Friday 29 July 2016

Raiders Of The Lost Ark, at 35 (miniatures, mattes, make-up and behind the scenes)

In August 1981, I went to the Ohio cinema in Kettering with my best friend Nick to watch Raiders Of The Lost Ark.  I'd already heard a lot about it and I'm happy to say it didn't disappoint on any level whatsoever.
Rather than write my usual retrospective post to celebrate its birthday, I've decided to do something different for Steven Spielberg's excellent film.  As regular readers of the blog will know, I'm a big fan of behind-the-scenes processes on films (especially miniaturesmatte paintings and make-up) and I thought this would be the ideal opportunity to take a look at some of the effects artistry in the first Indiana Jones adventure.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark, a Lucasfilm Ltd production, opened in the UK on 30th July 1981.  It was directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Frank Marshall, Robert Watts, Howard Kazanjian and George Lucas and written by Lawrence Kasdan from a story by Lucas and Philip Kaufman. Douglas Slocombe was director of photography, Norman Reynolds was the production designer, John Williams composed the music and Richard Edlund of ILM supervised the special effects.  The film was edited by Michael Kahn and Dr Jones' iconic wardrobe was designed by Deborah Nadoolman.

special effects and miniatures supervised by Richard Edlund
An ILM crew films the miniature submarine - modelmaker Steve Gawley is closest to camera, Edlund is on the shelf with red sleeves
Paul Huston prepares the miniature of the ceremony plateau for the fiery climax
The spirits from the Ark
An actress called Greta Hicks (top left picture) is suspended on wires (middle picture right), photographed against black and then composited into the plateau set as shot at Elstree Studios in London (bottom picture). 
For background ghosts and movement (top right), Steve Gawley manipulates a simple puppet in water against black

matte paintings supervised by Alan Maley
Indy catches a flight to Nepal on a Pan Am clipper.
Top - still from film
middle - the matte painting (including livery)
bottom - the actual plane (and extras)
Marion Ravenwood's bar in Nepal, realised as a matte painting by Michael Pangrazio
film still - Gobler drives over the cliff as Indy forces him off the road
film still - Gobler's staff car is still falling
Alan Maley at work on the cliff matte painting.  The dark, unpainted area is the trajectory the model of the staff car will follow
The final shot (and possibly one of the most famous matte paintings ever)
Michael Pangrazio's warehouse, which is held on screen for a long time, with only the small portion of the middle section as a live action insert

make-up effects supervised by Chris Walas
The key make-up sequence (aside from loads of skeletons and the remains of poor old Satipo and Forrestal at the beginning) comes as Belloq (Paul Freeman), Dietrich (Wolf Kahler) and Toht (Ronald Lacey) open the Ark.

Life moulds of the actors in the screaming positions they would eventually be shown in were taken, from which Walas rebuilt the faces in the various materials required.
If only they knew...
Dietrich has his head shrunk...
film still
The head was attached to a vacuum which simply sucked the air out of the hollow head
 Toht melts...
film still
Toht's head was built out of gelatin and heat was used to melt it.  The sequence was shot at a little under a frame a second (take note of the glasses next time you watch it) and remains, to my mind, a superb effect.
Chris Walas sculpts the head and makes adjustments to the finished version on the ILM stage.  
 And Belloq's head explodes...
film still
The 'uncovered' shot of Belloq's head exploding - when the MPAA saw this, they were adamant it was too much, leading to Spielberg adding the flames you see in the film still.  A plaster skull was overlaid with clay, filled with blood bags and shot at with two shotguns and compressed air.  According to  Walas, "The stage was an absolute mess after we got that shot"
The shot lasts for about 30 frames, just over a second, on screen.
left - Chris Walas puts the finishing touches to the puppet Belloq head, made from a cast of Paul Freeman (right)

Behind The Scenes
Director Steven Spielberg (right) confers with Director Of Photography Douglas Slocombe, who went on to shoot all three films of the Indiana Jones trilogy.  He had retired by the time they made the fourth film, though Spielberg tried to emulate the "warm look" his DoP achieved.
Slocombe, who was made an OBE in 2008, was nominated for 11 BAFTAs (winning 3) and 3 Oscars (including for Raiders).  He died on 22nd February 2016 aged 103.
Shooting the final sequence on Norman Reynolds' set at Elstree Studios
Karen Allen as Marion is about to have a close encounter with some mummies...  Spielberg is looking through the viewfinder
In order to make a better silhouette, Harrison Ford and John Rhys-Davies use a plywood cut-out of the Ark. 
Ford practises his whip-craft on the backlot at Elstree Studios.
Spielberg, Melissa Mathison and Harrison Ford (the latter two were married at the time).
Mathison was in Tunisia as they filmed Raiders and Spielberg told her the story of what would become ET, for which she wrote the screenplay.

Happy birthday Indy!

Look out for another post covering "Temple Of Doom" and "The Last Crusade" coming soon...

1 comment:

  1. I don't know this site, and I don't know who you are or what you do . . . but I'm terrified of that Ark stuff at the end. It KILLED me as a kid; I'll never forget seeing that for the first time. It _still_ shakes my spine—that white, white face turning into a deathmask skeleton grin . . . AWESOME. SO good. •b18