7 Artists Who Secretly Made Your Favorite Movies
There's a good reason credits come at the end of a movie -- no one wants to watch the names of best boys and personal assistants drift across the screen for 11 minutes. But if you've ever bothered to stick around through the scroll, you may have realized that some of the same names keep popping up in all your favorite movies, and they aren't next to jobs like "director" or "Indiana Jones." In fact, you've probably been a diehard fan of the following seven people your entire life without ever realizing it.
Ralph McQuarrie Envisioned the Star Wars Universe
Quickly, what's your favorite scene from the original Star Wars trilogy? The first moment you see Darth Vader? When Luke loses his hand and finds out the truth about his father? The battle with Imperial Walkers on Hoth? Whatever it was, chances are it was conceived long before A New Hope was ever made, and not by George Lucas.
Ralph McQuarrie was the production illustrator -- basically, the guy whose job it is to get studios excited about the movie. He was supposed to sketch out a few ideas based on an incomplete script, just to give a hint of what direction the film might go. Here's what he came up with:
Looking at what he accomplished, it would be insulting to call his pictures "concept art"; they were Star Wars. Ironically, McQuarrie didn't have a lot of faith in the film, but that didn't stop him from illustrating the coolest universe he could think up, and Lucas was sold from the start. He even said after shooting the trilogy, "When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph's fabulous illustrations and say, 'Do it like this.'"
But surely McQuarrie was just bringing George Lucas' ideas to life, right? There was, after all, some semblance of a story on which he built these worlds. Well, to get an idea of how pivotal McQuarrie was, take the most iconic character from the trilogy: Darth Vader. In the original script, Vader was only described as wearing long black robes; it was McQuarrie who decided he probably needed some kind of breathing mask to survive the vacuum of space.
"Oh, and is it OK if I make him look awesome, too?"
Without McQuarrie, there wouldn't be a Darth Vader helmet, or a Boba Fett suit, or Storm Trooper armor, which means you would have spent an entire decade of your childhood dressing up each Halloween as a ghost or a skeleton or some bullshit. Unless you did do that, in which case, you should watch Star Wars, it's really good.
McQuarrie didn't just work on Star Wars. He also designed the mother ships for both Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. You can even see some of his original drawings in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones shows everyone the devastation the ark is capable of inflicting.
The Bible wishes it was illustrated by McQuarrie.
In other words, from the time you were old enough to make gun fingers until you hit puberty, just about every one of your fantasies took place inside of a world designed by McQuarrie.
Colleen Atwood Dressed All Your Favorite Characters
Tim Burton sure is good at making memorable-looking characters: Edward Scissorhands, in his bondage suit made of old seat belts; the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, dressed like a crazed, homeless clown; and the characters wearing sweet ape armor in Planet of the Apes, which may have been the most memorable part of the reboot.
But if you're wondering how he dreams up such remarkable and diverse attire for everyone in his movies, the answer is that he doesn't. Colleen Atwood does. She is the costume designer for nearly every single Tim Burton movie, and since that includes dressing Sweeney Todd and the alien prostitute in Mars Attacks! she's also served as the costume designer for at least 10 percent of every geek convention of the past 10 years.
Of course, that's just the tip of the iceberg. The academy handed her three little golden T-1000 statues for her work on non-Burton films Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha, as well as Alice in Wonderland.
Her Etsy shop cleans up.
And she's been at it for decades. For instance, she's responsible for the terrifying look of one of the most memorable killers in modern film.
Atwood designed Hannibal Lecter's mask and getup for Silence of the Lambs, as well as the lesser-known adaptation, Manhunter, making her Hannibal's exclusive go-to-gal for prison jumpsuits and terror masks. It's hard to really get a perspective on how awesome that Lecter mask is until you see just how stupid it could have looked:
Steve Buscemi, someone has wronged you terribly.
Behold, the Con Air version, also known as the loincloth Michael Bay happened to have in the back of his car the day that scene was shot.
John Lasseter Is Pixar's Walt Disney
You may have noticed that every time you see the logo for Pixar, an adorable lamp trounces the "I" out of the company name and replaces it.
That lamp is there to remind everybody of two things: 1) Pixar can make you fall in love with a goddamn lamp and 2) Pixar and 3-D animation wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for the man who created that lamp over 30 years ago.
John Lasseter, seen here tossing the boundaries of reality aside like empty soup cans.
While working as an animator for Disney in the '80s, John Lasseter wanted to create the first fully computer generated children's cartoon. He went over his bosses' heads and started work on a deal to adapt The Brave Little Toaster as a CG film. Studio heads at Disney, who at the time were trained like drug dogs to sniff out can-do attitudes and innovation, heard about his plans and promptly fired his ass.
