Thursday, December 17, 2015

Monolith Metrics - Component One

Measuring meager monoliths might mean more mysteries. Seldom has a black brick attracted so much interest.

Monolith action figure with
almost real dimensions.
The monolith might be the most recognizable shape associated with the Odyssey Sequence. Mysterious, silent, and very, very black, it remains defiant; a taciturn sphinx, challenging us to make it divulge its secrets. Which it never does, of course.

According to Arthur Clarke's description, the monolith is a completely reflectionless, black, rectangular shape in the precise ratio of 1:4:9 - precise to the limits of measurability - and every monolith is the same size: "as large as necessary".

However, when fans of both 2001 and 2010 finally set their eyes on a monolith with the actual ratio of 1:4:9, the reaction is almost invariably the same: "that cannot be right".

Indeed, the ratio of the monoliths in either movie are not the squares of the three first natural numbers. Author Clarke stumbled upon the brilliant idea of the ratio after Kubrick had already settled on the visual appearance of the monolith. By the time Clarke realized the dimensions, the monoliths were already built and Kubrick had already shot all of the scenes involving the obsidian ingot.


Director Peter Hyams had the opportunity to correct the ratio when he shot 2010, but he decided to use the same visual style as they had in 2001 for the mysterious monoliths. The reason why this happened is rather amusing.

"An interesting thing about the monolith," says 2010 matte painter Matthew Yuricich, "is that when we first started, in the script, Peter [Hyams] called for a ratio of 1:4:9 - 1 thick, 4 wide and 9 long. We did that and it looked like a cement block."

The monoliths are de facto never shown with the ratio 1:4:9. When the slabs were produced for 2010, Arthur C. Clarke had not yet made it known the revelation regarding the ratio came to him after the monoliths for 2001 had already been shot, so the accepted wisdom was that the monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey were indeed in the precise ratio 1:4:9. No-one knew otherwise.

It was with this assumption that director Hyams placed the order for scores of paintings of the enigmatic, murky lumps. The reason they did not appear as ordered in the motion picture is due to nothing short of mutiny.

Matthew continues: "I talked to [matte department supervisor] Neil [Krepela] about it and said: 'There's nothing to it - no aesthetics. It looks like a damned brick.' He said that was what Peter was calling for, but to go ahead a slim it down anyway - and I did."

Monolith with actual ratios.
Painter Yuricich then produced a slimmed down version of the colorless hunk, and fingers crossed showed the result to director Hyams.

"And as soon as Peter [Hyams] saw it, he said, 'Go ahead and slim it down.' Actually, our proportion ended up being something like 1:4:15 or something like that, to give a little grace to it."

Having stumbled upon this eye opener, Yuricich wanted to know what the featureless bricks actually looked like in the previous movie.

"We dug up some photographs that they had of the 2001 monoliths and, my god, those were about 1 to 40! Very slim. About half the size of a domino proportion. So even though it was written to be 1:4:9, everyone seemed to realize that it wouldn't have the grace and symmetry at that exact ratio."

The conclusion is inescapable. The world of the page and the world on the silver screen are divided by ratios (pun hinted at). The ratio works much better as a poetic concept than as a visual one.


As mentioned, the monoliths are not consistent between the 2001 novel and the 2001 movie, due to the events described. The black slabs are not really consistent between the 2001 and 2010 movies, either.

Strangest of all, they are not even consistent within the movies.

Some of the monoliths are wider than others, and some are differently colored. The various tints and hues could possibly be explained by the surrounding environment where the slabs reside, but it is obvious that the tinctures are merely artistic decisions. Almost all the monoliths, bar the digital depictions by Leonov's computer, are paintings. Very few models were used. The last time we set our eyes on the monolith, in the very last scene of the movie, the model is not even rectangular.

Super-wide monolith metrics in 2010.

Since the monolith paintings were done with artistic and visual issues in mind, this results in some interesting effects. Essentially the monoliths are all different, every single one of them.

The monoliths in 2010 take on a variety of different shapes, and none of the ratios are the squares of the first natural numbers. The widest monolith in the movie is 12 times as wide as it is thick, and would probably not even classify as a monolith, but rather as a wall. We never actually see the mysterious ratio on the silver screen.


ThinkGeek's TMA-2 action figure: "zero points of articulation".

Monolith Action Figure source (note: it's not real)

In the Space Odyssey myth the monoliths are apparently capable of sustaining themselves indefinitely, are impervious to any force known to Man, always maintain their dimensional ratio, are extremely flat, and so on. In contrast, in the movie universe the monoliths seem to be very flexible indeed.

At times author Clarke stated he was as perplexed by the monoliths as everyone else was, and further said that everyone else's ruminations about the nature of the blocks were almost as valid as his own. It also appeared he himself was just as baffled and surprised by the changing nature of the darkened plaques as the readers were.

Perhaps the only conclusion we can draw thereof is the monoliths never really had a set nature, not even in the mind of the author.

Maybe they, like so many other enigmas, are their own key. If so, we will probably never solve their mystery.

Images ©1984 MGM, ©2010 ThinkGeek, ©2015 Odyssey Archive.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Kaypro's Odyssey Files

Telecommunications help bring 2010 to the silver screen. 

by Jessica Horsting

When MGM chief Frank Yablans first asked director Peter Hyams to head the filming of 2010, a sequel to the science fiction classic 2001, his immediate response was an emphatic "No way." His reaction was not unreasonable; many professional filmmakers felt 2001 was a definitive film—so complete that no sequel could do it justice. Filming 2010 implied a sacrilege akin to writing the Bible, Part II.

The original film was inspired by an Arthur C. Clarke short story "The Sentinel." Under the distinctive direction of Stanley Kubrick, and in collaboration with Clarke, the concept of the story was interpreted and expanded into the landmark, feature length space odyssey. Clarke subsequently wrote a novelization of that film, then followed up with a best-selling sequel, 2010. Both novels examine the consequences of man's first contact with an intelligent, alien life form.

Hyams appreciated both the artistry of the Kubrick film and the renown of writer Arthur C. Clarke. Hyams felt confident he could handle the project, having recently directed two feature films, Outland and The Star Chamber. But still, he was hesitant. He saw 2010 as "a frightening challenge . . .the first film was a classic."

Apparently, the challenge was irresistible. Hyams agreed to undertake the project.

His next worry involved faithfully translating Clarke's story to the screen. He had been asked not only to direct, but to produce the screenplay based on the best-selling book. His solution was simple and straightforward. Following Kubrick's lead, Hyams solicited the novelist's help: "I wanted Arthur not only to know everything I felt had to be done, I wanted his input — not only his blessings, but his ideas . . . ." Clarke in turn was delighted to assist, with the one stipulation: that he be permitted to work from his home.

In Sri Lanka.

Clarke at his Kaypro IIx.
A tiny island nation off the coast of India, Clarke's home was 14 time zones and almost 8000 miles from Los Angeles where the film was being made. Hyams thought they could work it out, though the question was how? The hoped-for simple solution to Hyams' scripting problems had gotten a teeny bit complicated.

The time differential made conventional telephoning extraordinarily inconvenient, requiring one or both of the men to stay up to ungodly hours in the morning to consult with one another. Using a mailing system would involve extensive, not to mention expensive, delays. The obvious alternative was a computer link. The only problem remaining was to select the hardware.

It was at this juncture that Destiny and the Kaypro Corporation conspired to provide a solution.

Two times 2

While Hyams and Clarke had yet to decide which microcomputer to employ, Kaypro Corporation had already contacted the Sri Lanka Foundation as part of their promotion agenda involving the donation of a Kaypro to the Third World Fundamental Studies Program. The Sri Lanka Foundation is an organization initiated in part by Clarke himself, and he remains an active participant. Clarke has been a long time user of small computers and is intimately familiar with the technology. He was naturally curious to take a first hand look at the gift Kaypro 2.

After inspecting the unit and discussing the virtues with director Hyams, the two men decided the Kaypro 2 would be ideal for their purposes. In exchange for a promotional screen credit, Kaypro agreed to provide twin units to Hyams and Clarke. The production company went one step further and purchased two additional units — one for the 2010 documentary team and one for Clarke's long-time associate Steve Jongeward, who acted as his Los Angeles liaison during production.

Having settled on the hardware, the next problem was a technical one of communications protocol. This was solved neatly by Clarke, Jongeward, and the good advice of Jim Swanner— Kaypro retailer and all-around nice guy.

Most communications programs available for the Kaypro 2 didn't provide the versatility that Clarke and Hyams felt was required. They needed a system that would allow each unit to send and receive lengthy messages with a minimum of time and error, a system that would deliver a missive which would patiently wait to be retrieved on demand, and above all, one that would perform dependably. Buzz words like "baud rate," "multifile capacity," "synchronous/asynchronous transmission," and "protocol accommodation" took on new significance for all involved.

But Clarke knew where to turn for help. At Clarke's suggestion, Jongeward contacted Jim Swanner. (Clarke knew of Swanner's expertise in telecommunications, and subsequently wrote the foreward for Swanner's book, Electronic Mail for Microcomputers.) Jongeward and Swanner investigated available software to find a program that would fit the bill. Swanner provided Mycroft Lab's MITE (Mycroft Intelligent Terminal Emulator), which features a multifile transfer protocol that was ideally suited to the filmmakers' requirements.

