Unsung Geek Heroes
Now we all know who Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and James Cameron are. Likewise, we have all heard of Christian Bale, Harrison Ford and Jason Statham. Over the years, these people have provided us geeks with hundreds of hours of quality geek entertainment, and as a result, they are rightly rewarded with being known by the general populace, and of course, huge pay cheques. However, the films they are in are usually special effect extravaganzas, or based on characters that have a long standing in the geek community.
In many cases, the thing you most like about a film etc, has been the work of a team of people who have worked for months and years on making the film/game look as good as it does, or working on the character, or even acting in the film, but being under heavy make up or CGI. Here I will discuss my personal unsung heroes, and even as I do so, I realise that thousands of people are being left out, so next time you enjoy a film etc., stay for the credits, and look at how many people were involved in making that film, game, or TV show.
If I told you that one man practically saved video games at a time when people thought they would be a passing fad, and helped turn them in to a world wide phenomenon that makes more money per year than Hollywood, you would be confused that most people don’t know his name. The fact that this man invented Mario, a character more well known globally than Mickey Mouse, but not only Mario, but The Legend of Zelda, and had a hand in Metroid, Poke’mon, Star Fox, Pikmin, Pilot Wings, F-Zero, Donkey Kong and a hundred more, is testament both to his creative talent, and the shame that the world should bare for not erecting a colossal statue to the man. Miyamoto is the dictionary definition of legend. He has given more children more hours of fun than any man on this planet, and lets be honest, more than a few adults too.
The Super Mario games alone would be enough to secure this man legendary status, but when added to his other accomplishments, especially The Legend of Zelda, have produced what many people agree are the greatest video games ever created. My personal favourite of his games include, The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Super Mario World, and Star Fox 64, (Lylat Wars in the UK). The figure head of Nintendo, every time Miyamato appears at a press conference or trade show fun and hijinks are sure to follow. Please people, remember the name, he may not have had anything physical to do with Call of Duty or Halo, but in his own way, it is because of the trail blazing role he played as the creator of the modern video game, that video games were such a large part of all our childhoods. I challenge you not to smile whilst playing Mario or Zelda, or when beating a friend at Mario Kart Battle Mode.
Universal Horror make up master, and creator of the iconic looks of many of our beloved movie monsters. Ask a child to describe Frankenstein, Dracula or the wolfman, and inevitably they will describe a creature incredibly similar to Jack Pierces’ work. This guy is such a legend that other people on this list think he is legend, yeah he’s that good. Working in the early days of film, Pierce had to use all his gifts to create these wonderful effects. The Wolfman for example must have taken hours each day to apply to actor Lon Chaney Jnr. Each yack hair glued individually and painstakingly to the actors face, it’s no wonder that the two argued frequently.
The Frankenstein monster make up is now the established look of the monster, in reality an eerie green, in black and white, the fearsome creature, with it’s scars, square head and electric nodes on his neck (not bolts as is commonly assumed) the creature is a marvellous combination of actor and make up. Now I understand that the technicalities of the make up technician probably do not interest the average man, or woman on the street, but in my mind, Pierces’ make up kit should be placed in a museum and treated with as high esteem as any Renaissance era scrawling.
I don’t know if you have watched the special features on the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition DVD’s or Blu-rays, but you should. If you have, you can’t have failed to notice the squeaky voiced bespectacled geek genius that is Richard Taylor. Creative powerhouse of the greatest effects company working today, WETA Workshop, this Kiwi man marvel has, with Peter Jackson, and hundreds of their underlings, created the impossible. LOTR was a book that most people assumed would be un-filmable, and whilst it is due to Jacksons tight direction and vision that the film was completed, it was thanks to Taylor and the fine people at WETA that the film looked so damn good, authentic and lived in, every prop, miniature, creature and weapon were created from scratch with loving care and attention to detail. It all looks so good because it all makes sense, items have a common inception and a story behind them, really watch the documentaries on the DVD’s, it’s like a few years in film school, but far more entertaining.
Taylor has also been heavily involved in King Kong, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Avatar, films that I think you will agree were stunning, at least visually, and in my opinion, stunning all round. Taylor is a major reason that WETA is now seen as the premier effects company in the world, and when you look at their innovations in the world of mo-cap, or their stunning work with their so called bigatures and their pioneering mass army programme MASSIVE, Taylor has helped shape the modern cinematic experience, and from humble beginnings, working in a shed on Jacksons early films Braindead, Meet The Feebles and Bad Taste. The guy deserves a haka.
