Bruce Fuller makes monsters for a living. In the course of working on such blockbusters as Predator 2 (1990), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), and The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), Mr. Fuller built many of Ultraman’s opponents for Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero (1993), designed the Gryphon’s Probe-Bat for Jan De Bont’s version of Godzilla in 1994, and even built a Godzilla suit for a parody film that an animator at DreamWorks was preparing for a Hollywood wrap party. In 2005, Mr. Fuller kindly discussed his kaiju-related projects with Brett Homenick.
Brett Homenick: How’d you become a Godzilla fan?
Bruce Fuller: Oh, Saturday afternoon TV! When I was a kid, they would always run Godzilla films and the related films. Obviously, War of the Gargantuas was a big knockout when I was a kid. I don’t ever think I’ll be getting over that one. (laughs) That scarred me for life; I used to have dreams about that! But I grew up watching all the Godzilla films. Monster Zero was a big favorite that I used to see over and over again. War of the Gargantuas, Rodan, Smog Monster — big favorite! (laughs) Probably get pilloried for that one, but I love that movie. So they were very inspirational to me at a very young age.
BH: What led to your becoming involved in the film industry?
BF: Well, I’d say it’s a direct result of Saturday afternoon TV. I loved monster movies. I don’t know why; I don’t know whether it’s smart to question those kinds of things, but they always grabbed me when I was a kid. From there, it was discovering Famous Monsters magazine. I’d say my big influences are Universal monster movies and Lon Chaney, with all his transformations, and the Godzilla films. These are the things I grew up loving. Eventually, through reading Famous Monsters, you figure out people make these things; they don’t just magically appear on your little TV. So I wanted to make ’em; I wanted to do it, too. I’ve always been playing around with it ever since I was a little kid, always sculpting something or trying to make a costume for my G.I. Joe and turn him into a Godzilla or something like that.
BH: What led to your becoming a professional in the business?
BF: A series of random happenstances! (laughs) When I was trying to do this, there were no real schools for it or anything. Dick Smith and Rick Baker were just starting to become names. You were starting to see articles about them in Famous Monsters, and of course, I’m of that era. Later on, there was Fangoria and Tom Savini and all that, but that came after I’d already developed a very keen interest and had been sculpting and making masks and the like.
Basically, what happened is, I grew up in Albany, New York, and within that small community, I was known as the weird guy who made monsters or liked monsters. Within that community there were a couple of guys who wanted to become film professionals and wanted to make their own films and thought they could do it. I mean, hell, at that point, everybody thought they could do it. They made trailers for films that they wanted to shoot. They got a 16mm camera, and they collected everybody they could get a favor out of, and they set off to make a trailer of whatever their idea was.
Well, guess who ended up doing the effects for the trailer — me. Long story short is, one of these trailers actually got the attention of a producer in New York, and he was going to try to launch this film. He was going to try to do it bigger than our local talent, of course. He put the director/writer in touch with Ed French, who at the time was living in New York, and is an effects makeup guy.
I was introduced to Ed as sort of my consolation prize. I was out of the movie because now we had Ed French — you don’t need me! But I was introduced to Ed perhaps to be his assistant if the movie ever flew. Well, of course, the movie never flew, but I ended up becoming friends with Ed and doing some work for Ed and did a few really-low-budget monster movies in New York. Then Ed moved out to California, basically said he couldn’t make a living in New York because there were very few productions being done at the time. Slowly anybody I happened to know moved to California. So I felt I had to move to California, too, but I was kind of stuck in Albany without really a way to do it.
I was in advertising and illustration at the time, making a living. Another long story short is, I was working for a comic book company in Albany, New York, called Fantaco. Gore Shriek was the comic they produced. They put on a convention in Albany, and I was a cheap guest for them because I already was working for them, so I was there with my comics and illustrations and stuff. But I also wanted to show that I could do more than that, and I had a whole display of masks and props at the time, too. We did the convention. It was all over, everything was fine and great. It was a good time.
All of a sudden, I get this call from John Caglione, and John was a New York makeup effects artist of some renown. He was calling me from California, though, and he said, “How would you like to come out and work on Dick Tracy?” I’m like, “Oh, hey, let me check my calendar. Gee, yeah, I think maybe I could do that!” (laughs) But what happened was his brother, who still lives in Troy, New York, right next door to Albany, attended the convention that I was at and videotaped the whole thing. I was on the videotape, and he sent it to his brother, John, another monster fan, and I was discovered, basically. So I came out to California to work on Dick Tracy at the end of 1988, and I’ve been here ever since, making monsters and makeup and a living.