The Kaypros, fitted with Hayes Smartmodems and the MITE program, were installed: one at Clarke's home in Sri Lanka, one at Peter Hyams' office in Culver City.

Clarke and Hyams were ready to get down to business.

Their communications took the form of long, daily "letters" left on their respective machines; questions, solutions, and suggestions that could be thoughtfully laid out and considered — then sent or retrieved instantly. Starting in September of 1983, the two men communicated over aspects of the script for eight months. The result was a screenplay that strayed from the novel in certain respects, but with changes that were a cooperative compromise between the writer and the filmmaker — a rare, almost unique occurrence in novel-to-film translations.

Birth of a book 

Telecommunicating with Kaypros soon became a fact of life for the 2010 production team. The computer link proved so important that it became the focus of a one-hour documentary detailing the filming, "The Making of 2010." (Filmed with network presentation in mind, the documentary is scheduled to air in December as an adjunct to the release of the film.) It was not merely the mechanics of the link that warranted the attention, it was the special nature of the conversations.

The communiques between Clarke and Hyams encompassed more than simple problem solving. The daily "chats" became a chronicle of the evolution of the film. "The conversations are in themselves a documentary," said Jongeward. As an experiment, he began to collect and edit the disk-recorded dialogue. The conversations proved to be such a rich source of material that (with the blessing of Clarke and Hyams) Jongeward developed a book as a companion to the film.

Titled "The Odyssey Files," the volume is a compilation of the communications that took place between September of 1983 and February of 1984. Included in the book is an introduction by Clarke as well as an appendix, titled "MITE for Morons." Chagrined, Jongeward confessed, "Arthur wrote that last part for me." The book promises an unusual glimpse into the creative exchange that characterizes filmmaking. It should also provide a unique record that traces the ideas of the two men from conception to on-screen reality. (One small step for man; one giant leap for the inter-office memo.)

Jongeward admits that the communications link was not always flawless. Most of the difficulties were generated at Clarke's end of the world. Relying on cable-to-satellite-to-cable transmission, the weakest link in the chain was the primitive state of communications technology in Sri Lanka. Steve notes, "It seemed that, for days before or after a monsoon, you could count on cables being knocked down or washed away somewhere near Arthur's home."

Satellite transmissions occasionally posed a problem. "When it became overloaded, you didn't get cut off, you were down!" lamented Jongeward. But neither he nor anyone else complained about the performance of the Kaypros.

Clarke as seer

Clarke has legitimized his own prophecy.

The communications link between Hyams and Clarke has a significance beyond what has been reported above. At the risk of understating the case, what we have here is serendipity of cosmic proportions. By participating in the link, Clarke has, in a sense, legitimized his own prophecy.

A little background should make this clear.

Arthur Clarke is not a formally trained scientist, but he has gained tremendous respect from the scientific community for his innovative thinking about the applications of technology. He is no stranger to computers and telecommunications. In fact, he is credited with originating the concept of communications satellites.

In an article appearing in a 1945 issue of Wireless World (titled "Extraterrestrial Relays"), Clarke described his concept: three satellites orbiting 22,000 miles above the earth, parallel to the equator, relaying radio and television signals all over the world. Triangulated properly, they would allow radio signals to circumvent the obstacle posed to such signals, namely the curvature of the earth. The satellites would eliminate the need for signal repeaters which had long been used to get signals from hither to yon.

In hindsight, Clarke's solution seems elementary. But when his idea was accomplished a few years afterwards by the then fledgling NASA, Clarke was awarded the Franklin Institute's Gold Medal for his prediction.

It is the technological outgrowth of his 1945 idea which allowed Clarke to stay in his comfortable Sri Lanka surroundings while participating on a film being made halfway around the world.

Similar prophecy is also inherent in the Clarke-Kubrick collaboration, 2001. The events depicted in that film have been reproduced, bit by bit, in real life. The 1968 film preceded and accurately simulated such events as the space walk, the moon landing, Skylab, the shuttle program, and cooperative ventures in space. There were a score of tiny details theorized by the first film that have since been substantiated as fact with almost uncanny accuracy.

That sort of precision is Clarke's stated wish for 2010. His career as an author, inventor and technological seer is guided by his fervent commitment to scientific accuracy. In turn, director Hyams seems determined to faithfully translate Clarke's vision to the screen—with a little help from their Kaypros.

Copyright © 1984 by Jessica Horsting. All rights reserved.
Originally published October 25 1984 in Kaypro Users Magazine.
Images © 1984 Arthur C Clarke Foundation,  © 2015 MMXOA.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Star Dreck [Review]

2010, the sequel to Stanley Kubrick's 2001, is an epic shuttle to nowhere.

by James Wolcott

As scientists on a Soviet-American search for the monolith's secrets,
Lithgow (l.) and Scheider flail about in 2010's zero atmosphere.

The black monolith of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, that domino without a dot, makes a return visit on 2010, joined by other monoliths that dance and converge like iron filings magnetized by the swirling cosmos. (The uncharitable might say that those monoliths look like swarms of shaving stubble being sucked down a drain.) Written, produced, and directed by Peter Hyams (who it seems wasn't up to any of those tasks), 2010 lacks the eerie quiet and zero-gravity drift of Kubrick's visionary expedition; it isn't a light-streaming hallucination. 2010 is a message movie - a peacenik plea for the United States and Russia to mend their differences so that both may witness a fruitful awakening. It's the greening of the universe, with a monolith sitting in the new Garden of Eden.

This swampy Eden looks like the lush spot where Spock was planted at the end of Star Trek II, and 2010 has the frowning, constipated look Star Trek had when it was trying to think. But even with a heavy brow, the Star Trek movies have some personality and bits of business, lightening moments of bad acting. 2010 has hatchet-faced Roy Scheider, whose taut tendons and orange-brown complexion suggest an Indian war chief who has just endured a purification ritual and emerged cruelly honed. Perhaps if he simply let go a little, he'd have something of William Shatner's relaxed, potty appeal. Here, his zippers look too tight.

For a movie that intends to be a celestial climb toward enlightenment, ascending through colors into blinding white light, 2010 doesn't offer much to enthrall the eye. Even the monolith lacks the iconic, hovering majesty that it had in the first adventure - this slab isn't worthy of fear or worship. No, the pleasures of 2010 are primarily aural: the harsh, rapid inflections of Helen Mirren's Russian accent (Mirren plays a cosmonaut); the hurried, frightened breathing of John Lithgow as he space walks above one of Jupiter's moons; the courteous, plaintive misgivings of HAL the computer; the playful clicks of a pair of dolphins. But the tiny, amusing distractions to the ear are of little help, because most of the time we're face to face with the movie's ponderous, immovable boredom.

In Capricorn One (1978), a pop thriller about a faked moon landing, Hyams showed some narrative zip and made amusing, functional use of TV rock heads like James Brolin and Hal Holbrook. 2010 doesn't have any of that Flying Tigers acceleration; its themes and incidents come neatly sliced. Scenes in which Scheider dotes on his son can be filed under Domestic Human Interest, conversations about U.S.-Soviet tensions in Central America belong in the Topical Political Comment folder, and so on. The exposition is so slow and redundant (everything in the opening titles is reexplained in later conversations) that it's as if Hyams feels compelled to update the story at intervals for latecomers in the audience. Cinematically, 2010 is a small step for a man, a giant step back for mankind.

Except for Roy Scheider's grimacing, the actors tend to coast, and who can blame them? Madolyn Smith, too good for this material, is stuck on Earth playing the Loyal Wife Back Home while the pouty, punk newcomer Natasha Shneider (who's described in the publicity as "a classically trained Russian rock'n'roll star" - well, awwwright!) is stuck in a module and clings to Scheider's warrior chest. Keir Dullea, looking as young as yesterday, reprises his role from 2001, but he might as well have sent in a body double, for all he has to do. The cast is carry-on luggage on this epic space shuttle to nowhere. 2001 swept the heavens clean of untidy human life, but its pristine, balletic vision at least seemed to derive from Stanley Kubrick's austere moodiness. 2010 doesn't derive from anything. It's an impersonal hosanna to peace with a big-bang miracle finish issuing from the skies like a greeting card from God. The monolith is the stamp on the envelope.

(Illustration by Melissa Grimes. Originally published in Texas Montly, January 1985)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Add 16 Years to '2001' and the Result is '2010'

by Aljean Harmetz


“How do you continue a classic?” asks Peter Hyams. The answer, says Mr. Hyams, who is currently directing 2010, a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, is: with a great deal of anxiety and awe.

It was in the spring of 1968 that 2001, Stanley Kubrick's half-satiric, half-reverent vision of the bland and depersonalized future of the human race was thrust at movie audiences accustomed to science-fiction movies containing gigantic bugs, decaying monsters or malevolent aliens.

Though Mr. Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, the respected science-fiction author, who had co-written the screenplay, had envisioned a cinematic parallel to Homer's “Odyssey,” and though critics were divided in their opinions, there was no mistaking the reaction of audiences.

Despite its mystical ending and deliberate tedious stretches designed to demonstrate the boredom of space flight, 2001: A Space Odyssey, was the fifth most successful box-office attraction in a year dominated by The Graduate. Since then, it has been reissued twice and earned M-G-M a total of more than $24 million in North American theaters.

“When I first saw 2001, says Mr. Hyams, “I was 25 years old. It was like finding a note in a bottle that said, 'There are no limits, no parameters, except your imagination ...' “

Since 2001 was made nearly a decade before the success of a movie almost automatically triggered a sequel, it has taken 16 years for MGM/UA to follow 2001 with 2010.

