Friday, July 8, 2016


Joshua Lawrence Meador, head of Walt Disney Studios Effects Department was on loan to MGM Studios for the FORBIDDEN PLANET project.  Pinocchio had recently wrapped up, allowing Joshua to work on the MGM title.  Harper Goff at MGM originated the contact with Walt Disney about the film.  

16 scenes were animated.  Each 30" x 12" animation cell was drawn on white fine stock animation paper using a conti crayon. Art Cruickshank photographed the actual paper drawings onto false sensitized duping stock No. 5245 in the Disney camera department with contrast burn-in elements and mattes to produce the final composites.  Different color filters produced a full color effect from the black-and-white animation.  

Each element of the shot, such as laserblasts, was photographed separately onto its own piece of film.  A “glow glass” was used in the photography, a heavy light diffusing device which added a soft edge on the drawing, creating the illusion that a hot energy filed was making the creature visible. The MGM Optical Department, head Irving Reis, optically combined the final composite. 

The Id Monster was conceived by Ken Hultgren, freelance artist, contracted by Joshua Meador.  Ken came up with the final design modeled after the MGM Leo the Lion trademark.

Monday, March 11, 2013

An exciting event here in Burbank, CA, the center of the media industry, celebrating the history and renaissance of practical and in-camera Special Effects.



Burbank, CA - March 10, 2013 - Documentary DVD and Book signing featuring veteran effects artists and a tribute to the history of Special Effects on Sunday, April 14th at 2:00 PM.

Editors for the newly published memoirs of A. Arnold "Buddy" Gillespie will be signing The Wizard of MGM.  Buddy Gillespie  was the Head of the Special Effects Department at MGM Studios from 1924-1965.  He contributed to such movie classics as Wizard of Oz, Ben-Hur, Forbidden Planet, 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, and Tarzan.  The 384 page book includes hundreds of never before published photographs, illustrations, technical details, and whimsical stories of the Golden Age of Hollywood at its largest Dream Factory.  Included is an introduction by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

Veteran effects artists will be signing the documentary DVD Sense of Scale, a personal behind the scenes look into the fantastic miniature world of movie special effects as told by the model makers themselves.  These contemporary artists brought such features as Terminator 2, Armageddon, Alien, Star Wars, Batman and many more to life.

Philip J. Riley, co-editor of The Wizard of MGM will be signing Horror of Dracula and The Invisible Man, alternate film history tales for these horror movie classics.  Film historian and author, Philip J. Riley has contributed to the horror genre for the past 40 years, including historical references for Frankenstein, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and London After Midnight. 

Dark Delicacies Book Store
3512 W. Magnolia
Burbank, CA 91505
Sunday, April 14th @ 2:00 PM


Wizard of MGM book cover - Web image. Wizard of MGM signing flyer.
Sense of Scale signing flyer. Philip J. Riley book collection flyer.

Friday, December 28, 2012

About The Cover

Quite a few people have asked about the cover and why the original book title was changed.

   "Buddy wouldn't consider himself to be the 'Wizard'."
   "Shouldn't the book be exactly as Buddy envisioned, including the cover and original title?"

Over the course of recompiling the manuscript revisions, talking to publishers and contemporary effectsmen, many persuaded us to update the cover, appealing to a new generation.  Afterall, the book was originally penned for the special effects student. 

The original concept of "Big Ones Out of Little Ones" carried a lot of metaphors; miniatures used in blockbuster movies, little ideas that develop into bigger concepts, and the many 'little' people that are the backbone of big business.  Even the king of the jungle starts out as a pup.  A bit lofty stretch for the current generation to ponder, possibly.

Buddy tested alternating red and black color schemes with varying font sizes and shapes. Exact photo layout and size were specified, as was throughout the book.  Buddy's draftsman skills at work.

For the record, this is my grandfather's manuscript, not mine. Keeping true to his original layout and detail kept me up at night.  Publishers either wanted a photo book, or, at a minimum, less words.  When a publisher buys a book, they own the rights to it outright, to do with it as they see fit.  Editing in any form, including changing the cover, was their right.  Thus, taking the advice of many respected individuals, a new cover was realized and we chose a publisher that agreed to print the book as is.