BH: We talked earlier about the fan-made film that you made for someone at DreamWorks. Why don’t you talk a little bit about what led to that being made.
BF: There was this guy I knew. His name was Brad Morris, and he was working for DreamWorks in the animation department. They were making Prince of Egypt (1998), and for the wrap party, he had this ambitious little project he wanted to make, which was called “Moses vs. Godzilla.” It was a little parody film of all the Japanese movies, only with Moses in it as sort of an Ultraman-type character. He wanted to make this little short film, and I guess he already shot some of his scenes. He did a lot of blue screens. He just hung a blue tarp up on the side of his house and filmed a lot of things, and then computer-generated the background and all that. It was very, very ambitious.
But I got this call from him one day, and he wanted Godzilla in the movie. He didn’t know how to make that happen. He already generated half the movie with computer effects, and he wasn’t quite sure how he wanted to do Godzilla. He called me because he knows I make monster suits and asked me if I wanted to make Godzilla. I was just dying for an opportunity to make a Godzilla! (laughs) My light bulb went off over the top of my head, and I thought, “Godzilla suit — I could have a Godzilla suit at the end of this!” (laughs) Now bear in mind this is a total fan movie and just something he was making for fun, and there’s no money involved and no anything. I happened to be out of work at the time and had nothing to do. I just thought, “I could make a Godzilla suit. Sure!” So I jumped at it. Next thing I know, I’m in my garage, making a Godzilla suit for his little movie.
BH: Now what sort of research did you do on making the suit?
BF: We talked a lot about what era we wanted to make. I, of course, wanted to make the older suits, something from the ’60s. My favorite look for Godzilla is probably King Kong vs. Godzilla. My next favorite look would probably be the newer ones from (Godzilla 2000) Millennium on. I also like the ’90s Godzilla. I didn’t want to really do the goofy-goofy ones from the ’70s. But he very much wanted the ’90s Godzilla, and it was still only ’97, I think, at the time. So the ’90s Godzilla movies were very much the thing; they were new. That was the coolest Godzilla had really looked up until that time. So I think we ended up taking one of the Billiken kits or one of the Kaiyodo kits that he had, and that’s the one he really wanted. So it was loosely based on that.
BH: What interesting things happened during the making of this movie?
BF: (laughs) Everything you could ever think of happened during the making of this movie! It was quite a time. Basically, for a month, I built the suit almost by myself in my garage. The head, hands, and feet were sculpted, and the rest of the suit was traditionally foam-constructed and -carved. For most of the time, it was just me out there doing it. I called as many friends as I could call and tried to rope everybody in to doing something on it. I got a few responses. I had some help on it, but I did most of the foam construction and the head sculpt on the suit. We were ready to go to set with it. I roped in a few volunteers and some of the guys who had helped on it, and we go to set that day.
The set turned out to be just above Malibu. It’s the place they shot the end of the original Planet of the Apes. I think it’s called Point Dume. What I didn’t know was that it was a little cove completely obscured from the rest of the main beach. So we all get in our cars, and we pile this suit in the back of somebody’s big 4×4, and we drive up the mountains and over the canyon, and we go to this location in Malibu. We get there, and the plan was always for Godzilla to rear up out of the water. But in Toho, they have a big tank with controlled circumstances, and their actor can be in relative safety rearing up out of the water. But this was the ocean! (laughs) This was not a good idea, and I knew this from the start, but we’re all just going with it at this point. We’re all just winging it.
We get up there, and this is on everybody’s mind. “Hm, we’re going to put this guy, who’s basically wearing a couch, in the ocean. This probably isn’t such a great idea.” So we’re looking at the waves, and they’re huge! I guess, time period-wise, this is somewhere near the end of October, beginning of November, and the waves are big, and it’s cold. We drive up, and we’re all looking at it. We’re saying, “Yeah, those waves are big; I don’t know about this.” So it’s like, “Well, all right, we’ll try.” Then we find out where this location actually is, and we find out that we have to take this suit and all of our gear and everything we had and haul it up over these rocks that are basically a small mountain, and we have to scale with the suit and down the other side because we want to be hidden in this little cove where the cops aren’t going to come get us. We had no permits or anything to do this. We had to lug this stuff way up these rocks and down the other side, but we got a group of guys, and we’re all trying to make it work, and it’s a big adventure at this point.
