Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jane Wright, Part 1

I have been emailing with Jane Wright. I updated a few of the recent posts with some of the information she gave me. 4/2, 4/4, 4/14
I also pasted parts of her emails into this guest post:

Many amusing stories have been told of Dick's outbursts and I do smile when I hear them, but really, I only ever witnessed the more gracious side to his personality as a director. Working downstairs no doubt helped. After my very first scene (Thief splashing into moat) had been shown in rushes I passed Dick on the stairs later that morning. He was deep in conversation with two or three other VIPs - probably Roy, John L. and Peter (Bond), but as I'd only been at the studio a few weeks I wasn't sure who they all were, only who I was -- nobody. So I shuffled past them all with my head down. I was halfway down the stairs when Dick broke off from his conversation, turned round and said, "Great splash!" before continuing his discourse.

While it's probably true that he knew such comments could make you cancel your plans for the evening, sharpen your pencil and work until midnight instead, it's moments like that which stay with you forever. A lesser director might build you up with a trace of condescension, yet Dick had a way of drawing out the best in many people and making you feel your contribution was much greater than it actually was. That's a rare gift. Whether it was because I was so far down the food chain doing only effects, or whether it was because I was more keen than artistic, or whether it was just beginner's luck I can't say, but it's the highest part of a human being which steps aside and allows a far dimmer light to shine to its brightest potential for a brief moment.

I think I was about 9 years old when the scene was first animated by Ken Harris. I remember well the awe of seeing a dope sheet with the names: Ken/Dick/Jane in the 'animated by' tick box and knowing that the scene had remained boxed up all the way through my school and college years. I guess we've all got memories like that from The Thief....

You might want to track down John Cousen, if you haven't already, he animated all the witch's vapour effects. Graham Bebbington and Lynette Charters were the other two effects animators from the Forum days. Heather Tailby did a scene or two also. Lynette did most of the animation - sand dunes, clouds, etc. - in the opening sequence with the prophecy. And Julie Penman was everyone's hard-working assistant and carried so much of the workload with very little credit. When you have Julie assisting you, your workload is lifted off your back on angels' wings...

The bubbles... (see 4/14/2008 post)
Neil set the style for the outlines for the first 15 feet or so, then handed the sequence over with the brief that they should move more like breasts, adding with an oblique glance, "Those are Dick's words, not mine!"
Not sure I was up to the challenge and thinking this might be more of a bloke's job, I nevertheless finished the rest of the bubble animation, then set about experimenting with the reflections, distorting all those little tiles on the floor.

The bubbles on most of those Thief scenes were animated on three levels with the idea that when shot on different passes, the bubbles behind would still be seen through the bubbles in the foreground. They ended up being painted all on the same level as it would have been too expensive to paint and shoot with three levels, so a lot of that detail and also the depth was lost. After the first scene was approved on twos and I was told to put it on ones I saw at first only the size of the job - I think it was about 80 odd feet - that first scene where the Thief squeezes out of the hole. "He wants it on ones", I moaned when I got back downstairs, "It'll take forever." "Well, you're not going anywhere, are you?" John C. quipped in response. He was right, I wasn't going anywhere - not for a long time! I was of course thrilled when it was actually finished on ones (due in large part to Julie who handled much of the assisting for the sequence and also kept track of all the different levels and who was working on what). The experience taught me not to look at the whole mountain, just the next two or three steps ahead. In proportion to the rest of the film it wasn't a mountain anyway, just a small hillock, but it's still the longest and largest scene I've ever worked on.

The day the studio closed I was in Wales. Lynette called me in the morning with the sad news and I jumped straight into my car. Four or five hours later I was in Camden joining in with the lamentations and farewells of my comrades. Dick's first words to me were "Sorry we couldn't finish your bubbles on three separate levels." I was shocked because nothing was further from my mind. It was really quite humbling because he'd just lost his whole film and I wanted to say something to him that wouldn't sound completely lame, yet he magnanimously drew the attention away from himself and was really there for all of his crew. But then that was how he was on so many occasions that I recall.

I know a man's grace doesn't sell many tabloid newspapers and wouldn't raise a chuckle over a few pints in the pub, but it's a side to Dick that is very real and perhaps gets eclipsed by the more 'colourful' facets of his personality when stories are being told. Because of his kindness, his encouragement and the example he set as a hard worker rather than a delegator, the year and a half I spent working under his direction is right up there as a 'Jim'll Fix It' episode in my life. (Actually, it was John Cousen who fixed it for me to work there, but that's another story...)


Holger said...

Thanks for the great post Jane!
Often when people hear that I worked on the Thief they first ask about how it was to work for Dick and it seems as if they expect stories about how demanding and crazy it was. I try my best to convey to them that to me it didn't feel like that at all, but in the future I might just point them to your post because you've nailed it.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely amazing...