BladeZone Editorial Manager Gary Willoughby recently had a chance to
correspond with Blade Runner assistant art director, Stephen Dane.
For the last 14 months Mr. Dane has been working in Japan for Universal
Studios, but he plans a return to the U.S. in January of 2001. When he does return,
BladeZone will then have the opportunity to sit with
him for a more formal interview. Until then, here is the month long
correspondence between the Gary and Stephen. I'm sure you will all
find it very interesting.
Gary: Thank you for taking the time to exchange e-mail. There are many questions I'd like to ask about the production of the film for Bladezone, perhaps even do an interview.
Stephen: I'll be returning to Los Angeles sometime in January, I'll give you a call or email you then in the meantime let's stay in touch via e-mail because I'd enjoy providing you with all the Blade Runner information you might request. I'd be delighted to help you. I've got more sketches than the ones you featured, plus photographs, including some of the Air force surplus that I got at Davis Monthan AFB "junkyard" in Arizona that ended up being in the movie. I was in charge of supervising most of the prop fabrication, such as the Voight- Kampff device and vehicle construction, including all the Syd Mead cars built by Gene Winfield ( who's a really great guy, long-time hot rodder and perfectionist- it was great to see his article in your web site). I've got all my notes, schedules, etc., as well as a wealth of anecdotes about the movie. Because of the nature of my work I ended up working one-on-one with Ridley Scott and was privy to all his background work, sketches and research, such as all of Ridley's concept an "vision" stuff that Syd Mead worked from (Syd's vehicles, devices and hardscape/ building detail were his originals, the cityscape and concept-the big picture- were Ridley's).
Gary: While in Japan have you been in touch with any of the Blade Runner fans there, the Blarunian, as they are called. There is a Blade Runner web site www.tvc-15.com , the tvc-15 web site are the people who created and wrote "Dokuhon plus 44" the spinner book. There is also a Japanese fan club web site http://member.nifty.ne.jp/bladerunnerfc/
Also have you heard anything of the only "Spinner" left in the world? It was auctioned in Japan many years ago and was last seen near the " nishi-magome station" or the "Shinagawa area" I think. The vehicle is owned by a private collector, that will not speak to anyone.
Also once a year there is a Wander Festival toy and model show at Tokyo Bay in August. The orange blossoms are beautiful then I hear.
Tomorrow I will take a short drive to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Cult-Movie Magazine is having a convention there. It will be their first convention go to www.cult-movies.com/announcements.htm for the info. Basically there will be a ton of actors and important people attending like: Forrest Ackerman (father of science fiction), Bob Burns, historian, John Agar, Ray Bradbury, science fiction author, Paul Sammon author of Future Noir, the history of Blade Runner, William Sanderson (J.F.Sabastian), Joseph Turkel (Dr. Elton Tyrell), and Joanna Cassidy (Zhora).
Stephen: Enjoy the convention, it sounds like it'll be great - wish I was there. I'll try the Japanese web sites you suggested and see if I can make any local connections. I'll try to scout the location of the "spinner" here and see if I can get any clues. If I find it I'll take a bunch of photos (film and digital). You know the squared -off Syd Mead car that Deckard drove around town was also called a "Spinner" albeit an older model.
Did you see in the movie (Blade Runner) when Deckard drives up to his apartment building (great plate work-match that computer artists) in his old "spinner" car that the windshield wipers didn't work and the car was being towed up on a cable (look closely and you'll see the cable)? That's because the transportation Captain" cheaped out" and bought crapped out VW bugs for the picture cars that were, it seems, shot to hell. Gene Winfield just built the bodies and /or the interiors, running engines were the transportation department's responsibility. Also you know when the "Spinner got to the Blade Runner sound stage Ridley wanted it "retrofitted" with all those police gumballs (flashing lights) that went on the roof- these weren't on Gene Winfield's original build of the car.
By the way, I ran into a writer from "Fangoria" magazine, Norman England, at an Osaka restaurant/watering hole, the Agave, who wants to do an interview about Blade Runner (and Ghostbusters and Buckaroo Banzai, which I did the jet-truck and other vehicles and props for) to put on a sci-fi web site he contributes to. It seems that Blade runner's everywhere. Blade Runner Rules!
Gary: Hey, there's another film, (though tongue in cheek) that I really like "Buckaroo Bonzai" ..I love it when he goes through the mountain with that truck!!!!
I really thought that Gene Winfield had purchased the VWs for the vehicles. I'm trying to convince Mr. Scott to commission Gene to build a spinner for the 20th anniversary of Blade Runner. Of course it's a one-sided conversation.
I never noticed the cable attached to Deckard's sedan though I did notice the windshield wipers were not working.
It's 2:00 AM here in LA and I have to meet the Blade Runner actors at the Cult-Movie convention tomorrow. Also I'm not wearing a tie when I meet Joanna Cassidy I saw what she did to Harrison Ford when she played Zhora, "Are you for real"? Ha..