We get there. We get everything set up. We put our actor, Dan Kaplan, in the suit. Danny also helped me paint the suit and sculpted the hands on the suit. We get him all dressed up, and we get all ready to go, and the director says, “Okay, well, I need him out in the ocean.” We’re like, “Well, all right. Well, we’ll try.” (laughs) So two of us get on either side, and we walk Danny out into the ocean. And we get out of the waves, and it’s okay. He’s got one hand on either of our shoulders, and we’re balancing him. We get out there, and we get to the point where he’s kind of knee-high in the water. We decided to start there and see what happens.
So the two of us holding him up let go, and he turns around to the camera, and the first thing that happens is a rather big wave comes in, grabs the tail of the suit, and starts pulling as it goes back out! (laughs) He’s being dragged out into the ocean by Godzilla’s giant tail, which is now soaked with water and about 80 pounds! We see this and yell, “Oh, my God!” We all run out into the ocean and grab him before he could get too far. We pull him back in, walk him back to shore. He’s staggering; he’s totally out of control out there in the waves. We realize, “Oh, my God. This isn’t going to work. How are we going to do this?” The director still wants him out in the ocean. He’s got this all storyboarded out, and he’s not going to deviate from his storyboards. He’s not going to get the camera low and film Godzilla with the ocean in the background so it looks like he’s in the ocean. No, he has to be in the ocean.
So we’re looking at this, and we’re thinking, “Huh, what are we going to do?” In my heart, I knew this was going to be a big problem. But I didn’t know what to do about it. So we’re all looking at each other, going, “Okay, now what?” So the knife comes out, and the tail was the first thing to come off Godzilla. We just cut the tail off, and I’m groaning, “Oh, here we go. Here’s my beautiful suit, (and) it’s gone!” (laughs) But I’m thinking, “Okay, I’ve got the tail, and I can glue it back on after, repair it. It’s fine, whatever.” So we haul this massive, soaking-wet tail — I mean, it just soaked up the water instantly — and throw it up on the rocks on the beach.
Now we got Godzilla, and he’s tailless. We walk him back out into the water. Okay, try again. Take two. We get out in the water, we turn him around, we let go of him. We walk away. Camera’s supposedly rolling at this point. Another big wave comes in and knocks him down! (laughs) We have Godzilla floundering out in the water. He cannot stand up with the force of these waves. We all run out there, and we get him again. We pick him up; we bring him back in. We’re thinking, ” What are we going to do now? All right, we’ll take his feet off!” So now we got his feet off. Maybe with his own feet — he’s not wearing these big rubber feet anymore — he’ll have some purchase in the sand. But wave comes in, sand goes out under your feet! That’s just how it goes.
We take him back in again, and another big wave comes in, knocks him down, starts dragging him out. We go out and get him again. We bring him in three or four times. We’d say, “Brad, this isn’t working. This isn’t going to work.” Brad says, “Well, I’ve gotta have him in the water! You knew I have to have him in the water! That’s how it has to be!” He’s all in my face with it. I’m like, “All right, look, we’ll try. We’re still trying.” So the knife comes out again, and we cut the suit up to the knee. Now we’ve got a person in a Godzilla suit with bare human legs hanging out. We’re thinking, “The less the wave has to grab on to, maybe — who knows.” There’s not even a consideration anymore that he’s going to get under the water and rear up. That’s just never gonna happen. But we’re trying to get “the shot” of him standing out in the ocean. So we cut the legs off the suit from the knee down. Still, he gets out there, and he just can’t stand up in the waves.
We bring him back on shore. There’s a lot of drama and a lot of wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. We came all this way, and it’s not going to work. He can’t get his shots, and how the hell are we gonna do this? So we’re all stymied, and we don’t know what to do. So there’s a lot of standing around for a while, and all the air has gone out of the sky. Everybody’s depressed: “Oh, my God! It’s all gone to crap! We’ve failed! What are we gonna do?” Finally, the director had an idea. My actor, Danny, he’s out of the suit. Director, he’s gonna go in the suit, and he’s gonna show us all how it’s done! (laughs)
We explain, “You just saw that it’s not possible; we cannot do this on this day. If you want to do this, we have to come back when the ocean is calmer.” Nope, he’s gonna get in there and show us how it’s done. So Danny comes out of the suit, and we dress Brad up in the suit. He’s actually pretty good as a Godzilla actor, I gotta say. But he goes out into the water, and he’s having the same exact problems. Waves are knocking him down! We have to run out there, pick him back up, and he keeps trying. At this point for us, it’s just sheer comedy.
