mercoledì 24 dicembre 2014

sabato 20 dicembre 2014

Addio a Gino Pellegrini, pittore delle nuvole

Il sito di Repubblica-Bologna dà stamattina la brutta notizia della scomparsa di Gino Pellegrini, scenografo e artista 73enne che aveva lavorato a Hollywood e anche a 2001: Odissea Nello Spazio.

Su Repubblica potete leggere un breve resoconto della sua carriera; in suo ricordo mi sembra giusto riproporre un'intervista del 2001 raccolta da Federico Greco, uno degli autori di Stanley & Us, già pubblicata in precedenza dal mio blog (ho aggiunto io le ultime tre foto).

GINO PELLEGRINI, IL PITTORE DELLE NUVOLE

Sabato 21 Luglio 2001 - di Federico Greco con la collaborazione di Simone Odino


Gino Pellegrini, scenografo, ha sessant'anni. E’ nato infatti a Lugo di Vicenza il 13 agosto del 1941. Verso la metà degli anni '60, dopo essersi trasferito negli Stati Uniti per studiare alla Facoltà di Architettura dell'U.C.L.A. e conseguire, alla Art Center School di Los Angeles, il Master in Fine Arts, ha l’incredibile privilegio di trovarsi sul set di 2001: Odissea nello spazio. Ovviamente non poteva prevedere allora cosa sarebbe diventato nel tempo quel film epocale, e anche oggi mostra una semplicità e un'umiltà che confinano con la saggezza.
Abbiamo provato a chiedergli se voleva essere intervistato per il nostro documentario Stanley and us Project, ha gentilmente declinato dicendo che preferisce kubrickianamente rimanere defilato nella sua cittadina. Ci ha concesso però qualche minuto prezioso al telefono.

Quale fu il suo ruolo nel film?

Collaboravo con Harry Lange, accreditato ufficialmente come scenografo, e con gli altri due "production designer" del film, che in realtà erano scienziati della NASA, Tony Masters e Ernie Archer.
Alcuni considerano Tony Masters una sorta di co-autore del film, insieme a Kubrick, perché fu lui a coordinare tutto il lavoro di realizzazione scenografica, soprattutto per quanto riguarda la ricostruzione della navicella PanAm Orion.


Qual era esattamente il suo compito?

Alcuni dettagli della scenografia: dovevo ridipingere continuamente le nuvole per il modellino della Terra vista dalla Stazione Spaziale. Era un modellino di un metro per un metro e venti. Per ogni nuova inquadratura Kubrick voleva che la vista fosse diversa, come se le nuvole si fossero mosse veramente.

 
Uno dei dipinti usati per riprodurre la Terra in 2001 - forse uno di quelli dipinti da Pellegrini. (fonte: Douglas Trumbull)

Un esempio della sua incredibile meticolosità…

Sì. Un altro intervento fu sulle quinte della sequenza iniziale dell’Alba dell’Uomo.

Cioè?

Come sapete Kubrick volle girare quella scena con la front projection, cioè con delle diapositive proiettate sullo sfondo delll’inquadratura che raffiguravano scene di deserto, come la Terra avrebbe dovuto essere milioni di anni fa. Ma c’erano anche delle quinte di legno che servivano a dare l’effetto della profondità. Per esempio nella scena del leopardo, il masso vicino era un masso di legno costruito appositamente, dietro il quale fu nascosto il guinzaglio che teneva il leopardo legato. La corda poi fu anche cancellata fotograficamente [...] ... Altre quinte presenti in quella sequenza che io disegnai simulavano dei cespugli.


Il leopardo fu veramente l’unico punto debole di quella incredibile ricostruzione, avvenuta in studio con un sistema detto Sinar, composto di una proiezione frontale (invece di quella retro più diffusa all’epoca) di diapositive 25x20 cm. su schermo catarifrangente della 3M di 12x27 metri. Infatti quando il leopardo volge lo sguardo verso la macchina da presa si vedono i suoi occhi brillare per la luce della proiezione.

Ma di aneddoti sul film ne esistono migliaia, e molti di questi vengono sapientemente raccontati in un documentario che Channel Four ha mandato in onda qualche settimana fa. Per comprendere fino a che punto Kubrick pretendesse il massimo dai suoi collaboratori, basti ricordare quello che si diverte a ripetere John Baxter nella sua biografia non autorizzata.

Sentite una delle vessazioni che Gino Pellegrini dovette subire sul set:

"Gli scenografi non lavoravano mai abbastanza in fretta. Kubrick era convinto che i suoi collaboratori passassero la maggior parte del tempo a chiacchierare e a bere tè e prese in considerazione l’idea di installare un sistema di monitoraggio a circuito chiuso nascosto per sorvegliarli, fino a quando i lavoratori più informati sulle regole del sindacato britannico lo avvisarono che una mossa simile avrebbe immediatamente provocato uno sciopero".

Oggi Gino Pellegrini vive a Monte S.Pietro (Bologna), ed è titolare di un’azienda che si occupa di scenografia, dove applica una preziosa esperienza di lavoro maturata nel cinema americano. Oltre a 2001 ha lavorato per esempio ne Gli Uccelli di Hitchcock, Mary Poppins, West side story, e le serie televisive Star Trek e Il pianeta delle scimmie. Se volete avere un assaggio delle sue incredibili capacità di creatore di scenografie trompe l’oeil – e capire perché sia stato ingaggiato dal regista più incontentabile della storia del cinema – visitate il sito, virtuale e reale, di Persiceto, nella bassa bolognese. Ne scoprirete delle belle.

