Press > Exclusive
Interviews > Mark Stetson (Uncredited Model Builder: Escape From New York)
How did you end up being a Visual
In 1977, I was continuing my studies in industrial design at Art Center College
of Design in Pasadena, California. I also had a little over a year of
professional training as an industrial design model maker at General Electric
Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I went to see
Star Wars on opening night at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. I was blown
away from the opening shot. I realized that I was looking at miniatures, I knew
that I could make those miniatures, and I had an epiphany that I could be
pursuing that work instead of product design. A few months later, two of my
classmates at Art Center, Christopher Ross and Tom Pahk, answered a job notice
to work on miniatures for the upcoming Star Trek
movie. A few months after that, I started pestering them and their boss, Jim
Dow, to try to get on that crew. In April 1978, Jim hired me and my new career
began. I ultimately worked for three different companies on
Star Trek – The Motion Picture as I followed
those models on their journey to the screen.
How did you get the assignment to
be a Model Maker with John C. Wash (John Wash) (Graphic Displays) for the
wire-frame computer graphics city models in Escape From New York?
I can't remember who recommended me to John. Perhaps it was Greg Jein or Pat
McClung. I was working in set construction for a TV series when he
called. I promptly quit that job and
equipped a model shop in the garage of the house I was renting. John
worked very collaboratively, and together we worked out the concept of the
miniatures and how they were to be made. Then I bought the additional tools and
built the fixtures we would need to accomplish the tasks.
How did you figure out how to accomplish these effects? What kind of obstacles did you encounter and who came up with
using high-contrast lithographic line art glued to the models for instance?
John came up with that idea. He started his career as a talented effects
animator, and had already accumulated extensive experience with photographic
effects animation techniques. He also came up with the idea of re-photographing
the footage on high-contrast stock to build contrast and try to take out as much
shading of the shapes as possible, to better simulate computer displays.
That technique was used for the larger scale model. For
the small-scale model, John created line artwork of Manhattan and its streets,
and had it blown up to 4 feet by 8 feet and dry mounted onto lauan plywood. I
think a company called Bob Olsen Photo Blow-Up Lab performed
the Photostat and dry-mounting work. Then
I built some jigs to cut up 1Ž4" thick white Plexiglas into little shapes
ranging in size from about 1Ž2"H x 1Ž2"W x 1Ž4"D to 3"H x 1Ž2"W x 1Ž4"D to
represent each city block on the map, with a generalized height. We spray
painted all those thousands of blocks opaque black, and then used a little Dremel router set up with some custom jigs to mill the edges off each of the
blocks, revealing the white plastic color beneath. That
gave us our city block outlines for the wide view map. It was very tedious but
it worked well and it gave us a very consistent line thickness. We
then hot-glued those shapes onto the dry-mounted line map.
How long did it take to build the
remember exactly. Probably 5-6 weeks, working as a crew of three. Besides John
and me, I hired an assistant, Kathy Iguchi, the wife of one of the original
Dream Quest Images founders Fred Iguchi. My wife Leslie was a working commercial
photographer at that time and she helped shoot the test model we built to verify
- In the photos of the test shoot, you will see John Wash, my
wife Leslie with her 4x5 view camera, and me in the yellow t-shirt.
- In the
photos of the model construction, you will see John Wash, Kathy Iguchi, and me.
Test Model Shoot
How involved were you and John during the filming of the
models at Dream Quest and how were the models shot?
John Wash and I were both
involved in shooting the models at Dream Quest. Dream Quest Images had just been
formed by a group of smart and talented guys who had been working for Douglas
Trumbull (where I met them, working on
Star Trek – The Motion
There were seven partners in Dream Quest Images, if I remember correctly: Hoyt
Yeatman, Scott Squires, Rocco Gioffre, Fred Iguchi, Bob Hollister and Tom
Hollister. Hoyt, Scott and Rocco lived together in a rental tract house in a
suburban neighborhood in Mar Vista, and they were using that house as their
headquarters. They were building a motion control camera rig in their two-car
garage, and writing software and painting matte paintings for demo projects in
John and I visited DQ to check the feasibility of shooting the miniatures with
the motion control setup in the garage, and then designed the tabletops
accordingly. As you can see from the pictures, the motion control rig worked
best and the miniatures were easier to light when the tabletops were turned on
their sides. That required some extra gusseting and bulkheads in the models to
screw them down. Final assembly of the larger-scaled models was accomplished in
DQ's back yard outside the garage.