The director’s all closed up in the suit, yelling over the waves at his cameraman. He’s out there acting up a storm, doing stuff, and his cameraman has a brand-new, top-of-the-line, digital video camera, and no way does he want to get sand in this camera! He’s being very protective of it. He’s basically nowhere to be found when the director is out acting up a storm! He’s up on the rocks cleaning his camera; he’s blowing it out, and cleaning it with a little brush, and the director’s in the suit, giving it all he’s got, and he’s out there yelling his muffled instructions to the cameraman. You can’t understand a word he’s saying. The waves keep knocking him down, we keep going out and picking him up, and we’re laughing — we’re laughing so hard! This is the most comical thing we’ve ever seen! They’re not getting a single bit of film of this thing! They maybe got a few frames here and there.
So after a while, two things happen: Director starts to tire because he’s out there fighting these waves in this suit that’s just soaking up the ocean. The suit’s getting heavier and heavier and heavier. You can see the split on the door of the neck that would open and close. You could see the upper-most edge split open wider and wider and wider because it’s soaking up so much water, it’s dragging itself down on him. So eventually, there’s a two-inch split in the neck that you could see right in and see the guy’s forehead. (laughs) There’s nothing to be done about it. The suit’s just filled with water, and I’m out there with a paint brush with black acrylic paint, just painting his forehead black, hoping that the camera won’t see it. He’s getting more and more tired. You can see his movements are getting more and more labored. Less and less muffled instruction is coming out of the suit.
He ends up falling to his knees, and we run out to see if he’s all right. He decides that maybe on his knees is a better power position to not be bowled over by the waves, and we’ll just get the camera down low. We’ll get the waves and the top of the suit, and we won’t see the bottom of the suit. So he’s on his knees with his little pink feet sticking out doing the same thing, acting up as much as he can, but you can see he’s exhausted, and the cameraman’s still not shooting him! (laughs) We’re all laughing, wondering, “What the hell is going on? This is the most stupid thing we’ve seen in our lives!” Then a huge wave comes in and knocks him over, enveloping him! Before we know it, Brad’s caught a cross wave, and all of a sudden, he’s underwater, and he’s on his way to Hawaii! At first, we’re still laughing silly, like, “Ha ha … Oh, my God!” We all run into the ocean because he’s gone!
So we all run into the ocean, six of us, and we get to him. We find him. He’s underwater, and he’s being dragged out to sea! We grab the suit, we grab him, and we’re pulling. We’re pulling, and we can’t get him in. There are six of us pulling on this suit, and the tide is so strong. In retrospect, what we were doing that day was the most irresponsible, dangerous thing I could ever imagine. But we were out there doing it — professional Hollywood people! (laughs) This was our worst nightmare! Six of us were trying to pull him in, drag him in. We can’t get him in! We can’t get him up out of the water! I, in some crazy adrenaline rush, just decide that I’m going to get in front of him and plant myself in the sand and hold him in place while the other guys pull him back. I do that like an idiot, and the suit now, this huge wet thing — I don’t know what it weighed — with him inside of it is rolling over me and pushing me back under the water and pinning me. (laughs) I’m underwater now, and he’s underwater! We finally get the top half of the suit just pulled out of the water, and we’re yelling, “Get him out! Get him out! We gotta get him out!” He’s not speaking. He’s collapsed. He might have been unconscious for all we knew.
We rip open the suit, the front flap and the neck, and we see him in there. He looks like he’s passed out. There’s a metal framework in the neck that rides up on his shoulders, holding the head up that’s impeding us. The suit’s well constructed; it was not going to come apart! We’re pulling at it. We’re trying to rip it, but it won’t rip. It won’t do anything! It was just this big, massive effort to try to get him out of there. Finally, with six guys tearing at this thing, we finally tear the suit open and pull him out, and two or three of the guys drag him up onto the beach. The rest of us are still holding the suit, trying to keep it from going out to sea because the tide still wants to take it out. We’re holding it, we’re standing there, we don’t know what to do. He’s back on the beach, two guys are with him, and he seems to be okay. We don’t know what’s happening; it’s all still a frenzy. We’re holding the suit. We’re thinking, “We gotta get this out of here. We can’t leave this in the ocean. We don’t want to get arrested.” (laughs) So we’re trying to drag the suit up out of the water, and we can’t do it; it’s that heavy! Four guys can’t pull the suit out of the water.
So we stand there, holding it, and we wait for the all-clear from the guys up on the beach that the director is indeed okay and is going to make it. Then we’re looking at the suit, deciding, “Well, what do we do?” (laughs) The only answer was to cut it up, just cut it up into small fillets and take it bit by bit back up onto the beach.