 
2009: ancora una volta, Gino dipinge la Terra - stavolta a Dozza (BO). Fonte: mariagiulia-alemanno.com

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per saperne di più su Gino Pellegrini:
http://www.ilportoritrovato.net/html/Gino%20Pellegrini%20la%20Piazzetta%20degli%20Inganni.htm
http://ravennanotizie.it/main/index.php?id_pag=112&id_blog_post=48972
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEQ1n9xYzwo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9iVGlL4hbs
http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Europe/Italy/Emilia-Romagna/Bologna/San_Giovanni_in_Persiceto/photo657579.htm
http://www.amerigo1934.it/content/show/section/pellegrini

lunedì 15 dicembre 2014

Investigating the myths around the '2001'-Pink Floyd connection


Pink Floyd and Stanley Kubrick in 1966-67 (source 1 and 2)

The recent release of a new Pink Floyd album (The Endless river) prompted me to complete an article that was in the making for almost a year: an investigation on the links between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Pink Floyd, particularly about the purported request (by Stanley Kubrick) to have the band write the soundtrack for the movie, and the coincidences between the 1971 song Echoes and the "stargate" sequence. Credits for the original source and inspiration for my further investigations to Mikhail Vadalà, author of the fine blog Rashōmon, and his 2013 article.

Did Kubrick ask Pink Floyd to score 2001?

The most unlikely rumor regarding 2001 and Pink Floyd regards the purported request made by Kubrick to the band to write the soundtrack for the movie; according to other versions of the myth, the Floyds themselves asked to score the movie, but the director refused. How likely is such a thing to have ever happened?

First of all, in all the major works (articles, essays, books) written in the last two decades about Kubrick's musical choices for 2001, there is no mention of any contact whatsoever between Pink Floyd and the director; also, the Floyd do not appear in any of the papers held in The Kubrick Archive in London.

Jan Harlan, Kubrick's brother-in-law and music expert, started working with him when the director was choosing the soundtrack for 2001, in mid-1967. Here's a recent interview:
Interviewer: I heard a rumor that Kubrick was originally thinking of putting Pink Floyd as the soundtrack?
Jan Harlan: Before my time. I don't think it is true. I've never heard about it. It may have been true later, or no. I don't remember, if I ever knew, I would have forgot.
Kubrick's eldest daughter, Katharina, does not rule out altogether the possibility, as her answer during a recent Q&A session on Reddit suggests:
Reddit user: Is there any truth to the rumor that your dad approached The Floyd to possibly do some of the sound scapes for this film and they declined due to schedule conflicts? 
Katharina Kubrick: I was aware that Stanley listened to anything and everything that might be useful in his movie. It is entirely within the realms of possibility that he considered Pink Floyd at some point.
This remark about Kubrick's attitude toward soundtracks fits perfectly with this excerpt from a Kubrick 1966 interview with Jeremy Bernstein, made when principal photography of 2001 was well underway:
[...] Kubrick told me that he thought he had listened to almost every modern composition available on records in an effort to decide what style of music would fit the film. Here, again, the problem was to find something that sounded unusual and distinctive but not so unusual as to be distracting.
In the office collection were records by the practitioners of musique concrete and electronic music in general, and records of works by the contemporary German composer Carl Orff. In most cases, Kubrick said, film music tends to lack originality, and a film about the future might be the ideal place for a really striking score by a major composer.
While shooting the 'centrifuge' scenes for 2001 (spring 1966) Kubrick played Chopin to set the mood for Gary Lockwood shadow-boxing sequence.

Pink Floyd, circa 1967 (source)

Were the 1967-Pink Floyd 'major composers', sounding 'not so unusual to be distracting'?

Surely they were not as famous as the post-1970 Pink Floyd, a band with a number one album in the UK (Atom Heart Mother) and a soundtrack for Michelangelo Antonioni's counter-culture classic Zabriskie Point. By December 1967, Pink Floyd's catalogue consisted only of two singles (Arnold Layne and See Emily Play, released in March and June) and one album (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, released in August). With the album later peaking at number 6 in the UK charts, it's impossible to prove that Kubrick was unaware of Floyd's existence: considering that, for example, it was Kubrick's wife Christiane who casually discovered György Ligeti's music (later used to a great lenght in 2001) while listening to the radio in that very same August of 1967.

One might point out that, after all, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn did include two 'space rock' songs like Astronomy Domine and Interstellar Overdrive; especially the first, with astronaut-sounding voices and lyrics mentioning planets, could - theoretically - have aroused Kubrick's curiosity and interest. These songs (the first songs that sounded somewhat like the future Pink Floyd would) caused a thematic association to sci-fi that the members of the band denied or rejected in later years.

This does not mean that Kubrick and the Floyds did not get in touch, ever: there are at least two documented contacts between Kubrick and the Pink Floyd (and in particular with their leader until 1983, Roger Waters).

Atom Heart Mother vs. A Clockwork Orange

While working on his next project after 2001A Clockwork Orange (1971), Stanley Kubrick got in contact with Pink Floyd for the possible use of the 24-minute suite Atom Heart Mother (from the namesake 1970 album). Here's Roger Waters recollection of the affair:
He just phoned up and said that he wanted it. [...] we said "Well, what do you want to do? and he didn't know. He [said he] wanted to use it 'how I want, when I want'." [...] and we said right away "Right, you can't use it".
Despite the refusal, Atom Heart Mother ended up featuring twice in A Clockwork Orange - even if only in form of an album cover in the record shop of the Chelsea Drug Store, as shown in this great article by John Coulthart that kindly agreed to let me use the following pictures from his original investigation.


look carefully under the number '2' ...