Undeterred, Lasseter got a job in the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm. While there, he wrote and directed a short film that would set the tone for your favorite animated movies of the past 10 years. It was called "Luxo Jr.," and it starred this lamp:
He later went mad with fame and OD'd on phosphorescent bulbs packed with benzos.
That character is based on John Lasseter's real-life desk lamp, forever immortalizing what must have been Lasseter's worst day of writer's block ever. Then he went on to create another cute little short called "Tin Toy," which was about toys that came to life when no one was looking.
Shit, we just can't place it.
Toy Story was the first full length and exclusively computer animated film ever. John Lasseter created the story, co-wrote the script, directed it and probably swept up the recording booths when everyone was done. This wasn't just the first of a genre, but also the first of an entirely new animation method. To find an equally impressive flurry of creativity and technical innovation, you have to go back to when Snow White was made by a man who now has a Land and a World named after him.
John Lasseter went on to co-write and direct A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2 and Cars -- and he was also a collaborator and executive producer on every single other Pixar film ever made. When Disney bought Pixar, they sheepishly gave him the position of chief creative officer for Pixar as well as Disney films, and presumably a letter of apology.
"I buried it underneath my star on the walk of fame."
Since then, Lasseter has been pretty much helping to design every animated film you've loved since 1995. Now you can thank him by name.
Alan Silvestri Scored the '80s and '90s
Adding a score to a film is like equipping an audience with spider-sense; it lets everyone know whether that mysterious locked door has a Narnia world behind it or a pile of corpses. Yet, considering how crucial the music is for telling us how to feel in a film, we're surprisingly good at pretending that it doesn't exist.
Music is the difference between this scene being creepy and whimsical.
For instance, you probably know the whole melancholy, sobering score to Who Framed Roger Rabbit without even realizing it. Or the delicate, meandering piano-driven score from the beginning of Forrest Gump while that feather is being blown around by cars and farts and stuff. Even the scores that have been pounded into your consciousness seem like they were just there when you were born. Nobody thought "I wonder who made this music!" while watching Marty McFly leave flaming tire treads in the DeLorean, because that music has secretly been playing in the back of your head every time you did something awesome.
But your brain was not born with the ability to directly channel a complex emotion into keys and chords. Alan Silvestri's was. He wrote the music for all those movies and is most likely moping in an empty music hall right now, scoring the sound of your willful neglect on a slide whistle. Silvestri has been heightening the action, suspense and gloom in your favorite movies for the past 30 years. He did the score for The Abyss, Flight of the Navigator, Predator and even Maid in Manhattan (look, composers have to eat, too).
"Caviar from a Slurpee cup, and Chivas."
Robert Zemeckis called Silvestri his "creative soul mate," which makes sense, since the most iconic songs Silvestri created were for Zemeckis films. Of course, that's only to date. We're not exactly at the twilight of Silvestri's career. He just scored Captain America, as well as The Avengers. So when you're sitting in the theater watching superheroes crash through buildings, take a minute to appreciate the fact that Silvestri's score is keeping you from wondering about all the innocent people who are probably being crushed by debris on the streets below.
Alex McDowell Is the Interior Decorator for Unhappiness
Have you ever been watching a movie and thought to yourself, "Man, if I had to live in a world that dismal, I would kill myself"? Well, chances are pretty good that Alex McDowell designed that world. His catalog includes designing the inside of every goth kid's head, aka The Crow.
He recreated Alan Moore's dark alternate history of America for the Watchmen movie.
McDowell even managed to channel the drug movement from the vantage point of its most acid-riddled mind in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
And those are just a few of the terrifying places Alex McDowell cooked up specifically to make you feel uneasy.
Now in case you haven't brushed up on the details of various film careers, a production designer is in charge of bringing the director's vision to life with sets, props, makeup and pretty much everything that can potentially show up onscreen. To get an idea of just how important the job is and how insanely good Alex McDowell is at it, take a look at Minority Report next to the worlds that every other Steven Spielberg movie takes place in:
The gothic style of this film is unlike anything Spielberg has ever done before or since, because Spielberg never worked with McDowell before or since. The futuristic cathedral feel to everything, the gritty but technologically advanced rooms all imply that this is pretty atypical for the guy who launched his career filming kids riding their bikes in the woods.
McDowell takes his job so seriously that he even had a massive decrepit mansion specifically built for a film because he couldn't find anything in existence that looked neglected enough for his tastes. You may recognize it from that movie about consensual punching.
