giovedì 17 dicembre 2015

The first day of production of '2001', fifty years ago

It was Friday, December 17th, 1965: Fifty years ago today, at nine o' clock in the morning, a young woman entered stage 1 of the MGM Borehamwood studios, near London.

Judy Keirn was a young american actress that had moved to London a few years earlier; in Brodway she had taken part in a few musicals, the most famous being Bye Bye, Birdie (1960). While in London she went through a few auditions, and one was for the small role of a 'passport girl' in an ambitious sci-fi flick that was already causing a sensation in the local actors' community: produced and directed by the young and ambitious Stanley Kubrick, it was set in outer space, and a shroud of mystery had engulfed its production ever since.

On that fateful Friday Judy, who possessed the right american accent that allowed her to beat the competion of Maggie London (later chosen for the 'elevator hostess' role), showed up at half past seven for make-up and costume fitting. Kubrick appeared a bit later, never an early riser, busy with other things to attend; Judy delivered the few lines she was given with no particular issues, but she could never imagine that she had just appeared in the first day of production of '2001: A Space Odyssey'.

A recent picture of Judy Keirn with a photo of herself as Linda in Bye Bye, Birdie

It was usually thought that the first actual shooting of '2001' happened on December 29 for the TMA-1 excavation site, as Arthur C. Clarke famousy recalled in his book "The Lost Worlds of 2001". But if you look close at the call sheet he enclosed in the book, you'll see No.4 (a) up on the right:

Additionally, the Stanley Kubrick Archive catalogue states very clearly that the production started on December 17 with call sheet n.1, that also appeared in the DVD extras of the book "2001: The Lost Science". Also, some of the sequences that appeared in the "stargate" section of the movie had been shot as early as 1964, in an abandoned corset factory in Manhattan on the corner of Broadway and 72nd street in New York, while Kubrick and his team were experimenting with some early special effects tecniques.

Judy Keirn completed her shooting session on Saturday, December 18th; a bit of her lines were cut from the final scene that appeared in the movie but surfaced on the book by Arthur C. Clarke.

venerdì 16 ottobre 2015

The '2001' spacecraft art of Simon Atkinson

Now that Taschen's "The Making Of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey" is out in a more affordable version, many more fans have had the chance to access the superb work of Piers Bizony. They will surely remember that there was another book from Piers that had set the bar for the  most authoritative and complete source of information on 2001, and it was 2001: Filming The Future, that first came out in 1994.

The book featured some accurate artworks of the main spacecraft featured in 2001, made by Simon Atkinson, a professional illustrator who rendered the landmark ships seen in the movie with previously unseen accuracy and clarity. Here's how Piers Bizony remembers Simon's work:

“When Simon and I first began researching the hardware of 2001: A Space Odyssey in the early 1990’s, computer graphics tools were not yet widely available outside major film and media industries. Many brilliant artists have taken on the challenge of recreating 2001’s spacecraft using the very best digital techniques, and as often as not, the results are stunning. Yet almost without exception these modern practitioners cite the importance of Simon Atkinson’s painstaking traditional analogue work as an inspiration. 2001 was put together very much by hand. So were Simon’s wonderful renderings of the spacecraft. In fact I would challenge any CGI system to recapture the tone and feel that Simon accomplished.

Simon presented one of the original pod illustrations he produced for Filming The Future to Arthur C. Clarke during a 2001-related event in 1992 (Piers Bizony is on the right of the photo).

Simon and Piers during a recent event at the Museum Of Science in London. Behind them, a LEM mockup.

Simon recalls the thrilling experience of producing those artworks and his meetings with Harry Lange (NASA designer and technical consultant to 2001) and Arthur C. Clarke in this page of his website - an exciting account on its own that I suggest all the 2001 fans to read. What's more exciting is that Simon has recently rediscovered the original large format transparencies of his illustrations that were used for printing purposes, and has painstakingly restored his artworks to a level where they can now be reproduced as large scale prints very close in size to his original paintings with much greater detail and clarity than previously seen. Simon's artworks are now about to be released as a signed limited edition fine art print collection.

The prints will be produced using the Giclée process and printed on 260 gsm satin art paper; a Giclée print is high-quality art paper printed with super-fine ink spray dots and it's almost indistinguishable from an actual painting - it is indeed the same high-quality method used to produce Oliver Rennert's fabulous Discovery cut-out illustration I proudly own and that I previously reviewed here.