Thus ended the day of shooting of “Moses vs. Godzilla”! We ended up taking the suit bit by bit back over the mountains. We threw it in the garbage cans on the beach. That’s what happened to my beautiful Godzilla suit that I was going to have at the end of this show. (laughs) The director, of course, recovered, and while we’re cutting the suit up, and trying to get it off the beach, we look over, and we see he’s over there having one of his friends whip the actor playing Moses with the still-sopping-wet tail, and he’s filming stuff! We’re like, “What are you doing?! You almost died! Why don’t you take a break? What are you doing?!” (laughs) He’s over there playing with the feet and the tail, still trying to get shots. But he’s a never-say-die guy, and he eventually did finish the film, and there is one shot in the film of our Godzilla foot, and the rest of it he had to do digitally.
BH: I know you want to protect the reputations of the people who are involved, but can you tell us any of the other names of some of the professionals who were involved?
BF: Well, I’ve already told you Brad. Brad was the director and the creator of the whole thing. I have to give him credit for persevering. He did eventually finish it. I did see it; it did play some festivals and was on the Internet for a while. It’s fairly funny. It’s a pretty good satire of Japanese films. I had a few friends helping me. I did mention Dan Kaplan. He’s in the suit. He helped me on many a project. Brent Armstrong, JoAnne Bloomfield, and Wes Caefer are folks who helped me out on the suit.
BH: How’d you get involved in the TriStar Godzilla project in ’94?
BF: I was already working at Stan Winston’s. I had been working at his studio for a while. I had done Predator 2 there and Edward Scissorhands and Island of Dr. Moreau. I think this is even pre-Island of Dr. Moreau. But I had done a few films at Stan’s, and I was already working there as a full-time employee. The project came into Stan’s, and at that time, I was part of the illustration team. We would just sit down and dash out ideas on any new project. So that’s where it started. I was part of the team in the design room with Crash McCreery who was doing some very nice Godzilla drawings and some drawings for the eventual villain of the film, which was called the Gryphon. All in all, I think this version of Godzilla would have been a much more satisfying version to the fans because it was much like a ’90s Godzilla film but with an American flavor.
The villain was an alien who would absorb Earth’s life forms to mutate its body into whatever it needed to be until it eventually grew into a giant monster called the Gryphon and would fight Godzilla. It was all some big alien conspiracy, and Godzilla was part of that, too, as Godzilla was poised as the defender of the Earth, and this Gryphon was the evil alien to oppose him. So that was more of the idea we were working on. There was Godzilla, there was this Gryphon monster who was the final evolution of this alien being. I ended up working on an early version of this alien, which they were calling the Probe-Bat.
Basically, the evil alien organism that came to Earth was living in a cave in the forest, and it ingested our bats. It ingested cougars and some hunters that had come along, so it had already mutated into these flying creatures that were part bats, humans, snakes, cougars, whatever — all these forest creatures. They were to fly out as the alien’s probe and grab other creatures and bring them all back into this seething mass of protoplasm that was this alien-thing that would grow and grow and grow, with the more life forms that were pulled into it. It would take on characteristics of these life forms. So at the end you had this Gryphon. It was kind of your traditional griffon with a lion head and wings, but it had reptile and other beasts’ qualities, and it was a pretty neat monster, actually.
I had done some sketches and some drawings for the Probe-Bat, then we went to the maquette phase, the designing of the small miniature. We did a Godzilla maquette, and a Gryphon maquette, and I did the Probe-Bat. It was fun, but that was as far as we got on it. I was very excited, of course, to be working on a big-budget Godzilla film — it was a dream come true! That’s a totally different thing than building a Godzilla suit in my garage. (laughs) It was a dream come true for me, and it was very sad to see it end.
I think they pulled the plug because of budget problems. At the time, the budget they were proposing, which was like $120 million, was huge. Now it’s nothing. I think $50 million was just going to go to the effects. It didn’t seem to matter to anybody that later, when Roland Emmerich made Godzilla, his eventually cost $150 million. At the time, $120 million was too much, and TriStar got cold feet and pulled out. It’s a shame. I think the fans would have enjoyed Jan De Bont’s version more. You can find the script actually online and read it. It’s a big improvement. Jan De Bont apparently is a Godzilla fan and maybe would have made something a little more interesting and a little more true to the spirit of Godzilla. One thing I liked about that project, and I credit Stan with this, is he was very insistent that our version of Godzilla resembled the Toho Godzilla. It couldn’t be so far a field as to not be Godzilla. His opinion was, and he’s absolutely right, that Godzilla’s an icon, and you can only mess with that so much. So our Godzilla had a little different scale pattern — more realistic scale pattern maybe — it had a slight triple-joint leg to it, but ultimately it looked like Toho’s Godzilla.
BH: So you would say that Stan Winston was enthusiastic about the project. Would you say he was a fan of Godzilla?
