True Stories from the Action Figure Underground!
Episode 23: ID4+TLL=UFO
I was associated with Streamline, a production company in Santa Monica, headed by one Carl Macek of Robotech fame. In 1996 Streamline was approached to sculpt the action figures for “Independence Day” the movie, by its license holder Trendmasters. Delays by Trendmasters, including sending an Asian artist to the set, yielded only the Goldblum character’s likeness approved, so under the crunch Trendmasters hired Flash “Likenesses R My Specialty” Ripslinger, under Streamlines' auspices, to sculpt the likenesses of Will Smith and Bill Pullman.
I met with Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich (Stargate, Godzilla, Day After Tomorrow) as Devlin was first approval before the talent saw the sculpts. They were filming at the sets built in the old Hughes Aircraft Hangers off Jefferson Blvd just north of LAX (Los Angeles International Airport), part of the land that SKG were to build their highly contentious “city/studio” and right where Oliver Stone recreated Ground Zero for his 911 film.
I had been provided mug shots of Pullman and Smith but the original photographer decided to tilt the camera up from Pullman’s height when photographing Smith instead of raising the camera to a horizontal level to match Smith’s height, therefore they were inaccurate photos for references. I was yet appreciative of rap and hip-hop and was not a viewer of the “Fresh Prince” or of any TV at that time, so in order to do my job I needed to see Will in person and everyone obliged.
Since I had been there previously, Security at the main ex-Hughes offices, now transformed into the production company Centropolis’ head offices, just sent me on my way unassisted. I was to go through the first hanger and then meet up with Devlin’s assistant Dionne McNeff, who I’d met previously.
As I entered the first hanger everything was quiet and I immediately sensed a presence.
There, almost hovering above me was the complete full-sized Alien Craft right from the movie; the one that Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith take off in to save the day!
Take this all in: I’m alone in a real aircraft hanger, a Howard Hughes Hanger, which added surreal credibility to an actual full-size nuts ‘n’ bolts UFO! A real UFO!
This was totally cool! Remember I may be one of the few humans other than crew, actors, etc. to have seen this U.F.O. months before the movie’s premiere!
It didn’t take a lot of imagination to suspend belief for a few moments and let go - I was alone with a UFO in an actual Hanger 18 style! It was as real as anything! I soaked it up as I slowly walked around and then under the Alien Craft doing the naughty by touching every part within reach, then as I slowly started up the same ramp that the main characters walk down in the movie, I continued to look back and savor the UFO.
Once up the ramp I maneuvered between massive curtains that seemed to hang from the sky and then met up with Devlin’s Assistant Dionne - and now here's where it gets even better, well, maybe not better, but very cool!
To set the stage so to speak, this was at the height of Action Figure Mania, when it seemed like EVERYONE was a collector and business was booming and zooming and was the reason why I was even there. As I'm led behind the huge sets, I meet Patrick Tatopoulos the Alien and Set Designer for ID4 (and future Godzilla designer as well as Matthew Broderick’s namesake in that movie) and he checks out the sculpts, smiles at the dead-on Pullman but sees with a discerning eye why I’m here to see Will. We continued behind the maze of curtains and as we rounded the corner I see Dean in his director’s chair and all these actors that I recognized from past films (that were in this film) are on the Air Force One set. Dionne alerts Dean to my arrival, he stops what he’s doing and turns in his chair to greet me and everyone looks to see who deserved such interest! Well of course, it's the "action figure guy”!
Dean was actually happy to see me, I knew it was due to his interest in enjoying the licensing/action figure/toy process, as we all did - it was FUN, everyone smiled and I was welcomed to the set!
Being an action figure designer/sculptor back then was like being a mini-rock star – everyone seemed to light-up when you told them your profession and seemed to be happier when around you. I believe it’s a safe release/return to re-enjoy the fun sense of childhood and imagination, for those of us fortunate enough to have had one, and also ‘cuz Action Figures are COOL!
I met with Dean and Roland too, briefly, and after Will shot his scene he met with me, I’m 5”10” and Will’s well over 6’, so he takes a wide "at ease" stance so that he is eye level with me and I study him for a moment or two and say “O.K. Got it!” and everyone is happy, I thank Will, we shake hands, I leave, sculpt a dynamite likeness, come back again, get approval and get paid - Flash Ripslinger – Professional Outside Contractor!
Unfortunately, Trendmasters’ delays caused the manufacturers’ deadline to substitute a generic African American head, …that’s right, all for naught! The only place to see the photos of my original sculpts of Will Smith and Bill Pullman is on the back of the action figure cards - you’ll need a magnifying glass. Pullman’s sculpt they used, …as a guide for a normal factory two-up re-sculpt, …sigh.
On the Mondo Positive side - I got to experience, under ideal, intimate real life conditions, a “close encounter” with a UFO!
Thus concludes another episode of Flash Ripslinger: True Stories from the Action Figure Underground!
Flash Ripslinger is the state of mind alter-ego of Terry Lattimer recalling those 24-7-365 Daring Action Figure Days of Yesteryear!
All concepts, storylines, characters, logos, designs, 2D, 3D, 4D and digital art © ™ 2008 I.C. Inc. All Rights Reserved.