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Escape From L.A. > Exclusive Interviews > Fireball Tim (Concept Artist)

How did you end up being a concept and storyboard artist?

I went to school as a transportation designer at Art Center (College of Design) but ended up at Disney's Imagineering. While there for three years I did concept for five different parks and built a pretty good repertoire. By the time I went into film (1991) I could pretty much work in any genre. Disney was a great place to bounce daily from sci-fi to western to fantasy and adventure. In an average week I'd do cars for Autopia, Indiana Jones paintings, Toontown props and Beauty & The Beast architecture. It was awesome. For storyboards, I just wanted to learn to direct. The best way to do that was to board and make as many mistakes as possible. Some very painful. I've boarded with David Twohy in his house, Guillermo Del Toro in an editing bay and even created fight scenes on a lawn at Universal Studios. I have a background in martial arts which helped me get hired doing those. Nothing like beating the crap out of the Director! ;-) But all in all, I'm had wonderful teachers and great experiences.

How did you get the assignment to be the Concept Artist for Escape From L.A.?

I don't remember how it actually happened but once John (Carpenter) (Director/Co-Writer/Co-Composer)
found out that I was the son of Anthony Lawrence who wrote/produced Elvis which he directed we hit it off. But the production designer Larry Paull (Lawrence G. Paull) got me the interview. We had worked together before but John wanted someone who could board and do concept also. Our personalities fit and we both liked twinkies. ;-)

How did you and Joseph Musso (Illustrator) collaborate?

Joe and I worked well together. We would sometimes work on a similar piece from a different angle or John wanted two interpretations of the same thing. But Joe and I would crack each other up all day. He was (and is) a funny guy. Pretty sure he just did concept as I did both concept and boards. But a great working relationship as he was the head of the Union and also worked on one of my Dad's TV Shows Jean LaFitte: Part 1-2 (Swiss Family Robinson) in the 70s. He's an old-timer!

How was the experience working with John Carpenter (Director/Co-Writer/Co-Composer), Lawrence G. Paull (Production Designer) and Bruce Crone (Art Director)?

Concept and boarding are very different animals. Concept artists rarely work with the directors but work consistently with productions designers and art directors. I'll read the script and the PD (Production Designer) will dole out key frames he wants me to concentrate on for money shots. Or, I'll be assigned props and just go to town on them without direction. Just come up with cool shit. Guns, costumes, props, vehicles. Boarding is done directly with the director and I don't ever see the PD (Production Designer). Honestly, Larry didn't give too much creative direction as did JC (John Carpenter). I just pumped it out like there was no tomorrow for nine months. Many hi-concept f
ilms take a year of development and even longer in post. Even my storyboards were shot as is which is why I became a director. By the time I got together with John Carpenter he was directly shooting my boards shot for shot. I was really creating the shots as per his request but the angles, lens and actions dynamics were mine. That experience led me into directing commercials. I appreciate that from him. Collaboration with Larry and Bruce was great. Bruce was always cracking jokes but was very good at what he did. Options weren't explored too much as time didn't allow it but we were all on the same page. They just built what I did and even Larry gave it the thumbs up. Pretty much everything I designed was built and Larry's only input other than saying, "Do this page." was "Nice job." I went on to Plasticman with Larry at Warner Brothers after that so we did several projects together until he retired.

Did you have any reference material when you drew the L.A. landmarks for instance and did John Carpenter, Lawrence G. Paull and Bruce Crone have any favorite of your drawings?

We always had a lot of reference in designing landmarks so we knew what we could destroy and what should stay.
Larry's favorite piece was the one that was finished. ;-) Relief was in his eyes more than anything and we were all very proud when we saw it get shot.

1: Santa Monica Pier
2: Downtown L.A.
3: Capitol Records
4: Wilshire Canyon
5: Century City

Which designs for the movie are you the most proud of and did you drew any inspiration from something to any of your drawings? If so, is there any specific design or designs you'd like to discuss further?

I'm always most proud of the cars. I love vehicle design although weapons and wild props are fun too. Did a bunch for Mouse Hunt as well. Larry Paull let me run with the cars and oversee the builds. Once I did that I really didn't want to do much else and got known for that. I'm not a builder like my famous buddy George Barris but I am the guy who sends him the sketches. I've done cars for about 400 films now and it never gets old plus I get to share them in books.

1: Cuervo Jones' Cadillac
2: USPF's (United States Police Force) Double Blade Helicopter

How come some of the designs were never used in the movie like the Gun Barrell and Cuervo Jones' (George Corraface) Monster Truck Cadillac for instance? Was there something you were disappointed to see go?

Always but movies come down to budget. We create at 100 percent but 50 percent gets used. Many times I've had designs turned down only to re-introduce them into another film.

What's your favorite memory or memories of working on the movie?

I worked at Paramount Studios and it's a really cool lot. They were shooting Star Trek there and I'd always see funky characters walking around. But along with Paramount being next to a really awesome pasta place I think working with John and Kurt (Russell) (Snake Plissken/Producer/Co-Writer) was the best thing. Kurt was very humble and easy to be around. On set at Universal Studios he suggested that one of the hotel facades be called the St. Lawrence because he appreciated the weapons I created for him and there were going to be a lot of holes rocketing through the hotel. Everyone on the shoot was kind and easy to work with. We had a great time and I was given a long leash to play. Very grateful for the experience.

What do you think of the movie personally?

The movie is more of a comedic version of Escape From New York. Everyone knew that but John just really wanted to have fun with it and make it a bit of a mock to the first one. He knew it would not surpass it as Escape From New York was very strong. He wanted Escape From L.A. to be hip, fun, relaxed in tenor and visually cool. I think he achieved that and Kurt had a good time too.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I really enjoy doing my talk show 5Minute Drive and traveling for automotive events. I host the only Automotive Film Festival in Monterey for Pebble Beach and travel across the world to other car shows. When I'm home I surf, do my books and play with my pups and family. It's chill.

Thank you for your time, Tim.

More about Fireball Tim here:

Photos: Copyright 2015 Fireball Tim