8 Unsung Heroes Who Made All Of Your Favorite Movies
Movies are the greatest things that have ever happened, and anyone who says otherwise is three goblins stacked under an ironic mustache. Sadly, a lot of the people behind some of the best movies ever made get about as much recognition as the guy who sweeps your street at 4 a.m. Once again, it's time to change that. Here are eight people you're already a fan of, even if you've never heard their names before:
Natalie Kalmus Made This Whole "Color Film" Idea Catch On
Back when the crazy notion that movies could be seen in color was first floated around Hollywood, the studios actually fought against it. It was just too much trouble. Color film was already a thing (as was color in general), but there had yet to be a film that proved its marketability the way Avatar made you say, "Ugh, fine, yes, I guess I'll pay for 3D." Luckily, MGM was cooking up an adaptation of a book of clown nightmares called The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz and brought in Natalie Kalmus, wife of Technicolor's founder, as the film's color consultant. It was her idea to make everything as cartoonishly bright and vibrant as possible -- like Dorothy's iconic shoes, which were silver in the book.
Thematically, red makes more sense, since she's a murderer and all.
After the film's success, Hollywood saw a boom in Technicolor-made films, all of which were crafted and lorded over by one lady no one has heard of who ended up with 366 film credits to her name. See, at the time no one knew how to actually shoot in color, which meant that someone would have to create rules for what does and doesn't look good on camera. And so, Natalie took point -- going over each individual film that partnered with Technicolor to create a specific palette she deemed appealing, then passing it on to the set design and wardrobe department and sometimes even sitting in as the goddamn cinematographer. That means everything from the muted beauty of Rope to the vibrancy of The Ten Commandments was exclusively created by Natalie Kalmus, or as the Rope's screenwriter bitterly called her, the "High Priestess of Technicolor."
To reiterate: SHE TOLD HITCHCOCK WHAT TO DO.
Her work would go on to single-handedly influence everything from the look of the modern Western to proper skin tone and hair color on camera -- as her husband had specifically calibrated Technicolor to her image. And along with all of this, Natalie personally crafted the deal between Technicolor and Disney that would help the success of Snow White and subsequently craft your entire freaking childhood.
All of this while working in a male-dominated industry filled with directors who hated her. How are there three biopics for Steve Jobs and not at least 10 for this lady?
Yoshio Sugino Was The Granddaddy Of Cinematic Violence
Before Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, swordfights in movies consisted of holding a piece of plastic while doing your best "I'm pooping" face. Enter Yoshio Sugino. To give you an idea of who he is that is better than any biography, here he is at age 92:
Sugino, martial arts instructor in Kurosawa's samurai epic, often butted heads with the director on how to portray the swordplay in the film, with Sugino wanting to go the grittier, more grounded route and Kurosawa wanting to stay focused on the fact that audiences were watching a fucking movie. This clash and eventual settlement would create a style of combat that would change film forever.
This movie came out three years before Leave It To Beaver.
Sugino would go on to work on Yojimbo, which was the primary influence (in terms of minor things like plot, themes, characters, and the way that violence was staged) behind A Fistful Of Dollars -- which in turn would help mark the shift in the way that violence was shown in Westerns. The pratfalls and brawls of earlier films in the "Golden Age" of Hollywood would be replaced by pure, sweaty vengeance ... and it can all be traced back to the roughness of Yojimbo. But that wasn't the only genre that Sugino influenced. George Lucas has said that he based a lot of Star Wars on Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, and it's evident in not only the tone and storyline but the dueling as well.
And if this pattern holds, The Force Awakens will be three hours of Indonesian-style vertebrae-shattering.
Before Lucas asked himself, "What if I replaced stakes and tension ... WITH FLIPS?" the lightsaber fights in Star Wars had a suspenseful and brutal weight to them. That's all Kurosawa/Sugino. And now you know why space warriors dress in Japan-style robes.
Milena Canonero Is The Kubrick Of Costumes
Director Wes Anderson is surprisingly similar to Stanley Kubrick in that they both enjoy cramming so much talent in their visually symmetrical films that they look like an award-winning phone booth stuffed with fraternity pledges. For example, take a look at this moment from The Life Aquatic:
Wes Anderson group shots always look like the middle character farted.
That's two Oscar winners, Dumbledore, one half of Harold and Maude, fucking Jeff Goldblum, Jesus Christ, and a Ghostbuster right there in that one shot. And yet, this is only a fraction of the faces behind what makes this moment great. Same goes for this:
Holy shit, it's uncanny.