Now, at 41, Mr. Hyams, the writer-director of such science-fiction adventures as Outland and Capricorn One, is pitting himself against a classic.

The crew of the Leonov.

In 2010, which stars Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Bob Balaban and Helen Mirren, a team of American and Russian scientists put aside their political differences to travel to Jupiter in search of the astronauts of 2001 and to find the meaning of the mysterious black monoliths created by some superhuman intelligence.

When Mr. Hyams was approached a year ago by Frank Yablans, the vice-chairman of MGM/UA, his first reaction to the prospect of directing the sequel was to call Stanley Kubrick, whom he had never met, to ask for his blessing. “He said it was O.K. with him,” Mr. Hyams says.

But it is clear that for Mr. Hyams making a sequel to 2001 is an emotional minefield. “No matter what I do on 2010 I can't live up to people's expectations. But it's desperately important to me that Arthur Clarke and Stanley Kubrick feel what they started 18 years ago isn't besmirched,” Mr. Hyams says.

“Nobody in his right mind can rip off 2001 or be stupid enough to think he can do what Kubrick did.”

Mr. Hyams urgently explains that his movie is not poetry, that it is “very, very accessible,” “a thriller with a beginning, middle and end,” “a hopeful and emotional movie with a focus very different from Kubrick's focus.”

But an hour later, all the wisps of anguish have been tucked away. Striding the set and shouting orders at his crew, Mr. Hyams is a brusque and peremptory movie director.

On MGM/UA's Stage 15, the largest sound stage in Hollywood, the spaceship that has been sent to discover what happened to the astronauts of 2001 sprawls like an inert plastic starfish. Unlike the Enterprise of Star Trek, with its mile-long corridors and ballroom-sized bridge, the Leonov of 2010 is narrow and cramped.

Made of gray plastic, the Leonov – named for Aleksei A. Leonov, a Soviet cosmonaut and friend of Mr. Clarke – has ominously low ceilings. Most of the available space is crammed with dials and levers. Computer-generated images compete with data readings on the nine monitor screens above control panels eerily backlit by fluorescent tubing.

“Our ship is no Holiday Inn,” says Mr. Hyams, whose production is expected to cost more than $20 million. “The last consideration is comfort. My image for the spaceship was the submarine in Das Boot.”

“We were building Das Spaceship,” says Albert Brenner, the production designer for 2010. “With the real space shuttle Columbia, the engineers put in a facility for a human whenever they could find a bit of space. The spaceship in 2001, the Discovery, was 800 feet long and looked like it was designed by an interior designer.”

“The spaceship in 2001 looked like the GE Kitchen of Tomorrow,” says Syd Mead, the visual futurist who designed the Leonov's lumpy exterior, encrusted with tubes and plates bolted together.

It is not a lovely exterior. For the ship's interior, however, cramped does not necessarily mean ugly. In the medical bay, the six cryogenic chambers for the scientists who will spend most of the 14-month trip to Jupiter in frozen sleep look like children's beds modeled after race cars, complete with stripes.

Syd Mead's console design for the Leonov.

If Arthur Clarke, who co-wrote 2001 from his short story The Sentinel, doesn't like 2010, it will be partly his own fault. Between Sept. 16, 1983 and April 15, 1984, he corresponded almost daily with Mr. Hyams by computer from his home in Sri Lanka. Since night in Sri Lanka is day in Los Angeles and vice versa, each man went to his computer in the morning to find the questions the other man had asked or answered overnight.

Having arrived at a somewhat slower speed – from Sri Lanka to London by SwissAir, London to New York by Concorde, by shuttle to Washington and then another plane to California, Mr. Clarke was strolling the plastic floors of the Leonov two weeks ago, a cheerful, burly man wearing a yellow T-shirt advertising one of his businesses, underwater skin-diving safaris off the coasts of Sri Lanka.

Mr. Hyams's script has been adapted from Mr. Clarke's 1982 novel, 2010: Odyssey Two. The search that is the basic premise of the novel is intact. However, Mr. Hyams is focusing on a subtext about the politics of Russians and Americans having to get along together.

Mr. Clarke – who has just recovered from an encounter with “a nasty parasite; it's virtually impossible to avoid parasites in Sri Lanka,” he says blithely – called the writing of 2010 almost accidental. He had written and published a movie outline based on another of his books and had discovered “that you can get in 10 pages all the guts of a novel without the hard work of having to write a novel. Having found out how satisfying a movie outline was as an exorcism, I wrote an 8- or 10-page sequel to 2001 and sent it to my agent to send to Omni or Playboy. He sent it straight back and said, 'You have to write the novel.' And I suddenly realized that I wanted to!”

On Stage 30, where Esther Williams used to swim, stuntmen fly across the chasm that was once her swimming pool. Beyond are the bright red cellophane brains of HAL 9000, the soft-voiced computer who was the most human character in 2001. And perhaps the most human emotion in that movie was HAL's terror as he was destroyed by the astronaut Dave Bowman.

For 2010, Douglas Rain, the Canadian actor who was the voice of HAL in 2001, was in and out of MGM/UA before one frame of the film was shot. The actors in the new movie react to his prerecorded voice.

But another ghost from 2001 did roam the sets for a week. Keir Dullea – the Dave Bowman who turns into a star child at the end of 2001 – says he had “the same feeling I had at my 30th high school reunion. The people were different but the campus was exactly the same. The most poignant scene for me was having the voice of HAL to work with: two disembodied voices in a set from 18 years ago.”

His part in 2010, Mr. Dullea says, is “the character everybody talks about for the first two acts, who finally appears in the third.” Like Mr. Rain, Mr. Dullea is often approached by fans of the first movie. They are usually people, he says, who want him to explain the film's ending. He has come to consider the ending a comment on the “cyclical” nature of existence. “The existence of man is a bone in the eye of eternity,” he says. “A caveman throws a bone in the air, and in the wink of an eye it turns into a spaceship. My character, as he ages, reaches up in the same fashion the caveman did.”

Sometimes the other actors in 2010 envied Mr. Dullea his role as a disembodied voice.

“Our space suits were unbelievably heavy because they were designed to be worn in a weightless environment,” says John Lithgow, who plays Curnow, an American rocketry expert who panics during a space walk. “They weighed 100 pounds. We hung like sausages on unbelievably heavy leather harnesses. We couldn's sit down because our suits wouldn't let us bend at the pelvis. They lowered us to the ground and we lay there like knights who'd fallen off their horses. Then someone would come around and put a pillow under our heads.”

“They laid us flat like cords of wood,” says Elya Baskin, a Russian actor who came to the United States in 1976 and who recently played the prominent role of a circus clown who wants to defect in Moscow on the Hudson.

In Russia, he said, “The Government tells moviemakers what should and shouldn't be done. In America, the market tells you. So there's the same percent of good films and bad films in each country. Actors are privileged people in Russia, so people in the movie industry here and there look the same – a little bit phony, a little bit cool.”

Mr. Lithgow, who has been nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actor for the last two years for his performances as a transsexual in The World According to Garp and as a timidly adulterous banker in Terms of Endearment has a catalogue of “the other hideous things they exposed us to on 2010.”

“The cryogenic sleeptank suits had a fishnet effect with brass beads at all the junctions. It was like sitting or walking on pebbles and my body would be crisscrossed with red welts at the end of the day. The days we had to wallow around in yellow tempera pigment, we'd wear surgical masks until the moment of shooting. They refrigerated the set for an entire day so one character could explode with vapor when he opened his faceplate.”

Then he smiles and adds, “With actors, the more you suffer, the more interesting you think it is.”

(Originally published in New York Times, June 17, 1984) Source

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

On the Set of 2010

Launching a spectacular odyssey through the worlds of Arthur C. Clarke's imagination as realized by director Peter Hyams - and you're invited.


By itself, there's nothing interesting about the two-story, yellow plywood ball which occupies a blue-draped corner of MGM's cavernous stage 30. But if you squint, and use a little imagination, the sunlit soundstage suddenly becomes deep space. You are floating beside the sulphur-stained, derelict Discovery as the spacecraft performs its carousel spin in front of an ominous black shape set against the stars like a tombstone.

This is just a part of novelist Arthur C. Clarke's captivating vision, a story which began more than 15 years ago with director Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and now continues in 2010, a cinematic sequel based on Clarke's bestselling follow-up. Director Peter (Outland) Hyams (STARLOG #85) adapted Clarke's novel and, now armed with a $25 million bankroll, he has assembled an international crew of actors, artisans and technicians to capture the long-awaited saga on film.

Hyams, in attempting to follow 2001, has assumed a seemingly impossible task. 2001 was a landmark motion picture, a science fiction filmmaking experience as no one had ever seen it before. Clarke and Kubrick created a sweeping, philosophical movie which traced mankind from its infancy to its first contact with life from another world. Utilizing state-of-the-art special effects and a classical music score, 2001 had a depth and intensity far beyond the cartoonish cinematic science fiction which had dominated the movie screens for decades.

But the technological wizardry that made 2001 unique is commonplace in films today. The streamlined, sterilized look of Kubrick's spacecraft has also been eclipsed by the familiar sight of NASA vehicles during the Apollo landings and the space shuttle flights. And the use of Richard Strauss' "Zarathustra" theme to characterize the majesty of space is itself now a cliché. All Hyams has left to work with from 2001 is the story and the questions it left unanswered.