BF: I don’t know if Godzilla is Stan’s meat. I don’t know if he’s a giant monster fan. He was respectful of it, which I found refreshing. I feel there was a certain disregard in the Roland Emmerich version for what Toho had accomplished with the character they had for years and years and years. It seemed they chucked not only his look, which wasn’t my biggest problem with that film, but his behavior, completely out the window. That’s not what people go to see a Godzilla movie for. I would say most Americans have at least a passing knowledge of what Godzilla is, and when they go to a movie called “Godzilla,” they expect Godzilla to stomp something — not turn tail and run! (laughs)
BH: Just to sum up your work on the TriStar movie, you designed the Probe-Bat, and you made the maquette for it, is that correct?
BH: Then the movie just fell through after that?
BF: Yes. Nothing went any further than the three maquettes that were made.
BH: Was it after this that you began work on Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero (a.k.a. Ultraman Powered)?
BF: Actually, Ultraman came before. Ultraman was in ’93, I think. TriStar Godzilla, I think, was ’94. So Ultraman was actually earlier. Another friend of mine who I’d worked with many times, Kevin Hudson, called me one day and said, “How’d you like to make all the Ultraman monsters from the original show?” I’m thinking, “What?!” He had somehow gotten this job to head the creature shop for Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero, which was a 13-episode series shot here in America, coming fast on the heels of the Australian-produced Ultraman: Towards the Future. I had been seeing Ultraman: Towards the Future on television, and of course was a huge fan of the original series. I thought Ultraman: Towards the Future was dry but interesting, in that they were doing it semi-modern and upgrading it a bit. When I heard about Ultraman Powered, I had to get involved in it! This was another dream project. So I went and met with Kevin and found out that yes, indeed, we’re doing 13 episodes, and it’s all the original monsters. It’s sort of a relaunch, and the goal was to take all those original monster designs and soup ’em up a little bit.
The Japanese illustrators had already done some drawings, and they were already a little bit more interesting. They were the original characters, but they were a little bit more interesting, a little bit better done than the original characters. I thought, “Wow! I have to do this!” We wanted to do them Hollywood-style. We wanted to keep the look but improve the technique. It was a very low-budget thing — in fact, extremely low budget, but we wanted to sculpt as much of them as we could and try to give them what we do here in Hollywood. We try to pump things up in the sculpture and try to make interesting choices. So we ended up sculpting the heads, the hands, and the feet of all the monsters. Of course, we wanted our Ultraman to be completely sculpted. Kevin had worked on Batman Returns, and he wanted to do the suit like that, which was basically a spandex suit with sculpted foam rubber pieces glued on for the musculature and the design angles. We weren’t quite sure how that was going to work. With Batman, you could get away with that because it was a black suit, but this is a silver and red suit.
We wanted to sculpt it. We didn’t want to foam-fabricate it out of a wet suit like the old ones were done. We wanted to get in there and sculpt it and mold it and run it in foam latex and have a really tight form-fitting suit on the guy that would just look incredibly cool. We had to do a bunch of talking to the Japanese to let us do this, but we managed to get the go-ahead on that. So every bit of Ultraman was sculpted. For the creatures, the heads, the hands, and the feet were sculpted, and the bodies were traditionally foam-constructed like the old suits back in the day. But we had these cooler designs to work with, and we tried to jazz them up with some interesting paint.
We had some push and pull with our paint jobs. I remember the first paint scheme on Red King. We now had a red Red King because now we have a male and a female, and in the old show there was only a yellowish-blue Red King. We painted him up; we painted him a beautiful brick-red color, and then our painter decided to get a little innovative, and he put a coral snake pattern down the sides and down the back of him. It was really pretty cool, just that little bit added so much. We were encouraging that. We wanted to soup these guys up and make them jazzy. A bunch of us had worked on Predator 2, and it’s all about finding patterns in nature and putting them on these rubber suits and trying to make it look like a reptile or an amphibian that we know. We were trying to inject a little reality. So you take this basically accordion-shaped Red King, who has no reality shape to him at all, and try to add a pattern on it. The idea was to inject a little reality. I liked it. I thought it was good, but it was too much for our Japanese friends, and they made us take that off and basically just paint him one color, red. So that was interesting.