Stephen: I'm glad Joe Turkel is still with us. Remember him as one of the three condemned French soldiers in "Path of Glory"? Another idea to get a "Spinner" built would be to approach the Distributor of Blade Runner "Special Edition". Who knows they may be planning another release of the film's 20th anniversary, maybe tie-in books and other materials to take advantage of a world-wide cult audience that no doubt wants souvenirs. I heard that Ridley Scott shot a sequence of Rutger Hauer crushing a replica head of Joseph Turkel, with gore running out between his fingers that was omitted from any cuts/versions of the film. Even a book on the Spinner would work if it included the plans, Syd Mead paintings and sketches as well as stills from Blade Runner, why you could even have somebody make up a cutaway drawing with a computer drawing and rendering software like FORM Z. I've got a reduced copy of the spinner plans, but
I'll bet Gene Winfield still has all the plans. The steering of the Spinner was a problem because it had no steering wheel, just Syd Mead conceived double hand wheels set in the dashboard. Ridley wanted them to work like Mead's rendering (no steering wheels!), but Gene had difficulty making it work with the hydraulic systems the budget would allow. Because the system he used didn't have proportional hydraulic steering it was either extreme right or extreme left and was the devil to try and drive it.
Gary: I have the plans that was included with the "Fan Club Kit" they are 4a, yeah if you leaf through the Paul Sammon book Future Noir he mentions the head and the brains..
Question? Did you say you knew who made the Voight Kampff machine? I have tried to contact Boss Films but they went out of business some time ago and the employees have gone their separate ways.
Stephen: There's quite a story behind getting that VK machine made up. I was put in charge of prop supervision and the VK had been given to an effects/prop shop before I arrived on the film. They couldn't pull it off to our satisfaction, especially Ivor Powell's, I believe he was an old work-mate of Ridley's. The VK went to another prop shop and they really screwed it up; Ridley and Ivor tore them apart in a way only the English have mastered. There were scant days before it had to be in front of the camera, so it was given to some prop people at Trumbull's, which became Boss Films. It was over a holiday weekend and Mark Stetson and a few other prop makers got together with myself, discussed all the issues over the Syd Mead sketches, I downloaded them on what Ridley expected and they turned the prop around within three days. That short time frame includes vacuum forming parts, making the micro motors for the deployment of the arm. I'll have more information on the VK later.
Gary: So I was right about "Boss Films: I was told by a friend in New York that perhaps they still had the VK prop!! I emailed several people through a computer search of Boss Films. Boss Films became another company and I was not able to track it beyond that.
I really love the VK machine, can you describe the VK in terms of the arm moving and was it stock pictures (probably gel) in the monitors? What was the bellows made of? Was it cloth or vacuum formed? There is so not much information on information on the VK except what I have read in Future Noir. Next year Paul Sammon intends on re-releasing his book with the pages that the editor deleted. There should be many more facts revealed. Do you know where the VK is now? Do you think Ridley has the VK?
It was a delight to sit with Joanna Cassidy, Joseph Turkel and Bill Sanderson and his wife Sharon at the Cult-Movie Convention. It was an enjoyable two days.
Stephen: This response will be a little brief because I am in the middle of a big work and meeting "crunch" here at Universal studios Japan. I'll provide more information soon. As far as the Voight Kampff machine is concerned, the monitors were real with dedicated feed to each. The bellows were vacuum-formed identical shapes that nestled when closed and were actuated to open with even gaps between the pieces. I'll try to track the VK machine for you. Mark Stetson closed his shop on Glencoe in the Marina del Rey area and is now in New Zealand, as a visual effect supervisor, working on "Lord of the Rings". I'll keep asking around about the whereabouts of the VK. I talked to Grant McCune ( he among others at "Apogee", got the visual effects Oscar for the original Star Wars) to find out about Mark Stetson and the VK. Can I get the Paul Sammon book at amazon.com? I'd be curious to look at it. I'm glad you enjoyed the Cult-Movie convention. You know I never forget having a couple dances with Joanna Cassidy at the Blade runner wrap party.
Gary: do you remember who built the TANKER1 and TANKER2 and the STREET SWEEPER all the references to them have been lost. Except for your drawings I don't have any reference material for them. I have seen models of them in Dokuhon +44 Japanese Spinner book, but no one knows who built them or where they are. I take it that like most of the vehicles in Blade Runner they were destroyed. A few weeks ago I got a nice email from the BBC asking me the whereabouts of all the Gene Winfield built vehicles.
Stephen: Thanks for the photograph of you and Joanna Cassidy at the convention. She still looks as good as she was in Blade Runner, maybe better. I'm still up to my ears in work here at USJ, but I'll try to squeeze a little time to respond to your email. As far as the vehicles you mentioned are concerned, my crew and I, built them. I may have already mentioned part of this to you already, so please bear with me. I was hired by Larry Paull, the production designer for Blade Runner, as Assistant Art Director for a period of ten weeks. Well, I got right into it as soon as I found out what my duties were: prop construction supervisor, retrofit details for the buildings, design detail of all the street fixtures( based on Syd Mead's drawings), Esper redesign and detail, and original background vehicle design not covered by Syd Mead. Well I launched into it with glee. As a back story, Larry Paull was constantly being criticized and humiliated by Ridley about lots of little things, designs and the way our sets were blocked out on the stages. Because of that, I was encouraged by Larry to take my concepts directly to Ridley for presentation and approval.
