Question: When did you start collaborating with Tim Burton?
Rick: Tim and I were both at Disney, started in '79. There was some animation feature development going on that we were both involved with and my forte was kind of doing sculptures as well as working in the animation department. And I always loved Tim's drawings, so I started doing three-dimensional representations of his drawings. And that's just sort of where it started.
Question: Were you an art major?
Rick: Fine arts college -- sculpture was my major actually at Boston University School of Fine Arts. I was also very interested in animation and general fine arts, but specifically sculpture. But I also had this animation cartooning interest for a long time as well. So, it was great to go to Disney and kind of pursue that dream. That's where I started working with Tim and we were developing ideas. . just building buildings, doing sets as well as three-dimensional concepts.
Question: So, that's really how you transitioned from animation to production?
Rick: Yeah, that's how I got out of the drawing animation world of Disney. And Tim and I just started developing projects there which culminated at that time in a short film called "Vincent," a stop-motion animated film from a story that Tim had done. So, I brought my sculpture and animation experience to that. What was striking about it, apart from the subject matter, is that we used very graphic earth images and created dimensional worldly images. So, it's a three-dimensional world, but it has a very graphic quality to it, and that's sort of been the true line between all of the collaborations between Tim and me. It's that sort of 2-D, 3-D kind of merge that you can see clearly in the "Nightmare Before Christmas." After we did "Vincent," that's the next thing we worked on together, practically, and that was in '83, back when the idea was to do it as a holiday special for Disney. It sort of got shelved and we went on and did other things, and it came back to life about eight years later.
|Question: What in particular attracted you to "Sleepy Hollow?"|
Rick: I always loved the story and always loved the Disney cartoon. Even for Disney, it kind of walked the line between the horror and the humor in a really cool way, and it's also exciting to get Tim's take on this American classic. And the opportunity again to work with sort of our favorite kind of graphic imagery, spooky imagery; and once again it just sort of walks that line between humor and horror. I think what really interests Tim, and the only way he can work, is to have that tension between something that's being very spooky, very scary, and seeing the underlying humor going on; or vice versa, something being very funny and having an underlying horror to it.
Question: Were there any images from earlier films you did together that you brought back into "Sleepy Hollow?"
Rick: Sure, a lot. One in particular was way back early on in our first live action collaborations with a film called "Frankenweenie," which has a windmill in it as part of a miniature golf course and which burns down at the end.
Question: What was the most difficult element of the film to bring to life?
Rick: Gosh, there were a lot of difficult things. Probably in general the hardest thing was the fact that we were shooting exteriors on stage, as well as exteriors outside on location. And then conforming the 2 looks together, so that you'd believe they were the same place. That was tough. It worked out really well, I think. I'm pleased that, for instance, you could be on the same set on location like the cemetery and then actually shoot the cemetery on stage as an exterior as well. And you buy it because there is -- I won't say it's seamless -- but you do kind of accept the world of "Sleepy Hollow" as this sort of dreamy world. And there was a lot of smoke diffusion used on both location and exterior sets. I was nervous about that. And Tim was totally into it. He must have had a lot more confidence that we could pull it off -- more than me!
|Question: Was there anything you weren't able to construct or had to modify greatly from what you originally conceived?
Rick: You know, to be honest, I have to give the studio a lot of credit in the fact that they listened to the reasons why it made more sense to build instead of try to shoot stuff on location. That they supported Tim's vision and the need to create a world around Sleepy Hollow.
Question: What were the biggest reasons for building the sets?
Rick: Visual. You know, if you're outside in a real forest, it's very difficult to control the lighting, to control the way the smoke effects the layers of trees. When you're on a stage, you're controlling all of those things much more carefully, and you've got all of your light set up in a way that you can program. Chivo was a master at pulling all of that stuff together and really deserves a great deal of credit, I didn't mean to make it sound like I was the only person that made things look good.
Question: Who's "Chivo?"
Rick: Chivo, the DP. Emmanuel Lubezki. His nickname's Chivo which means "goat" in Spanish. Because he's such a stubborn guy, I guess, I don't know. But, for our part, we were happy to build only what was necessary for putting over the feeling, and we were able to revamp sets, reuse pieces, and just be as efficient as possible. As a result, you really see the production value up on the screen. And we're very proud of that.
|Question: What's been the most challenging project you've worked on?|
Rick: Probably "Sleepy Hollow," I would have to say. Just in terms of the physical challenge of it. The fact that we had to go to London to do it, there were also personal sacrifices involved for myself and my family. But, just in terms of even the physical demands of putting it all together, everything was difficult; this was really a fairly monumental task.
Question: What sort of research went into constructing the "Hammer" look to the film?
Rick: Well, as far the "Hammer' look goes, the "Hammer" look is something that Tim was very interested in exploring early on, and recommended that we look at "Dracula Has Risen From The Grave" and other films like that. And once you see those, you sort of get it, what he's going for. The real work is in all of the traditional sort of research that we do when working on a film like this. You study the period architecture and figure out as you get involved in the design of it just how far you want to push things. With Tim and with everything we've done together, I know that he's much more interested in the emotional content of the visual image and his feelings about it. And so we really pushed things to a very expressive degree. Nothing is particularly historically accurate, although it looks appropriate. You know there're enough textures and material and shapes that are very connected with that period to make it feel right. But we also really pushed and pulled forms, and played with forms and really tortured the houses in "Sleepy Hollow" to get a very expressive feel going into it.
