LIVING THE DREAM! Wes Caefer’s Journey into Japanese Monster SFX!

Say, “Ah!” Wes Caefer works on Godzilla ’98. Photo © Wes Caefer.

Wes Caefer has lived the dream of many G-fans. Having grown up on Godzilla films, he eventually became involved in the movie business as a special effects technician and worked on such projects as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993-96), Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero (1995), and Godzilla (1998). In 2007, Mr. Caefer took a fond look back at these projects with Brett Homenick.

Brett Homenick: Were you a Godzilla or Ultraman fan growing up?

Wes Caefer: Absolutely! I remember being about five, and the highlight of my week was to stay up and watch the Saturday night creature feature. The first Godzilla movie I saw was Ghidrah, the Three Headed Monster on a little black and white TV, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I think I got the Aurora Godzilla model kit that weekend. It was a couple years later I ran across Ultraman.

BH: Please say a few words about how you got started in the film industry.

WC: Well, I have had a love for monster movies of all kind for as far back as I can remember — particularly the big monsters. I had it in my head that I wanted to be a stop-motion animator. I studied film at Emerson College and the U.S. Army and moved to California with the idea of breaking into film. I sent a resume to everybody that I had an address for and got my first few jobs on pure enthusiasm and willingness to work hard.

The first of which was as a runner on The Abyss with Gene Warren, Jr.’s Fantasy II. (There I learned how to mix bondo and ‘sculpt’ with an angle grinder.) There was no huge demand for an animator with no experience, but the stop-motion puppets I had made for my films showed a mechanical aptitude that was more in demand at the time. So I started making animatronics for make-up FX shops starting with ‘Thing’ puppets for Addams Family.

BH: How did you become involved in Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero?

WC: Kevin Hudson needed a mechanic and gave me a call. I believe he got my name from Bruce Spaulding Fuller who was one of the sculptors on the show. We had met on Addams Family.

BH: Describe what you did on the show.

WC: I rather expected to be on a team in the mechanics department as I had been on every other show. When I talked with Kevin Hudson I realized I was the mechanics department. So each head was made over a thin fiberglass skull that allowed us to make working jaws and blinking eyes and such — either radio- or cable-controlled, depending on the creature. Some of the creatures needed the neck extended on a light aluminum frame that was supported by a web harness. Others needed wings to deploy or claws to be jointed. I did all that sort of thing.

Monsters ready to do battle with Ultraman. Photo © Wes Caefer.

BH: Whom did you work with, and how did everyone get along with each other?

WC: Bruce and I had worked together before, I already mentioned. A few weeks in, it became obvious that I could not do everything on my plate in the very short schedule that we had, and I got Eve Neimand (I had worked with her on Puzzle Place and other shows) as my assistant. As far as I could tell, everybody got along very well. Remember this was Ultraman, and this was low-budget. So the majority of the people that we got were either eager, young, inexperienced people or seasoned veterans that wanted to do it because it was Ultraman. Either way, there was a lot of enthusiasm. I remember that whole show very fondly, and I have stayed friends with a number of the people that I met there.

BH: Do you have any interesting or funny memories from the set?

WC: There was this one day that the schedule had changed or something, and we realized that we needed the Mrs. Redking suit on the location after the big truck had already left. The lead foam construction person was Lynette Johnson, and she was driving this little compact car at the time. She managed to stuff most of that giant suit into that little car and drive it out there. A lot of it was hanging out the back. It looked pretty funny. But that is her story.

BH: The year 1993 also saw the debut of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, which incorporated the fight scenes from Japanese Super Sentai shows. How did you get the job working on it, and what did you do on the show?

WC: The show had been around for a while by the time I got involved. The local suit construction had passed to Connor McCullagh. He knew me from a couple of other shows and called me up. I was not there long. I mechanized the eyes and mouth for Goldar and a few minor creatures then moved on.

Goldar prepares for his closeup. Photo © Wes Caefer.

BH: What can you tell me about your work on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie in 1995?

WC: I was at John Criswell’s shop working on Theodore Rex when he got the Power Rangers movie at the same time. I got to mechanize a couple of the heads for that. A pig-faced thing named Mordant and an elephant-looking guy. Luke Khanlian was doing the new improved Goldar head and could not figure out the eye color. Oddly enough, I had done them for the series and showed him what I did.

BH: You also worked on TriStar’s Godzilla (1998). How did that opportunity come about?

WC: Godzilla was going on at the same time some other big shows were happening (Mighty Joe Young, for one). There was a big demand for mechanics at the time, and I had been around for a while by this time, plus a number of the mechanics there had worked with me on Mimic. I was coming to the end of (Teenage) Mutant Ninja Turtles the TV series when I got the call. The Chiodo Bros. graciously let me work longer hours and weekends to finish my duties for Turtles so I could start on Godzilla on time.

BH: What were your responsibilities there?

WC: Tongues and toenails! That was what I got to design, build, and install by myself. As part of the team, I assembled the eyes that Scott Oshita had designed and spent about a week sitting in the large scale animatronic’s mouth installing those and my tongue and the sniffing mech that Luke Khanlian had made. Made remote operated tails with Rob Capwell and helped Dave Kindlon get the beautiful designs from the computer into the real world.

A tongue fit for a kaiju king. Photo © Wes Caefer.

BH: What was it like working with the others in the SFX crew?

WC: That was one of the cooler things about the show. Here I am with a “who’s who” of FX. Some of these people were names I had been reading about since childhood but never thought I would meet. Now I’m working next to Steve Wang and Craig Reardon and people like that.

BH: Can you tell me any stories from the set?

WC: I remember Tim Ralston made this amazing, all-hydraulic Babyzilla, and we used that to knock into the elevator door in the stadium. The door was supposed to stop it, but Tim’s Baby was steel and hydraulic and had power to spare. It just obliterated the doors.

BH: To wrap up, would you like to say any final comments?

WC: What can I say? I am extraordinarily fortunate to get paid to do something I love doing. I get to hang out with talented people that I respect and admire and work on films that are as much fun to make as they are to watch.

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