... it's the cover of Atom Heart Mother....


... that appears also in the upper shelf of the store, above the clerk.

It is unclear whether the cover featured in the store had anything to do with Floyd's refusal, as the director probably approached the band during post-production (principal photography ended in February 1971 and the movie was released in the U.S.A. in December). Also, being the Chelsea Drug Store an actual music store at the time, and not a scenic design full of props, some of the albums might have been there in display already; but the special place given to two 2001 soundtracks makes me think that Kubrick had the last word.








HAL vs. Roger Waters

Almost twenty years after Clockwork Orange, it was Roger Waters' turn to contact Kubrick, asking him to use HAL's voice for his track Perfect Sense – Part I that had to appear in his third solo album Amused to Death. In a 1991 interview given before the release of the record, Waters explains that the inclusion of HAL's snippet had a clear thematic reason, as Amused to Death was a sort of concept-album inspired by the very same 2001; but Waters had not actually requested  permission to use the snippet from the movie.
Jim: Uh, the song Perfect Sense, the song begins with the HAL computer from (the movie) "2001 (A Space Odyssey)"...
Waters: Shhhh, (Roger laughs) don't tell Stanley Kubrick!
Jim: ....it's having it's breakdown, and then it flashes back from that to the monkey discovering weaponry.
Waters: Ya.
Jim: Explain that. Explain that, how that happens in there?
Waters: Well, that was the starting point for that song, was the image from the beginning of "2001". [...] Which I thought was really powerful. I remember everybody rushed out and bought "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (by Richard Strauss) immediately after the movie came out cause it's such a great piece of music and um, it's stayed with me in the intervening..., how old is that movie? Twenty years, twenty five years? It's a..., it's a long time ago anyway.  Um... so the HAL scene, ...actually when I came to..., I - I started putting..., putting monkey noises over the beginning of it, and it didn't sound right, and then [...] I got the - the laser disc out of "2001". And remember "Daisey", you know, where the..., the..., where he breaks down and he starts to sing "Daisey, Daisey", and gets slower and slower, I was watching the beginning of that scene and I thought "this is great, we'll try this". Hope they don't sue me, they probably will, you know what they're like [those Hollywood types]?
Here's another interview from 1992 where Waters explains his connection with 2OO1:
Interviewer: I remember Pink and 'The Wall', always watching TV, sitting there and zapping. Um, so was it Roger Waters, not so very many years ago, always watching TV?
Roger Waters: Um, no, I've never watched an enormous amount of television. But however, a number of the songs on this record are based on my response to specific bits of news or... or documentaries that I've seen. Um, but the beginning of the idea of the album came from the song Perfect Sense Part 1, uh, where ... so, so the image of the monkey comes from the opening shots of '2001: A Space Odyssey', the Stanley Kubrick, uh, movie, uh, where the chimpanzee, or it's not a chimpanzee, but an early man, if you like, discovers the bone and he can use this bone as a weapon. And that song precedes through a brief history of, eh, the human race until we find ourselves returning to the Garden of Eden at the end of the song ... to have another war.
It's no surprise that basically all the cover art for Amused to Death and the related singles featured monkeys or simians of some sorts:



In a 1993 interview Waters explains that he eventually did ask Kubrick for the permission, only to receive a refusal:
I was wondering what was before that, and what the guy was yelling at the beginning of that. I'm trying to figure out exactly what that was.
[...] A number of people know that I often put messages on records that I make. There’s one on The Wall and a few other bits and over that particular piece of “Perfect Sense Part I”, we had a bit from 2001. You know the Kubrick movie. The bit where Dave is turning off the HAL 9000 computer and the computer is saying “Stop Dave”, I don’t know if you remember it and there’s all this breathing in the background. It’s a great scene and it’s been sampled and used on a million different rap records. 
Anyway, I stupidly asked Stanley Kubrick for permission to use it as background on that particular track. He hummed and hawed for ages and ages and eventually refused me permission to use it on the grounds that it would open the floodgates and lots of other people would use it. And my presumption is that he was closing the stable door to those who bolted and fell on deaf ears. 
So, I made my own which is why you’ve got me breathing on there which is a bit like that thing and that is a backwards message for Stanley Kubric. So,“Yelnats” backwards we all now know is Stanley. [...] And the shouting at the beginning, I wouldn't like to tell you what that is but it's the "Mad Scotsman" having a quiet word with Stanley Kubric about not giving me permission to use that Kubric stuff on the record.
Roger Waters during a 2012 concert (source)

It is generally assumed, although never stated by the singer, that Waters considered Kubrick's refusal as a sort of vengeance for the Atom Heart Mother incident; anyway, this is the backwards message Waters is referring to in the interview - you can hear it in this version of Perfect Sense – Part I (Apparently it seems that in live renditions of the song made in the years after Kubrick passed away, Waters did use a HAL sample from the actual movie.)
Julia, however, in the light and visions of the issues of Stanley, we changed our minds. We have decided to include a backward message. Stanley, for you, and for all the other book burners.

Conclusion: So, where did it all come from? 


I guess that, by now, even the most ardent fan might have seriously wondered why, in those interviews where he goes a great lenght about 2001, Waters never mentioned Kubrick asking Pink Floyd to score it; but I wasn't satisfied. I wanted to know how the connection happened.

