destruction).

That sounds great, although I didn’t think of any of that while designing the titles. (Subconsciously, though, it’s thought that such notions are behind all creative decisions.) The basic idea I pitched to Jim, was that, “Since 99.99% of the audience—whether in the theater or renting the video or watching on cable—already knows the title of the movie they’re about to watch, let’s use that to our advantage and make a striking graphic out of it. The letters will be so huge that they become merely abstract shapes gliding by, until the word forms and the title zooms back to infinity.” 

It’s interesting that Mr. Kantor refers to “The cross-motion … is reminiscent of slicing or cutting”—originally, when the letters enter the frame and begin crossing over one another, there was a sound effect of steel-on-steel, kind of like a sword being drawn from a scabbard. The sound effect eventually faded away so as not to become annoying, but for some reason that sound effect doesn’t seem to be in the latest versions I’ve seen on cable.

Actors often have very specific billing requirements regarding their name in film credits and advertising. One common requirement for the Star is that his or her name will be “100% of title.” Which means, simply, same size as the title of the film itself. Jim and I were looking at the finished title sequence in the editing room and, never having considered this requirement up to that point, we suddenly turned to each other with the same thought: “Somewhere in that zoom back to infinity Arnold’s name is 100% of title…” So we figured we were off the hook. And no one has ever brought it up.

Sub-title during Future War sequence.

Sub-title during Future War sequence.

Introductory title prior to main title sequence.

Introductory title prior to main title sequence.

What visual effects work did you do on The Abyss?

I primarily did the main title. Jim’s concept was an extreme push-in on the title, moving through the long vertical “descender” stroke of the “Y,” the blue color of the title dissolving to the blue of the underwater scene as the Montana submarine emerges from the murkiness. The artwork was a series of overlaid black and white Kodalith negatives, filmed in separate passes to add color and effects. Due to the extreme zoom-in required, the art had to be oversized, so it was set up at Pacific Title using one of their long horizontal tracking cameras. The tricky part was that, at such magnification at the end, the slightest speck of dust –even those otherwise not visible to the naked eye–showed up on the big theater screen as a “boulder.” It took several tries before we were able to get a “clean” take.

After I delivered the main title I was asked by Jim and Gale to sit in at DreamQuest every day to try and help move things along by picking "wedges" (color tests) and things like that on Jim’s behalf since he was busy with so many other things (and DreamQuest was located about an hour's drive outside of L.A.). One thing I did to help things along was take several simpler shots off their plate, and I supervised completing those shots at Pacific Title.

One such shot was the long shot of the Benthic Explorer ship at sea with the two helicopters approaching. There were no helicopters in the shot of the ship. Turns out they had (by sheer accident) separate footage of helicopters in flight, fully in the frame, so we pulled a matte using the green record (as I recall) and reduced the element of the two choppers into the shot. However, in that shot the helicopters had no headlight beacons on. So, to match the other footage, we had to track one helicopter and add its headlight with roto animation.

Another shot is just a minute or so earlier when the Montana submarine has crashed and the Captain releases the tracking buoy. The underwater shot looking down on the sub has the buoy racing up towards us through a flurry of bubbles. The trick with that shot was that the submarine element was shot by DreamQuest in 8-pert VistaVision (their preferred large-format gauge), the buoy was 35mm, and the bubbles element was a stock shot that existed in 65mm. On top of combining those elements in the different formats, we had to roto and animate 2-3 frames of the "blip" of the buoy beacon as it rocketed up towards us. A fun challenge.

The following shot of the beacon on the ocean surface blipped at too long an interval (only one blip in the length of the cut), so I had Bret rotoscope the blip (and its reflection on the water) at an accelerated interval so we could convey a more rapid signal from the buoy. In other words, there's only one "real" beacon blip in the shot amongst 8 or so total.

The Abyss  main title.

The Abyss main title.

Why do you think The Abyss is so hard to find as a digital film? It isn’t for sale, rent, or streaming but on Cinemax. For me to review it recently on my podcast, re-watching it for the first time in decades, finding it was a struggle.

I have no idea. I expect it’s a rights issue of some kind.

The Abyss  shot with two helicopters added, along with rotoscoped/animated headlight.

The Abyss shot with two helicopters added, along with rotoscoped/animated headlight.

