Wednesday, January 29, 2014

C Is for Creatures

When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was make creatures for Jim Henson.

Or make models for movies.

Or design creatures for George Lucas.

Or work for Industrial Light & Magic.

Or work at Disney.

One of those.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because I've just finished Jim Henson: The Biography and am currently reading The Making of Return of the Jedi. I don't think there are two things that influenced me more as a child than Jim Henson and Return of the Jedi. Those or Disney; I've been revisiting some material about Walt Disney's involvement in the 1964 World's Fair, which has always been fascinating to me in large part because of the animatronic dinosaurs the Imagineers created for the Ford's Magic Skyway exhibit.

I've said before, I'm a pop culture kid. Movies and cartoons were what captured my imagination. When I was 6, I went to see The Dark Crystal, a movie that still fascinates me to this day because of its technique and special effects artistry. A whole world, in live action, with zero human presence to it... it's off-putting, for sure, but it's also astounding. A couple of months before I turned 7, Return of the Jedi came out, which for me was the creature movie of all time. I was obsessed with Jabba's throne room for years. When an action figure would come out that was actually in that sequence of the movie, I had to have it. I remember digging a hole in my Mom's garden to double as the Sarlaac Pit and re-creating that sequence. I would spend hours setting up figures and trying to photograph them from different angles to see which ones were best. I got models of the throne room for my birthday and tried to make them as accurate as possible. I really, really wanted my own little creature workshop to make these weird and amazing things.

Almost any movie that came out with creatures or robots in it, I was fascinated by, even if it was a bad one. Animatronics fascinated me. I used to sit for hours reading Starlog and Cinefex and books about Industrial Light & Magic or Disney or the Muppets. Leonard Nimoy used to host a show on Nickelodeon about the making of science fiction and fantasy movies, and I devoured all of these episodes about how they made Star Trek III or The NeverEnding Story or Return to Oz... I was trying to build my own life-size Jack Pumpkinhead for years, but it never worked out for me. I used to watch a special about the making of Who Framed Roger Rabbit over and over and over again.

I was certain I was going to work with puppets or creatures or models or something. I wanted to be involved in that in some way. I wanted it so badly that I didn't even talk about it that much with people, because I thought if I talked too much, it might never happen. But then, it never did, anyway.

Part of it was, well, those problems that still hold me back but that I never identified until last year in therapy. I didn't feel supported in my goals; they seemed too far away, and so many people in my life were telling me that I couldn't really do anything. Even my parents were discouraging. You always hear that story about how young Kevin Clash cut up his father's expensive jacket to make a puppet, and instead of screaming at him, his parents ended up being supportive; my Mom once screamed at me because I used up all the tin foil trying to make a model of the Tin Woodsman based on WW Denslow's drawings.

Another part of it was CGI. I couldn't totally understand CGI, because I never ended up being very good with computers. I felt like I understood special effects less after that, and I was giving up on the whole thing and not doing very well in school, anyway. I know part of that was this thing I had and continue to have where I give up on things I want to do because I "know" I'll fail at them, so I don't try. I still got really excited about the making of certain movies--particularly Jurassic Park, Dragonheart and The Phantom Menace, all of which I still have big books about the making of--but it no longer seemed like something I could do and I just accepted over time that it was a dream that I had to let go of.

Yeah, I still dream about making a robot sometimes, like I tried to do with an old vacuum cleaner as a kid (and got yelled at for), but these days I'm happier watching my wife make art and supporting her dreams. Nothing makes me happier than making it easier for her to create.

But I still like to read about the making of movies, and to revel in my beloved creatures and robots and monsters and Muppets.

ABC Wednesday


Leslie: said...

I'm glad you have turned your dream around and are supporting your wife with hers. That can be just as important and fulfilling as what you dreamed of doing when you were a child. Maybe it wasn't meant to be for you but you can understand the desire for someone else's dream to come true and be there to help. Kudos to you.

abcw team

Powell River Books said...

I agree with Leslie, but dreaming is important. Whether or not you take action on your dreams is up to you. When I was a young adult, I dreamed about being a research scientist and discovering something really important. I never got there. But I did become an elementary school teacher and hope I inspired and supported lots of children's with their own dreams. - Margy

Roger Owen Green said...

Funny thing about the NY World's Fair, which I went to in 1965: I remember actually very little about it, except for the lines, really long lines for everything, especially this newfangled thing called the Belgian waffle.

You're a good man, A.D.