My investigation led me to the most probable first mention of the Pink Floyd-2001 connection: the year 1991, when Nicholas Schaffner wrote in A Saucerful Of Secrets, one of the first respectable biography of Pink Floyd, the following paragraph:
Roger Waters, yet to balk at the sci-fi association, went so far as to say his 'greatest regret' was that they didn't do the score for 2001: A Space Odyssey -- parts of which, particularly in the long, mind-blowing hallucinatory sequence near the end, nonetheless sound remarkably Floydian...
Schaffner does not include the source of the interview; a strange mishap, considering that the book is full of properly traced sources. It's no surprise: in the bulk of Pink Floyd interviews available on the web and in the most authoritative books I've read about the band there is no mention of such statement.

Despite this, magazines (even authoritative ones) and later websites perpetuated the legend again and again, mixing it with the truth from the Atom Heart Mother incident, and later with Waters' Amused To Death, and therefore giving some credibly to the claim.


Schaffner's remark about the 'hallucinatory sequence sounding remarkably Floydian' hit the web in the the late 90's and remained alive ever since, creating another urban legend, that states that after Kubrick's purported refusal to let them score 2001 (or after their refusal to do it, depending on which version you prefer), Pink Floyd wrote the 1971 song Echoes (from the album Meddle) synching it on purpose to "Jupiter and beyond the infinite", the final sequence of 2001.

There are many fan-made videos on the internet showing the (somewhat eerie) coincidence, and this is one of the best; if you want to do the syncronization by yourself, with your own Echoes record and a copy of the 2001 DVD/Blu-ray, follow the instructions here.


The link between Echoes and 2001 received a semi-official sanctioning when director Adrian Maben re-created the marriage of music and image, using CGI, for its 2003 Director's cut DVD of the movie Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, a 1972 concert film featuring Pink Floyd playing at the ancient Roman amphitheatre in Pompeii, Italy (a place that, by the way, it's very close to the town I spend my summer holidays in.)

Here's two frames, one from 2001, and the second from the 2003 DVD of the concert, from the blog Rashōmon:


The fact that, by 1971, the band had already scored two movies (the aforementioned 1970 Zabriskie Point was preceded by french art film More in 1969), again gave some credibility to the claim; Pink Floyd also provided an instrumental piece called Moonhead to the BBC coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing (July 1969). According to Wikipedia, (unfortunately there are no sources for this)
...the members of the band always denied that the synchronization was intentional. Furthermore, the technology necessary to the synchronization in a recording studio circa 1971 would have been expensive and difficult for the band to acquire.
Luckily, the creation and origins of Echoes are extremely well documented, as we learn from this Cinefantastique article:
The story behind the creation of this lengthy effort is detailed in ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL: The Stories Behind Every Pink Floyd Song by Cliff Jones.
The band gathered in the recording studio [Ed.note: late 1970-early 1971] with the goal of creating a song that would fill an entire side of a record. Playing to a metronome, they recorded thirty-six discrete pieces of music. These thirty-six pieces were then edited together, re-recorded and re-edited and redubbed until eight major sections remained.
At no point in Jones’ account is 2001 or Stanley Kubrick mentioned, and in fact the recording did not take its final shape until after the song had been played live on at least a few occasions, on the basis of which the group went back to further refine the album track. In other words, the final version was based on what worked best as a live concert performance, not on whether it synched up with a movie.
Also, Wikipedia is helpful in giving us more hints about the composition of 'Echoes':
  1. The high-pitched electronic 'screams', resembling a distorted seagull song, were discovered by Gilmour when the cables were accidentally reversed to his wah pedal;
  2. The second half of the song where Gilmour plays muted notes on the guitar over Wright's slowly building organ solo was inspired by The Beach Boys song "Good Vibrations" ;
  3. In an interview in 2008 with Mojo, when asked who had composed Echoes, Wright stated he had composed the long piano intro and the main chord progression of the song, in the same interview he confirmed that Waters wrote the lyrics. Gilmour has also stated in interviews that musically the song came mainly from him and Wright.
All this basically rules out the conspiracy hypothesis: Pink Floyd did not synch Echoes to 2OO1.

Summing it up

Stanley Kubrick got in contact with Pink Floyd to request permission to use Atom Heart Mother in A Clockwork Orange, but the band refused. Later, it was Kubrick's turn to refuse permission to Roger Waters to use a sample from 2001. Although Waters was definitely fascinated by the movie, the lack of any hard proofs and the amount of circumstantial evidence goes against the claim that Pink Floyd have ever had anything to do with 2001, either for its soundtrack or, later, in syncronizing their tracks to the film.

'2001' in 70 mm. al Cinema Oberdan di Milano

Da Filippo Ulivieri e Giovanni Cau giunge la seguente, succosa notizia. 2OO1: Odissea Nello Spazio verrà proiettato in una copia in 70 mm., audio in italiano, sabato 20 dicembre 2014 presso lo Spazio Oberdan della Cineteca di Milano.

AGGIORNAMENTO: Ecco il link ufficiale, grazie a Giovanni: http://www.cinetecamilano.it/notizie/2001-odissea-nello-spazio-in-70-mm-questo-si-che-e-cinema/


lunedì 10 novembre 2014

So, what about Interstellar?

Interstellar Vs 2001 - according to Ivanov Adrik

Ok, so you want to know what I feel about Interstellar (AKA 2014: A Space Inception). Here's three smart reviews I totally agree with; I strongly encourage all of you to read them, as they raise interesting points.

