lunedì 9 dicembre 2013

How did they shoot the leopard scenes in '2001'? Dan Richter explains

Back in October, 1966, Dan Richter was a struggling mime artist in London when he received a call summoning him to discuss the incomplete opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Deeply impressed by the talented young mime, Kubrick promptly hired him to choreograph and star in “The Dawn of Man” sequence as Moonwatcher, the leader of the man-ape tribe. Set three million years ago, this prologue to the space-based sequences tells the story of a tribe of our ancestors, who take the first step on the long road to modern humanity.


Since I first saw 2001 and "The Dawn Of Man" I've always been fascinated by that sequence, and amazed by the appearance of that magnificent leopard (I'm a big feline lover).


I always wondered how they could have shot that scenes - until 2002, when Moonwatcher's himself, Dan Richter, published Moonwatcher's Memoir: A Diary or 2001: A Space Odyssey.


With Memoir Richter wrote the best account ever about working on 2001: the stories about Kubrick, Stuart Freeborn (the make-up wizard) and all the cast and crew involved are so vivid that seem to be hot off the press, right from a 1968 newspaper - and indeed they somehow are, as Richter based the book upon his own diary wrote in the years 1966-1967.

The book is a treasure trove of anectodes, and it's an essential reading for all 2001 fans. It also includes a few pages dedicated to the leopard shot, that was extended and clarified by a later series of interviews with Richter (among which I'd like to recommend the one conducted by Justin Bozung). I had the chance to ask 'Moonwatcher' a few questions about the leopard scenes and other few details, to which Dan very kindly answered.

As a complete account of 'The Dawn of Man' is already available in Memoir (did I already say 'buy it right now' ?) I will therefore focus on a fascinating aspect of the sequence: the shooting of the leopard attack, with a complete account that draws from all the available sources. My heartfelt thanks to Dan Richter, to Justin Bozung for his always excellent work, and special thanks to Jamie Clubb (http://jamieclubb.blogspot.it/), that provided me with unpublished details about Terry Duggan and the animals used on the set.

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Determined to make an anthropologically accurate film, Kubrick insisted on much more than the worn convention of men jumping around in “monkey suits.” Richter and his collaborators spent weeks watching apes in the London zoo, followed by months of rehearsal mimicking their movements, helped by the analysis of rare footage of gorillas and other apes in their natural habitat.

Test footage of the 'men-apes' practicing primate behaviour. Source: 2001: the making of the myth

The script, at that time still being reworked on an almost daily basis by Kubrick and Clarke, called also for sequences where our ancestors were to be shown on the verge of extinction, and facing constant threat of wild animals like lions and tigers. How to portray this menace was still to be determined, as many attempts had already been made before Richter came on board. Here's an example from Kubrick's interview to Jeremy Bernstein, 1966:
At this point, a man carrying a stuffed lion's head approached and asked Kubrick whether it would be all right to use. "The tongue looks phony, and the eyes are only marginal," Kubrick said, heading for the set. "Can somebody fix the tongue"?
In an early version of the script a lion's head was to be shown mounted atop a tree branch by Moonwatcher and his tribe, to instill terror upon a rival tribe. Kubrick was probably examining an early attempt to render such scene filmable; but whatever the lion's head was to be used for - clearly its phony condition was never improved enough for the director, as it doesn't appear in the movie and Richter doesn't even remember to have seen it - Kubrick turned to real wild beasts for the shooting of the most menacing scenes.

From an entry in Richter's entry in the book dated January 2, 1967:
(Kubrick): "When are you going down to the South Hampton Zoo?"
(Our animal trainers from Jimmy Chipperfield's have put the animals we will need for "The Dawn of Man" in the South Hampton zoo. We have tapirs, a chimp, a zebra, a lion, and a leopard.)
"I'm going down this weekend [...] I'm meeting the trainer Terry Duggan and he is going to show them to me.
"Take lots of pictures. I want to see Duggan staging his play fights with the lion and the leopard. I haven't decided which one to use yet."
Terry Duggan was a acrobat and stuntman born in Coventry in 1935 (no relation with Terry Duggan the comedian). Duggan had already worked with the Chipperfield's, a famous british circus, and later joined a member of the family, Jimmy, who had started a film animal business and at that time of the shooting of 2001 was operating Southampton Zoo. In fact, Jimmy was the main supplier of animals for films during the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

Terry Duggan, four lionesses, one lion and two leopards (1964) (Source)

Kubrick eventually opted out for the leopard. When asked if he remembered why, Richter said to me that
We had both a leopard and a lion at the Southhampton Zoo for at least a year before the shoot and Terry Duggan worked with them all that time do that they would be familiar with the play fighting they did. They were both well trained.
Why Stanley picked one over another I don’t know. The lion was a lioness and perhaps in the end not as menacing looking or as visually interesting.
Terry Duggan practicing with the leopard at the Southampton Zoo, 1967. Richter: "Duggan is teaching the animal to pounce on him and to play-fight in a way that looks convincing."  Sources of both picture and text: Moonwatcher's Memoir

