Monday, August 8, 2011

Sculpture and Poltergeist II

I was ransacking my photo files looking for relief portraits I'd created when I found
these photos taken on the set of Poltergeist II. (probably in 1985)
Exterior view of cave and its supporting structure.
I was part of a team of sculptors turned loose on this giant structure of foam and chicken wire structure. The art director's goal was to transform it into a dark underworld cave.

Our tools were chainsaws.

How long do you think it takes a chainsaw to go through two inches of foam?
That could be me on the ladder in the middle of these two photos.
Now imagine several men, all armed with chainsaws, working as fast as possible, in close quarters, working to make the foam look like stone but cutting through foam instantly and getting our blades caught in metal wire.  

No movie could be as scary as working in this cave was for us.
With our work on the cave done, another department brought in these skeletons.

What was disturbing was that some of the bodies were real skeletons. Not plastic props, but real human skeletons. That the physical remains of people who had lived and died were being made to "die" all over again with make up and latex. That there was no reverence for the human bones struck me as utterly grotesque.

It was one of those choice moments where you realize you can choose money or your values.
I realized that if I stayed working for Hollywood, I'd be making monsters and dead bodies and working in a material I had come to loath. Foam.

I left.

I haven't been a big fan of popular movies since then.


Angeline-Marie said...

Oh, wow. Very glad I didn't know about the real skeletons when I was small. The Poltergeist series of movies scared the snot out of me. I didn't sleep for weeks.

Thank you for sharing movie set experiences. Incredible (even if scary)!

Theresa Cheek said...

So glad you chose values....foam and bones don't sound very glamorous!

Patrick Gracewood said...

Angeline-Marie, The human skeletons weren't scary, but incredibly sad to die twice and to have no respect. Hollywood blindness was really ugly.

Theresa, anything connected to Hollywood is glamorous, even the dirty work. I got more respect when I was working on a film than before or since because people understand "the movies". Sad but true.

David said...

Hi Patrick, thank you for this blog post. Very interesting. Do you have any more pictures or stories from the set? I run a fan web site dedicated to the "Poltergeist" movies if you'd like to check it out (linked from my name). Real skeletons were used on both the sets for P1 and P2. Apparently, the special makeup effects teams bought them from medical supply companies in India because it was cheaper than making fake ones from scratch. They then dressed the real bones with fake rotting flesh and burial clothes. It is very disturbing. I'm sure the people who donated their bodies to science did not foresee that this was how their remains would be used.