My opinion is that we still need movies like Interstellar, once in a while, to remind us what cinema is, in the age of Marvel Vs. DC comics. Unfortunately, Nolan's latest is not the masterpiece we hoped for - rather a flawed but admirable attempt from an ambitious director.

* * *

Interstellar is inexplicable in all the wrong ways. Per usual for Nolan, the movie is overloaded with plot and exposition, and yet the characters and world frequently make little sense. I wasn’t left with questions of love and the grandeur of the universe, but rather how nobody noticed that it simply doesn’t make any logical sense. (from http://popcorntrick.tumblr.com/post/102161801261/interstellar-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and)

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It's a movie designed for people who watched the bedroom sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey and wished there was more exposition about who built the room, how, why and what thread count was on that bed. (from http://badassdigest.com/2014/10/27/interstellar-movie-review-ambitious-inert-beautiful-flawed/)

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sabato 11 ottobre 2014

"A spaceship of the mind": Oliver Rennert's Discovery


You may remember that in several previous posts I talked about Oliver Rennert's exquisitely detailed drawings for Piers Bizony's The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s '2OO1: A Space Odyssey', published by Taschen in July. 

I also told you how Oliver is now selling, on his website, a high-quality Giclée print of his flagship drawing, the Discovery cutaway, as a limited edition of 500 pieces, numbered and signed with certificate of authenticity.


I had met Oliver at the launch party of The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s '2OO1', chez Kubrick's, and he immediately struck me as a nice and modest guy. By then, although I had admired the amazing quality of his original artworks that were on display there, I was a bit skeptical about how a print could render such hand-made details so faithfully, despite having learned that a Giclée print is high-quality art paper printed with super-fine ink spray dots and it's almost indistinguishable from an actual painting. 

Well, my dear friend Navneet sent me one Discovery print - and boy, is it awesome!

....looks like everything is in its right place!

I therefore realized that others fans, who could be skeptical as well, might be interested in knowing how Oliver got the job, realized those drawings, and how, in the process, managed to live for eleven weeks "inside" one of the most famous fictional spaceships ever. Here's what he told me.

* * *

First of all, how did you get involved in the Taschen project?

I had never worked for Taschen before nor did I know Bizony personally (though I did have a copy of his earlier book on 2OO1, Filming the Future). It all began on an evening here in Cologne, where there was a live production of 2OO1 being staged at the Philharmonic Concert Hall, live meaning that there was a full orchestra and two choirs performing in synch to the film being screened above the musician's heads. My cousin Jan Harlan was also there. After the show we all - my wife Marion, Jan and me - went to dinner. During the lively conversation about the spectacular show we had just seen I showed Jan the Bizony book; did he know about it? Of course he did, and then he let drop the side remark that Taschen were going to do a huge book project about 2OO1, it would be unlike anything anyone had ever seen.

Oliver Rennert and Piers Bizony dedicating copies of The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s '2OO1' during the launch party (photo © Oliver Boito, from Taschen's Facebook page)

2OO1 had always been a landmark experience in my life, and here I suddenly realized that I could, as it were, pay homage to that achievement which was so much part of my formative years. With my background as an illustrator, I could possibly contribute some explanative illustrations to the book should the author and the publisher be agreeable. Furthermore, these illustrations would be the first of their kind for this film, and since I work in the time-honoured media of traditional illustrators these images would seamlessly fit in with anything Taschen would dig up in the Kubrick archives - material on 2OO1 would be at least some forty years old, way before any digital rendering techniques.

Jan thought this a great idea and forwarded me the contact details of Piers Bizony, as well as Florian Kobler at Taschen. I contacted both, and both liked the idea. Bizony was quite enthusiastic after he had seen my website, he thought here was the right man for such a job. I went and spent a week at Piers's house in England, we basically ransacked his image files for anything that could be useful and brainstormed ideas. Three main images emerged, they are the ones that ended up in the book. (the Discovery cutaway, plus two drawings about how front-projection and the slit-scan machine work) Kobler was persuaded to commissioning illustrations after I had shown him a quite-detailed line drawing of the proposed Discovery cutaway illustration - something that he would never have been able to get elsewhere, in this way. So it was all agreed and away I went.

A close-up of Oliver's detailed drawing of the Discovery insides. The real thing looks way better.

I had quite a few other ideas, but they would have involved some gentle creative input of my own that would not have been supported directly by the film material available. These illustrations would have given life to scenes the film doesn't show, but would necessarily have been part of the story. For example, I would have loved to show more detail of the docking of the Orion with the space station, also a cutaway of the station itself would have been lovely. Also a picture showing how the Aries actually docks with the station would have been nice, but all these images have no precedent in the film, and Piers was rightly adamant that the book only deal with actual, certifiable material and not go off on fantasy tangents.

The decision for the three eventual images had its base in that there should be some which explained the pioneering filmmaking techniques, which otherwise would have required lots of text - a typical case of a picture being worth more than a thousand words. The Discovery Cutaway, however, is there because I felt that this spaceship, in and around which so much of the film action happens, is a confusing maze of interior architecture which could do with some summary visual explanation. And I wanted to create something beautiful to look at as well, to go with all the other aesthetic jewels both the film and the book present. Lastly, I wanted to commemorate Harry Lange, who was one of the major designers of the film, and whom I remember, having worked with him myself a long time ago, at EMI Elstree studios, in 1980-81.

One of the other two drawings Oliver realized for Taschen: the front-projection mechanism devised for 2OO1.

