About this Blog

This is about the combination of two interests, Radio Control vehicles and Science Fiction models. This blog documents my science fiction spaceship and radio controlled vehicle projects.

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Ultraman Towards the Future AKA Ultraman Great part 5

The Ultraman production purchased a collection of miniature buildings that were originally made for an unfinished version of Total Recall being made in Australia in 1987. The original miniatures supervisor for the 1987 Total Recall was Gene Rizzardi.

The miniatures had been stored in a shipping container outside in a paddock in Western Sydney for about two years. When we opened the shipping container we were hit with a wall of toxic fumes. We decided to wait with the doors fully open for about half an hour to get some fresh air to circulate before venturing inside to inspect the contents. The summer heat and winter cold had resulted in a expansion and contraction of all the glued joints of the model buildings and almost all of them were literally coming apart at the seams. They were chiefly made of acrylic (perspex) sheet that was just cemented together with very little structural reinforcement.

I gather when they were originally built they were made to be placed in a specific position in a miniature street set and not be moved again until they were finished shooting. The requirements for the Ultraman production would be that they were constantly shuffled around for different shots and stacked on top of each other to make different configurations. This meant that some sturdy timber reinforcement was required.

One of my tasks on Ultraman was to reassemble, repair and re-inforce all the buildings which occupied me for a some weeks.



The original miniatures were all made to depict a specific street in New York, namely Park Avenue. Here I am working on what used to be known as the Pan Am building  which was to be positioned right at the far end of the street.


You can see the side of this building had started to come off and I am attempting to re-glue it. The rest of the model considering all the small details survived surprisingly intact.


The picture below shows one of the buildings being used for a shattering window effect. Assistant director Jamie Crooks (left), Adam Grace (rear), Camera assistant Joanne Parker and D.O.P. Steve Newman setting up the shot.
The camera on the left of frame was an Arri SR a 16mm camera capable of 250 frames per second, a real workhorse and totally reliable. Jo the Camera assistant is hunched over the other 16mm camera we used, a Photosonics actionmaster capable of 500 frames per second. Unfortunately not so reliable and prone to jamming, but miniature explosions at 500 fps are gorgeous.


 A tiny air cannon was placed behind the window which blew out a thin piece of breakaway glass with extra debris piled up inside.


Here I am modifying one of the buildings for the first test of the breakaway glass and pyro explosion effect. Pre-damaged floors were added in and the facade was cut away to be replaced with breakaway glass and pre-painted strips to match the existing window frames.

The test was a deemed a success and the resulting footage was used in an episode.
The buildings were endlessly moved about and re-configured for different shots needing a city environment. The foreground cars were 1/24 scale plastic model kits.

The creature has a 1/24 scale car kit in its mouth which gets tossed aside and in a separate close up a 1/16 scale car hits the ground and explodes.

David Tremont is prepping another building for a pyro effect. We would have to chip off the existing detailing and cut away the perspex "glass" where we wanted the damage to appear. Sections of breakaway glass were carefully reinserted  and glued into the hole then strips of pre painted styrene to match the rest of the window mullions were lightly superglued back into position.
Judy Dabbs the Special Effects assistant towering over the architecture with two of the small Hummers on wires hung from a boom arm.
This a shot of the buildings as they were originally intended. This is the Park Avenue miniature set as it was built in 1987 for the aborted Total Recall movie that was going to star Patrick Swayze. The photos are courtesy of Adam Grace who although didn't contribute to this street set, worked on other miniatures for the unfinished production.
It was all built to be used with the Introvision system which was a front projection, in camera, compositing system that could place live action into a miniature scene using hold out mattes.

They had also built vehicles that used Tamiya Tamtech 1/24 scale radio controlled chassis that could drive down the street. I purchased one of them when the production had a big firesale upon winding up. I also got some other RC vehicles which were based on a modified Thunder Tiger Silver Fox chassis with Marui Big Bear Tyres on custom CNC aluminium wheels. I also picked up a Tamiya 1/16 scale RC Leopard tank chassis.
Unfortunately I dont have any of this haul any more except for a NorthWest Short Line Chopper, a tool I still use for cutting up Evergreen styrene strips.

The buildings were 1/24 scale at the front and tapered back to 1/100 scale in the very back to make the street look longer than it actually was.
The painters on the original miniatures crew did a pretty incredible job on these buildings.

I did not work on this show myself although I did have an interview with John Stears who was the visual Effects supervisor at the beginning of the production. John Stears was replaced quite early in the production and for whatever reason the three of us who went for an interview on the same day never got a call back.
Its a shame this version of the movie never got completed as there was even going to be a radio controlled vehicle car chase on the surface of mars all done with miniatures. That's something I would like to have seen.
Thanks for looking.



Friday, 13 November 2020

Ultraman Towards the Future AKA Ultraman Great part 4

This is another miniature set that Adam Grace and I put together for an episode of Ultraman Towards the Future in 1989. It was a resort hotel situated by the beach which comes under attack by a creature called Gerukadon. The monster puppet was styled on a frill necked lizard. It was cable controlled and supported on a steel pole which was masked by the creature's tail. It was outfitted with a flame thrower device so it could breath fire which gets quite a work out in the sequence.


The two main towers of the building came from the aborted Total Recall movie that was being made in Australia in 1987. That movie was shut down due to the 1987 stock market crash. The surrounding buildings were originally built for a television commercial by David Tremont Adam Grace and me. These buildings along with the aborted Total Recall buildings were purchased by the Ultraman production which helped stretch the miniatures budget considerably.

