lunedì 27 maggio 2013

Making the Starchild in '2001': a tribute to Liz Moore

(italian readers: l'articolo in italiano è disponibile qui)

The production of 2001: A space Odyssey took advantage of some of the best artistic talents of its era. One of these was Liz Moore, a young painter and sculptress who created the Starchild.


Born in 1944, Liz Moore studied sculpture and drawing at the Kingston Art School in London and went on for the National Diploma of Design, having Eric Clapton as a classmate. In 1960, only sixteen, some of her paintings featured in the movie The World of Suzie Wong.


In a small role in the same movie, Edwina Carroll (the 2001 hostess that 'walks on the ceiling' of the shuttle Ares 1B while bringing lunch to the pilots); as cinematographer, the great Geoffrey Unsworth, who will win two Academy Awards and will be the director of photography for Kubrick in 2001 (before leaving to John Alcott due to previous commitments with other productions).

In 1966 a British Pathé documentary shows Liz's talent in sculpting the Beatles. In the same year Liz gets on board the production of 2001: here the artist not only created the starchild, but she worked in the art department (uncredited) with Stuart Freeborn in the creation of the masks worn by the actors who played the ape-men.



Liz also worked on the making of the model of the lunar base, according to an interview with one of the special effects supervisors Brian Johnson for Space 1999.org:
I read your description of the construction of the Space: 1999 lunar landscape model using the 7 foot by 8 foot base and spreading wet plaster and flicking the water ect could you please elaborate did you use wire mesh first how deep was the plaster? Was the technque used on the 2001 moon base similar? Did you mix several small batches and work on a small area at a time?
Yes, Liz Moore, Joy Seddon and few others poured single buckets of fast casting plaster over a hessian/dulap? do you call it? set and then using 6 inch wallpaper brushes thrashed the wet plaster with random droplets of clear water causing myriad craters. Wire brushes were then used once the plaster had dried overnight to indent areas with tiny spike marks.
But the main contribution of Liz Moore in 2001 was definitely the wonderful Starchild, that stares at us on the covers of books, CDs, DVDs, posters and billboards, and has become one of the most powerful and recognizable symbols of the movie.


The making of this scene was, for a change, a little troubling. After Kubrick and Clarke decided, in yet another revision of the screenplay, that Bowman had to appear 'transfigured' or 'reborn' after his contact with the extraterrestrial beings in the conclusion of the movie, a first test version of the scene was carried out with a real baby shot against a black velvet background.

 Kubrick with a doll while studying various options for the Starchild scene. Source: 2001: filming the future, Piers Bizony

Inspired by some extraordinary and pioneering intra-uterine photographs by Lennart Nilsson, who for the first time showed the development of a uterus in the womb in a landmark series of articles  that appeared LIFE magazine in 1965, Kubrick decided to make a sculpture resembling a fetus.

one of the extraordinary photographs of Nillson: the most similar to the starchild (source)

September 1967: given the limited effectiveness of the shooting tests, it's up to Liz Moore to create a clay sculpture, about 2,5 feet, with facial features intentionally similar to Keir Dullea, the actor who played commander Dave Bowman. From this mould was built the final fiberglass model.

production designer Anthony Masters 2001 with Liz Moore's clay sculpture. Source: The Stanley Kubrick Archives, p.370.

Brian Johnson, in another interview in the magazine Cinefex, recalls:  
"Stanley did not want him to look like a normal human child, but to have a more 'evolved' look, with a slightly bigger head. In the beginning it had to be a more complex puppet, with arms and fingers that could move, but then Stanley had the idea of surrounding it with a 'cocoon' of light, and finally decided that all he needed were eyes that could move. So I built glass eyes and a small mechanism using drives and bearings, with some selsyn motors that made them move sideways and slightly up and down."
Douglas Trumbull recalls the making of the Starchild, again from Cinefex:
"(Stanley) shot it through about fifteen layers of a special gauze, with about 40,000 watts of backlight - something like 4 big arc lights to rim-light it, and got this tremendous, overexposed glowing effect. This particular gauze - actually very rare, lady stockings from pre-war Europe - created a beautiful softening of the light, without making it unsharp. If you use a fog filter it makes the image unsharp because it's actually a piece of glass with diffusion on it. But with gauze, part of the camera lens is seeing right through it, without interruption, so it tends to scatter the light without really stopping it from being sharp. Stanley filmed a number of different moves on the Starchild - shots of it entering frame and sliding through frame and so on. Then I airbrushed the envelope that surrounded it onto a piece of glossy black paper, which was photographed on the animation stand and matched in movement to the model, also with a lot of gauze and overexposure."
The ten seconds of the shot were actually made with eight hours of exposure: to achieve the effect of large depth of field and sharpness of the image the scene was filmed in stop-motion , three frames per second. The glowing effect was therefore obtained because of the long exposure time of each frame, so that the backlight seemed to penetrate into the sculpture.

shooting tests of the Starchild. Source: The Stanley Kubrick Archives, p.370.

There are a couple of anecdotes about the filming of this scene, narrated by Daisy Lange, wife of the late production designer Harry Lange, in Piers Bizony's book 2001: Filming The Future:
"The young operator who shot the scene (which was provided by Kubrick with an insect-repellent product, to prevent flies to pause on the sculpture during the long exposure times), did not know that the eyes were fixed in the orbits with wax or a similar material. Click after click of the various frames, hour after hour, that stuff began to melt. It seemed that the statue had begun to weep. The operator ran away screaming his lungs! Now that I think about it, maybe it was a devout Catholic. "
The original prop, which was thought lost, has resurfaced after Kubrick's death in the production materials that the director kept in his humongous archives, and is now part of the traveling exhibition of Stanley Kubrick Archives (currently in Los Angeles).
 

Young, talented and vivacious, Liz Moore has never been properly credited, according to Bizony. "She was a well-loved member of the 2001 crew.  Kubrick was sufficiently impressed to hire her for his next film. She sculpted the shocking and rather less edifying 'nude' furniture for A Clockwork Orange (for which she did receive a screen credit). It seems that Kubrick called her personally on the phone to convince her to work for Barry Lyndon, but it is unclear whether Moore actually worked on the pre-production of the movie.

John Barry, Clockwork's production designer, later hired Liz Moore for Star Wars, where she designed the C-3PO suit, from a body cast of the actor Anthony Daniels, and - along with Brian Muir - the final version of the Stormtroopers helmet.

Liz Moore died tragically in a car accident in August, 13, 1976 while working on Richard Attemborough's A Bridge Too Far. She was only 32.

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sources: 

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