How did you make up the interiors of the Discovery? I'm asking this because fans debated for decades about the odd proportions that seem to originate when you consider the various areas of the ship as seen in the movie (i.e. the pod bay and the centrifuge sections are too big to fit the sphere seen from the outside), so I was wondering if you had access to some blueprints or you worked out all by yourself.

This was actually quite tricky and involved some major brainwork. First of all, all the illustrations were done the old-fashioned way: watercolours, inks, airbrush work, coloured pens etc., they weren't created digitally. That was the intention: produce something in 2013 that looks as if it was made in 1965, so that it fits seamlessly with all the visual material that the Kubrick archives provided for Piers Bizony and the Taschen book. The actual design of the Discovery illustration was arrived at after careful weighing and assessing the evidence. I had done complicated cutaways of objects before, and it involves putting yourself at the centre of the object and looking out in a direction from which you could then, when looking in, see as much as possible of the objects elements.

With Discovery, it was obvious that the big ball should be in the foreground, that an above-deck level would be required to see behind the space pods and that there would be no way that I could show the centrifuge, HAL's brain room and the flight deck without somehow moving the last two of these out from the central area. Still, the overall sphere image also needed to be conveyed. This would also get me out of the very real conundrum of the centrifuge, pod bay and flight deck being too large for the available space. For this illustration, it all was a matter of how you look at the various parts in relation to each other in perspective while still also conveying the overall sphere image.


Thus I arrived at the peeled-orange solution you now see. The long tail was included because on the one hand it is a hallmark of Discovery and should be included in any image of the spaceship, and on the other hand it gave me a tool to allow Taschen to frame the illustration any which way they needed to. Sounds odd, but they had not given me any idea of the book's design. I had no idea what shape the book would be, I had no contact with the designers at M/M Paris. So I suppose Taschen just let me go ahead and run with my ideas. My impression is that Taschen are not a publisher who readily commissions illustrations, they much rather deal with readily available material, and thus they were possibly not used to the communicative traffic between author, illustrator and designer that usually accompanies the creative process of a production in the way I know it. They would somehow accommodate my illustration in their design.

The technical detail was worked out pretty much between Piers and myself. I had borrowed a copy of Fred Ordway's book 2OO1: The Lost Science from Piers. He also let me have some archive imagery and blueprints and I had Piers' book. And, of course, I also had a DVD of the film. In the end, it all came together without too much creative coercion. There were numerous sketches and perspective drafts until the right viewing angle and amounts of foreshortening emerged. I watched the film umpteen times, looking first for one specific detail here, then another there. It felt like living aboard the ship at times. Of course, in the end you can stretch physics only to a certain degree: there had to be the odd bit of illustrative magic applied occasionally, but in such subtle amounts that it doesn't show up noticeably in the result at all. After all, Discovery is a spaceship of the mind, the real ship only existed in several disjointed film sets. The fact that it all went together as well as it did is another credit to the original designers and hard working crew that made it all possible. Overall, the illustration took 11 weeks to complete, working pretty much seven days a week.

Oliver showing his job to other guests at the launch party. Source: Taschen on Facebook

I was told that there is the chance that an annotated version could be produced as well - where the various parts of Discovery are captioned with leader lines, like a stylish technical drawing...

To answer that I need to go back a little: I am no digital artist and have to rely on the services of the very professional folks at my printer's. Giclée prints are expensive and difficult to produce in any quality worth truly looking at, and this one is a cream-of-the-crop example. To give you an idea: where regular prints are set up to be printed at 330 dpi, Discovery gets the full 2880 dpi treatment in order to produce the nice, velvet darkest-blue backdrop. We do what is necessary. To get to where the file is now I had to spend a lot of time with a Photoshop pro to clean up the original scan data. Taschen's file is very good already, but it is geared at book print production, and the result in the book is less than half of the size the actual artwork. My prints, however, are same size to the original, every tiny little flaw would be visible, and I wanted to present a perfect image. That is why we went back to the original scan data from the illustration.

After all was done and I was ready to sell the first prints I had run up a massive bill. Putting captions and leader lines on the image file would involve additional expenditure. I figured I hold off on this until my Photoshop bill has been paid by sufficient "pure" prints having been sold. 2OO1 imagery of this nature is for a probably very limited market only: it is expensive to make and it is delicate to handle. Also, forty-something years after the film's release the 2OO1 fan base would be quite small now. Only true aficionados really are prepared to pay the money I ask for Discovery Cutaway. But may it be known here that most of the money actually goes towards production and shipping, my profit is very limited indeed. So I have to be patient and wait for more orders to roll in before I can afford further expense on this project. I am confident, though, that eventually a break-even point is reached, and when it is I'll go for the annotated version.

* * *

In conclusion: for us 2OO1 fans the Discovery is, after all, more than a fictional spaceship - it's a real machine that actually flew to Jupiter. And she belonged to our dreams for so long that it's almost unreal that, finally, an artist devoted his skills to expose - respectfully - her inner beauty for the first time. Because, after all, "machines are so sexy", as Stanley Kubrick said once!

Give yourself a little treat, contact Oliver through his website. The prints are still available, and if the Discovery is the spaceship of your dreams, you won't regret it.

lunedì 25 agosto 2014

Kubrick, George Best e la Coppa del Mondo del '66

Stanley Kubrick si trovò di certo di fronte ad una lunga serie di ostacoli durante la realizzazione di 2OO1 - organizzativi, tecnici, economici... Ma chi se lo immaginava che sul suo percorso si fosse andata a piazzare anche la finale dei Mondiali di calcio del 1966?

fonte: catalogo della mostra "Stanley Kubrick", ed.tedesca, p.281

La storia che segue è solo un esempio di quello che potrete trovare nel clamoroso libro della Taschen The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2OO1, uscito in edizione limitata il mese scorso e subito esaurito. E' però ancora disponibile un'altra versione, sebbene costosetta, che include anche una litografia autografa dell'artista Brian Sanders, quindi chi è interessato può ordinarlo dal sito medesimo o dai distributori italiani di libri.it.


