BMI: You made your directorial debut in 1989 with The Fly II. How different was the pressure of directing and designing from just designing alone?
CW: I loved doing Fly II. It was ten times the work of just being an FX supervisor, but I loved it! I really didn’t feel the pressure so much as the exhausting, relentless decision-making. Everything has to be chosen and every department wants as much input as possible. Fortunately, I had a great crew at my company that I could depend on without question. Most directors at that time weren’t all that familiar with effects work and that was a big part of their production concern; I didn’t have that to worry about. I had to worry about what china Marten would have in his apartment, what kind of helicopter would Bartok Industries use, etc. There are thousands of questions to be asked on a production and the director needs to be able to address them, whether he thinks they are important or not. Where Fly II was really different for me was in post-production. As a creature maker, most of the work is done in pre-production and production, so a lot of post-production was all new to me. But I had fantastic people to work with so even that was a joy. Really, Fly II was a blast.
BMI: You were the special effects and monster designer in the film Naked Lunch, which featured unbelievable special effects for a movie released in 1991. What do you feel was the biggest challenge in bringing William Burrough’s incredible vision to life?
CW: I don’t even know how to answer this one. All I can say is that after I finished reading the script I told my crew that we had to do this movie because there would never be another one like it. The great part about was that it was working with Cronenberg again and he’s not a director that says “I’ll know it when I see it”; he has a clear vision that he can communicate well. So it was really a straightforward process of trying to fulfill David’s vision. The only hiccup in the process was the so-called “sex-blob”. It was the only thing that David couldn’t really qualify in words and it was up to me entirely to come up with a concept for it. I was glad that David could use my design!
BMI: From a special effects perspective, what are some of your favorite films of all time?
CW: I love the original King Kong, and all of Ray Harryhausen’s work. And I’m a sucker for model shots, especially the Lydeckers’ work. Brilliant stuff. Specific films? 2001, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, Godzilla, Karl Zeman’s “Fabulous World of Jules Verne”, Disney’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (Verne freak). Not sure why, but all the fantastic CGI stuff of the last decade or more just doesn’t stay with me, as great as it can be. Maybe I’m just too jaded.
BMI: You have worked with some of the greatest directors of cinematic history, including Steven Spielberg, David Cronenberg, and George Lucas. Out of all the films you have worked on, which director gave you the most creative control?
CW: While they all gave me some creative control, it was different for each director. I’d have to say that Cronenberg gave me the most control, but I think that was also because he knew that I was adamant about trying to fulfill his vision for his films. He guided the way rather than demanded anything in particular.
BMI: What would be your advice to any aspiring special effects designers?
CW: Define your own style. I can’t tell you how many times creature designer wannabes present their work as a designer by showing me how well they have copied someone else’s design. Excellent artistry and execution, but it’s just a copy. Filmmakers want to see what sets you apart from other artists, not what makes you the same as everyone else in the business. Find you own personal “look” and let the filmmakers figure out how to take advantage of what you have.
BMI: What projects can we expect to see from you in the future?
CW: Good question. I have a few things in development, but I’m taking some time off to have some fun doing a few short films right now. If I’m lucky, my next big thing will have something to do with Lovecraft or Verne.
BMI: We like to complete our interviews with this question; can you sum up our website Blankmaninc.com with just five words?
CW: Way too cool for words!
Outstanding, and we could say the same about your body of work. Thanks for taking the time to do this. Everyone else, be sure to check out Chris’ work from the past, you will not be disappointed!