Question: What do you really mean when you say "torture?"
Rick: Well, we started with simpler shapes and would add almost like tumorous growths to the shape. And we would lean things over the camera, over the road, just to get that foreboding sense. When you see the town from an overlook, it sort of feels like it's a town that's basically kind of huddling together in fear. There's a flock of sheep that we have in the field, and it wants to feel like that, sheep huddled together in fear. And so that was kind of the sensibility that I was going for. And we had a lot of fun with the materials. We ended up calling the look sort of a "colonial expressionism." The reason for that is Tim and I have always been inspired by German expressionism; the idea that imagery, particularly film imagery, has an emotional content which needs to be expressed in the way architecture appears. And it's a comment on what the audience is experiencing also, and what the story is all about and the characters in it. And so I just basically took a number of different colonial Dutch, British, French domestic architecture and kind of made a mish-mash, if you will, of a lot of different things, and threw it together. Well, we didn't throw it together -- we arranged it very carefully. We always made models of stuff, so Tim was always very involved with the designs and the layout, and the camera viewpoint, and so was Chivo. The main thing to say is that we weren't going for a historically accurate film, we were going for something that felt right. And, hopefully, they're not going to be teaching any classes on Colonial Architecture off of "Sleepy Hollow." But certainly if you're already sort of familiar with that stuff, you'll definitely recognize the references.
|Question: Who found and constructed the lantern the boy lights in the film?
Rick: We designed it. And actually, just the concept of the lantern itself was easy enough, and there is some historical reference to magic lanterns. But they always involved lenses and the strongest light sources they could get. So, the truth is, this was a movie lantern, it doesn't really project. I shouldn't tell people that so it won't ruin it for them, but it didn't really project the images on the wall, nor would it ever project it in a way that the camera could read, so that our problems were three-fold: design the overall look of the lantern, design the creatures that are the cut-outs of the lantern and the images that are projected, and then really just figure out the technique to project the images and make it look like they're coming from the lantern. So that was tough, that was something that the DP did some experimentation with. We experimented with various kinds of lighting sources, and then the art director John Dexter suggested something from theater where you cut the image out of a plate and put it in these theater lights that actually are very powerful and focus the image. We set about 6 or 8 of them on a lazy susan and cut it in the floor of the set behind the magic lantern prop. It really fools you. It looks like it's coming out of the lantern.
Question: How long did it take to construct the Tree of the Dead?
Rick: Well, we did a lot of different concepts, and everything happens over time, and people go on and do other things and come back to it . . . I don't know exactly how long it took, but we did maybe a half a dozen different tree designs; and then we started to narrow it down. And then really the final design was actually figured out in the maquette which was about 20-inches tall. I would guess it took about 4-5 weeks to actually build the thing. The main body of it was sculpted out of foam, and a heavy-duty armature of very large height was welded together and all of it was taken over to Sheperton and started to be assembled. We added some real branches to it and finished the texture off. I guess it took 5 or 6 weeks, in fact. Lot of work.
Question: What was your favorite set on the film?
Rick: Oh, golly, um, maybe the town itself. I love the windmill. I love all the wood stuff as well. That's a tough one. This is one film I worked on that almost everything was something we really poured a lot of love into, and as a result, I'd have to say that a lot of them are my favorites. But certainly, the "Sleepy Hollow" village and the Western Woods and the windmill interior as well as exterior. The interior of the Van Tassle house was great. We were able to succeed at using all of these old techniques that force perspective on stage. I went to see the movie last night for the first time, and walking out I heard people saying that "It looked good, it was all visual effects." I just felt like saying, "You know something, that was all in the camera my friend." Well, quite a bit of it was. There was a lot of forced perspective that we did on stage and you'd be shocked if you saw some of the stages there, they live through the camera. I mean, they looked incredibly cool if you're eyeballing them, but it really lives in this "Sleepy Hollow" world through the eyes of the camera.
|Question: Were there any surprises on the set in terms of how you expected things to be realized?|
Rick: Not so much from the point of view of the art department, because we had to plan so thoroughly and we were so worried on this movie about things looking good, there weren't really very many surprises. We pretty much prepped ourselves very well. And when the company took over, they basically were off at a run and knew what they were getting into. But I'm sure that if you spoke to the special effects guy or the director of photography or Tim that people did realize how much they would be affected by all of the smoke after a while. The director of photography finally caught pneumonia after at the end of the show. And there were probably some special effects things that probably didn't work out as planned. There was one surprise was that we could have, I suppose, planned for better by hiring a geologist. The town of Sleepy Hollow was actually built on a game preserve, and it's in a bowl that has about 2 feet of soil over chalk which doesn't absorb water. It rained almost every day during the winter there, which was great for the look of the film, but when we were building the houses, there was quite a bit of construction equipment there. So they were just churning up the soil, and we finally had to come in and create diversions for the water and the drainage and all of this other stuff. But it's fine in the film, you don't really notice it.
Rick: Just want to say that one of the pleasures of doing this film was that all of that stuff, to some degree, is a little experimental. Almost every day was experimental in terms of doing all of the exteriors on stage as we did. It harks back to the early days of motion picture making. We pulled a lot of old tricks out of a bag that we weren't all 100% sure just how well it was going to work. So, the great pleasure I'd have to say is seeing how well things did come together.