Keith Kaminiski, a good friend of mine and well respected Art Director, took up the challenge.  "Wizard of Oz" naturally draws up quite a few iconic images; the famous poppy field matte painting, the green Wizard bust floating in front of ominous fire pots as the Wizard's alter ego floats above, the witches castle, on and on.  Buddy's book chronicles his life's journey.  The "yellow brick road" metaphor seemed very appropriate.

Buddy also directed MGM's logo title sequences, featuring several of the Leo the Lions, shot by his good friend, Harold J. Marzorati.  This too, seemed very appropriate.

Keith took all these and more into consideration.  He hand drew Buddy's bust and each element in PhotoShop.  The black and white contrast, similar to the "Wizard of Oz" movie, represents the story telling of the book as Buddy takes the reader by the hand to the glory days of MGM.

Metaphors are still relevant and accessible.  MGM being "Oz", and the wizards of MGM the effectsmen and craftsmen that toiled over minute details.  Their subtle magic displayed proudly on screens worldwide.  Yes, it may seem as if the title and cover are a bit gratuitous given the company Buddy shared with Cedric Gibbons, Donald Jahraus, Paul Irebe, and other movie magic geniuses.  But this is his book.  His tribute to teams at MGM.  And his life lessons for us all to consider.  One of a team of Wizards of MGM.

MagicImage Filmbooks announced the upcoming title in their flyer sent out in 1989.  The airman photo, one of many images still missing, might be that of Floyd "Speed" Nolta. 

The complete newsletter included announcements for "Mr. Science Fiction's Fantastic Universe" (available in VHS or Beta), The Gernsback Awards, And Forrest J. Ackerman's "Famous Monsters of Filmland".

"The Memories of Patsy Ruth Miller", Filmography by Jeffrey Carrier and Introduction by William K. Everson was also featured in this mailer.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Wizard of MGM by A. Arnold Gillespie


Every art has its stars. Buddy Gillespie’s star shone brightly in the Hollywood motion picture industry for more than four decades as a creator of dramatic, eye-popping visual effects for Hollywood’s major motion pictures.

A master of both art and technology, he served as head of special effects on more than 180 major feature films at Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Studios, endowing their stories and adventures with unforgettable images that enhanced and supported their dramatic impact. For his work in these cinematic milestones he was rewarded with twelve Academy award nominations and four Oscars.

This very readable and richly illustrated set of memoirs chronicles the life and work of one of Hollywood’s most distinguished filmmakers, describing his career in detail and revealing the complex techniques with which he achieved his results.
Dr. Raymond Fielding, Dean Emeritus
College of Motion Picture Arts
Florida State University

The artistic vision of A. Arnold Gillespie set the bar for special effects as the film industry evolved during MGM’s golden age of Hollywood.

"Buddy’s" seamless in-camera miniature, pyrotechnic and mechanical effects have inspired me since I can remember and his stunning sequences have laid the ground work for my career. Even in this digital effects age, the timeless techniques that Buddy pioneered I still employ on some of today’s biggest blockbuster films, allowing Buddy’s legacy in the magic of Hollywood to persevere.
Matthew Gratzner
Visual Effects Supervisor and Co-founcer,
New Deal Studios

Back before effects artists were the rock stars they are today, when most toiled in anonymity, often without screen credit, a few celebrated masters stood head and shoulders above the rest. Among those, none stood taller than Buddy Gillespie, who spent most of his 40-year film career as head of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer special effects department, where he contributed cinematic illusions to such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, North by Northwest, Forbidden Planet and Ben-Hur, setting the standard for excellence in matte work, miniatures and other photographic effects. His legacy endures to this day.
Don Shay
Publisher, Cinefex

About The Book

"Wizard of MGM" was originally titled "Big Ones out of Little Ones".  The entire book, except for the Introduction by Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn,  was authored by A. Arnold "Buddy" Gillespie in 1965. 

Buddy kept an extensive archive of effects he worked on throughout his career.  Starting from 1922 with C.B. Demille, to 1965 retiring as the head of MGM Special Effects, Buddy had contributed to over 400 films.  Each chapter immerses the reader into the artistry and MGM studio machine; matte painting, miniatures, process shots, optical and animation, includuing inner workings of the studio itself.
AAG measuring for "Wizard of Oz" process shot.
The Effects team suited up in waders in Tank Lot 3 for Ben-Hur.
The author with "Forbidden Planet" rover miniature.
"Guy Named Joe" (1944) 3/4" miniature plane "flown" by 3 guide wires shot in Tank Lot 3.
"Forbidden Planet" Internal Krell Tunnel Background - Electrical driven revolving glass painted black ith a clear pattern in a spiral design.
Form 48s for "Forbidden Planet" effects - Altair #4 Space Ship shot in Tank Lot 3 using 2' and 4' ships.  And Krell Tunnel Background effect. Cameraman Max Fabian was renown for his miniature work.

