Colin Arthur

50 Years of Creating Characters and Special Effects' Solutions

Colin Arthur is the legendary British creator of make-up and special effects for the films from an era when computers did not exist. His film career started with an epic science-fiction film directed by Stanley Kubrick - 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Arthur worked on film classics as Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), Clash of the Titans (1981) or Conan the Barbarian (1982). He also created Falkor and other creatures for the NeverEnding Story (1984). 

"I'm one of those guys that makes his living helping movie directors deceive the camera. You know, lying to the lens, making effects that you see on a film which you believe are real. I'm a liar, an illusionist, and a trickster. I've been doing it for more than 50 years."

Arthur´s future in film industry was influenced by his parents. His father was an aircraft engineer and fine artist and his mother was a graphic artist and later also a sculptor. Arthur said, "Much of my inspiration comes from when I was a young boy, growing up and watching my parents work. I started my own sculptures. One was a piece of my dog, a piece of my dog Tessa, a real friend. Another one was a head of a soldier, after a drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci."
After his studies at Guildford School of Art, he began to work as a sculptor in Madame Tussauds, where he was apprenticed to the studio manager, Bernard Tussaud, who was the descendant of Madame Tussaud. There Arthur learned a different level of realism in sculpture. As Arthur said, he “escaped” from Madame Tussauds to join Stanley Kubrick on the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Arthur together with Stuart Freeborn created all the Ape masks in the Dawn of Man sequence.

“When we started on the mask in 2001, there was not much information. Nearly 50 years ago, the anthropologists have done some work, but there was still no universally accepted image of early man, all we could do was look at themes as King Kong, or go to the zoo and stare through the bars, but we still had to give the camera something, something believable. So, what were we dealing with, fact or fiction? This was a film with a fantastic concept. It was a dream, an open-ended research project, with no apparent budget restrictions. It took Stuart and me several months to find out what Stanley wanted, what he would accept, and what would work on camera, “
said Arthur.

And this was the start of his almost 50-year film career. During 1970s and 1980s Arthur worked as a make-up artist for several films including the work with another SFX legend - Ray Harryhausen. Arthur said about their cooperation, "His greatest inspiration was Greek mythology. In Ancient Greece, sculptors were considered to be closest to the gods. We were not only near them; we were making them. I used to work directly from Ray's drawings. They were so detailed that it was a real pleasure to work from them." Arthur together with Harryhausen created stop motion animation models for Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) or Clash of the Titans (1981). 

In 1984 another great opportunity came to Arthur - the NeverEnding Story (1984). “I had complete freedom to interpret the illustrations and the ideas in Michael Ende's book as I saw fit, “said Arthur. He was responsible for the development and production of the creatures including the famous Falkor the Luckdragon. 

At least two different models of Falkor were used in the film. The first and most imposing one, was over 15 meters long with a tail measuring around 4 meters, a neck of 3 meters and a head with a weigth of 100 Kg. The second model only measured 40 cm in length and took half a year to develop. This much smaller model was used in the flying scenes where the whole dragon could be seen. The maskbuilder Arthur Collin created the cute face of the "luckdachshound". He need some tries till the final version with which the director was content.

From 1990´s Arthur has started to work mainly on Spanish films including Amenábar´s Open Your Eyes (1997) or Almodóvar´s Talk To Her (2002). Now, he runs Dream Factory Spain specialized on film make-up, set decoration or SFX. Despite his passion for manual Colin Arthur does not deny the modern techniques of CGI: “Painting things on a screen is not my way of creativity, my style is use a tool on a material until I get to with the way I’m looking for, but I do believe that digital effects play a role.”

He adds, “The water made with CGI is perfect ?? appearance, movement, ?? physics, but the effects of fire and explosions still unresolved, are not comparable to what is achieved with physical resources.”  Arthur thinks that for the creative, made by computer effects are a perfect complement to traditional techniques. “Just like the movies did not end the theater, digital effects will not replace manual labor” says, and gives as example because the next film Star Wars, a film director JJ Abrams will show much CGI but mixed with traditional techniques (puppets, costumes, realistic scenarios …).