You might think that Stan Lee gets enough recognition for his work on Marvel comics, after all he has a cameo in basically every marvel film there has ever been, and I can understand this, but we have to remember people, we are geeks. We delight in the now standard Stan Lee cameo, whether being saved from an automotive death by a young Matt Murdoch, being confused for Hugh Heffner by Tony Stark, drinking a bottle of soft drink infused with Bruce Banners’ blood or trying to move Moljnir with a pick up truck, Stan Lee it would seem gets enough geek recognition. But I wonder, does the average person who just goes to see these films know who the hell the crazy old man is in these films? Well they should, for this man has had a hand in more modern myths than almost any other, the man deserves an Oscar for most important cameo in superhero films for a man who actually created the character, except that he would be the only nominee, and would win every year.
Stan the Man has had a hand in Spider-man, The X Men, Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, The Avengers, Daredevil and many many more characters, the guy is Marvel. OK so in recent years, his creative output has been, well, not so good Stripperella anyone? But the guy deserves a break, and should get one. So the next time your in a Cinema, or at home with friends watching a Marvel movie, and Stan Lee shows up, cheer, and whisper (at the cinema) or shout (if at home) the name of the great man, and spread the word, Excelsior!!
The worlds most underrated actor in my opinion, Andy Serkis has given birth to some of modern cinemas most remarkable characters. Caesar the chimpanzee from the latest instalment of the Planet of the Apes franchise will no doubt be over looked come awards season, but the performance, mo-capped by Serkis and WETA, is outstanding. The subtlety of Serkis’ work helps create a living breathing character that holds his own with the human characters. Serkis himself has described the mo-cap process as basically digital make up, the actor is still very much acting, and emoting, but instead of make up, a CG character mirrors the actors motions and emotions. His work as Kong in King Kong was again a work of genius. Playing the character as very much a gorilla, not some monster, Kong exhibited a wide range of emotions and character traits, and it is a cold heart indeed who does not shed a tear when the big ape hits the pavement, after that horrendous fall.
It is however, Serkis’ work as Gollum, the evil Hobbit ring bearer in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, that will always be his master work. Quite simply CG characters could be described as living in B.G. (Before Gollum) and A.G. (Anno Gollumai). B.G. Characters, hello Jar Jar Binks, are quite simply, the Homo Erectus cousins to Gollums Homo Sapien. The performance on Serkis is infused in every asset of Gollum, not just the voice. Gollum was one of the most complicated characters put on screen in the last few years, and thanks to Serkis, was 100% believable. Deserving of numerous Oscar credits, Serkis’ work in the advancement of acting is unparalleled.
Our second make up man on the list, and another veteran of the mighty werewolf. Baker is a master of his craft. His practical special effects and make ups are really unrivalled in the cinematic world. He has worked on Hellboy, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London and even Cursed!! But every genius has the odd misstep. His work on the werewolf transformation in An American Werewolf in London alone is worthy of his inclusion in any list of geek heroes. The scene is an amazing example of what practical effects can achieve, worth watching on its own even if you have no desire to watch the movie, you should though its really good. His work on other werewolf movies is equally as good, and this guy has worked on a fair few in his time.
The variety in his work shows the man’s range and depth. The werewolves of The Howling, are very different to the American werewolf, which in turn is very different to my favourite make up/effect of his, in the remake of The Wolfman. This film got a lot of hate, but I loved it, and most of all, I loved the design of The Wolfman. Big, hairy, be-fanged and be-clawed, a killing machine and a superb movie monster. I know he got stiffed during the filming as he had designed a practical transformation that by all accounts was going to outmatch the one in American Werewolf, and it is a shame that the film makers decided to go with CGI effects in the end, but never the less, his work in the movie is still outstanding. A master of a sadly slowly disappearing art, the practical effect is being steam rolled by the CGI effect, and people of Hollywood, I implore you, there is room for both!
So there we have it, a small selection of people who need more recognition for the amazing work they do, or have done, in the geek realm. Of course, I would also like the thank all the stunt men, fight choreographers, design teams, sfx teams, writers, best boys, camera operators, concept designers, weapon specialists, miniature departments, practical effects teams….