MILES ABOVE THE REST! Concept Artist Miles Teves on Monsters and More!

Miles Teves and Darkness in a tete-a-tete. Photo © Miles Teves.

Miles Teves, one of Hollywood‘s most accomplished concept artists and art directors, has worked on such top-grossing films as Legend (1985), RoboCop (1987), Total Recall (1990), Congo (1995), Men in Black (1997), Spider-Man (2002), The Passion of the Christ (2004), and Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005). As a youngster, part of Mr. Teves’s inspiration to work in the movie business came when he watched Godzilla films, which still hold a special place in his heart. In 2005, Mr. Teves discussed his thoughts on the Godzilla series as well as some of his work on sci-fi blockbusters with Brett Homenick.

Brett Homenick: How did you first discover Godzilla?

Miles Teves: The happy memory of the first time I ever saw Godzilla is forever etched in my brain. It happened when I was about six years old, right at the height of my dinosaur phase. After a dull afternoon of grocery shopping with my mother, we finally came home, and I flicked on the TV.

I flipped through a couple of channels and suddenly stopped dead in my tracks. I could not believe my eyes. There, in living color, was a gigantic Tyrannosaurus rex with fins on his back crushing tanks, fighting two giant caterpillars, and most incredible of all, breathing fire! As I recall, the dinosaur phase ended real fast. I had found something far better! I had tuned in to the end battle of Godzilla vs. the Thing, and it was pure magic. I had never even heard of Godzilla before! It was as if the clouds had parted, and the hand of God had reached into our living room and personally dropped me a gift. That memory will always live large in my head.

BH: Which films stand out as your favorites?

MT: King Kong vs. Godzilla, Godzilla vs. the Thing, Monster Zero, Destroy All Monsters, Son of Godzilla, and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster were my favorites. The original Godzilla King of the Monsters was rather ponderous and adult to my young brain. Godzilla’s Revenge left me scratching my head in confusion, and Smog Monster seemed to herald the death of Godzilla as I knew him. When I saw Godzilla vs. Megalon at the drive-in playing in a double feature with William Shatner’s Kingdom of the Spiders, it was all over for me. Star Wars came along in a year or so and changed everything!

BH: Do you collect Godzilla items?

MT: I have a figure of Godzilla 2000, and a large, as-of-yet unassembled King Ghidorah kit. I have a great Gyaos figure and a nice Gamera as well.

BH: Have you seen any other films by Toho Studios, Daiei, Toei, etc.?

MT: War of the Gargantuas scared the living crap out of me when I saw it at the drive-in with Monster Zero back in the ‘60s. I loved some of the Gamera films as well, especially the ones with Barugon, Gyaos, and Guiron. It always mystified me as to why the Japanese would think that a giant turtle could possibly be acceptable as a hero and defender of the Earth, but who can understand them after all?

BH: How much influence did Godzilla have in your film career?

MT: Hard to say. I have yet to have the opportunity to work on a giant monster film, though it is on the list of things to do in this life before I die. I would really, really, really, really love to take a stab at redesigning and updating Godzilla properly if the chance ever came up. I thought that the Godzilla design in 2000 (for Godzilla 2000) was probably the best to date, even though the spikes on his back were too big for my taste.

BH: You started your career as a concept artist for makeup effects wizard Rob Bottin’s production company. Your credits with Bottin include Legend, Robocop, and Total Recall. What led to his hiring you, and what was he like?

BH: I ran into Rob Bottin in a very fortunate chance meeting right after high school in 1982 at a sci-fi convention in Los Angeles. All I had was my high school art portfolio to show him, but he seemed impressed and gave me his numbers. I called him a couple of years later when I was dropping out of college. He remembered me and hired me on the spot! I used to have good luck in those days.

Rob was a very enthusiastic guy with a powerful personality. Hard to get a word in edgewise with Rob. He was a good art director and a relentless perfectionist when it came to design work. He taught me a thing or two about a thing or two for sure, and I think I did some of my best work for him as well.