"I don't think it's possible to repeat 2001. The first time is the first time. When I saw 2001, it blew my mind just like it did everyone else's," recalls 2010 star Roy (Blue Thunder) Scheider. "But the choice Kubrick made to make it particularly dull, deliberately dull, in that very modern situation, was a wonderful conceit which can only work once when you see the film for the first time. After that, the characters just become very, very dull. Peter was right to avoid that idea. You can't pull the same stunt twice."

The real task facing Hyams, who is also doubling as cinematographer and producer, is to imbue 2010 with enough original and compelling qualities so that the film can stand on its own merits while still measuring up to the classic example set by its predecessor.

Hyams has, in consultation with Clarke, altered the storyline of 2010. One of the film's crew members promises that moviegoers can expect the sequel to be "exciting and full of action, something you couldn't say about 2001. While 2001 was more cerebral, 2010 will be more accessible."

2001 star Keir Dullea agrees. "It's a different style, and it has more plot than 2001 but it dovetails very well."

"I think the film's plot will be much clearer than in 2001," Scheider says. "There's a story you can hook onto here and ride to the end, which you couldn't do in 2001."

Director Hyams explains, "The feeling of sheer terror, this is basically Arthur C. Clarke's story. It's a book he has written and a story he wanted to tell, I can only try to tell that story to the best of my ability, and hopefully please Arthur. In essence, I'm a tailor, and it's Arthur's suit. I have to fit that suit to a different body—a film—and obviously a different form of art than Arthur's book."

"I'm happy with the changes that Peter has made with 2010," adds actor Bob (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) Balaban, who plays HAL's creator in the sequel. "I like to think of the book as an outline for a good movie. Based on the script and the actors working on this film, 2010 could really be an exciting movie and not just, you know, 'ta-da, here's the sequel.' "

Past Odysseys

The material artifacts of Clarke's tales lay scattered about the mammoth soundstage 30. HAL, the coldly efficient computer who murdered astronaut Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), and the sleeping Discovery crew, and doomed David Bowman (Keir Dullea) to an uncertain fate, is a harmless wooden box full of red plastic strips and fluorescent lights. The exterior and partial interior of the Leonov pod bay rises from a grimy pit that once, long ago, was filled with bright blue chlorinated water, allowing Esther Williams and a dozen swimsuit-clad starlets to frolic for the cameras. And off to one corner is the Discovery pod bay set where the legacy of 2001 and the promise of 2010 will meet.

The sets for 2010, says Peter Hyams, are
designed to appear functional and practical.
Just a few steps away, in another huge soundstage, the new environs of 2010 reside safely outside the shadow of memories from 2001. Here is the entire interior set of the Leonov, the Russian vessel which journeys to Jupiter to investigate the fate of the Discovery and astronaut David Bowman, whose last message - "My god, it's full of stars!" - continued to perplex scientists long after he disappeared into the monolith.

The Leonov is crewed by a team of U.S. and Soviet scientists. The U.S. scientists are Heywood Floyd (Scheider), who uncovered the lunar monolith; Walter Curnow (John Lithgow), an engineer and expert on the Discovery design; and Dr. Chandra (Balaban), journeying to fix HAL, his malfunctioning creation. The Russian crew is headed by Tanya Kirbuk (Helen Mirren of Excalibur), the Leonov commander (whose name is "Kubrick" spelled backwards) and engineer Max Brailovsky (Elya Baskin).

In addition to Baskin, the Soviet contingent includes several expatriate Russian actors. Among them are Vladimir Skomarovsky, once Best Soviet Actor in his home country; Savely Kramarov, the popular star of 42 Russian comedies; and Natasha Shneider, the lead singer of a "Western" style Russian rock'n'roll band before she emigrated to New York, and began a new American group, "White Russian."

Keir Dullea reappears in the Discovery pod bay as an ethereal David Bowman, Douglas Rain once again gives HAL his voice, and author Arthur C. Clarke turns up in a cameo on a Washington, D.C. park bench.

"I guess I have sort of proprietary interest in 2010," Dullea says of his second turn as Bowman. "I'm very glad I could be a part of it." Makeup expert Michael Westmore, who transformed actor John Lone into a Neanderthal for Iceman, will supervise Dullea's physical agings and regressions.

This is the big movie on the MGM lot, so despite the fact that it's based on a well-read book, everyone is "hush-hush" about the film. The set is closed. Guards stand watch both inside and outside the soundstages. Those few authorized visitors must wear dated, laminated identification cards that change color daily. The lone exception was England's Prince Andrew, who visited Los Angeles during the shooting and was conducted on a royal tour of the sets by Roy Scheider. The Prince's press entourage was left outside to stare at the grey soundstage and gape at the leotard-clad Fame dancers strolling to work.

Actor Elya Baskin, who emigrated from Russia in 1976 and recently co-starred in Moscow on the Hudson, found the set's rigid security and the sense of importance inferred by it, stoked his confidence and creativity.

"Everyone, starting with Peter Hyams on down to the costume and prop people, are so confident that we're doing something meaningful and important," he says. "It's very impressive. They take this work very seriously. You can feel it, walking on the set, that 2010 is something with extra meaning for everyone involved. This is far from routine work. That feeling and working with such a cast gives me great confidence. I feel privileged."

Yet, despite the sense of importance attached to their work, Balaban says the emotional temperature on the set stayed comfortably warm.

"The atmosphere around here is rather pleasant," he says. "When you walk on some movie sets, you get an immediate impression that there is ice flowing in many people's veins. The atmosphere here is due to Peter, mostly, and it flows down from there. Everybody's attitude is that 2010 will be a long movie to shoot, a meaningful movie, so let's be smart, let's be happy and let's be as creative as possible."

The inside of the Leonov soundstage is dark. A hazy cloud of gritty smoke flows thickly over the floor. When Hyams first came on the set, a crew member recalls, the director took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and grinned, "Ahhh, smells like filmmaking." The smoke is spewed out frequently between takes by a machine which lets out a hacking, mechanical cough that grates on the ears. The camera doesn't see the smoke, but it plays on the light, adding atmosphere.

Hyams huddles in front of a video monitor several yards away from the cramped Leonov communications room set, where Roy Scheider and Bob Balaban prepare for a scene. The two actors are doing their part of the initial Discovery reconnaissance trip that Lithgow and Baskin, suspended in front of a blue screen, filmed a few days earlier.

Movie directing has become something of a video game with the Louma Crane that Hyams is using. It's a camera, on a telescopic crane, which can snake into the narrow Leonov corridors and follow the cast. Hyams controls the crane from a station where he can see through the camera's eye on a video screen. The Louma crane allows the director to create a more claustrophobic feel and squeeze into areas where a camera and crew cannot go. It will be extremely useful when Balaban enters HAL to bring the computer "back to life."

Future Plastics

Wandering through the Leonov set is an education in set-making and detail. Stop at an airlock, a control panel, one of the space pods, any place where there's fine print to read. Look closely. It's always going to be the operating instructions for the zero gravity toilet from an early scene in 2001. It's an in-joke moviegoers will never notice. The camera will see only indiscernible lines of type. But there are other details, which moviegoers can see, that are far more interesting. Production designer Albert Brenner, whose previous work includes Turning Point and Hyams' Capricorn One, is the man behind them.

The Leonov, Brenner stresses, is a differnt sort of ship than the Discovery. "We're machinery, floating hardware," he says. "The feel of the Leonov is entirely different [from that of the Discovery]. We had a problem with this film - we had to stay close to 2001 while also taking into account the audience's new visual sense. The Discovery is slick and streamlined with nothing showing. Audiences don't see space travel as something so sleek anymore. The Leonov is more like a flying tugboat or submarine."

"Hundreds of miles" of wiring, some serving a real function, others used only as set dressing, are strewn over the set's grey-and-white interior and plywood exterior. More than 120 TV monitors dot the Leonov's halls. Yet, Brenner says, that isn't even enough. The monitors serve double, sometimes triple, duty and are yanked out when the action changes locale to fill other portions of the Leonov set and part of the Discovery. The abundance of monitors and other instrumentation is visual futurist Syd (Blade Runner) Mead's responsibility.

"I gave Syd the sketches and he filled in the details," Brenner says. "You know, the TV sets, readouts and stuff. It was just a bunch of garbage in my sketches. Instrumentation is Syd's specialty."

There is no room in the Leonov set for the traditional bulky movie lights - and that is intentional. "Peter likes to work with available light," Brenner explains. "Tight, claustrophobic set's aren't amenable to lighting. So, we turn on all the monitors and switches and that's it. Peter uses fast film. There's a tremendous amount of fluorescent and incandescent light. All the banks of plastic switches are lit from behind by fluorescent tubes. The light intensity is cut down by the colored plastic switches."

The Leonov is also a "wild set," meaning many sections are removable to allow the camera to poke through and film from several angles. Original plans to "shoot up through the floor," Brenner says, were scrapped. So, the set is on the ground. The corridor floors are simply hard, plastic, industrial pallets utilized for shipping materials.

