Though the cinematic conception of Planet Krypton as a world founded on crystal technology may be credited to Star Wars designer John Barry, it may come as a surprise that the final designs for Superman’s alien mechanizations were rendered by the man most famous for the iconic look of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Despite their infamy, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind insisted on hiring the best of the best across the industry for their productions and the late Harry Lange, now known as ‘the man who saw the future’ was no exception.
Credited as an ‘Astronautics Consultant’ for Richard Lester’s Superman II, German born Hans Kurt Lange (bottom pic, holding the astronaut helmet he designed for 2001) was solely responsible for the interior/exterior work on the Artemis II space capsule set (third pic) realised with such authenticity it could’ve passed as a real spacecraft –
“I’d seen real hardware at Cape Canaveral and in NASA’s research laboratories and hangars, so I knew what the equipment had to look like. A piece of board with blue squares stuck on it may do for TV, but not when you want to do something on a Cinerama screen. It had to be absolutely perfect. I kept that idea in my following films: Star Wars, Superman, James Bond…”
While comparisons between the earth-based hardware in II, Kubrick’s classic and Moonraker evidently bear Lange distinctive style, it is the Kryptonian computers/memory banks (first & second pic) that are standout examples of fantasy art elegantly realised. While the console (second pic) could easily be the basis of Superman’s computer in the Fortress Of Solitude revised for Superman II, one wonders if he was involved uncredited as early as Donner’s original movie as this lot of illustrations from his estate (in auction this month by Propstore) clearly show a bank of computers mounted in the arch of Lex Luthor’s underground hideaway…
Read Harry’s obituary from the UK Independent here…
When the Propstore of London declare the assortment of Super lots above is from ‘The most exciting live auction of contemporary props and costumes ever offered in Europe’ you’d better believe it.
In an astonishing portfolio that makes such collections offered by Profiles In History look like a yard sale, Propstore has assembled some of the most iconic pieces from decades of cinematic history all going under the gavel from October 16th.
The Superman series is well-represented with some rare and highly-desirable lots (some never before exhibited to the public) from storyboards, (shown extensively in the many Superman ‘Making Of’ documentaries on DVD) to beautiful production artwork (of the Artemis II module from Superman II, bottom Pic) by Harry Lange.
Alongside the mock Daily News newspaper (top) and fabulous example of Christopher Reeve’s autograph (on a rare still), the highlight must be the production-used bust of Reeve created by Stuart Freeborn. Though variations of his lifecast are somewhat common now, this full-head plaster model is utterly unique in its purpose of crafting hairpieces for the late actor.
For those wishing to view the calibre of artefacts in person, selection of 200 lots will be on display at the Vue Cinema in White City from the 1st to the 16th of October. Bidding is multi-channel and open now so don’t miss the opportunity to secure your dream item…
SUPERMANIA is pleased to continue its serialisation of unpublished material from the production-used ‘Big Red Book’ of storyboards for Superman IV: The Quest For Peace in a post originally intended to celebrate reuniting the artist with his work.
This past July, tenured UK penciller Martin Asbury was scheduled to attend the Summer London Film & Comic Con – his first convention appearance – and SUPERMANIA was looking forward to presenting him with some of his earlier works while hopefully obtaining a sketch/getting pics and maybe even a quote or two.
Alas, disappointingly Martin cancelled last minute and the trip was abandoned (despite missing the opportunity of meeting both Jeff East and Helen Slater). Hopes are high Martin has been asked to attend the Winter Con so this ambition can eventually be fulfilled.
Meantime, exclusive vintage footage of Martin at work in the Superman IV Art Department drawing boards from the cut nightmare sequence at the start of the film is upcoming. In a short interview, Martin talks about the collaborative process and the process of storytelling. Look out for the upcoming post about Elstree Studios soon..!
After the long term loan of the incredible Superman costume display from the Propstore Of London had expired, the London Film Museum required fresh Superhero items to exhibit.
While nothing could ever compete with the splendid ‘Hall Of Superheroes’, (the Michael Keaton Batman/Returns suit also returning to its owner) the former Movieum nevertheless sourced a new (albeit curious) menagerie of props to fill the gap until its eventual closure of the South Bank site last year.
These extraordinary shots from the flickr album of firstname.lastname@example.org depict a group of objects pertaining to be from the original Superman series hastily assembled against a somewhat underacheived backdrop (top pic).
The first prop (second pic) hanging from the ceiling is apparently a large flying miniature of Christopher Reeve (although there was no signage to verify this as a production used or made piece) in appropriate condition for its age but sporting a baggy costume and what appears to be short PVC cape.
The second mystery is the giant upper portion of a magnificent rendering of the Statue Of Liberty. Again, with no signage to which picture this was attributed there is no way to verify its use or authenticity (Superman IV’s torn away cape shot??) although the build quality definitely suggests screen used.
Lastly, there thankfully could be no doubt regarding the provenance of what would be proven as a legitimate prop from Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. In remarkable condition given its age and materials used, the baby Kal-El starship is notable for being the only item on show to feature signage, albeit misleading and inaccurate.
The current whereabouts of these pieces is sadly unknown. With the London Film Museum becoming a a permanent display of Bond Vehicles over in its Covent Garden site (see the last Superman item to be exhibited there here) its doubtful they will be seen again for some time. If anybody can update SUPERMANIA as to the fate of these props, feel free to get in touch..!
It may have taken over thirty years to clarify but when Perry White confronts his Daily Planet staff about the mysterious ‘flying whatchamacallit’ and asks “What does he keep hidden under that cape of his?? Batteries!?” The answer, most emphatically, is yes.
Courtesy of SuperFan Steve Lumsdon comes yet another SUPERMANIA exclusive and tribute to the ingenuity of special effects craftsmen of yesteryear. Pictured above is the finest reference to date of the legendary ‘Cape Flapping’ device built by Colin Chilvers & Co. to simulate convincing movement whilst ‘in flight”. The mechanism was created out of necessity to control the flow of the cape whilst star Christopher Reeve was suspended on the infamous ‘Pole Arm’ or wire flying rig.
Operated by remote control, the custom unit consisted of a motor and battery pack housed in an aluminum box which was mounted on Reeve’s back by a velcro attachment (third pic). When activated, the motor would drive the umbrella-like poles (covered in cape fabric to blend seamlessly into folds) up & down at random to create ripples. Besides the full-size version, at least one more was created, amazingly, in miniature for models in certain scenes.
As the production team in 1978 worked hard to preserve the illusion that ‘you will believe a man can fly’ by not revealing the details on how many of the effects were achieved, this device was widely considered a myth until it was officially acknowledged in the extras on the Superman: The Movie Special Edition on DVD. Although undetectable for the vast majority of the Salkind produced films (including Supergirl) in which it was used, the scene where Superman swoops down to save Frisky from the tree and the blooper from Superman III (Bottom pic) are the best proof of its existence until now…
For the enviable opportunity of owning this piece of SFX Magic and cinema history, catch Steve’s auction here…