Nel 1966 l'Inghilterra era la nazione organizzatrice dell'Ottava edizione della Coppa del Mondo di Calcio, che si tenne dall'11 al 30 Luglio. Tutte le partite dell'Inghilterra vennero giocate nel mitico stadio di Wembley; solo 15 chilometri più a nord, negli studi MGM di Borehamwood, stavano per concludersi le riprese live action (ovvero con attori) delle sequenze "spaziali" di 2OO1. La sezione "L'Alba dell'Uomo" era ancora in fase di studio e sarebbe stata girata solo nell'agosto-settembre 1967, e la troupe si era messa al lavoro sulle sequenze degli effetti speciali.

Tali riprese richiesero una quantità senza precedenti di prove e sperimentazioni e durarono più di 18 mesi, principalmente poiché Kubrick era deciso ad un approccio "senza compromessi" per quanto riguardava l'aspetto dei modellini, in modo da rompere con il look non abbastanza verosimile che questi avevano finora avuto nel cinema di fantascienza. Il regista decise di esplorare ogni strada possibile, tra il tentativo di migliorare le tecniche di ripresa pre-esistenti e lo sviluppo di nuove metodologie.

Questo sforzo portò, per esempio, alla costruzione di un modello della Discovery lungo 16 metri (probabilmente ancor'oggi il modello di una nave spaziale più grande mai costruito per un film). Sarebbe stato impossibile, come si faceva usualmente, muovere il modellino attorno alla cinepresa: in questo caso era questa a muoversi attorno al modello, lungo una rotaia di una cinquantina di metri, per mezzo di un massiccio meccanismo a ruota dentata importato apposta da una fabbrica automobilistica di Detroit. Utilizzando questo meccanismo di precisione, facendo muovere lentissimamente la cinepresa ed impressionando solo pochi frame al secondo, con un'apertura ridottissima dell'obiettivo della macchina da presa, la squadra di effetti speciali capeggiata da Wally Veevers riuscì a ottenere una profondità di campo tale da avere la lunghissima Discovery a fuoco e nitidissima da un capo all'altro. Tale processo era talmente lento che venne descritto da Kubrick "come fissare la lancetta delle ore di un orologio".

Una rara immagine della Discovery lunga 16 metri. Kubrick aveva vietato di proposito fotografie di questo innovativo "modellone". Fonte: douglastrumbull.com

Lo stesso lentissimo metodo venne usato per girare la splendida sequenza in cui la stazione spaziale ruota attorno al proprio asse, con stupenda ed inarrivabile fluidità, nella scena in cui Floyd la raggiunge a bordo dell'Orion. Poiché per ottenere pochi minuti di filmato utile bisognava far muovere la macchina da presa per ore, non era ovviamente possibile accorgersi di problemi nel movimento dei modellini (per esempio oscillazioni o movimenti imprevisti degli stessi o della macchina da presa) se non dopo aver sviluppato la pellicola, cosa che a volte avveniva molto tempo dopo, e obbligava il già esausto team di effetti speciali a rigirare la scena.

Un giorno, controllando queste riprese risalenti a qualche settimana prima, Kubrick si accorse di un tremore evidente ed improvviso della stazione spaziale, che era sembrata letteralmente "sbandare da un lato all'altro dello schermo". Una veloce ricerca nei diari di produzione rivelò che quella particolare ripresa era stata effettuata nel pomeriggio del 30 Luglio. Cos'era successo?

Il modello della stazione spaziale aveva il diametro di quasi tre metri. Fonte: douglastrumbull.com

Molto semplicemente, la sequenza era stata girata esattamente durante la finale della Coppa del Mondo tra Inghilterra e Germania Ovest. Molti membri dello staff erano venuti a lavorare quel giorno solo a condizione di poter piazzare un televisore negli studi, in modo da poter dare un'occhiata di tanto in tanto...  Allo stesso tempo, nello studio di ripresa di fianco, il modello della stazione spaziale ruotava lentamente, ripreso al ritmo di un fotogramma ogni sei secondi - e per soli diciotto secondi, vale a dire tre fotogrammi, a metà strada del girato, il pavimento aveva tremato. Verso le 17, tutti avevano saltato di gioia all'unisono - Geoff Hurst aveva segnato il gol vincente dell'Inghilterra!

Geoff Hurst segna il gol vincente della finale dei Mondiali: risultato finale, Inghilterra 4 Germania Ovest 2.

Il capitano inglese Bobby Moore con la Coppa Rimet (il trofeo che veniva assegnato all'epoca ai Campioni del Mondo, poi rimpiazzato dal 1974 dalla Coppa FIFA)

Nonostante la Coppa del Mondo avesse interferito con la realizzazione del suo capolavoro, Kubrick non se ne ebbe troppo a male. Sì, continuava a restare un newyorkese, tanto da farsi spedire videocassette di football americano da sua sorella rimasta negli USA, e in seguito - con l'arrivo dell'epoca delle pay-tv - gli piaceva gustarsi i playoff dell'NFL. Ma, come residente in Inghilterra da metà degli anni '60, era anche diventato capace di apprezzare il nostro calcio, e amava chiacchierarne con amici come il suo attore e futuro assistente Leon Vitali.