Here's Simon Atkinson holding a print of his Aries 1B side elevation illustration from 2001: Filming The Future (airbrush/coloured pencils on CS10 artboard, 1990). The original artwork of the Aries  is now in the collection of Tom Hanks, a keen 2001 fan and collector; the limited edition prints will be very close in size to the originals.

Simon's prints will be available to purchase from 30th October 2015; as the print run will be limited (only 250 for each artwork), Simon is currently inviting expressions of interest. You may contact him from the the contact page of his website,

Actual print sizes

(remember: the images of the various prints seen here 
are not in proportion with their actual sizes)

ARIES 1B : Overall print size 20” x 22” (510mm x 555 mm); image size 13 ¼” x 14” (336mm x 360 mm)

DISCOVERY 1 : Overall print size 38 ¼” x 6 ½”  (975mm x 257mm); image size 32” x 4” (828mm x 104mm)

ORION III : Overall print size 32” x 24” (830mm x 610mm); image size 25 ¾” x 15 ½” (658mm x 396mm)

POD SIDE: Overall print size 17 ¾” x 19 ¼” (452mm x 490mm); image size 11 ¾” x 10 “ (300mm x 250mm)

POD FRONT: Overall print size 17 ¾” x 19 ¼” (452mm x 490mm); image size 10 ¾” x 10” (277mm x 250mm)

domenica 30 agosto 2015

The most iconic movie scene ever, explained

Today, 48 years ago - August 30, 1967, on a MGM backlot in Borehamwood, near London, a young mime artist named Dan Richter smashed a few bones.... and made cinematic history. 

Here's how he told the story of that scene to Justin Bozung, author of a long and extremely interesting interview with the apeman we know as Moonwatcher.

"It took us weeks to do that scene. The page of the script said something like, “Moon-Watcher picks up a bone, he now has the power..and he will kill” or what not. All Stanley told me was, “Go over there and pick up the bone. Hit the skull and break it.” That’s all he told me!"

"The whole film was shot on a sound stage, except the end of that scene. We did it outside of the studio. In fact, there were buses driving behind me as we were doing it. So I’m sitting there on this platform up in the air and I’m looking out at the camera, and I noticed the type of lens Stanley was shooting with and the angle in which I was being filmed. I noticed he was shooting with a portrait lens. And I knew we were shooting in Cinerama. So I knew that I was going to be gigantic on the screen. I had to show visually that “Moon-Watcher” had this idea that was put into his head by these aliens. I had to show that somehow. 

So I thought about it. Then I thought it would be good if I just cocked my head slightly. So I had to protect the entire moment by not doing much. I decided to move very slowly forward, and look very carefully down at the bones. I wanted to make it so that it filled the screen, so that the moment where I cocked my head would signify this change in the script, like a beat."

"In fact, the whole time I was doing that scene, I was talking to Stanley through the mask. We’re shooting it “MOS” (mitt-out sound, meaning that a film segment has no synchronous audio track; the sound for The Dawn of Men was recorded later in post-production), so I was saying to Stanley “OK, I’m going to move to the left a bit”, and Stanley would say, “OK, that’s good. Just reach over.”

So, when it came time to pick the bone up, I was playing with the idea of hitting things, because remember he had never picked anything up before, never held anything in his hands, never knew how to wrap his hand around anything. Everything was totally new to him. I took the time to feel the weight of it in my hand. Then I started probing things with it. Then at that moment, I hit one of the little bones, and it spun up into the air. I said to Stanley, “Oh, I screwed up Stanley.” He said, “No, no I like it keep going.” So we started to grow the scene from that. We set it up again, so that all of the bones would flip into the air as I hit them."

And here's a short excerpt from Dan Richter's excellent book Moonwatcher's Memoir:

"I let Moonwatcher play with the bones. He gets the feel of a bone in his hand. He has never held a bone in his hand before; he has never used a weapon. This is not only the first time for him, but it is the first time any creature has ever picked up a weapon."

"He feels it, smells it and lets it fall against the other bones. He begins to sense the weight in his hand, the power, the release from an eternity of fear and groveling in the dirt for food.


I give it all I have as I move forward into film history."