"Wizard of Oz" Flying monkey background process shot. Assebly was in front of small painted backing.  Monkeys were cast in rubber with rubber wings.  Each was hung by two staionary wires to head and feet.  Two movnig wires were fastened to tips of wings and move by accentric in overhead frame.

Auto roller for "Captain's Courageous" car body and boat.

The 378 page book is filled with over 640 photographs, illustrations, scene diagrams and extensive examples of "how they did that" back in the glory days of MGM Studios. 

As of 1963, Albert Arnold "Buddy" Gillespie worked on over 400 films including Wizard of Oz, both Ben-Hur movies, both Mutiny on the Bounty movies, Gone With the Wind and many other notable MGM blockbusters.  His career spanned some 45 years, starting from set designer, to head of Special Effects.

Buddy's prose takes the reader back in time when the MGM powerhouse first began.  Each of the chapters focuses primarily on a particular Academy recognized category for achievement.   Whimsical stories about the personalities that worked at MGM, life lessons, and technical details of how effects were achieved are interwoven together.  Historian, film and effect students, and general MGM enthusiast are each entertained as "Buddy's" personality pops off the page.  Visual representation including details set diagrams, miniatures, and the team of individuals working together to build these effects take the reader back to pre-computer generated graphics days.

This book is not only historically important, but covers material never before available in print. 

About the Author
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers by Greg S. Faller

The complete filmography of Arnold Gillespie is one of the largest in Hollywood, reaching nearly 600 films and almost evenly divided between art direction and special visual effects. He worked on both versions of Ben-Hur and Mutiny on the Bounty, created the visceral quality of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake in San Francisco, the alien beauty of Forbidden Planet, and the maleficent nightmare of The Wizard of Oz. Gillespie's work in The Wizard of Oz demonstrated the imagination, ingenuity, and patience that became his trademark. To produce the witch's skywriting of "surrender Dorothy," he used a mixture of sheep dip and nigrosine dye released through a stylus into milk in a glass tank. The attack of the flying monkeys required the hanging of 2,200 piano wires from the sound stage's ceiling.

When Gillespie began special effects work for MGM, the studio was an efficient organization, all facets of production departmentalized. He was head of the Special Effects Department under the titular guidance of Cedric Gibbons' Art Department and in charge of the crews who worked with miniatures, rear-screen projection, and full-scale mechanical effects. The other aspects of visual effects fell under two other main departments; the Optical Department (matte paintings and optical printing) and the Animation Department. Gillespie seemed particularly intrigued with miniatures (Circus Maximus in the original Ben-Hur, the sea battle in the 1959 remake, the tank chase in Comrade X, the ships in Torpedo Run, and the raft sequence in How the West Was Won) and full-scale mechanicals (Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet and the four Bountys used for the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty). But his forte lay in designing solutions for odd effects never before photographed. As in the skywriting effect described above, he usually employed liquids in a glass tank. To create the plague of locusts in The Good Earth, Gillespie dumped coffee grounds into a water tank, filmed their dispersal upside-down, and then superimposed the image with shots of the crops. For the atomic explosion in The Beginning of the End, he visualized a mushroom cloud before photographs and information were declassified by the government. By releasing blood bags under water and superimposing the image with a background shot, Gillespie manufactured an effect so believable and accurate that government officials thought he had access to secret materials. The footage was later used by the United States Air Corps in their instructional films.

Gillespie had the talent and a studio system to make the remarkable, the unexperienced, the fantastic, and the cataclysmic very believable and authentic. As he described his profession in a FilmComment interview, "The whole physical end of movies, in my opinion, was so interesting because whether the picture was modern, whether it was in the future, whether it was a dream world like The Wizard of Oz or in Outer Space like Forbidden Planet, it was illusion made real."

—Greg S. Faller