Young Iguanodon Sculpture

Sculpture of a juvenile Iguanodon dinosaur


During the late 1990s, I worked for Walt Disney Feature Animation on their first computer-generated movie DINOSAUR. For that production, I worked as a supervising animator over Neera, the main character's love interest, and all of the juvenile dinosaurs. On Disney movies, supervising animators were made responsible for character acting performances; however, they had limited control over character design decisions which were made by group committee. I was unhappy with the final design of the juvenile iguanodons which, in my opinion, did not look as cute as they might have been. Because of this dissatisfaction, I was inspired to create a personal sculpture - my own interpretation of how the young iguanodons should have looked.

Making Models and Props (part 3)

Model-making was an interesting, challenging, creative, and very cool profession; however, as time went on, I became increasingly concerned about health-related issues associated with that particular line of work. Although I loved making models and props, I decided to move out of that field of the business and focus exclusively on animation. Here are examples of my last model-making projects.

Hellicopter model with special effects crew
The helicopter with filming crew. L-R: unknown, unknown, Niels Nielsen, Mehran Salamati.

In 1988, I assisted Niels Nielsen in building a prototype of a helicopter model created for presentation to the United States military as a possible future design. Not only did we fabricate the helicopter from scratch but we incorporated the motorized rotors and lighting as well. Unfortunately, we worked in a small room with poor ventilation and used many materials such as Bondo, urethanes, and glues that emitted toxic fumes. To make matters worse, I managed to cut my finger in half with an X-acto blade, an accident that required a trip to the emergency room! That particular project illustrated a stark reminder of the occupational hazards involved in professional model-making. Our model was ultimately filmed by cinematographer Mehran Salamati, who used a motion control system against a blue screen to composite in front of a sky background. I never saw the completed film

Making Models and Props (part 2)

By 1987, I was reaching my goal of becoming a professional stop-motion animator; however, the work was inconsistent due to the typical "per project" hiring practices of the movie industry. To remain employed, I continued to take on sculpting and model-making gigs. Sometimes the two professions were both needed on the same production, a situation which worked out very well.

Scary castle on hilltop


This spooky castle was created for a 1986 Budweiser print advertisement. Anton Tremblay designed and supervised the project, while Christopher Halsted and I were sculptors. The main material we used for the project's fabrication was green foam, aka "green death" in the model-making industry. The process of carving the foam caused the release of gritty, nasty particles which were very hazardous to breathe and tended to cling to our clothing. The only real advantage to using the material was the fact that it was fine-grained and easy to carve. Typically we would don disposable coveralls and use a respirator or a dust mask to protect our health while sculpting the foam. The finished model, which I photographed on stage for my records, stood about four feet high. In the actual final ad, a couple of people were composited in, positioned by the bridge and looking up at the castle (without the benefit of Photoshop, which had not been invented yet).

Making Models and Props (part 1)

During my boyhood years, my favorite hobby was building plastic model kits of monsters, heroes, animals, cars, science replicas, space ships, and occasionally airplanes. Many of my skills came from that disciplined pastime of working patiently with paints and glues, cutting with blades, and filling and sanding seams, to achieve the goal of creating a perfect miniature. My assembling of model kits brought an intimate understanding of how things are constructed and how they function in the real world - everything from human anatomy to automobile engines. I was served well by those skills when I later began to create my hand-made independent stop-motion films and eventually worked professionally as a model maker and prop builder for the motion picture and advertising industries.

Giant robots guarding a gate


My first real model-making gig was a job at Introvision in 1985, where I worked on a pilot project called Danger Quest under the supervision of Gene Rizzardi. In collaboration with model maker Zuzana Swansea, I was given the task of fabricating a mountain wall landscape with a cave-like entrance. Our technique entailed the carving of the basic shapes out of styrofoam, then etching the foam by squirting it with acetone, resulting in a lunar rock appearance. The acetone/foam reaction released some toxic gasses, requiring us to wear protective garments and respirators. From the start, I experienced some of the possible hazards in the world of professional model making! Other model makers built the cool robot guards which were added to the scene after we completed the miniature background set. After the setup had been lit on stage by the camera crew, I was able to photograph the full scene in 3-D for my personal collection.

Spaceship Junkyard

Wrecked spaceship in futuristic junkyard


In 1986, visual effects company Introvision International was developing a movie project - an outer space version of the classic novel Treasure Island, entitled Treasure Planet. The company filmed a test sequence, most of which took place in a spaceship junkyard, to help attract financial backing for the project. The sequence utilized the "Introvision" process, a unique variation of the front-projection technique which allowed actors to be composited in-camera; accordingly, they were seamlessly integrated into an imaginary background without the need for post-processing.