Director Peter Hyams and production designer
Albert Brenner examine the Leonov model.
The Leonov flight deck, however, is suspended over a hole in the soundstage and built on an axle-like mount. In the flight deck, the chairs are refitted armor plated helicopter seats "that weigh a ton," Brenner groans. "We retro-fitted things onto them to give them this look. They're wonderful. At one point in the film, we must get away in a hurry. So, there's a rapid acceleration. When that happens, everything falls backwards under the force of the thrust. So, we strap the actors into those seats and take the entire set, turn it 90 degrees and let everything fall."

"But," he grins playfully, "the real secret to all of this is Joe's Plastic in Vernon, California. He gets scrap plastic from everywhere and recycles it. I found the place and acted like a kid in a candy shop. This ship is full of pieces from Joe's Plastic."

Brenner sweeps his hand expansively over the set, inviting visitors to look around at the details of the Leonov interior for "anything unusual." It isn't easy. And Brenner, smiling, knows it. "Right here," he points, "is a little device that's really one half of a ski tote. Those, over there, are small motor housings from lawn mowers. That brown object protruding from the wall is a child's car seat turned down and spray-painted. That, by the door, is a Sparklett's water bottle; that's a pool filter; and that, a car bumper."

Welcome to the future.

"Joe never thought he would be in the movie business," Brenner laughs, strolling through the Leonov's dark corridors. "I bought everything that looked interesting. I just pointed things out, I asked for 20 of those, a couple hundred of these. I had a huge mountain of plastic hauled down here. As the set was being built, I went through the rubble and picked out pieces, roamed around the set and put them on the wall."

"I had a picnic in my backyard last June where I served ice cream cones. The cones come in a box packed in styrofoam packaging. The packaging is interesting, something you would usually throw out without looking at it." Brenner grins. "I'll show it to you on the walls."

The entire Leonov set is littered with, well, litter – and liberally polished with several coats of imagination. Basking found it a fascinating contrast to Russian film making and a further incentive to give his best efforts to this role.

"In Russia, money is not limited. If a film requires a high budget, the government gives it. So, seeing a big set isn't such a big surprise, but to see such a masterfully crafted set ... I was really shocked when I saw the work Albert Brenner and Syd Mead have done. During the whole filming, I was still wandering around the set, touching things. I was very fascinated. And then Al took me to the special-effects place which was even more impressive. I tell you, working with such fine craftsmen and such experienced actors helps you do your very best."

Brenner began designing the sets while Hyams was still busy hammering out the screenplay. "I began working from the book, though the set is laid out for the screenplay's geography," the production designer notes.

Reconstructing the Discovery proved to be a challenge. "We had to go through a print of 2001, pull out frames, and work backwards from there because the blueprints for the original sets were destroyed," Brenner explains. "So, we pulled out maybe 50 frames and, based on the size of the people, we plotted out how large the set actually was. We've reconstructed the airlock, flight deck, corridor interior and pod bay. We've also done some exterior pieces of the Discovery's front ball and the spine which leads back from it to the engine."

As difficult as the task was, they were successful. "The sets from the Discovery have been reproduced exactly and I hadn't seen them in 10 years," says Dullea, remembering his days in 2001. "To walk on the set was like going through a time machine."

"This movie is going to be something," Keir Dullea notes, a strange smile creeping across his face. "Something wonderful."

(Originally published in Starlog Magazine. Copyright ©1984 Starlog.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Microcomputer Behind the Video on 2010

The release of 2010, sequel to the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, represents the dawning of more than one age. Story line aside, the film is perhaps the first to give major roles to two emerging technologies of our own era: video and microcomputing.

Solid modeling system responsible for instrumentation sequences

"More than any other film, 2010 offers video and computer graphics their best exposure," says John Wash of Video Image, the production company responsible for nearly all of the onboard control panel displays seen in the movie.

Video Image produced more than an hour of computer animation for the film, and produced it, remarkably enough, on a system built around an IBM PC microcomputer.

The Polycad/10 solid modeling system, developed by Cubicomp Corporation (Berkeley, Calif.) produces three-dimensional images, either as wire-frame models or "covered" with shaded surfaces, that can be rotated, repositioned, and rescaled on a medium resolution color raster display. Only a few years ago this capability would have required a minicomputer or mainframe system - a prohibitive cost for a small production facility.

Also used on the project was Cubicomp's 2-D paint program, which runs in conjunction with the Polycad/10; and Hal, a package developed by Video Image that acted as the master control for animating the sequences.

Video on the set

Operating a stone's throw from MGM Studios where 2010 was shot, Video Image was established in 1983 by Greg McMurry, Rhonda Gunner, Richard Hollander, and Wash.

The four of them cut their teeth working with effects wizard Douglas Trumbull on Blade Runner, Brain Storm, Star Trek - the Motion Picture, and other projects.

Video Image specializes in providing video production services for 24-frame playback (versus the standard but incompatible 30 frames-per-second) on movie sets-creating the images inhouse, feeding them to CRTs during filming on the set, and ensuring that the images are uniform from take to take and fully synchronized with the camera.

According to Richard Hollander, Video Image won the bid for the film because of its ability to handle the entire project. It had the in-house artistic talent to develop the images and the technical expertise to deliver those images to the set.

The production company also offered the economy of a microcomputer based graphics system. "We were able to get away with less costly hardware because we weren't trying to depict a real object with computer graphics-the audience knows it is looking at a display screen," said Hollander. "The resolution on the Polycad/10 system is 512x 512-quite sufficient for our purposes. More computing power would have been overkill."

This is an image of what is seen by the space crew when sent to
monitor a mission probing the surface of Europa, one of Jupiter's
moons. In the film, a life form is detected on this moon and a
probe is sent out to investigate
Much of 2010 takes place on the Russian spacecraft Leonov, launched in a joint USA/USSR venture to dock with the marooned ship Discovery, now orbiting Jupiter. The interior of the ship is filled with color monitors used to provide instrument readout and other information. Video Image's mission was to provide the images for those screens as well as recreate some of the earlier screen visuals for the Discovery.

A comparison of 2001 with 2010 shows just how far video technology has come. According to Wash, the instrumentation in the first film incorporated only a couple of computer generated sequences, used to rotate three-dimensional objects. These were produced frame-by-frame on a penplotter and photographed on an animation stand. The great majority of images used traditional animation techniques with no computer involvement whatsoever. Instead of CRT displays in the set, rear-projection was used to bring the images to the set.

By comparison, the instrumentation in 2010 relies heavily on CRT screens, and the images, while not actually created in real time (they were shot frame-by-frame), are the stuff of silicon chips and software. Video Image was able to set up its post production playback facility on the Leonov set, enabling it to edit and modify animation sequences.

Two kinds of images

To produce the images, Gunner and Wash began by reading the script while referring to set design drawings supplied by Syd Mead.

The script made it apparent from the start that two types of images would be required: specific sequences vital to the plot, and others, more generic, that would appear only as background.

This is a wire-frame image of the
Discovery. This image is what the
Leonov crew sees in its monitor as
two members of their team attempt
to board the Discovery.
"We began researching to determine what exactly is the state of the art for this technology, talking to designers of aircraft-both commercial and military," said Wash, "and we tried to find out what these people were looking at for the future.

"The trend does indeed point toward the replacement of the myriad dials and gauges found on traditional craft with a few CRT screens that give multifunctional readouts. Computers on board the craft will determine what information the pilot needs to see, or alternatively, the pilot will be able to request specific read-outs manually."

To produce the images, Video Image purchased the Polycad/10 system in October 1983. The system augmented the production company's existing graphics system, built around a Cromemco microcomputer.

The Polycad/10 system produces three-dimensional, shaded-surface, fullcolor solid models using an IBM PC or compatible-a capability once confined to larger systems priced at $100,000 or more. The Cubicomp system enables filmmakers to create and manipulate images interactively, using a graphics tablet and keyboard, and macro commands listed in an external file, residing on disk.

Artistic license

Video Image took responsibility for its own art direction, running Polaroid screen shots and completed tape sequences past director Peter Hyams on a create-as-you-go basis. The production company began work several months before shooting commenced, and stayed two weeks to two months ahead of filming, depending on the volume of images required.

"It was obvious from the beginning that we would have to invent a lot of general material," says Wash. "For example, we created screens that monitored the functions of the ship, that showed communications, that listed daily activities. We provided static diagrams of Jupiter, navigation readouts showing star positions, and radar sweeps. Plausibility was the key; beyond that we were afforded a great deal of artistic license."

But other scenes required very specific images integral to the story line. For example, the company was asked to create a graphic sequence that matched a shot of the pod flying over the surface of the Jovian moon Europa - the graphic look-alike to represent a computer analysis of the terrain. During production, the model shot and its graphics counterpart would be played side-by-side on adjacent screens.

Hollander started by patching the photographs of the model together, like a mosaic, to produce a single, cohesive view. He then digitized the results, using a graphics tablet, and manually added some of the more prominent geographical features. A screen showing the model fly-by was placed above the screen of the Polycad/10, and Hollander began duplicating the camera pans from the original. "I must have viewed that sequence 5,000 times," he recalls.

Some of the company's earliest work involved the creation of "stock characters": the Leonov spaceship, for example, as well as the Discovery, the Europa pod, and even the ubiquitous black monolith.

Unlike traditional two-dimensional animation, however, where a character is first drawn blueprint-fashion from several angles, a three-dimensional system requires the creation of a computer database, consisting of an x, y, z coordinates listing. The images created from that database are similar to a snapshot of an actual object in that the viewing direction and distance can be selected. Moreover, some images are left as wireframe models while others appear with completed surfaces.

