ULTRAMAN FLIES INTO HOLLYWOOD! Eric Brown on His Design and Modelmaking Work on ‘Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero’!

Eric Brown shares a quiet moment with a close friend. Photo © Eric Brown.

Eric Lloyd Brown has lent his creative talents to some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, but he got his start in show biz by serving as a modelmaker and concept artist for Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero (1995). Afterward, Mr. Brown would go on to work as a concept artist on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995). He has also worked as a modelmaker on The Arrival (1996), Batman & Robin (1997), Air Force One (1997), and Titanic (1997), and as a concept artist on The Arrival, Alien: Resurrection (1997), as well as the animated series Invader ZIM, Ben 10, and Family Guy. In July 2022, Mr. Brown answered Brett Homenick’s questions about his work on Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero.

Brett Homenick: Please tell us when and where you were born and grew up.

Eric Brown: I’d hate to date myself to the exact day, so let’s just say I’m a kid of the awesome ‘70s/’80s. I was born and raised in Grand Rapids, MI.

BH: What kind of hobbies did you have?

EB: Drawing nonstop and, later, writing. I also read tons of science fiction novels and comic books as a kid. I also loved watching movies that dealt with the genre.

BH: How did you become interested in special effects and such things?

EB: I think I first became interested in special effects after picking up a copy of Starlog’s Special Effects, Vol. 1. It happened to come out the same year the first Alien (1979) movie hit. Those two things really got me excited about getting more involved with that stuff.

BH: What were some of your favorite genre movies that you saw as a kid?

EB: Alien will always be number one, but there was also Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), CE3K [Close Encounters of the Third Kind] (1977), Invasion of the Body Snatchers [the 1978 Philip Kaufman remake], Conan [the Barbarian] (1982), and Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), which came out before my time, but I always loved when I could catch it on TV.

BH: How did you get involved in the entertainment industry?

EB: I put together a small portfolio of my concept sketches and photographs of some prop stuff I had built for a short film I made. The film was horrible, but the props came out decent. I moved to Los Angeles and lived with my uncle while I went about trying to find work.

I knocked on doors and sent out resumes to just about every production company in L.A. Things turned around when I answered an ad in the back of The Hollywood Reporter, needing a crew of modelmakers/artists for a low-budget sci-fi project. I got hired on to that project about a month after that.

BH: What were some of your first jobs?

EB: The first one was Ultraman: The Ulitmate Hero (1995). After that, I worked on David Twohy’s The Arrival (1996), a sci-fi film called No Escape (1994) starring Ray Liotta, and, in time, bigger stuff. Those early, low-budget days were exhausting, hours-wise, but a whole lot of fun.

I met up with the director of the [Ultraman] series, King Wilder, and producer Julie Avola. They were looking for someone to take on the responsibilities of doing all the models for the series, in addition to design work, etc. They immediately realized I was not equipped for that!

I didn’t own a model shop, let alone a set of tools. They were so gracious and kind, though. As soon as they found their shop, David B. Sharp Productions, they got me hired on with Dave to work on the series.

BH: You worked on Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero as a concept artist. Please discuss the process of this work.

EB: I remember Dave giving me the scripts and having me read through them. He’d break down specific things he wanted me to tackle, design-wise. We really didn’t get involved in heavy rendering back then. We did just enough to pass off to the model-builders.

I think the other artist on the production, Ted Van Doorn, would do these wonderful marker renderings at times. That was about as involved as it got. It was a down-and-dirty, quick process. Still, it was a heck of a lot of fun.

The WINR base. Photo courtesy of Eric Brown. Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero © 1995, Tsuburaya Productions.

BH: What did you design on Ultraman?

EB: The WINR building was the first design I did for the show. A lot of the design impact of that was best viewed from a top-down angle. It showed off everything really nicely from that vantage point. Ultimately, though, it was boarded to be filmed from a low-angle shot from the front. Still, it came out pretty nice.

Modelmaker Gary Young built the vast majority of it while Ted Van Doorn painted the model. If I had to do the design over, I would have added more detail, though. I always felt like the scale didn’t quite work. I also designed, built, and/or detailed the docking bay, docking arms, and the boarding section of the WINR airship, plus various other bits here and there.

BH: How much input did Tsuburaya Productions have on your work?

EB: If I’m remembering this correctly, they didn’t interfere at all. Neither did Dave Sharp or anyone else. They basically left me to my own creative devices. It was a very freeing process. Whatever I designed was reproduced very faithfully. Good times!

