From Santa Claus starring Dudley Moore to Star Wars, how my nephew, Julian Murray, came to be the supervising senior sculptor in the Creature Effects department for Star Wars, based at Pinewood. With the spin off from Star Wars: Rogue One being released in December you might like to be able to tell their grandchildren about one of the designers involved in the making of the special effect creatures for the film series. I asked Julian how he became involved in film special effects.
Here is his reply:
“My first real brush with the film world came when my father was approached by one of his old Royal Academy friends to make the toys and large props for the film Santa Claus staring Dudley Moore,” Julian says. “In our college holiday, my brother and I worked in my father’s workshop alongside his wonderful craftsmen making hundreds of toys. My mother headed up the painting team at our house and in the garden, she recruited a number of my cousins and friends to form her team. The work was very beautiful, but at this stage I still had no real interest in doing this as a career, I was still very much in the world of fine art.”
After leaving college, Julian says he went round all the model making workshops in London and in that pre-digital age there were a great many of them.
“There was a big directory back then, which everyone would plough through hawking whatever wears they had around to all these companies. Working in advertising was very dynamic with fearsome turnarounds on jobs, which demanded flawless finish. It was a great training,” he says.
After a few years Julian made the decision to take a job with a company that produced figures for museums and displays, the object being to hone his skills and really study the figure in more depth. He says it paid less but it felt right for the experience.
“I worked there a further few years until I felt I had reached the limitations of what could be achieved there,” he says.
It was then Julian followed up a contact someone had given him of a special make-up and creature effects company at Shepperton Film Studios called Animated Extras.
“It was a year later when I had quite forgotten about them that they called and asked if I would be interested in coming to work on Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, staring Robert De Niro, Helena Bonham Carter and Kenneth Branagh,” Julian says.
It went very well and was quickly followed by Mary Rielly, a retelling of the Jekyll and Hide story with John Malkovich and Julia Roberts.
“I’ve worked in film ever since and much of the work I did in the early days was prosthetic make-up. Two memorable films that came along in this period were the little known but lovely In the Shadow of the Vampire — a fantasy on the making of the German director WF Murnau’s film Nosferatu we worked again with John Malkovich but the real show stealer was Willem Defoe as the vampire.
Julian says he and the team designed and produced his look, which attracted an Oscar nomination.
“The other was Roberto Bennini’s Pinocchio this was one of the first film departments I headed and designed for. This was an extraordinary experience, it was as much like being in a film as making one. Bennini and his wife and muse were the most generous-hearted people I’ve had the good fortune to work for.”
Since then Julian has worked on all but the first two Harry Potter films and then there was Batman. He says he was the principal conceptual sculptor on the bat suits for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and he designed the look for Two Face in that film.
“I was employed by the costume designer and worked with her and the director to develop the suit for Batman Begins and then I stayed on to design some make-ups with Christopher Nolan [the Director] these I designed, sculpted and applied. The work followed the same pattern for The Dark Knight first working through the suit design then staying on to work out the design look for Two Face [the character in the film who got half his face burnt].
“My final design, I produced as a life-size sculpt, and this was then scanned and produced as a digital make-up effect by the visual effects department. It couldn’t really be done as a traditional make-up as they wanted to penetrate the surface of the face to a degree that isn’t possible traditionally. I explored different avenues for the look of Two Face, initially going down the root of severe burn scaring, but that was deemed too horrific and create problems with ratings,” Julian says.
He then looked at something more graphically anatomical and more in line with the original comic book/graphic novel essence of the character. He says it felt like a bit of a departure from everything the team aimed for in the previous film and he didn’t particularly like what they ended up with, but Chris Nolan was very happy with it, “so job done”.
“I didn’t work on The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final film in the trilogy, however I was offered a very nice project on it and the suit remained the same as in the second film,” Julian says.
Tempting as it was Julian couldn’t do it as he was already heavily committed to Ridley Scott’s film Prometheus [the prequel to Alien].
“From Harry Potter and Batman, I went on to Prometheus then going on to a string of Marvel films, Captain America, Thor 2, then [I] supervised the sculpting on Guardians of the Galaxy (we did a lot of prosthetic work on this). These led directly onto The Force Awakens. Myself and a few other colleagues were involved in the concept stage of The Force Awakens while still completing Guardians,” Julian says.
“From The Force Awakens, the first of the new Star Wars movies I moved straight into Rogue One, which is a spin off movie, using existing characters from the franchise but taking them off on a different narrative pathway. While the build and shoot for that one was underway I moved again to episode eight.”
Julian says the bulk of the build for this one is now complete and I have been able to step out of this for a few months and have been filling in doing a bit at Madam Tussauds, [the wax works museum in London], which means much less pressure and “is a nice break”. However, Julian received a phone call in mid-July and began setting up the department in mid-September.
“We will then build and shoot the next two Star Wars films back to back. It’s very full on, but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Julian says.
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