We had a bunch of push and pull like that on the show, to try to push our monster further into the traditions that we would have, but they wanted to be respectful to the old monsters. I could see both ways, and we compromised on a lot of things. I feel like our monsters are cooler versions of the old monsters. They look pretty slick, yet they still are the old monsters. I think Pigmon’s a good example. He looks different than the old one, but he looks the same as well. His face has got a lot more interesting features. It’s got a lot more of that “corally” texture coming off him, but basically he’s still Pigmon. So I had a lot of fun. I had a blast on that show. I probably worked more free overtime (laughs) than on any other show just because I was jazzed that I was getting to do these monsters and the lion’s share of the sculpting. I sculpted three-quarters of the heads on the beasties. It was just fun. We went to set and had miniature cities, monsters, and explosions. It was just a blast! It’s just a shame they came out like they did. (laughs)
BH: What other research did you do to design these monsters? Did you just go back to the original series and use that as a reference, or did you do anything else?
BF: The original series was referenced. We watched them during the course of the show. But primarily that had already been mined by the Japanese illustrators who came to us with the designs. We looked at their designs and tried to find elements of nature. At the time, Stan Winston was doing Jurassic Park, and we were looking at all these great scale textures and cracks in the horns and toenails and everything they were doing. All this little detail that didn’t make a lick of difference in the long run because you don’t see any of it. But we were putting that level of detail into these monsters, which is interesting because they’re bright, primary-color monsters with unnatural shapes that we were trying to put natural details and patterns into. I remember Kevin had an idea to sculpt large squares of skin textures, different scale textures, different wrinkle textures, different things that might be on different, real animals.
We would take these large sheets and run them in foam rubber, about a quarter of an inch thick, and then glue them to the outside of these foam-constructed monsters. We were trying to somehow give these very geometric-shaped monsters, these almost art deco kind of monsters, some sort of naturalism. I’m not sure that was totally successful or that you can even really see it enough within the series, but it was an interesting idea.
BH: Do you remember any other situations where you would try to pitch an idea to the Japanese producers, and they would shut it down, sort of like what happened with the Red King design?
BF: Red King was probably the biggest and the saddest one. We had other problems. They had a very nice Ultraman design that we were following, and they really, really wanted the helmet to basically be skintight to an actor’s face. Yet as we know with Ultraman, he has all kinds of eye-lighting issues. His eyes light up, and they change color, and they blink when his timer goes down.
There was literally no room for the electronics. So the face of the helmet had to be a little bit bigger, more old-school, more like the old series than what they really wanted. They really, really wanted a superhero without a big head. They really wanted Ultraman to have basically a superhero-type mask. We couldn’t pull it off at that time, so that wasn’t a case of them rejecting what we wanted, but it was a case of us not being able to really give them what they wanted. So that was too bad as well. All these problems pale in comparison to how the series came out! (laughs) It’s so unfortunate.
BH: Well, I have read a lot of criticisms of the series.
BF: Have you seen them?
BH: I’ve seen clips of them here and there at a convention, but I’ve never seen the series.
BF: They are extremely, extremely amateur. I liked all the people we were working with. Everybody was great. Everybody was trying their best, but it was extremely low-budget. The production team that was putting it together. The producer and the director hadn’t really heard of Ultraman when they got this job. The director had worked on some Charlie Band movies, and somehow they got this job. They watched tapes of the old shows to familiarize themselves with the original series, and I really think that they were disheartened after they saw the old show. I really think they didn’t know what they were getting into. They weren’t fans of it. I think they felt they were above it. They did what they could do. It was extremely low-budget.
We had one small stage up in the Burbank Hills that all the miniatures were built on. The miniatures suffer very much from the low budget. I’m sure the guys who built the miniatures could do wonderful work, but it just didn’t happen for the show. But still, I have to say the miniatures and the suits are the best part! The acting leaves a lot to be desired. The worst thing is the fights! They’re just nonexistent. Ultraman shows up after the monster’s been doing some havoc, and they just sort of dance around each other for a little bit — push each other for a little bit — and then Ultraman does his cross beam and blows the monster away, and that’s it! (laughs) The whole point of Ultraman is the monster fights, and it just didn’t happen. I don’t know for certain, but I’ve heard that even the Japanese don’t like that series too much.
BH: Well, one of the criticisms that I’ve read about Ultraman Powered was that, as you mentioned earlier, King Wilder, the director, wasn’t a fan, and he had to familiarize himself with the series after he got the job. Now did you work with King at all, and what did you think of him personally?
BF: King’s a really nice guy, and I really don’t want to disparage him. But I just don’t think they were the right people for the show. I think, with the budget that they had, which had to be very, very small for what showed up on the set, you really needed a director, a producer, and a DP who were just young and enthusiastic fans who wanted to make something out of nothing. That’s how I felt our creature department was. I felt like we were all fairly young, or at least enthusiastic, and willing to put in the extra time and effort to try to make these things as good as we can make them in the time and the money provided. King’s a sweet man, but I don’t think his heart was in it.