Citando di nuovo la figlia Katharina,
Mi ricordo che gli piaceva la squadra in cui giocava George Best - era il Manchester United? Era un grande fan di George Best. Ma non credo fosse "tifoso" di qualche squadra in particolare. Credo guardasse una partita quando le squadre giocavano bene, quando era un bello spettacolo da vedere - alcune partite sono noiose, e altre invece hanno giocatori interessanti.
Source: georgebest.com

E quel bellissimo modello della stazione spaziale? Sopravvissuto al "terremoto" causato dalla Coppa del Mondo, qualche anno dopo fu caricato per errore da una ditta incaricata di trasferire i magazzini della MGM e trasportato in una discarica lì vicino. Uno studente locale fece in tempo a scattare qualche foto, ma essendo in Vespa non riuscì a portarsi via niente - quando tornò con un mezzo più adeguato il tutto era già stato sfasciato da ignoti ragazzini del posto.



History in the making: Kubrick & the 1966 World Cup

Stanley Kubrick had to overcome several obstacles in order to get his space vision right in 2OO1. But who would have thought that one of such annoyances was the 1966 World Cup Final itself?

Source: Stanley Kubrick exhibition catalogue, p.281

The following story is only one of the many recounted in the majestic Taschen's book The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2OO1, that sold out almost immediately in its limited 500€ edition. The even more limited 1.000€ version, including a signed print by 2OO1 art advisor Brian Sanders is still available, so hurry up and head to Taschen's web site.

the official poster of the 1966 World Cup

In 1966 England hosted the 8th FIFA World Cup, that kicked off on July, 11 with the England-Uruguay game at Wembley. By that time, the shooting of the live action sequences set in space were almost finished (the "dawn of men" section was still being planned and ended up being shot in august-september 1967), and the 2OO1 crew was working hard to get the special effects shots done right. This required an unprecedented amount of testing and experimentation that lasted more that 18 months, both improving old techniques and developing new methods of shooting spaceships in a "believable" way, as Kubrick was committed to a level of smooth movement and pristine look of the models previously unseen in science fiction movies.

Such commitment led to the building of the largest spaceship models ever built, such as a 54-foot model of Discovery, that was obviously impossible to move around a camera - it was the camera that moved, very slowly, around it, activated by a massive worm gear imported from a Detroit automobile plant, on a mini-railway 150 feet long. By shooting only several seconds per frame, the special effects team was able to obtain the deep-focus photography that made the model look, on the screen, pin-sharp from one end to the other. The excruciating slowness of the process was described by Kubrick himself as "like watching the hour hand of a clock".

A rare picture of the 54-feet model of the Discovery. Kubrick banned any casual photography of the larger model. Source: douglastrumbull.com

The same method was used to shoot the beautiful space-station model that, on screen, rotates so swiftly and majestically above Earth. Because of the time required to get a few seconds of footage, occasional wobbling movements of the models couldn't be spotted on the fly, and were detected only after the film was processed, sometimes weeks later - causing the frustrated fx crew to go back and shoot the sequence all over again.

One day, checking the dailies, a particularly shaky movement of the space station showed up on screen. The station suddenly seemed to "lurch from one side of the screen to another". A search in the log sheets revealed that the event took place during a long exposure sequence in the afternoon of July 30, 1966. What had happened?

The 8-feet model of the space station. Source: douglastrumbull.com

Quite simply, that sequence happened to be shot in the very day when, only 10 miles away from the MGM Borehamwood studios, England and West Germany took the field to play the World Cup final in Wembley. Yes, the greatest moment in English football history happened during the shooting of one of the greatest movies ever.
"Kubrick now remembered that many of his staffers hadn't been willing to work that day unless they could wheel a TV set into the shooting studio and look at it from time to time. [...] in the same instant, they'd all leaped up to applaud England's winning goal. Meanwhile, on its reinforced shooting stage, the space station had been turning gently for three hours, while the camera snapped doggedly away at six seconds per frame, for 1500 frames, enough to generate about a minute's worth of footage. And of for three frames somewhere about halfway through that 1500, the studio floor had shaken". (Taschen's "The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2OO1", pp.178-9)
Geoff Hurst's winning goal in the 1966 World Cup Final. Final result: England 4, West Germany 2.

 The iconic picture of Bobby Moore, England's captain, in triumph with the FIFA World Cup original prize, awarded until 1970: the Jules Rimet trophy.

Despite the fact that the World Cup interfered slightly with the shooting of his masterpiece, Kubrick wasn't one of those american "soccer haters" at all. Yes, he was "a nice boy from the Bronx" as he was described by Craig McGregor, and as such he enjoyed watching the videos of american football games that his sister used to send him. But, as he had lived in England since the mid 60's, he also liked "our" football, and loved to talk about it with friends like his former actor and then assistant Leon Vitali.

Here's Katharina Kubrick, his eldest daughter, from an old alt.movies.kubrick message:
I do remember him liking the team that George Best played for - er, Manchester United was it? He was a big G. Best fan. But I don't think that he "supported" any team in particular. I think he watched a game on it's own merits, some are good entertainment and exciting and full of tension and some games are boring, and some teams have interesting players.
Source: georgebest.com

And that beautiful space station model? It survived the World Cup Quake, but a few years later it ended up in the entrance way of the local corporation dump in Stevenage - it was later smashed up by kids. The whole (sad) story is available here.