ULTRAMAN DOWN UNDER! A Candid Conversation with Steve Rosewell about ‘Ultraman: Towards the Future’!

Steve Rosewell operates the Gigasaurus puppet on Ultraman: Towards the Future. Photo © Corrie Ancone.

Ultraman: Towards the Future (1992) made history as the first Western production of an Ultra-series. Steve Rosewell was there, and he helped make some of the series’ most memorable kaiju come to life. A few years after completing his work on Ultraman, Mr. Rosewell would join another tokusatsu production in Australia — that of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995). In March 2021, Mr. Rosewell answered Brett Homenick’s questions about his involvement in Ultraman and Power Rangers.

Brett Homenick: Please tell us about your early years. What were your hobbies and interests?

Steve Rosewell: To be honest, I never really built Airfix [model] kits, and I was a lot more interested in building big things as a kid. Architecture was my destiny from a very young age. At 20, I went ahead a designed a house and built it. Sold it to fund a trip around the world and managed to join the circus, Ringling Bros. and [Barnum &] Bailey, touring and maintaining all the props and set pieces. 

BH: Did you enjoy sci-fi and horror movies as a kid?

SR: Of course, what kid didn’t?

Steve Rosewell, Vikki Kite, and Norman Yeend pose with Bogun and Gudis. Photo © Corrie Ancone.

BH: Which horror and sci-fi movies did you enjoy growing up?

SR: I was really more of an outside kind of kid, but I think Star Wars was the first movie I saw twice — rode my push bike into the city all by myself at 10 to see it a second time. Sci-fi films have always been my favorite genre. I have seen Blade Runner 50 times or more.

BH: How did you get involved in special effects?

SR: I went into [the] Comic Kingdom bookshop where I bought the first big black ILM special effects book. Then that was all I wanted to do. So, within about six months, I bought and read cover to cover every book on the subject. I still have a complete collection of Cinefex magazines up until about 2010 — about 120 or so of them.

Steve Rosewell prepares Majaba for action. Photo © Corrie Ancone.

BH: What were some of your early credits?

SR: We did a lot of effects for theater productions in the first few years in Sydney. Then Ultraman[: Towards the Future] was my first real special effects production. The Babe [movies], Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Dark City, Holy Smoke!, the Matrix films, Star Wars: Episode I, II, and III, Red Planet, Stealth — I am sure I left a lot out.

BH: How did you get hired to work on Ultraman: Towards the Future?

SR: Going from production house to production house, looking for work with Vikki Kite, my wife. She is a sculptor and scenic artist. We both got hired on the show, mainly with Vikki’s portfolio from working on the circus.

BH: How much did you know about Ultraman at the time?

SR: Nothing, although just knowing it was the same Japanese company that did Godzilla was all I needed to know.

Photo © Corrie Ancone.

BH: Please describe your work on the show. What did you do?

SR: Creatures mainly, sculpting, molds, and skins, to some extent, But I was more focused on the animatronics.

BH: The animatronic Ultraman is fascinating. Could you elaborate on how it was supposed to work, and when the decision came not to use it?

SR: It was a two-foot-tall, puppet-controlled [setup] with a very complex, waldo-style cable system. But the Japanese really wanted to see it roll around on the ground with guys in monster suits, and stylistically it was more of a super marionette [a.k.a. “Supermarionation”] and just a big step up from Thunderbirds.

BH: Did special effects work have to start over completely after that?

SR: No, not all, as much of the miniature creature work was still cut in. For the time, it was high-end effects, and the cable guy was used in wide shots and over[-the-]shoulder [shots] where it did not physically interact with the monsters.

BH: Was any of the animatronic Ultraman used in the show?

SR: As far as I know, yes, but I haven’t seen the whole series, to be honest.

Vikki Kite puts the finishing touches on Bogun. Photo © Corrie Ancone.

BH: Did you have any freedom to try new things, or was your work strictly by the book?

SR: It was all new to me. Back then, I was making it up as I went along. The books I read were of course a massive help, and there were many on the crew who had a lot more experience than me.

BH: Where was your work done?

SR: In North Ryde and down in Port Adelaide.

BH: Did you meet director Andrew Prowse?

SR: Yes, of course. He became quite a good friend during those years.

BH: Very little is known about Mr. Prowse. What kind of personal memories do you have of him?

SR: He was a great guy who had lots of time for his crew.

Ultraman Great suit actor Robert Simper poses with his kaiju foes. Photo © Corrie Ancone.

BH: How about any of the cast members, such as series star Dore Kraus?

SR: No, not really, just the guys that played Ultraman in the suit — Steve [Apps], Rob [Simper], and the stunt crew, as the live-action actors were in another dimension of the shoot.

BH: What was the most challenging aspect about your work on Ultraman?

SR: Building the miniature animatronic, cable-controlled Ultraman. This was a huge challenge for someone just starting out. It was way too over-ambitious [for] the time frame, and it slowed the whole production down, caus[ing] us to change direction and go with guys in rubber suits for much of the second part of the shoot.

BH: On the other hand, what was the best part of working on the show?

SR: It was a great introduction into a long career for us at Studio Kite. Learning so much from Australia’s leading masters of special effects — Paul Nichola [the] effects director and creature maker Warren Beaton — who [have given me] such a huge wealth of knowledge and lifelong friendship.

Paul Nichola shoots Gigasaurus on a rampage. Photo © Corrie Ancone.

BH: Did you have much interaction with Tsuburaya Productions?

SR: Meeting and working [with] Mr. [Koichi] Takano was a treat, so much experience. He was 80 at that time and was regularly found napping while massive effects shots with exploding buildings, planes on wires, and high-speed cameras were making quite a racket.

BH: From start to finish, how long did you work on the show?

SR: Ten months.

BH: What kind of techniques did you learn working on the show?

SR: That list is huge. I was also studying a lot about special effects at the time; it was a huge period of my learning. I found my niche in animatronic design, though.

BH: Which was your favorite Ultraman monster?

SR: I would say the best built would have been Kodalar, the puppet Vikki and myself built, and the suit was built by Warren Beaton. They were both built towards the end of the shoot, so we had learned a lot by then.

The SFX crew gathers at Pelican Point, South Australia. Photo © Corrie Ancone.

BH: As a TV program, what did you think of Ultraman: Towards the Future?

SR: Sadly, I felt it didn’t take itself seriously enough, meaning the deliberate hamming up of scenes for a laugh didn’t work and was not true to style.

BH: What other monsters did you work on?

SR: I have built over two or 300 creatures or more in my career so far. I rebuilt one last month.

BH: What could you tell us about the working of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie?

SR: It was a film that really put Studio Kite on the map as a stand-alone creature effects house. We really pushed ourselves to the limit, and producer Jon Landau really gave us a lot of scope to excel.

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