BH: Now you actually appeared on the show. Do you have any memories of your brief role on the show?
BF: Yeah, I appeared in the Teresdon episode. Myself, Kevin Hudson, and Jim Eusterman, who all worked at the creature shop, ended up being Teresdon’s bosses. We’re a race of subterranean humanoids — who knows where the hell we come from — but we live underground. We control Teresdon, we’re upset at the Earth, and we’re siccing Teresdon on the Earth. Oddly enough we worship a statue of an Ultraman.
How we got that part was, we were reading the scripts in the shop as we were going, episode by episode, in the making of things. I was reading the script of the Teresdon episode because I was working on the head. We were working on the suit, getting it all ready, and I was reading the script. I said to Kevin Hudson, “Oh, look at these aliens here. Are these guys in makeups?” Kevin says, “I don’t know. We never talked about this.” I said, “These guys should be in makeup! They should be these little troll guys! We should do some makeups on these guys!” He decides, “I don’t know. I’ll have to ask.” So he contacted production, and I guess they got excited about them being little weird troll guys. I got it in my head that, well, why don’t we be these little troll guys?! (laughs) So I called up King, and I said, “We could do this. We could make our own makeup, and we could get in there and be these little troll guys.” He said, “I don’t know. I got all these actors reading for these parts.” I said, “All right, look, we’ll come in, and we’ll read. We’ll show you we can do this.”
So we went to audition! Kevin, Jim, and I got together beforehand, practiced, and read lines. We tried all these crazy voices and personas out. We’re were really pumping each other up about it and getting excited about it. So we go in to audition that day, and we see they’ve got a lot of professional cartoon actors in that day, doing these crazy, weird, little squeaky voices and everything. We had conceptualized them more as a raspy, hard-to-breathe, gravity-weighed-down people who were just creaky and ancient. We went in there, read our bit, did our thing, and got the part. It was hilarious! So it was back to the makeup shop, and we each sculpted our own makeup, cast, and molded them up, ran them out of foam, punched the hair in, painted them up, and next thing you knew, we were doing a scene in Ultraman on the set!
BH: Is there anything else about the series that you wanted to touch on that we didn’t already talk about in this interview?
BF: I do want to say it was a good time. We had fun building those creatures. It was a crazy, kooky time. In a Hollywood monster movie, you get scripts for a Predator or Planet of the Apes or Terminator or whatever, and the idea is to take something as far out as Terminator and put some reality into that. So when you make the Terminator endoskeleton, you try to make that look possible. The Predator, even though he’s this crazy amphibian crab-thing from outer space, you want to paint identifiable textures on him or have him wear a net suit, have realistic metal textures, and make his weapons look possible. You want to make everything look possible so that when you see it onscreen, you believe it. Yet here we are, working on these very strange, candy-colored, architecturally bizarre monsters that could only come out of Japan. These are things that you can’t really possibly put reality in. We gave it the old try, and we put our touches in, and I think some of it was successful. I’m proud of working on it, I’m proud of how they look. I can’t really help the way they were photographed! (laughs) I think we did a pretty interesting job. It was an interesting, interesting project, and it was a touch with childhood love. It was a lot of fun.
BH: Of course, you’ve worked with a lot of big-name people in a lot of big movies. Has the subject of Godzilla ever come up with some people that readers might recognize?
BF: I will say Stan Winston made fun of us one day. On our lunch break, we were watching a Godzilla movie. He came in and made fun of us for watching that.
BH: What happened there?
BF: We used to gather in the lunchroom on our lunch breaks and just watch silly movies, whatever we were into. Usually it’s cult stuff — stuff that you can either laugh with or play along with or whatever. We were all sitting in the lunchroom, and we had a Godzilla movie on. I really couldn’t tell you which one this is at this point, but we’re all fans. Stan poked his head in the door and went, “Aha, aha, Hollywood’s top monster makers, and there you are, there you are!” We all looked around, and we’re going, “Aw, Stan!” Then someone pipes in, “Well, it could be worse; we could be watching The Bat People!” (laughs) Which is one of his creaky old opuses from back in the day.
BH: Do you remember what movie you were working on at that point?
BF: I think at that point we were working on Predator 2 and Edward Scissorhands.
BH: In closing, is there anything you want to say to readers?
BF: I love the whole world of Japanese monster movies. It’s something I grew up with. It brings me back to instant childhood, to put on any one of these movies or see these shows. I hope the moratorium on Godzilla is over soon, and we go back to making some Godzilla movies.