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    Remembering the Wonders in Famous Monsters Magazine

    In the world of science fiction, fantasy and horror fandom, one man's enthusiasm for genre film was arguably stronger than anyone else's. With the founding of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, Forrest J. Ackerman created a must-read genre guide that inspired generations of fans. The magazine, and the enormous collection of memorabilia Ackerman accumulated throughout the years, proved to be a true testament to his love of fantastic film and literature.

    In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King sang the praises of Famous Monsters: “I didn’t just read my first issue of Famous Monsters,” King wrote. “I inhaled it…I poured over it…I damn near memorized that magazine and it seemed eons until the next one...Ask anyone who has been associated with the fantasy- horror –science fiction genres in the last thirty years about this magazine and you’ll get a laugh, a flash of the eyes, and a stream of bright memories – I practically guarantee it.”

    King wasn’t kidding. Just a few of the fans who grew up loving Famous Monsters include Rick Baker, Frank Darabont, John Landis, Kirk Hammett from Metallica, Peter Jackson, Joe Dante, and countless others. In Ackerman's massive movie poster collection, there was a one sheet for Close Encounters autographed in silver marker by Steven Spielberg: “A generation of fantasy lovers thank you for raising us so well.” Guillermo Del Toro also recently told the New Yorker that he discovered Famous Monsters in the magazine section of the Supermarket, and he was determined to learn English so he could read it.

    Ackerman (or Forry, as he was known) had been a collector of movie memorabilia since 1926. When he was in his twenties, he would write to Carl Laemmle, the president of Universal, for movie stills from their classic horror films, and would travel by streetcar to pick up them up. (He eventually accumulated 125,000 stills). His collection included every issue of the old sci-fi pulp magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, which he bought when they were new. He owned a copy of Frankenstein that was autographed by Mary Shelley when she was 19. He also had the creature from the black lagoon costume a janitor at Universal took home for his kid to wear on Halloween. Not to mention Bela Lugosi’s cape, the model pterodactyl the original King Kong battled, one of the model Martian ships from the original War of the Worlds, and much, much more.

    Forry’s collection never stopped growing, and like a malevolent 50’s science fiction monster, it ended up consuming his house, a four story, eighteen-room mansion in the hills of Los Feliz, which he dubbed the “Ackermansion.” According to one report, the house became so overcrowded with memorabilia that Ackerman and his wife had to park on the streets because their garage was too full.

    The Ackermansion was open for tours every weekend, and making the pilgrimage to Forry’s home was a badge of honor for any true monster fan. Its been estimated that over 50,000 people came to visit when he lived there, and when you arrived, he would greet you through the intercom: “Who dares disturb the tomb of the vampire?” And yes, Ackerman was also the co-creator of Vampirella.

    Ackerman also coined the term “sci-fi” and he told GQ Magazine that he would say “science fiction” every night before he goes to sleep because if he died before he awoke, he wanted “science fiction” to be his last words. Who better to write the definitive magazine on monsters?

    In Brief: Stanley Kubrick's Boxes

    I'm in a bit of a Kubrick kick lately. After visiting the Kubrick touring exhibit last year, I picked up several books related to the show--the companion book from the original Berlin exhibition, a book about artist Ken Adams' set designs for Kubrick's films, and most recently, Taschen publishing's massive tome celebrating and studying Kubrick's films. (So bummed I missed out on Taschen's $1,000 2001: A Space Odyssey book). A friend referred me to this 2004 article published in the Guardian about Kubrick's legendary personal archive of research and reference material stored in his Childwick estate, offering just a glimpse into the director's organizational obsessions. The story is republished at Cinephilia & Beyond, a website that I can't believe I've only heard about recently--you could spend hours here poring over essays about all aspects of filmmaking. Also embedded below is a 45 minute short documentary on Kubrick's archives.

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    Pixar Explains the Math Behind Smooth Character Rendering

    Ready to give your brain a little workout? See if you can follow along in this Numberphile video as Tony DeRose of Pixar Research explains some of the mathematics behind the rendering and animation of characters in modern CG films. It went over my head at around the five-minute mark, but the gist is that the use of certain math principles and algorithms let rendering programs subdivide vertices in geometry for smooth curves and surfaces. Computer scientists know this as the Catmull-Clark algorithm.

    In Brief: Photo Gallery of Ray Harryhausen at Work

    io9 has a lovely gallery of photos showing stop-motion effects pioneer and legend Ray Harryhausen at work on some of the films he's best known for: Mighty Joe Young, 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, and Clash of the Titans. Harryhausen, who passed away last year, inspired a generation of effects artist and animators, including still-active legends like Phil Tippet. The gallery is accompanied by a few video clips of the finished animation sequences, some behind-the-scenes interviews, and a great time-lapse GIF of a veteran Harryhausen revisiting an iconic skeleton puppet from Jason and the Argonauts for a stop-motion demo.

    The Terminator and the Legacy of Stan Winston's Designs

    With photos and story details of the upcoming Terminator reboot coming to light, we wanted to take a look back at the original film and examine how and why it still holds up after all these years. Like a lot of movies that became cultural touchstones and phenomenons, The Terminator was under-estimated, dismissed by Orion Pictures as a low budget drive-in film that would come and go in a week. Yet The Terminator became a major sleeper that connected with audiences in a big way. It was the top movie at the box office for six weeks, but beyond its commercial success it also made Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Cameron, and Stan Winston superstars in their respective professions.