From now on we'll focus on a single date, Monday, August 28th, 1967. The 'Dawn of Men' shooting had already begun on August 2; that meant that after eight months of research and rehersals, and a month of physically demanding shots, the man-apes 'tribe' (mimes, dancers and performers chosen and trained by Richter) had yet to face another ordeal. From "Moonwatcher's Memoir":
Today we are going to shoot the scene where the leopard will attack and kill one of the man-apes. Over the weekend the construction crew has changed the set to a riverbed and built a makeshift barrier between the set and the camera.
When I asked him about the barrier (no picture of the shoot are known to exist) Richter noted that he doesn't remember the specific details: 
I was paying more attention to the leopard and my guys.
It's legitimate concern, and here's why. Until Richter's book came out, all we knew about the scene came from what Kubrick himself had written in a document ('Notes on special Effects") reported in Bizony's book 2001: filming the future and written as part of his 1969 Academy Award submissions:
Duggan and the leopard were entirely alone on stage during the shoot. [Bizony adds]: Background performers were added later, in a hand-drawn matte.
I imagine that Kubrick had to downplay the potential danger faced by his ape-men cast in order to a avoid any unconfortable questions from some actor's guild; it turned out, instead, that everything was shot on camera, and Richter and other man-apes were on the same set with the leopard and Duggan, as Richter remembers in the book:
Terry Duggan is outfitted in a man-ape costume. [...] Stanley wants other man-apes in the background, and that is even more of a problem. The solution is to put me in another mask behind Terry, in the middle ground with the other guys, so that I will be between the leopard and them.
The leopard attacks Duggan. Richter, the second from the right, is on a platform closer to the camera, between the forefront and the other man-apes in the background.

So far, so good. Again from the book:
Stanley is very unconfortable standing next to the camera with the leopard thirty feet or so in front of him. We are all scared. Stanley wants the shot. You can hear the trepidation in his voice as he says "action". Nothing happens.
The leopard, confused and nervous, is distracted by the set, the strong lights, and the surrounding crew.
Stanley calls "cut". We had reharsed the leopard with Terry in costume so we knew he could do it. Terry goes over to talk to him and tries to get him in a playful mood.
"I think he'll do it now", he says.
We all get into position again. The lights are right, the camera begins to turn. Once again Stanley says, "action"...
...and things quickly turn for the worse:
... The leopard looks at Terry and then he looks over at me and the guys behind me. 
He jumps down on the set between Terry and me and starts to come at me!
Terry sees what is happening and immediately tackles him. We take a short break and Terry works with him some more.
The second take, more or less, works: it's the one we see in the movie. Richter recalls:
Contrary to Stanley’s usual style we did only a few takes as he was nervous and wanted to get it over.  He was never happy with what we got, but lived with it.
At this stage, Kubrick was more than ready to move on, even if it meant accepting an unexpected 'special effect', as we learn from Bozung's interview:

[...] then there was the front projection system mistake with the leopard. If you watch the film you'll see that shot of the leopard turning his head toward the camera and his eyes are lit up and glowing. That was just a happy accident. No one noticed it during shooting, but when we all went to the rushes everyone saw it, and someone said “Oh look what happened? We've screwed up!” Stanley said, “No, it's great. I love it. Let's keep it.” 

Every cat owner knows that the eyes of the leopard glowed because of a tissue in the eye that reflects visible light back through the retina, increasing the light available to the photoreceptors, contributing to the superior night vision of the animal. As the scene was shot using the Sinar front-projection system that used 8x10 inches transparencies on a 110-feet-wide screen covered by 3M reflective material, the eye of the leopard worked just as the reflective material of the background.

The leopard is ready to strike again. On the right, Richter and the other man-apes watch in non-simulated anxiety.

* * *

The unnamed leopard also appeared in a second scene, with a "dead zebra". One of my recent posts featured an interview to Gino Pellegrini, an italian set decorator who worked on that scene:

On the set there were also a few wooden boulders which were meant to give a sense of depth. For example, in the leopard scene, the large boulder beneath the animal was a wooden prop built on purpose, in order to conceal the leash used to restrain the leopard. The leash was cancelled later optically.
How is this related to the attack scene? Well, in the 1970 book The Making of Kubrick's 2001, which was edited by Jerome Agel with more than a little help from Kubrick himself, a caption for this picture says:
Dead horse was painted to look like a zebra. Scene of live leopard with "zebra" was filmed with tranquilizer guns at the ready. Due to horse's stench, leopard and camera crew were unenthusiastic about doing the scene.
When asked about such guns during the attack scene, here's what Richter told me:
I do not remember tranquilizers gun in our scene, but I wasn't present when Stanley shot the scene with the dead zebra.
As far as the 'zebra' scene was concerned, this makes perfect sense: why have guns if the leopard was already restrained by a leash? At the same time, I wonder: if there was a scene where tranquilizers would have come handy, it was the attack scene.
We will probably never know. Anyway, it was nice to have Terry Duggan handy, that day.

P.S. Remember the scene where the lion's head had to be carried around triumphantly by Moonwatcher's tribe? The script originally called for the actual killing of that lion to be shown in the movie. Imagine having to set up that shot!

* * *

(dec.11: the article has been updated with the removal of the picture of Terry Duggan the comedian, who was not the Duggan involved with the Chipperlfield's and 2001. As Mission Control would say, IMDB and Wikipedia are "in error" in saying that they were the same person. Source: Mr.Duggan' sister thanks to Jamie Clubb.)

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