This is one section of the Russian ship Leonov.
It was used as a background detail in the film.
The Leonov database, for example, was created from an orthogonal projection drawing of a 10-foot model built by Mark Stetson for MGM. Over a two-week period, Hollander digitized these drawings, selecting areas of the blueprint to be entered as two-dimensional polygons. These polygons were then extruded, multiplied, "swept," and otherwise transformed into 3-D images.

The Polycad/10 system uses the boundary representation method, in which a 2-D polygon is the foundation for constructing a 3-D image. For example, a pentagon may be extruded to form a pentagonal prism, or multiplied to create a dodecahedron. Likewise, a half circle can be "swept" to create a sphere, and a full circle can be rotated around an axis to a donut shape.  Several such objects can then be combined to create a single database.

"Given this arsenal of techniques within the Polycad system, you can generate very interesting, well-defined solid models," says Hollander.

In the Leonov's case, two databases were required to show the rotation of the control center. Once they were complete, the ship could be incorporated in scenes as needed.

The image shows the spacecraft entering an orbit around
Jupiter with the ballute making a protective path.

One of the more elaborate examples depicts the Leonov as it skirts Jupiter, using the planet's atmosphere to decelerate. To minimize the heat, a "ballute"-a combination balloon and parachute-is inflated and ejected out the rear of the ship.

"At that point in production, nobody was certain how much of this action could be shown through model photography," Hollander recalls. "So it was determined that, at the very least, the video graphics should record the event."

The sequence shows the red ballute emerging from a wireframe image of the ship. The ship is then rotated to the side, and the airflow is traced.

To animate the sequence, Wash used the Easel system to hand-draw the ballute as it filled the screen, with each frame consigned a separate disk file on the computer. The Hal control program then read in the files in sequence, overlaying each with the Leonov database in the framebuffer.

Color animation was also used. The ballute image was shown pulsating in intensity between a dark burgundy and crimson. To accomplish this, the Hal software cycled through a predefined 24-bit color lookup table that changed the ballute's colors dynamically from one frame to the next. (The picture elements within the Polycad/10 system are governed by a "lookup table" of the primary additive colors-red, green, and blue-each of which can be displayed in one of 256 intensities. Up to 4096 such combinations can thus be cycled through to display a palette of 16.7 million colors.)

In the film, a computer creation called a ballute (combination balloon and
parachute) is launched to allow the Leonov to enter Jupiter's atmosphere
to slow down the speed of the spacecraft. The image shows
the ballute being inflated.

To simplify rotation, the ballute was changed from a two-dimensional overlay into a 3-D wireframe. Colormapped animation was used, this time to animate the patches representing air flow-a process analogous to light "moving" on a theater marquis.

Other overlays used for the sequence included Russian lettering (created by a typesetting program that added a second character set to a computer terminal), a digital readout, a blue border, as well as the rotating center of the Leonov, which had to be redrawn every frame.

According to Wash, one of the major benefits of producing graphics with a computer is speed. "For example, on one days' notice, Peter (Hyams) decided he wanted to show the ballute being jettisoned before the ship is rotated. We managed to accommodate him overnight.

"The process was almost like traditional animation in the sense that John made individual pictures of how the ballute was going to animate off," Hollander explains. "When we did the shoot, we would read in the 3-D rendering of the ship and overlay John's pictures sequentially in the order that he planned the animation."

"I've worked with a lot of films that generate graphics using traditional animation techniques to mimic a computer graphic readout - and I admit I was at first skeptical that a computer could, in fact, do it faster," Wash recalls. "But in fact, we could never have generated that shot in time without the microcomputer to manipulate the images."

In the sequence, the Leonov ship was depicted only as a wire-frame model. But some images used solid fill as well. One sequence, for example, was created to show a medical analysis of a woman cosmonaut. The production team began with a plastic foam model that artist Peggy Weil covered with interlocking polygons. Hollander then used a milling machine to record on paper the coordinates of the vertices, which in turn were merged into a Cubicomp database.

For the first part of the Leonov mission, the American Team is placed
in deep sleep. When Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider) is brought out
of this sleep, a monitor charts his progress. The monitor is an
animated computer graphic.

The completed image shows the wire-frame head rotating, a deep blue surface added, and then sections of the head changing colors.

Once a sequence was approved, Hollander and Wash filmed it off a 13-inch raster tube. A negative of the tape was then given to an outside lab for conversion to 24 frames/per second, and given to McMurry or Gunner for use on the set.

Play it back

At the MGM soundstage, Video Image installed a playback system consisting of custom switching devices, a patch panel for cabling, assorted monitors, an editor, and a custom video synthesizer-all modified for 24-frame video. Ten machines could be run in the system simultaneously by one operator, and this permitted the operator to cue the sequences to precisely match a retake.

"We actually had 13 machines and 13 feeds, and sometimes produced duplicate images," Hollander explains.

"But when this occurred, we spaced the redundant ones around the set in a logical arrangement."

In all, the firm produced more than an hour of video animation. "You never know how long the director is going to shoot for," says Wash. "It may look like 30 seconds in the script, but the sequence may go on for three minutes or longer-so we generated all the material way over length.

Since completing 2010, Video Image has put the solid modeling system through its paces on three other pictures: the forthcoming Michael Crichton film, Runaway; Hal Barwood's Biohazard (working title); and John Carpenter's Starman.

(Originally published in part in C&GA, February 1985)

Monday, August 3, 2015

An Odyssey for Arthur C. Clarke

by Steven Jongeward & Gerard Raymond

Last May, Arthur C. Clarke visited the MGM soundstages in southern California where principal photography was underway on 2010. He was quite pleased with what he saw. Stopping in New York on his way home to Sri Lanka, he chatted about the eagerly awaited film.

Although obviously enthusiastic about the project, Arthur C. Clarke respects the studio's wishes not to reveal too much too soon, and is a bit circumspect in his comments. Having just watched the film's trailer (playing with 70mm versions of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), he is still bubbling from what he describes as "a rewarding experience. It was quite a thrill seeing the trailer," he admits, "and I was very happy with the audience's reaction."

Clarke is also extremely pleased with having filmmaker Peter Hyams as 2010's guiding light. Hyams, the film's writer, producer, director and cinematographer, was happy to have Clarke's help in restructuring the story to translate it from printed page to silver screen.

"All the changes that Peter has made were quite justified," Clarke states. "If I had thought of them myself, I might have used them in the novel."

One of the problems in shaping the story into screenplay is that Clarke was not thinking cinematically when he wrote it. "I honestly didn't think about a film even for a minute," he confesses. The challenge was large enough, he says, that Peter Hyams complained and suggested that the next book Clarke writes should be entirely about two men sitting in a room.

Clarke admits that while writing 2010: Odyssey Two, he felt that he had a story "that even Stanley [Kubrick] couldn't film!" But Hyams accepted the challenge. Because of the distances involved - California to Sri Lanka - the two men collaborated via satellite through their personal computers. The "electronic mail" that passed between the pair will be collected and published later this year, under the title The Odyssey File.

The author is confident in Hyams' ability to follow Stanley Kubrick's landmark motion picture. "First of all," he says, "Stanley approved the choice." In addition, Clarke explains that, "I had seen Capricorn One and Outland and I enjoyed them thoroughly ... even if I did dislike some things in both movies."

Clarke feels that the Hyams film is not really a sequel to the Kubrick classic, but that "comparisons are inevitable. But they are not fair because this movie is being made in a totally different age." He also notes that 2010 will benefit from current technology. The look of the film will be more accurately reflective of real space hardware.

Peter Hyams has said that 2001 was a cerebral film, while 2010 will be more of an emotional adventure. Clarke agrees. "There was no point in developing any emotional background to the characters' personalities in the first movie."

Roy Scheider, director Peter Hyams,
and Arthur C. Clarke chat about 2010.

He is also quite comfortable with Hyams' nuts-and-bolts approach. "I have been accused of over-explaining things, but being a serious writer, I rather prefer to over-do. Stanley, on the other hand, has been accused of the other direction."

On his way back from Los Angeles to New York, Clarke made an important stop-over in Washington, D.C. He had an appointment at the White House.

However, he didn’t meet with the President inside, but with a film crew outside, shooting a scene from 2010 with Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider). Clarke was there to do a cameo in the scene – as a disheveled drunk lounging on a park bench.

But he couldn’t report on the dialogue from the scene, because he has been concentrating immensely on “just feeding breadcrumbs to the pigeons and occasionally swigging from a bottle in a paper bag.” He explains that he was given no actual direction. “Peter Hyams left it entirely up to me,” he says with a grin. “It was not,” Arthur C. Clarke confesses, “an Oscar nomination bid. But, if you can't be a successful bum, being a writer is the next best thing.”

(Originally published in Starlog Magazine)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

2010: A Second Look [Review]

Making sequels seem to be like running marathons: arduous and taxing, and no matter how good you are and how well you did, second places are seldom celebrated.

Taking on the task of directing 2010 must have been daunting. No matter what the outcome would be the movie would be mercilessly savaged by a unanimous core of critics. Everyone knew this, and Peter Hyams knew this as well. When Frank Yablans from MGM approached Hyams—after first (probably rather ceremoniously) having offered it to Stanley Kubrick who promtly declined—the New York director was understandably hesitant. He knew that no matter what he would do, everyone would compare him to Kubrick.