The picture below shows me painting the edge of the rostrums black to disguise the gap between the buildings and the foreground beach. The beach itself was just fine white sand with a sheet of thin reflective mylar as the water. The mylar was gently rippled by some fans to impart some movement.

Below Adam Grace is airbrushing some silhouettes on the backlit windows to help break up the solid white and make it look like there is an interior. The cars on the set were a pile of 1/32 diecast toys we painted up and weathered. They were used  over and over in various city settings for long shots and in the background. We also made up a number of 1/24 scale plastic model car kits for closer shots. The 24 volt figure 8 lighting can be seen re-used here as street lights mounted on poles as well as the 12 volt Phillips halogen bayonet mount spotlights.

The Palm trees were model rail kits with acid etched brass palm fronds.

This scene also had a very nice scenic art sunset sky backing. Unfortunately I don't know the scenic artist's name.

The tops of the towers were built with sections of breakaway glass. This was a brittle plastic material that came as pellets and was melted in an oven to make flat sheets. We then superglued pre-painted plastic strips on top for all the window mullions. Behind the breakaway facade was a structure already warped, damaged and painted to look burnt which would be revealed through the explosions.

The spectacular pyrotechnic effects were handled by Alan Maxwell and his assistant Judy Dabbs.


The amount of black smoke produced from the pyro was pretty severe from a health point of view. The studio roller doors would be opened up and a couple of large air movers employed to try and get rid of all the nasty fine carbon particles hanging in the air.

The picture below shows the back of the tower miniatures with the pre-destroyed structure in place. You can also see the pyro "bombs" rigged in position and all the wiring for the various charges.

The puppets for the show were made by the puppet crew consisting of Steve Roswell, Vicki Kite, Graham Binding, Norman Yeend and Warren Beaton.

Here the puppet is positioned on one of the buildings for a different scene. The sky background here has been painted with dark foreboding clouds.


Another building is attacked.

For a few shots a "little Jimmy" figure was mounted to be riding on the creatures back. It was made from a modified bendy toy.

The Gerukadon creature was designed with four limbs in a four arms type of confuguration. The director asked for some back legs to be added so it became a 6 limbed creature.

Thanks for looking.


Sunday, 1 November 2020

Ultraman Towards the Future AKA Ultraman Great part 3

 Gigasaurus and the grassy plain environment.


Adam Grace and myself also built this grassy plain environment for the Gigasaurus episode.
We didn't have much time to build these sets so we needed solutions that were expedient. To get an instant grassy landscape we came up with the idea of using coconut matting used in the garden industry to make hanging basket liners. We managed to obtain a full roll of the stuff and just rolled it out over an array of raised rostra (wooden platforms) we constantly used throughout the show. Because our monsters were puppets we needed space underneath the sets to operate the feet of the creatures.

Shredded foam lumps were painted green and scattered with model railroad ground foam across the landscape for random plants and texture variation.

The coconut matting was brown in colour so it was painted in various shades of green using simple pump action garden sprayers and thinned water based paint. The distant hills were just scrunched up newspaper arranged in a pleasing formation under the matting and sprayed with bluer shades of green to make them appear further away on what was really quite a small set.  The picture below shows me wielding one of these sprayers. 

The road was just a simple piece of painted plywood screwed down over the matting into the baseboards of the platforms. The other notable aspect to this set is the sky backing, it's a really exemplary piece of work. We had two scenic artists on the show, the first was very junior and not quite up to the mark, the second was a more senior artist and was extremely talented. Good scenic art can make all the difference to a miniature.

The puppets were generally cable controlled using levers. The feet were operated with rods up through slots cut into the sets. As the puppet action was shot high speed all the puppeteers had to move pretty fast and be highly co-ordinated. It was sometimes quite comical to watch.

Two of the puppeteers Ross Browning and Ravi Prasad at the control levers with Steve Roswell one of the puppet makers.

The slots in the set had to be invisible to the camera for down shots. In the picture below Adam Grace is  hiding the edges of the slots cut in the matting.

The Gigasaurus puppet was also outfitted with a freezing breath gag which used liquid CO2 vented from its mouth.


Gigasaurus destroying an electrical sub-station with its freezing breath.

The puppet was supported by a steel pole which was mostly hidden by its tail. All the control cabling and the hose for the liquid CO2 freezing breath effect came down this pole.

The picture below shows Adam Grace (right) and myself attending to the rigging of the power lines. These were made from stainless steel fishing trace and had a nice weight to them so that they hung down realistically. they were also very strong and could withstand the inevitable entanglements with both puppet and the crew.

Gigasauraus supervising Adam Grace's work.

Two scales of transmission towers were scratch built by David Tremont plus a third smallest scale from plastic model railway kits.

Paul Nichola the visual effects supervisor shooting a POV shot from one of the Hummer flying vehicles with the puppet blasting its freezing breath at the camera.  

The same set was also used for a night scene. We used a string of the 24 volt figure eight lighting on sticks for a perimeter effect with small Phillips 12 volt halogen spotlights mounted on the set pointing at the critter. A dry ice mist added to the cold effect.

The Gigasaurus puppet along with all the others on the show was fabricated by a team consisting of Steve Roswell, Vicki Kite, Graham Binding, Norman Yeend and Warren Beaton.
Thanks for looking.

Most Popular Posts