At this point Ridley Scott, encouraged by our working relationship and my novel concepts, had me extended on the film "indefinitely"- which finally worked out to 33 weeks instead of the original 10. Larry Paull at this point saw, a chance to rid himself of a portion of the contact with Ridley, which he might have otherwise sustained, and gave me my own crew of propmakers as well as my own budget. I, and my crew, ended up in a hanger at Burbank Airport with me reporting straight to Ridley for approvals. In this context, and with a lot of aero-space surplus I'd bought back from Davis-Monthan scrap yard in Tucson, Arizona., "the tankers, street sweeper, all the background cars, the bus ( in the Zhora chase sequence), as well as all the street fixtures and building-side retofit detail was constructed.
There were two tankers, the one that Rachael wasted Leon against and the one we see drive by, in the background in front of the Million $ movie theater, in front of Sebastian's apartment, the Bradbury Building. The first one was based on a really loose "contour-line" sketch by Ridley I think I still have an Xerox of it) and built on a 40 foot (truck) flat bed. I did up a sketch, the one in the Bladezone web site, with various elevations, etc. for his approval- he liked it. We built the thing out of 1/8 inch luan (which the industry uses for set wall construction) over a wood framework. The round devices were worked styrofoam, by the same company that manufactured the retrofit wall pieces on the walls in the background of our back lot street, with some added detail. The whole thing was painted in a metallic paint based on the WW1 German aircraft lozenge-shaped camouflage patterns. Over that I had them paint "Riddle" in Korean (an homage to Mr. Scott). The whole thing was heavily aged, based on concept I came up with and Ridley, of course, approved it. The other tanker was based on a double tank trailer. On the two tank trailers we added a bunch of cut styrofoam" retrofit" a lot of hardware goodies that I got at Davis-Monthan and the gold foil covered space satellite frame that I picked up from a high tech "junkyard" in West Covina. We stuck the satellite frame between the two tank trailers with a lot of other goodies connected to it. After Blade Runner wrapped, the trucks were stripped down ( they were rentals which had to be returned) and later I found the same satellite in another "junkyard" and used it on the Disney film "My Science Project". The tanker was then painted up to look like a mobile toxic waste dump, which Ridley liked the idea of- a tanker always moving about, like a shark or that barge from years ago that nobody would let come to port.
The other vehicle that I really enjoyed doing was the bus featured in the street scenes on the back lot. It was another off-the-wall original concept I came up with and Ridley liked. I had my guys cut a hole in the side, for the entry, and built a foam fare collections box. We put on running boards, like the San Francisco cable cars, on the sides with grab rails. On the roof was a standing room only passenger area, with foam "retrofit", high tech hardware and a row of military surplus antennae. The back was done up like the Sebastian's Van with rows of large louvers and more "retrofit" goodies.
Another choice vehicle was the "Street Sweeper", or "Disinfectant Wagon". It originally appeared in some Clint Eastwood movie ( whose name escapes me at this point) that featured an orangutan monkey that drives the street sweeper off the end of a loading dock. The biggest feature of this vehicle is a De Havilland Dove airplane cockpit that I found in an aircraft surplus yard near the Long Beach airport. We cut the fuselage to fit over the sweeper's drive seat controls, added some molded foam pieces, aircraft surplus tanks, "retrofit" pieces, corrugated tubing and other plant-on stuff. The whole thing was covered with a funky paint job.
The other vehicles we did were "retofitted" old American cars. They were mainly featured in the traffic jam in out back lot street that Deckard chases Zhora through, and the downtown LA locations near the Bradbury Building. These autos were done up like cars in England and Europe during the war that were rigged to run on coal gas stored in tanks usually placed on the roof. We just put these cars together without any real sketches (other than little detail sketches I did to help the propmakers visualize what I wanted), just cutting auto body parts off and adding pipes, surplus tanks, "retrofit" foam pieces and anything else that caught my fancy. Aside from the satellite frame I mentioned above, I don't know what happened to any of these vehicles. They probably ended up in scrap yards or like the tankers, were stripped down and returned to where they were rented/leased from. I hope this information helps your curiosity about the Blade runner vehicles.
Gary: That sure answers what happened to the tankers and street sweeper.
To be continued:
Stay tuned to see what other secrets unfold through the emails with Gary and Stephen Dane!
Professional info about Stephen found on IMDB.com.
SeaQuest DSV (1993) (TV) (set designer)
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) (set designer)
Brainstorm (1983) (assistant art director)
Blade Runner (1982) (assistant art director)
Red Dawn (1984) (design consultant: russian helicopters)
Ghostbusters (1984) (hardware consultant) (as Steven Dane)
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) (Art Director)
Crime Story (1986) (TV) (Production Designer)