There's simply no one better at building sad, filthy worlds that make you never want to walk around barefoot again.
Robert Evans Greenlit the Greatest Movies Ever Made
There's no single moment or costume or location you can point to in a film to show just how crucial Robert Evans was to cinema. Instead, we have to point at entire movies and say without a hint of hyperbole that if it wasn't for Robert Evans, this film wouldn't exist:
Like this one, for instance.
When Evans took over Paramount in the late '60s, it was the UPN of movie studios. A couple of months after starting, Evans already had 30 movies in production when he learned that the board of directors at the parent company had made up their minds to shitcan the whole operation, so he decided to send the board a message.
If you don't have time to watch that, Evans talks into the camera about why the board of directors should really see the movies he has in store. He points to two in particular that he thinks will be important. One is Love Story, which he predicts will start a new trend in movies, and the other is a little pet project called The Godfather, which he has a good feeling about.
In case you're not a woman, Love Story was a monster hit, and the "trend in movies" Evans predicted it would start was the modern chick flick. His prediction for The Godfather is even more impressive when you realize that it hadn't even started shooting yet. Evans was gambling his studio and career on a movie that didn't even exist. In baseball terms, Evans had walked to the plate in the World Series with his team down to their final out, called his shot and hit a home run with his dick.
Of course that was three shades of orange and one mediocre cartoon series ago.
But gambling was sort of Evans' thing. He started the trend of buying the rights to books that hadn't even been published yet, which might sound like a recklessly stupid thing to do if it hadn't landed him The Godfather, Love Story and Rosemary's Baby. When it was time to make that last one, he took a huge gamble on an unknown French director named Roman Polanski, who the studio spent the entire production trying to fire. Evans again gambled his job on his vision for the movie, saying if Polanski were fired, he'd quit. Things got even ballsier when Mia Farrow, who played Rosemary, nearly quit in the middle of shooting because her husband, Frank Sinatra, was threatening to divorce her if she didn't leave to work on one of his movies. So, Evans sat her down and convinced her to let Sinatra divorce her if he was going to be a dick about it.
For what is widely regarded as the most important period in American movie history, Evans gambled some of the most influential movies into existence. That list includes Serpico, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and a movie everyone told him he was nuts to pursue called Chinatown.
Robert Evans making out with Ali MacGraw at the Godfather premiere party. Your parents lied -- gambling is totally a good idea.
Vic Armstrong Is Superman, Indiana Jones and James Bond
Indiana Jones is famous for his surly one-liners, macho presence and no regrets, dive-punching stamina. He is not famous for spontaneously morphing into a limp-limbed dummy every time he jumps from a horse onto a tank, and you have Vic Armstrong to thank for that. See, while Harrison Ford is great at growling lines like a badass, he tends to be a terrific pussy when it comes to dusting it up. That's where his alter ego comes in.
The guy on the right is Vic Armstrong, and even though you don't recognize him from that angle, you grew up watching him kick ass. Here's a more recognizable angle:
Without Armstrong, this is a dummy being thrown off a horse with a hat pinned to its head.
As Ford's stunt double in the series, he gave Jones the ability to fight that giant Nazi by the plane and that guy on the conveyer belt in Temple of Doom. In fact, it's hard to think of an iconic Indiana Jones scene that doesn't involve Armstrong's work as both stuntman and stunt coordinator.
Vic Armstrong takes punches like mortal men eat popcorn.
And it's not the only time Armstrong has made Harrison Ford look good. You can also see him being carried away by Ewoks in Return of the Jedi and running through the futuristic marketplace in Blade Runner. Because Harrison Ford apparently doesn't even like to break a sweat.
Armstrong risked his life as Christopher Reeves' stunt double in the first and second Superman movies, and as the stunt double for both Roger Moore and Sean Connery as James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Never Say Never Again.
It's not a spy film until someone is being chased on skis.
So to recap -- that's Superman, James Bond and Indiana Jones. Almost every action hero you watched growing up was actually just Vic Armstrong, punching guys, taking hits and trying to hide his face from the camera.
David is a freelance writer and aspiring screenwriter who spends most days moderating in the Cracked Comedy Workshop and watching movies. Feel free to follow him on Twitter, or check him out over at Film School Rejects, where he is a weekly contributor.
For more people you should be grateful for, check out 7 Great Foods (That Were Created Thanks to Dick Moves). Or learn about 7 Inventors You Didn't Know You Wanted to Punch In the Face.
And stop by LinkSTORM to see DOB's video submission to be Spider-Man's stunt double.
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