The constant in all of these moments is Milena Canonero -- a costume designer whose career has lasted longer than most of the people reading this have been alive. Along with the Wes Anderson films she also designed the dresses for Marie Antoinette, inspired an entire fashion trend with Chariots Of Fire, and was the singular mind behind the garb of that epic fever dream Titus. Oh, and also, this dickpunch of a film:
Like we said, Wes Anderson has a few things in common with Stanley Kubrick -- as A Clockwork Orange was Milena Canonero's first-ever credit. And while a lot of the design also came from Malcolm McDowell's personal taste and the street styles of the time, Canonero would go on to expand her influence on Kubrick's work by creating the costumes for Barry Lyndon and, finally, this film:
By this time she'd clearly given up, since she used the same wardrobe on both characters.
Yep, she did The Shining as well ... which included thinking up the design for and hand-knitting Danny's Apollo 11 sweater that so many conspiracy theorists love to cite:
Owen Wilson's fart was so potent that it traveled in time and just hit Danny.
According to Kubrick's personal assistant on the film, Milena simply brought it to the set one day and showed it to the director -- who then approved the design and inadvertently paved the way for an entire bullshit-filled documentary about this film. Thanks Milena! You've made film students that much more insufferable!
John Barry And Roger Christian Designed Huge Chunks Of Star Wars
As we've pointed out multiple times, George Lucas' directing style for Star Wars pretty much consisted of him putting a bunch of really talented people together in a room and then quietly securing all the merchandising rights. John Barry was one of those people, having previously earned his stripes designing this sexually confounding masterpiece of a set by photographing a nude model in every conceivable table-like position:
As she prayed that it was really for a movie.
But forget boobs, because Barry was the production designer for A New Hope -- he designed and dressed every interior you see in the Death Star, the Millennium Falcon, and Luke's homestead, thus defining what good and evil look like in your brain.
This explains why we love clutter and hate hospitals.
Barry went on to design the Fortress of Solitude for Superman before coming back to direct the second unit of Empire Strikes Back -- only to die of meningitis during production, leaving behind a legacy of creepy hallways and nerfherder game dens. He also left behind set decorator Roger Christian, the man who designed and personally built Han Solo's goddamn blaster.
"We built Greedo's first."
And this little prop:
A weapon for a more civilized age (of hand-chopping).
The story goes that while the movie's prop master was busy packing everything up for the beginning of filming, Roger was tasked with rummaging through the back of a camera rental shop to find a last-minute laser sword. There, he managed to MacGyver together a Graflex flashgun handle, bubble strip, a calculator LED, and some chrome tape and shit out the most iconic sci-fi weapon in the history of sci-fi ... no doubt a few yards away from Lucas asleep with a burrito in his hand.
Ken Adam Was A Pioneer In Evil Lairs
Evil geniuses have a very particular way of designing their lairs. They want it stylized in a way so that, when they're explaining their evil plan to the spy that they have strapped to a table, the spy can look around and say, "From a moral viewpoint, this is all the craziest shit that I've ever seen, but I must admit that it is certainly rad." That's all thanks to Ken Adam, the production designer of Bond romps like Dr. No, You Only Live Twice, Moonraker, and Goldfinger. Any time a mad scientist or disgraced megalomaniacal businessman goes to Home Depot to buy supplies for his death base, the example that he frustratingly shows to a bored employee is one of Adam's designs.
You could go ask him for interior design tips, but he lives in a volcano.
Everything from the '60s Batman TV show, to the Mission: Impossible films and Kingsman: The Secret Service have used this "chic, but not crowded with too many useless antihero contraptions" method of constructing nefarious hideaways. But Adam didn't just say, "You know what Ernst Stavro Blofeld needs? More feng-shui-friendly rounded edges in his hallways." He also designed some of the indelible gadgets that Bond used or had used against him. For example, the death ray from Goldfinger? In the book, it was a buzzsaw, but when you're a man with the last name of Goldfinger, just splattering genital meat all over the place isn't going to cut it. You have to burn Bond in half with a laser, dammit.
That way, he'll still be good for taxidermy, we presume.
Adam also came up with the idea for the ejector seat in the Aston Martin in Goldfinger, and it was his idea to use the gyrocopter in You Only Live Twice. But he did more exemplary work than just the Bond films. Dr. Strangelove? He did such a good job there that when Ronald Reagan was being toured around the White House, he asked about the location of the War Room. Adam's design work is so memorable that the leader of the United States saw it at one point and decided, "Yes. That is how this country logically should work."
Luckily, Reagan wasn't persuaded by the idea that bombs should be manually piloted.
Stephen Dane Made Your Favorite Sci-Fi Props
The '80s were a magical time when creating futuristic technology was as simple as molding a bunch of vaguely mechanical crap into one heaping prop. This is probably why some of the most cherished and replicated sci-fi paraphernalia looks like this:
We're overwhelmed with nostalgia and the feeling that we need to fill up our gas tank.