Serendipitous Still Photographer

Jack Skellington in a hall meeting

Feature film productions traditionally hire a "Unit Still Photographer" whose job it is to shoot images for use in the promotion of a movie. Unintentionally and in a very different manner from the norm, I became the primary still photographer for The Nightmare Before Christmas. I was hired to be a character animator for the project; however, I just happened to be an avid 3-D stereo photographer who loved to capture amazing stop-motion setups in 3-D for my private collection. At the point when the movie was nearing completion, Disney publicity decided that they needed some compelling photos to promote the film and, incredibly, no one had been officially assigned to shoot the stills! Their only hope was to make an appeal to the crew for their personal pictures of the production. Surprisingly, they determined my stills were exactly what they needed. The publicity department had no interest in the 3-D aspect; however, the photos worked equally well in standard 2-D format. We reached an agreement and my pictures were used in the big pre-release promotional push of the film in 1993. I have to admit that it was highly gratifying to see so many of my photos published in several major magazines and newspapers as part of The Nightmare Before Christmas marketing strategy.

Arcimboldo Modern

Back in the 16th century, Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo created portraits of people, wonderfully weird as they were constructed of food, plants, animals, and household objects. Four hundred years later, in the 1980's, wine coolers came on the scene and were all the rage in the United States. It may seem that these two events, unrelated and centuries apart, have nothing in common; however, in 1988, I was commissioned to bring an Arcimboldo-inspired character to life for a California Cooler advertisement by a company called Limelight. Producer Prudence Fenton and director Stephen R. Johnson sent me on a mission - to construct a man made out of fruit and to animate him via stop-motion. A daunting task indeed!

Walking a Different Path

Sometimes the right conditions occur to bring something extraordinary into being. This was the case with my avant-garde short film The Wanderer, a 1981 collaboration with the amazing athlete Mark Daniel. Both outliers, and driven toward unusual goals, Mark and I teamed up on a project that resulted in some remarkable cinematic achievements. The creation of our film, however, was the outcome of several years of previous efforts.

Humorous Hunting Trophies

The Canadian Restaurant chain Montana's Cookhouse once had an advertising campaign featuring an unusual comedy team: talking trophy heads of a moose and a deer. I was hired by the visual effects company, Beau Studio, to animate the character performance of these two taxidermic animals. The commercials were very popular and we ultimately made six of them from 2006 through 2009. This project was an aesthetic challenge because it was imperative that the characters be likable and charming; however, the very concept of two hunting trophies being alive and talking is in itself somewhat macabre!

Lucid Dream

I have been exploring the possibilities of creating a painting brought to life. With that goal in mind I produced an unusual fusion, Lucid Dream, being both one of my latest experimental films and one of my earliest. The movie was given a painterly impressionistic look by digitally post processing an "animated dance" originally shot on Super 8 film circa 1980!

Page 2 / 4

A look behind the scenes of art-making and other musings by .

fractal picture

See More Articles:

Howie and pumpkin from The Nightmare Before Christmas Skellington Incident

Pillsbury doughboy baking a pie Stop-Motion Doughboy

Aliens from Encounter movie Making ENCOUNTER

mouse riding motorcycle Stop-Motion Field Trip

nimslo camera Anaglyph Technique

Frog as a knight St. Frog and the Dragon

Mother and father trolls Meet the Umblebums

Carrot characters Fairy Tale Surrealism

3 cavemen Sculpting Cavemen

A reindog and elf The Red-Nosed Reindog

Disney popsicles Making Mickey's Parade

Freddy nightmare Nightmares Made Real

tattooed lady Tattoo Parlor Diorama

face of Night Scorp Gigantic Scorpions

animator with stop-motion puppet Chroma Key Animation

bodybuilder Frank Zane posing The Living Body as Sculpture

Man runs in a sewer movie set Starting at the Bottom

Animated bottle cap character Zippy the Cap

Stone Giant stop-motion puppet The End of Dynamation

Candy on a boys face Eye Candy

Dancing figures Lucid Dream

Talking deer and moose hunting trophies Wacky Trophy Heads

Handstanding figure over river valley Making THE WANDERER

Portrait of man made of fruit Creating a Fruit Man

Portrait of Jack Skellington Nightmare Still Photos

Spacecraft Wreckage Spaceship Junkyard

Closeup of a robot Models and Props pt. 1

Watch shaped like a mouse Models and Props pt. 2

Train locomotive Models and Props pt. 3

Face of a cute dinosaur Young Iguanodon

ice skating hersheys kisses Lively Kisses

shopping mall Making Mall Mania

powerful super hero Extreme Heroic Poses

The character Kait from Gears of War Motion Mixture

Clay fox sculpture in the snow Pee-Wee Christmas Title

A singing cartoon box character Lounge Singer

An animated sea lion Sea Lion Ballet

Masked monster The Evil Within

flying reptile Learning CGI in the 90s

flying reptile Disney's Dinosaur

© 2006-2023 Joel Fletcher
contact