All of the above said there are a couple of things that cannot be denied. When looked at as a stand-alone movie 2010 is not a bad film. Banal? Perhaps. Forgettable? After a fashion. Bad? Certainly not. The sad fate of 2010 is that it can never, under any circumstances, ever be decoupled from its industry changing predecessor. The other thing is that the movie is just that: good. Or rather, good but moderately mundane. Possibly pedestrian. While a lot of the blame—if blame is the word one wants to use—can be put squarely at the feet of director Peter Hyams, the fact of the matter is that the source material (the book by Arthur C Clarke), is no 2001. The same things that can be said about the movie can be said about the book. The book sequel 2010: Odyssey Two is reminiscent of the standard Clarkian fare: hopeful, good natured, boyish, and (excuse the phrase) very British. Add to this that the book is very academic, lecturing even, and you might appreciate why the movie cannot be much different.

Discovery in a tight spot.

Of all of Clarke’s books, and he wrote quite a few in his time, 2001 towers above the rest in a way that seems peculiar. Why, then, is the first installment in the Odyssey series so remarkably different? (Yes, it became a series: Clarke wrote four Odyssey books all in all, of—some say—ever lessening quality.) One issue that cannot be hand waved away is the input Stanley Kubrick had on the book. The pacing, the characterization, the unfolding of the narrative, the build-up of the major themes is all Kubrick. Granted, the greater themes were and still are pure Clarke, but the minute details of the text were worked out by both of them, and when they were not, certainly Clarke could not deviate far from Kubrick’s main structure. It could be argued that the novel really should credit Stanley Kubrick as co-writer. The sequel 2010, however, has Clarke on his naked own.

Where 2001: A Space Odyssey wisely avoided monograph and exposition—one is forced to suspect under Kubrick’s direction and insistance—the following book 2010: Odyssey Two does a remarkable job at dispelling all the mysteries, doing that which should perhaps never be done: explaining the magic trick.

It has to be said both the book and the resulting movie are lesser works when compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey. There is no way getting around the fact. That really is the best word one can use to describe both: lesser. Just as one cannot watch 2010: The Year We Make Contact without comparing it to it’s formidable older sibling, one can equally well not read 2010: Odyssey Two without comparing it to it’s predecessor. In both cases they are left wanting. Not hugely, but notably. In the case of 2010, it must also be said lesser does not necessarily mean bad.

Cold Odyssey

With the realization that 2010—both as book and as movie—is a lesser work comes the realization that one is free to appreciate the motion picture on its own merits. The plot elements as they are written by Clarke work surprisingly well within the constraints of the movie format, and by themselves create a narrative backbone upon which the director is then free to place additional elements of his or her own choosing. Hyams chose to excise the subplot regarding the Chinese Tsien mission and their probe sent to Europa, and instead added a Cold War backdrop to the narrative.

Excising the Tsien subplot did not seem to damage the movie at all, in fact there remains more plot elements than could fit nicely into a 120 minute movie in 2010. However, adding the Cold War backdrop anchored the movie firmly into the mid-nineteen-eighties, badly dating it. In contrast the 1968 movie, while being 16 years older than 2010, seems not to have aged at all; 2001 seems like a more recent movie than its far younger sibling.

Where Kubrick paid serious, laser focused attention on every little detail of the production, Hyams seems to have gone for belly laughs and guffaws during the making of the movie. To present an example: the zero-G toilet instructions found on the wall of the Aries 1B lunar shuttle in 2001: A Space Odyssey were the only tongue-in-cheek insertion, and their inclusion only happened after serious deliberation. The very same batch of text was then used by Hyams as a template for every little piece of text in 2010—on walls, on equipment, even on the space ship models—the logic being the text passes by the viewers’ eyes so quickly that they will never have time to neither notice nor even read it. But despite Hyams’ smoke filled sets we can, and seeing it immediately breaks the fourth wall, breaking the illusion that is vital to fantastic stories such as the Space Odyssey. The Leonov model apparently even had a ”Made in USA” disclaimer stickered to it. All in Cyrillic, of course, to make it authentic, you see?

Regarding the movie proper, Hyams must have known he was doomed from the outset. He could use none of the trademark Kubrick tricks from 2001—no classical music, no open ended questions, no slow and ponderous shots of spaceships majestically staving their way to their destiny—and most of all he would be compared to one of the all-time grand masters of cinema. No matter he did. With the game rigged and the odds stacked against him, Hyams managed to produce the best film of his career. Coming as the third installment of his ”science fiction trilogy”—Capricorn One and Outland being the two previous parts—the resulting movie was something of an anomaly. It was a cerebral movie amidst all the light fluff and shallow entertainment of the early nineteen-eighties. It was a slow-moving, thoughtful motion picture, instead of the whiz-bang style much in vogue at the time. In short, it was quite the different Hollywood fare.

Sure, the movie was not—and is not—an instant classic, and is perhaps not even that memorable. It is said that if it would not be a sequel to one of the most heralded works of art in all of cinema history—the film Kubrick towards the end of his life considered his best work—it would be all but completely forgotten now; and if it were not for the fact that it is this very sequel, it would never be written about at all. Especially not 30 years after it was initially released.

Forgotten Space

Do not expect any 30th anniversary re-release of the movie. Warner Bros has displayed a monumental disregard for the film. The only post-VHS releases have been a woefully poor DVD implementation and a Blu-Ray version of the same. The extras consist of one single 9 minute featurette made in 1984 plus a beat up film trailer. Those in the know are aware of several scenes that were axed from the theater version, scenes that could easily be included as buying incentives with minimal work, such as a sweet goodbye scene between Heywood and Caroline Floyd, the original aerobraking voice-over, the much longer aerobraking preparation scenes, the original Wilson and Moisevitch voice-overs, the greetings to Caroline, the Accessway 2 dialogue between Floyd and Curnow, and so on. No plans for inclusion of them as extras exist.

To make things worse for any refurbished release of the movie is the sad fact that many of the cast and crew are no longer with us. Roy Scheider who played Heywood Floyd is gone, as is Natasha Shneider who played Irina Yakunina. Dana Elcar who played Dimitri Moisevitch has also since passed away, as has TV announcer Gene McCarr and Saveliy Kramarov who played Dr. Rudenko. Herta Ware who played Jessie Bowman has passed away, and Cheryl Carter who played her nurse is no longer with us, either. Studio head Frank Yablans has also joined the Choir Invisible, as has art cinematographer Dave Stewart, and none of the three main sound managers are any longer here. Patricia Norris who was nominated for an Oscar for her work on the movie passed away earlier this year. Sad is also the loss of writer Arthur C. Clarke. Many others have simply retired from movies, such as Madelyn Smith Osborne who played Caroline Floyd, and James McEachin who played Victor Wilson. The list is long and keeps getting longer, and no forthcoming specials seem to be on the horizon. To make it short, what we have is what we will get. Enjoy it for what it is, because there will be nothing more.

If one wants to be a bit murky and unforgiving the movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact is ”good” only in the sense that it is ”not bad”. But as has been said, Hyams meant well with 2010. Give him some slack and appreciate his movie as one of the best glitzy popcorn wasters from the eighties. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Please do yourself a favour and do not expect it to be 2001. It isn’t.

Images copyright ©1984 M-G-M.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Roy Scheider - Making Contact in "2010"


If you look at Roy Scheider's hard, lined face, you can understand why killer sharks, New York street gangs, devious chopper pilots and international assassins think twice about messing with him. This guy is tough.

Even the alien intelligence that sparked the evolution of mankind on Earth and placed an ominous Monolith orbiting the planet Jupiter might have second thoughts about tangling with him. But they'll have to anyway. Because Scheider, as intrepid scientist Heywood Floyd, is coming to make contact with them to find out what really happened to the ship he dispatched, the Discovery, and the crew aboard it.

This is the story of 2010, director/writer/producer/cinematographer Peter Hyams' long-awaited, $30 million sequel to Stanley Kubrick's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Scheider is assuming the role originated by William Sylvester, an actor whose lack of popular appeal seemingly precluded his involvement in 2010 from the outset.

Roy Scheider as Heywood Floyd.
"I was Peter's first choice," Scheider explains, taking a break between shots in his trailer beside MGM's mammoth Stage 30. Clad in his crew jumpsuit, he looks out of place in the drab, familiar environs of a mobile home. "Peter had me in mind while he was writing the screenplay from Arthur C. Clarke's book. I read the first 80 pages of the script, which he hadn't finished yet, and I was interested. He explained to me what he planned to do with the rest of the story and I agreed to do the movie."

Exploring 2010

Scheider was seduced by the dramatic conflicts swirling around Floyd. "That's what I look for first in a screenplay," he says. "Is whatever happened to him interesting to the audience? Does anyone want to look at him? Will they care? And is there enough to interest me as an actor? When you get those two factors together, where the character is interesting and the character challenges me as an actor, that's a real plus."

Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2010 wasn't required reading for Scheider's role. "I deliberately avoided the book because I'm performing the screenplay," the actor says. "I don't want to confuse the two."

For the same reason, he didn't rush out to see 2001 again. But the memory of past viewings still lingers.

"When I saw 2001, it blew my mind just like it did to everyone else," Scheider recalls. "The actors were never the stars of 2001. The special effects were. If anything, HAL was the major actor. As I've seen it more and more times since then, I still marvel at the technical things, but the choice Kubrick made to make it particularly and deliberately dull in a very modern situation was a wonderful conceit. It can only work once when you see the film for the first time. Afterwards, if just becomes very, very, very dull."