But while it may look jumbled together, the proton pack from Ghostbusters didn't become a toy sensation by pure happenstance and garage-digging. It was actually planned out from the start:
Those are the sketches of Stephen Dane -- the man who fucking created the look of your childhood dream occupation. Along with the packs themselves, Dane designed the Ghost Traps and went on to modify and create everything for the second film. He's roughly one-third of the iconic look that makes up this gang of ghost-jailers, but his contribution didn't stop there; there's one more Stephen Dane sketch left ...
Now that we have the schematics, all we need is access to a junkyard and some industrial glue.
Ecto ... fucking ... 1. Dane took an old ambulance, drew a few sketches, and made one of the most recognizable and ridiculous sci-fi cinematic vehicles to rival Doc Brown's DeLorean. And that's not the only sci-fi car this dude has designed.
If this doesn't look familiar, imagine Harrison Ford getting his ass handed to him while next to it.
Along with the sci-fi Ghostbusters gadgets, Dane was sketching out the futuristic Los Angeles traffic of four years from now in Blade Runner. But more than that: He also helped create many of the props from the film, including the Voight-Kampff test from the opening and the four-barreled gun Leon uses to fail said test.
Oh, shit, we never noticed the cannons. Are ... are we replicants?
In terms of sci-fi weaponry that looks like it was cobbled together from a dumpster, this dude was the hobo king of your gritty childhood.
Marion Dougherty Cast All The Best Actors From The '70s
The fact that we're so obsessed with labeling people things like "the next De Niro" just proves how much of a mark Marion Dougherty left on the film industry. Dougherty was a casting director that helped Hollywood move past the "cattle call" system of casting, in which they would find actors by simply asking a bunch of people to show up at a certain location and then picking whoever had the best look. "Cattle call" casting almost seems to make fun of the basic idea of acting.
Dougherty kept copious index card files that detailed the defining aspects of actors that she'd seen. So when studios came to her and said, "Hey, we're casting a role. Do you have someone in mind, or do we need to fill up this hotel lobby with people and just cast whoever lives through the ordeal?" she could simply look in her files for the qualities that the studio wanted and pick someone out.
She was the photo printer's best friend, after the local stalker.
The long list of names she helped push into stardom includes Al Pacino, Paul Newman, James Dean, Bette Midler, Dustin Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Robert Duvall, and Diane Lane. If you asked her for her resume, she could simply point at the nearest movie theater. She also advised that Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton play the roles of Archie and Edith on All In The Family, a casting decision that's still being ripped off by sitcoms, and she was one of the first casting directors to have her name by itself in the opening credits. That's momentous. Usually those things are used to just remind you that "And Channing Tatum" is going to happen at some point in a flick, so the fact that she was credited alone is a huge tribute to her impact.
In short, she was the sculptor of the Mount Rushmore of Hollywood.
Dick Smith Pretty Much Perfected Movie Makeup
Decades before we had the ability to make Brad Pitt age backwards with computers, Hollywood relied on Dick Smith's now taken-for-granted technique of turning perfectly youthful actors into Bad Grandpa. It all started with a film called Little Big Man, which follows a character played by Dustin Hoffman from childhood to becoming a 120-year-old mummy scrotum. No CGI, because this movie is from 1970:
Now you know how Hoffman will look in Meet The Fockers 17.
What made this movie so special was that it was the first time an actor would be aged using a full-face prosthetic mask -- something that took five hours to apply by Smith himself. Ten years earlier, the only two choices to make an actor look like some kind of aged ghoul was to either paint them with 2D makeup or stick a mask over their head. Smith figured out option C: sweet, sexy foam latex.
There's also D: wait 50 years.
By figuring out that you could change and blend specific parts of the face like this, he essentially pioneered modern makeup effects as we know them, and then went on to conquer the technique by aging David Bowie in The Hunger.
Making Bowie look boring took 97 percent of the budget.
Oh, and Marlon Brando in The Godfather ...
Most of you only now found out this wasn't how Brando looked in real life.
But it's not enough for a guy to invent modern makeup and take a triumphant victory lap. Smith also had to carefully squat over and completely dominate your nightmares by creating the makeup and blood effects for Ghost Story, Taxi Driver, and Spasms:
And yet, even with all this under his belt, the triumphant tea-bagging is not over ... because Smith was also responsible for making this:
Yup, Dick Goddamn Smith is the guy behind all of the makeup and effects in The Exorcist. He constructed the dummy used for the iconic head spin; he created the apparatus for gut-launching green bile. He is the reason that you fear the innocent and the elderly, and someday you will find the strength to forgive him for that. But not today.
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