BH: What did you find difficult about working as a concept artist on this series?

EB: As I mentioned before, because it was such a non-micromanaged production, there was nothing particularly difficult about it. More time in the schedule might have been nice. It would have allowed more time to come up with different design iterations.

BH: Do you remember about how long it would take for you to create a design? Would there be various drafts?

EB: A few hours at most. I’m not a multiple-draft guy. I tend to try and make a solid and saleable design right out of the gate.

BH: You also worked on the series as a modelmaker. What can you tell us about it?

EB: That was just as fun as the concepting part of it. I got to “plus” out my designs with custom design pieces and kitbashing. If there was a certain part of the design that was very specific, I built it out of styrene. Mold-making and resin parts were also part of the process. We went through a ton of resin material. I also used foamcore for the docking bay. It was really whatever you could get your hands on to make the miniatures/models work.

BH: How long would it typically take to build a model?

EB: It depended on the model, but generally anywhere from a day or two up to a week.

The WINR airship in action. Photo courtesy of Eric Brown. Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero © 1995, Tsuburaya Productions.

BH: Who were some of others on the show you worked with?

EB: Gary Young, a very talented sculptor/modelmaker who’s still working in the industry. We still try and stay in touch through email now and again. Ted Van Doorn was the other artist/modelmaker/painter at the shop. Hugely talented and a complete riot. We formed a good working relationship during that period. He’s one of the most talented guys I’ve ever come across.

Sadly, Ted, passed away a few years back due to an illness. It was a great loss to a whole lot of people. Other crew members were Thomas Gleason, Ted Smith, Tom Zell, Dave Chamberlin, Thomas Seymour, and Matt Ullman. They made the shop a lot of fun.

BH: Did you have much or any involvement with director King Wilder or producer Julie Avola?

EB: More than I thought I would have. They were great at coaxing me to do even more with my talent. King even let me sit on set with him once to show me how to direct. I can’t say enough nice things about the both of them. Lovely people.

BH: Overall, how long did you work on Ultraman?

EB: That’s a great question because it really is a blur. More than a few months? Less than a year?

BH: Were you satisfied with the results of the series?

EB: Taken into context, yes. Budget, schedule, etc., all those things have to be considered when viewing the final product. I think every penny is on the screen.

BH: What kinds of techniques or skills did you learn working on Ultraman that might have helped your career later on?

EB: I think design economy. Not getting too nuts with the shapes, as the stuff had to be built. I still practice that today because, even though they’re not really making too many physical models anymore, someone still needs to build them in the computer or redraw them for animation. It’s about coming up with the coolest silhouette and form and not relying on an abundance of detail to make it cool. The Twin-Pod Cloud Car from Star Wars is a great example of this.

BH: After that, you also worked on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995) as a concept artist. What led to this project?

EB: I mentioned Ted Van Doorn from my Ultraman days. He pitched me to then-director Steve Wang, and they pulled me aboard. I was actually back in Michigan at the time, as I was back and forth between Grand Rapids and L.A. due to my aging father. I got the call from Steve one night, and I was on a flight within the next week or two.

BH: What did you design on it?

EB: Oh, man. I did so many sketches. I think bits and pieces here and there got into the movie. I know I did a tiger Megazord, and I think that got in. I passed it on to Ted, and he tinkered with the design a bit, as well, if memory serves correctly.

BH: Did you work with anyone else?

EB: We also had Shayne Poindexter as part of the design team. Director Steve Wang was a fan of Batman: The Animated Series (1992-95) and knew Shayne had done a lot of designs for that show. The three of us had great fun on that movie. It was a fantastic time.

Interestingly enough, Shayne was largely responsible for my foray into animation years later. He pulled me aboard Gen 13 (1998) when that project was starting.

BH: What else could you tell us about Power Rangers?

EB: Not much, other than we all got along very well. It made for a smooth production in the art department end of things.

BH: What did you think of the film once you saw it?

EB: I really enjoyed it.

BH: How would you compare your experiences on Ultraman and Power Rangers?

EB: They were different beasts. Ultraman was down in the trenches, low-budget, sweaty, dirty workshop fun in one of the most industrial areas of the San Fernando Valley. Power Rangers was big-studio and big-budget. All of my time was spent in a comfy, air-conditioned art department on L.A.’s Westside.

BH: Do you have any closing comments for the readers of this interview?

EB: If you’re interested in a career in entertainment, just be passionate about it vs. doing it because you want the cachet associated with working in the industry. Once you do it for any other reason than passion, it can quickly become a job.

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