    At a screening celebrating The Terminator’s third decade, Cameron said the movie is still remembered because “I think it’s just a lean, mean thriller that works.” But there’s clearly more to it that than. In celebrating The Terminator, we spoke to John Rosengrant and Shane Mahan of Legacy Effects, who both broke into the big leagues by working with Stan Winston, and who helped build the indestructible killer, and the seemingly indestructible franchise, from the ground up.

    It was thanks to the kindness of make-up master Dick Smith that Stan Winston got The Terminator gig. Smith, who many considered the greatest living make-up artist, was well-known for the magic he did for The Godfather, The Exorcist, and Amadeus, just to name a few, but his career was winding down, and The Terminator was clearly going to be a big job.

    Cameron wanted Smith, but Smith kept telling the young director that Stan Winston was the man for the job. Winston had been steadily working for years, he did a lot of TV and low budget B-movies, and had already won two Emmys, but The Terminator would prove to be the big breakthrough that made him one of the most in demand creature builders in the business. (Cameron and Winston would also form a strong personal and professional bond that would continue until Winston passed away in 2008.)

    Adam Savage's WWII Uniforms from HBO's The Pacific

    Another surprise package arrives from our friends at Prop Store! This time, it's a pair of screen-used World War II soldier uniforms from the HBO show The Pacific. Adam and Norm examine the costumes and discuss the ways they're weathered and distressed to simulate combat wear and tear for filming. And of course, we can't resist trying the costumes on--that's half the fun!

    The Graphics Technology of Disney's Big Hero 6

    While visiting Disney Animation Studios to preview Big Hero 6, Norm gets briefed on the graphics and rendering technologies developed for the film. The studio's Chief Technology Officer, Andy Hendrickson, explains how the rendering of complex scenes and characters were tackled with new software, and how Disney artists were able to build out an entire fictional city based on San Francisco. We love the technical stuff!

    Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse with Teller

    When Teller (of Penn & Teller fame) isn't performing his show in Las Vegas, he's working on a ton of other projects, one of which is this delightful web series--& Teller--that was co-written and co-directed by our friends Frank Ippolito and and Zeke Zabrowski. The series is about the aftermath of a zombie epidemic in Las Vegas, and Teller's attempts to survive it with his friends in the magic community. The fifth episode was just released, and I've compiled them in a playlist here. Totally worth watching, and appropriate for today's festivities. Happy Halloween, everyone! Stay safe and see you next week!

    Worldbuilding and Storytelling in Disney's Big Hero 6

    Norm visits Disney Animation Studios to get a preview of Big Hero 6, the upcoming film that is Disney's first animated feature based on a Marvel comics property. We interview the directors of Big Hero 6 to learn about the worldbuilding that went into creating this film, and what storytelling lessons have been learned under the guidance of John Lasseter.

    Adam Savage's Ghostbusters Costume

    To celebrate both Halloween this week and the 30th anniversary of the release of Ghostbusters, Adam shares his own Ghostbusters uniform and prop replicas that he has made and assembled over the years. We geek out over fond memories of the film and its contributions to cosplay culture. This is a costume that anybody can make!

    In Brief: The Making of Danny DeVito's Penguin Makeup for Batman Returns

    The Stan Winston school has posted an excerpt from the book "The Winston Effect", chronicling the design and application of Danny DeVito's iconic Penguin makeup for Batman Returns. For the Tim Burton film--which won Winston and collaborators Ve Neill and Ronnie Specter Oscar nominations--DeVito's makeup needed to capture the the director's creepy aesthetic and the essence of the villain. Behind-the-scenes art shows the various concept sketches for Penguin's look (and especially his nose), as well as the application of the prosthetics and paint for filming. DeVito apparently also asked that the makeup be put during voice-over ADR session for Batman Returns, to get back into character. Awesome stuff!

    The Creature and Portrait Sculptures of Mike Hill

    We visit the workshop of Mike Hill, a renowned portrait sculptor who specializes in recreating the classic horror monsters of Hollywood (and the actors who embodied them). Mike's full-body sculptures of characters like Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolf Man, and even Christopher Reeve's Superman are startlingly lifelike. We chat with Mike about his process, look at a work-in-progress, discuss what he tries to achieve with his portraits.

    Show and Tell: Quicksilver's Stereobelt Replica

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm visits our 3D printing expert Sean Charlesworth in New York to learn about a prop replica project. Sean has faithfully recreated Qucksilver's "Stereobelt" from the most recent X-men movie, a prop that is actually based on a little-known portable cassette player that predated Sony's Walkman. A little bit of A/V technology history, rapid prototyping, and obsessing over film props--everything we love! (More details about this project here.)

    In Brief: Large Gallery of ILM Model Shop Miniatures

    Not exactly sure about the source of these photos, but here's a large gallery of photos of modelmakers and miniatures from the ILM model shop, circa The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The photos show the making of some iconic vehicles like the Republic fighters and cruisers, the Super Star Destroyer, and even Death Star 2. Most of these models reside in Lucasfilm's precious archives in Northern California, and some went on tour in the most recent exhibition of Star Wars models and props. You can find my photos from that exhibit here.

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