BH: Can you share any interesting stories from your years working in the film industry? 

MT: That is a question that could open a floodgate of stories, and many of them are not very nice! I’d better keep my mouth shut.

BH: You do a lot of concept art, character/creature designs, and storyboards. Essentially, what goes into your work?

MT: Every project is different. I suppose the only common thread that runs through them all is that I take pride in what I do, and I try to never do the same thing twice. I think the quest for originality is the key, even though that is getting harder and harder every day. It seems that almost everything has been done at this point!

BH: Did you ever incorporate anything you saw in Godzilla films into any of your creature designs? For instance, you were a dragon designer on Reign of Fire, which is rather popular among Godzilla fans.

MT: I have yet to put any Godzillaness into anything I have worked on, though I look forward to the chance. The Reign of Fire dragons were a lot of work, but a pretty cool project to be involved with. I wanted to get a little wilder and more original with the design of the dragons, but the film’s director had a different plan. He loved the dragon from Dragonslayer and basically just wanted us to re-create it in a new and improved, more powerful version.

The head is a little Ghidorah-esque, I guess you could say! The main idea was to recreate Vermithrax in such a way that the legs would be stronger and more believable when the creature walked on land. We basically gave them T-rex legs and bigger wings. It really is a shame that they were featured so little in the film, especially being that the dragons were what everyone paid to see!

BH: You worked on Peter Jackson’s upcoming and highly-anticipated King Kong as a concept artist and sculptor. How did you get involved?

MT: An old friend of mine introduced me to Richard Taylor a few years ago, and we got along. He was familiar with my work and knew I was good at sculpting apes, so when they were having some trouble nailing down the design of Kong, they called me up and offered me a job. It was a wonderful experience working down there in such a fantastic country. They have something pretty special down there.

BH: What can you tell us about that film?

MT: I can tell you that Peter Jackson is a big, big fan of the original film, and I think he will do it justice the way that only a true fan could. I only wish they had chosen a prettier actress than Naomi Watts. Ann is supposed to be beautiful for chrissakes!

BH: I noticed you served as a concept artist on Planet of the Apes (2001). The director, Tim Burton, is another Godzilla fan. Did you two ever happen to discuss the Big G?

MT: My stint on Planet of the Apes was a very short one confined to drawing technical stuff. I never got the chance to meet Tim Burton. Perhaps he might find his true cinematic destiny in directing a Godzilla film! I wonder if Toho would have him.

BH: It seems you’ve worked with everyone in the business: Stan Winston, Mel Gibson, Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Sam Raimi, the list goes on. Were any of the movers and shakers you worked with Godzilla fans, either as kids or adults?

MT: Let’s see. I recall that Bottin was not a big Godzilla fan, although he does like men in rubber suits. I think it is safe to say that Rick Baker was a Kong fan. Paul Verhoeven (director of Robocop and Total Recall) was too busy munching on boogers, and I didn’t have much of a chance to talk with Sam Raimi. Mel Gibson and I talked about a lot of things, but Japanese monsters is a topic that did not come up in the course of trying to figure out new ways of torturing Christ. Given his nature, well, he doesn’t really even like sci-fi, so I doubt it.

BH: Did you see the TriStar Godzilla film? What did you think of it?

MT: I thought it was a horrific abortion of a film in every single way. Patrick Tatopoulos is a complete impostor in his field of endeavor and should simply be shown the door. I think Roland Emmerich was too busy drooling all over Matthew Broderick to notice that he was creating a gigantic turd of a film. How hard could it be to  make a great Godzilla film — the bar is not that high! I could rant for hours about this missed opportunity, but I think it’s obvious that most people feel the same way about it.

BH: Is there anything else you want to say?

MT: I hope that one day Hollywood may see fit to put the right people on the job and actually make the ultimate Godzilla film. In fact, I think that Monster Zero could be updated quite nicely!

For more information on Miles Teves, please visit http://www.milesteves.com.

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