I really enjoyed seeing The Abyss again, and my critique was more or less, it’s really slow paced. I didn’t like how long it took for us to start seeing the leads doing things. But when they began actually exploring the deep more and mingling with aliens, I really enjoyed it, and it made up for all the time spent getting there. What is your take on how it aged?

I like the film, to be honest. As you say, the deliberate buildup actually pays off, for me, because of the clear establishing of the characters and the situation. As you may know, Jim had to cut 20 minutes of his original cut in order to meet contractual requirements by the studio. Later, the cuts were reinstated and the film re-released and distributed on laserdisc. Ironically, I felt the longer version actually feels shorter, because it’s much more engaging. To me, anyway.

Ray Harryhausen–Master of the Majicks  – collage of cover images.

Ray Harryhausen–Master of the Majicks – collage of cover images.

You are now in the book industry. With your publishing company, Archive Editions LLC, you publish books for people who follow special effects and cinema. Books are having a harder time selling more than ever. Barnes and Noble sales are way down. Bookstores are closing. What business savvy do you use to ensure books sell in a tough market?  

I don’t face those particular marketing challenges because, as with most specialty publishers, the sales are predominantly online. Cutting through the clutter of on-the-shelf book sales is not really an issue, especially if you are able to target a specific audience.

Do you do better with digital or physical books?

I had the experience of distributing a digital book on stop motion and visual effects, and found that customers for that kind of book, and collectors, overwhelmingly prefer printed books. In the early 2000s it was thought that the  eBook and Kindle and all that would supplant the printed book, but I have found that the majority of customers much prefer the printed book, especially if it’s well made. Something of value they can hold in their hands. With regard to the above digital book I mentioned, I’ve literally had any number of people say that if it had been printed they would have bought two or more copies; as is, even as die-hard stop motion fans, they didn’t buy even one copy. 

Please tell readers about your upcoming reissue of the books about Ray Harryhausen!

Ray Harryhausen–Master of the Majicks is a 3-volume set of hardcover books by British author Mike Hankin, spanning Ray’s entire life and career, including Mighty Joe Young, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, The Valley of Gwangi, Clash of the Titans (the original), and everything in between. 

Written over a period of 25+ years with ongoing interviews and consultation with Ray himself as well as many of the actors, producers, directors and technicians who have worked on Ray’s films, the volumes consist of 1,100+ pages, over 8,000 color and black and white photos, dust jackets and a slipcase. Introductions by Oscar® winners Tom Hanks and Guillermo del Toro, actress Caroline Munro, and 2-time Oscar® nominee for animation and visual effects Jim Danforth.

 From Guillermo del Toro’s Preface to Volume 3:  “There is no way to overstate the importance of these books. These books are, simply, the most perfect books about Ray Harryhausen ever made. These are the books that you dreamt of having as a child and the only gateway, I guarantee you, to regain that long-gone thrill you had when you where eight years old and you cracked open the pages of the latest issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Perhaps more importantly, these books perform one true magic trick, one that we don’t experience often enough: they make you want to go out, immediately, and re-watch every single one of the  chronicled films and, if at all possible, go and shoot a film yourself. In summation: The books make you fall in love with cinema all over again."

Leonard Maltin said, “In my recent roundup of film books I neglected to mention one of the most elaborate publishing ventures, Ray Harryhausen–Master of the Majicks by Mike Hankin. I often receive review copies of books from their publishers but I was happy to shell out my own hard-earned dollars for this labor of love, a meticulous survey of Ray’s life and career.”

 

Ron Borst, author of Graven Images and owner of the Hollywood Movie Posters shop, said, “The three volumes all together represent, simply, the greatest books on fantasy films—ever.” 

Pre-orders are still available, and the reprint edition will be going to press shortly. I will only be printing the number of copies determined by pre-orders (no bookstore sales, Amazon, eBay, etc.)

Find out more on the website, including links to previews of layouts, customer comments and reviews, and photo montage trailers:

http://www.archive-editions.com/

Ray Harryhausen–Master of the Majicks  – Sample layout from  The 7th Voyage of Sinbad  chapter.

Ray Harryhausen–Master of the Majicks – Sample layout from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad chapter.


“I’ll Be Back”

To celebrate the release of Terminator: Dark Fate on November 1, I am interviewing people from the amazing franchise for my Apple News section and website. Stay tuned for more!