"Peter Hyams made a very good point when he told me didn't want the people in this film to be dull like in 2001 because the device won't work twice. That grandiose space movie Kubrick did can't be done again. You can't pull the same stunt twice."

That's why few members of the cast or crew openly refer to 2010 as a sequel. They prefer to view it as an entirely new motion picture.

"This is a whole new deal," Scheider stresses. "For instance, one reason I did not go see 2001 before doing this film is that they are not related at all until we get up in space and find the Discovery. Only then do the two stories connect. I would say that 80% of this movie really hasn't got much to do with 2001 except that it has the same setting: space."

It's a setting which involves the employment of many state-of-the-art special effects. Scheider is no stranger to working with this technical side of movie magic. In Jaws and Jaws 2, he pursued a mechanical Great White Shark across the seas. In Blue Thunder, he scorched across the skies in a helicopter which resembled a flying tank.

The relationship between the actor and the special effects is a difficult one, and Scheider is still trying to reach an amiable accord.

"My only problem with them is the amount of time that elapses between shots to get the special effects set up," he says. "It's debilitating. The hard thing is to keep the energy level up and maintain continuity. I would never adapt my acting style to work around special effects. I always consider special effects the enemy. I know they are necessary, but, for actors, they just get in the way."

Special effects, though, play a far less important role in 2010 than they did in 2001. As the 2010 cast frequently observes, this film will emphasize character over hardware.

"It's also a much better story. I think the audience will have a better time with this film than they had with the first one," Scheider says. "This film's plot will be much clearer than 2001. There's a story you can hook onto here and ride to the end, which you couldn't do with 2001, which was all kind of marvellous and mind-blowing. But ask anyone on the street how 2001 ends and they can't tell you. And that includes me. The only person who knows is Stanley Kubrick, and it really doesn't matter because that movie went off on an extraterrestrial flight at the end, which is OK, because how the hell are you going to end a movie like that one anyway?"

That doesn't mean, Scheider stresses, that elements of the first space odyssey will be lost or ignored in this encore. Keir Dullea's return as David Bowman, for example provided it's own special impact for both cast and crew.

"It was eerie playing a scene with Keir Dullea," Scheider says. "We all felt strange. He felt just as eerie about being there as we felt about seeing him."

Heywood Floyd on board the Leonov.
In the final analysis, the basic difference between the two films, Scheider believes, is that 2010 should be "more fun and more exciting to watch" while still solving many of the questions raised in 2001: A Space Odyssey "and presenting a whole new level of mysteries that will be easier for the audience to hold on to. It's pretty fantastic. I think the audience will leave this film with their minds expanded."

He grins and shrugs. "I mean, it's pretty fantastical what happens at the end. If you want to think about the possibilities of there being a new sun in the sky and a whole new universe - that sets up a pretty exciting frontier which makes what's happening on Earth seem pretty trivial."

What's occurring on Earth during Floyd's trek aboard the Russian spacecraft Leonov to Jupiter is that tensions are quickly increasing between the two superpowers. The world teeters on the brink of a world war, Earth-bound animosity reaches out into space and touches the international crew journeying to delve into the mysteries of the Discovery.

"That's the story's real conflict," Scheider announces, "the cold war heating up between the Russian and American crew while they are out in space."

Piloting "Blue Thunder"

When it came to conflict on Blue Thunder, there were some reported skirmishes - including remarks in STARLOG interviews - between director John Badham (STARLOG #70) and screenwriter Dan O'Bannon (STARLOG #71).

"Blue Thunder went through a lot of changes," Scheider concedes. "The script I read was not the script which ended up being shot. They had two more writers come on and then a third. Then, they went back to the original two guys who got the screen credit [O'Bannon and Don Jakoby]. I mean, what attracted everyone in the first place was what really made the story good, so they went back to the drawing board." [Scheider discusses Blue Thunder in depth in an interview in STARLOG #73.]

O'Bannon was offended by the ad-libbed dialogue Badham encouraged the actors to deliver. The screenwriter, who recently directed Return of the Dead from his own script (FANGORIA #40), took the ad-libbing as an insult to his writing.

"Much of the stuff between Daniel Stern [of Diner, see STARLOG #74] and myself, you know that bullshit macho dialogue in the helicopter, was mostly ad-libbed stuff. John Badham encouraged us to do it," Scheider explains. "He did that because it worked for the film. It helped establish a relationship and that's hard to do on paper."

O'Bannon's displeasure baffles Scheider.

"Since the movie did about $80 million worldwide," the actor says. "I don't think Dan O'Bannon should be too unhappy. I know for a fact that John never treated those guys with anything less than respect and invited then to the set and showed them dailies."

"As a filmmaker, I think John is a little more sophisticated about how things will affect an audience than they [O'Bannon and Jakoby] are. And I'm a guy who believes that the writers are absolutely the number one creative force in any movie."

"I make it my business to meet the screenwriter, because where are you going to find out more about your character than from him?" Scheider continues. "You discover what compelled him to write the screenplay in the first place. If I like the script, and I chose to do it, it means I like the character to begin with and anything I bring to it is just an embellishment on what the writers already have. So, I don't have conflicts with writers."

Scheider can sympathize with a writer's position in a film's hierarchy and the anger that sometimes results when an actor "takes over" a role.

"How would you like it if you wrote a movie, and they cast the part, and the actor signs a contract to play the character for X amount of dollars and on the first day of shooting, he says, 'I don't like the character.' How would you feel?" Scheider argues. "So, an actor can't do that, he can't say, 'Wait a minute. I'm not playing this guy because I have a better idea.' That's why some actors get fired the first week of shooting."

Suffering Sequelitis

Shceider has earned the respect of the film industry and its audience for an unending series of performances of unquestioned integrity. His first major screen role cam as Jane Fonda's slimy pimp in the Oscar winning detective film Klute. Next, he was Gene Hackman's cop partner in director William Friedkin's Oscar-winner, The French Connection. Performances etched in honesty followed in such films as The Seven-Ups, Jaws, Jaws 2, Marathon Man, All That Jazz, Still of the Night and Blue Thunder.

Born in New Jersey, Scheider had a serious bout with rheumatic fever as a child. He found refuge in the world of books. His college career began at Rutgers and continued at Franklin and Marshall, a small school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he first experienced the joys of acting. However, he followed a school ROTC commitment with two years in the Air Force. Flunking flight school with low math scores, he became an air traffic controller.

Discharged from the service, Scheider and his new wife moved to New Jersey. The marriage fizzled. In the meantime, Scheider pursued an acting career and began making his mark in Shakespearean theater. He married actress Cynthia Bebout, now working as a film editor. Critical accolades for his stage work eventually led him to the screen and international fame.

Most of his movies belong to the action/adventure genre. And those are the kind of films Scheider likes to see.

"Yes, they are. I wouldn't make them if I didn't like to see them," he reveals. "For instance, when I read Blue Thunder, I found the helicopter a fascinating concept. If you've read the newspapers lately and you look at what's being built at Hughes and used at the Olympics, you'll see it's nearly the same machine. So, I felt that Blue Thunder has some historical significance. And Jaws, of course, was just about the most exciting blast of a yarn I had read in a long time. I like to do movies I would like to go out and see."

He must be doing something right. After all, three of Scheider's blockbusters have inspired sequels of one type or another. There was French Connection 2, in which Scheider didn't appear though he "liked it a lot, I loved the way they unleashed Popeye Doyle, this New York barbarian, on French society. But, I think it suffered from sequelitis." There were reports of a Blue Thunder theatrical sequel, but Columbia opted instead for a TV series (STARLOG #81). Was Scheider offered the starring role?

"Yep," he nods.

And what did he say to the producers?

"No," he shakes his head empathically. "Absolutely no."

He wasn't able to say the same when Universal asked him to go to sea again for Jaws 2, though he would have preferred to turn that encore down.

"I did Jaws 2 because of a contractual obligation to Universal. It wasn't my choice," he says. "It was a plain sequel. I don't think it stood on its own as a movie. That wasn't a natural sequel at all. I don't think it was necessary to have that shark appear again. There isn't any way to top the first film."

Getting Steven Spielberg to helm the shark thriller, again, though, might have been a good beginning. When John Hancock, the original director of Jaws 2, departed after a few weeks of shooting (executives reportedly thought the film looked "too gothic"), Universal asked Spielberg to take over.

"He agreed to do it if they gave him five months to develop what he considered a worthwhile story," Scheider says. "They wouldn't give him that time. I was all for it, but they didn't want to wait the extra five months."

The final film, directed by Night Gallery veteran Jeannot Swarzc (interviewed this issue re: Supergirl, see page 37) disappointed Scheider, but it achieved box-office success. Spielberg, according to Scheider, "didn't think very highly of the film at all."

Still, it was financially rewarding enough to merit yet another sequel, Jaws 3-D (STARLOG #74). "I didn't see it," Scheider discloses. "I had absolutely no curiosity at all."

Although 2010 closes with some open-ended questions, and Clarke is planning another sequel, 20.001: The Final Odyssey, Scheider doubts there will be another cinematic follow-up.

"There are certain stories that lend themselves to sequels," Roy Scheider says. "And this isn't one of them."

(Originally published in Starlog Magazine #90. Copyright ©1984 Starlog. Images copyright ©1984 MGM.)