I think John Wash mentioned
the snorkel lens that was used for photography. I can't remember if that was a
lens that DQ kept or if it was a rental. The snorkel lens was certainly a tool
that DQ put to great use over the ensuing years. The tiny-scale model of
Manhattan for the wide approach shot was assembled with just hot glue attaching
the little acrylic building blocks to the tabletop, so the sideways rigging
under the hot studio lights in the confined space of the garage caused the
little buildings to constantly fall off. The DQ stage crew took up the task of
model maintenance once we had delivered the models and solved the basic rigging
problems. Bob Hollister and Tom Hollister were both experienced stage-hands in
the Trumbull organization, so they were quite adept at handling the miniatures.
John Wash stayed close to the shoot throughout photography, as the VFX (Visual
supervisor responsible for creating the display graphics. He then of course took
the footage and reprocessed it and added text graphics to it, working from his
studio in Hollywood. I went right into my next projects, working for Greg Jein
with Robert Short and David Heilman, to build the first
prototype, after which I started a design study mockup for the Spinner for
the project that made my career. It
was a busy little garage that summer in 1980.
- In the photos of the shoot at Dream Quest, there
are very cool shots of Scott Squires reviewing a data printout and Rocco Gioffre
drawing a dinosaur at the kitchen table. There is another cool shot of Hoyt
Yeatman and Fred Iguchi in the garage, building the lighting tent around the
motion control rig and the model, with Leslie Stetson looking on in the
Dream Quest Start Up Studio - Mar Vista Garage
The model sets were
also used in early pre-production of Blade Runner. According to IMDb, a
model of the city was repainted and reused for Blade Runner. Since you
were the Chief Model Maker for the movie, how much of this is true and how come
that you used the models for Blade Runner?
Yes, that's true. We used the large-scale models as study models for shot
planning with the main cityscape building set. Then we painted them black to use
them as silhouette shapes to fill out the backgrounds of some shots.
Blade Runner Model Shop
What happened to the models after Blade Runner?
At that point they had become basically just black
wooden blocks. They didn't have much value other than as last minute space
fillers. So, like many other miniatures, the effort and expense of storing them
exceeded their immediate value and they were recycled or discarded.
What's your favorite memory
or memories of working on the movie?
There were several. First, it was my first
freelance miniatures contract, which started me on my path of running model
shops and my own business for the next 15 years or so. I enjoyed meeting John
and his family. We have remained friends since those days. I enjoyed working
with John. We clicked well, and we worked on many other projects together after
that one. I also remember visiting the set with John while they were shooting at
my alma mater Art Center College of Design, and seeing how locations so familiar
to me could be used so effectively and look so different in the movie! I also
visited Roger Corman's low-budget VFX facility in Venice, CA, known as "Hammond
Lumber" because it was housed in a defunct lumberyard. There, John introduced me
to the Skotak brothers
(Robert & Dennis) (Directors
of Photography: Special Visual Effects/Matte
who were filming the night approach to Manhattan at the
time – the exterior view that we were simulating with our computer displays. I
saw some of the truly clever tricks the Skotaks were using for that scene, like
simply painting the concrete stage floor with glossy black paint to simulate New
York harbor off the tip of Manhattan. Then I was very happy to have helped
connect John with the talented group of guys who had just formed Dream Quest and
who ambitiously shot the miniatures we built with a home-built motion control
system in their garage!
What do you think of the
I am a big fan of
Escape From New York! In addition to its cult classic status, I think it is
a wonderful cultural glimpse of the time it was made, and a great satire. There
is good chemistry amongst the cast, and Kurt Russell's performance is iconic.
What are you currently doing and
what do you enjoy
doing in your spare time?
I spent the first 14 years of my
career as a model maker or supervising model crews, prop crews and creature
crews. I had my own business, Stetson Visual Services, Inc., from 1989-1995,
which specialized in miniature effects. Since 1995, I have worked as a VFX
Supervisor, sometimes working directly for the movie studios and sometimes
working for visual effects companies. For the last five years I have been
working at Zoic Studios, a mid-sized VFX company that has studios in Los
Angeles, Vancouver and New York City. I am the Creative Director of the Features
VFX Division at Zoic Studios. Zoic is known as a powerhouse for episodic
television work; the Features VFX Division is smaller than the Episodic VFX
Division. I am currently supervising VFX for
Tiger Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend.
I haven't had much free time lately. When I do, I
enjoy spending time with my family and our pets. I enjoy reading, listening to
music, watching movies, watching motorsports, and when I get outdoors and past
the chores, I enjoy skiing, diving, and underwater photography.
Thank you for your time, Mark.
Mark Stetson/Gene Kozicki