Simon Atkinson's Inside story behind the creation of Piers Bizony's Definitive account of the making of the greatest Sci-Fi movie ever
2001: a space odyssey
Simon and Piers Bizony photographed at a recent event at The Science Museum in london. (Photograph courtesy of The Science Museum)
DRAWING THE FUTURE
REFLECTS ON HIS ASSOCIATION WITH
"2001: FILMING THE FUTURE"
Written by Simon Atkinson
Originally Edited by The Underview 2001
Revised and updated 2009
Simon Atkinson's association with Piers Bizony's 2001: Filming the Future helped the book take its place as the most authoritative and complete source of information on Stanley Kubrick's 1968 epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey when it was first published in 1994. Simon's artwork showed off many of the film's most striking "props" with previously- unseen accuracy and clarity. This article gives Simon, a professional modelmaker and illustrator, the opportunity to put into words some of his experiences during the time he spent working with Piers. © Underman 2001
Genesis and Contact
In the early 80's I produced two large airbrush paintings, of the Discovery and the Space Station. These were very crude, on hardboard, and enormous - 240cm x 120cm (approx. 94in by 47in)! They were done purely for my own amusement and, once completed, I framed them both and hung them up at home in Somerset.
"Here's what started the whole thing" My very early crude large scale painting of the DISCOVERY 1 which was to lead to my meeting Piers Bizony - and to '2001: filming the future'
Several years later (1990, I think) I was passing through some very hard times and decided to sell these two paintings. I contacted "Forbidden Planet", a bookstore in London, and placed a small advertisement with photographs in the shop.
Four weeks later I received a letter from the shop telling me that a "Mr Piers Bizony" (strange name, I thought!) wanted to contact me. I assumed that a sale was imminent and rang him immediately.
Of course, he had no intention of buying my paintings, but he did want to talk to me about a fascinating and potentially exciting project: a book, no, "THE" book, on the making of my all time favourite movie, "2001 A Space Odyssey". We agreed to meet, and after driving from my West Country home we met in the café of the Royal Photographic Society, in London. After a general discussion Piers showed me a folio of his professional photographic projects, and I showed him a folio of my modelmaking and several concept artworks I had done over the years. We talked for hours, it was obvious that we both shared the same deep affection for the movie. Our discussion also demonstrated to me that he felt the film had been pivotal in both our lives, although we hadn't really appreciated it at the time. It's funny how low- key this meeting was, bearing in mind the amazing people and places we were to find ourselves among during the following years.
We both agreed that we needed to tap the minds of all the surviving crew of the movie, otherwise we needn't bother. We also figured that these busy people would need to be convinced of our serious intentions. How wise this was! It turned out that Harry Lange, for example,was constantly hounded by 2001 fans for information - requests that he always turned down.
The first artwork
I returned home, and began to work on two artworks of the space pod - free of charge, of course. This was to be a labour of love in the initial stages, then the money would flow in! Well, not quite... The project would last for over three years and only then did either of us see any money for the project. It is interesting to note, however, that those years spent on the project have reaped rewards for both Piers and I far beyond those expected. Friends, contacts and new clients appear regularly because of those few illustrations done back then. Of most value for us both is the knowledge that the book has become THE reference work on the movie, exactly as we had intended but would never dare to believe.
The two initial pod artworks took several months. I had no drawings to work from, only photographs and a well- worn copy of the video, so this was an epic task. After several redrawings and arguments with Piers I arrived at passable renditions of the front and side of the EVA pod.
I then produced airbrushed finished artworks (above) coloured in the same way as the later Orion piece, beige shading. Later, when I did new versions of the pod for the book, I used a blue colouring to reflect the "feel" of the lighting during the Discovery interior sequences. Piers then arranged for these two views to be photographed and printed in order to produce some high quality calling cards. This approach worked, and within weeks Harry Lange had agreed to meet with us in his West London home. Imagine how Piers and I felt, actually getting to spend time with the great man who had created so much of the movie hardware!
A generous Contact
We arrived, to be met by Harry's wife Daisy, who greeted us with her strong US accent and wonderful friendly smile. She welcomed us and led us to the lounge, where we sat to await Harry's arrival. Harry turned out to be a warm, generous man whose broad German accent had not diminished with the passage of time. We presented him with the full- size artworks for inspection. To my delight, he complimented me on my airbrushing technique... I was a happy man! We talked for several hours, with Harry's reminiscences flowing rapidly and hopefully Piers's memory operating as efficiently! I needn't have worried - Piers has a remarkable ability to store information in his head, and all of Harry's memories were soon down on paper.
I was very keen to see some of his art, and after an agonizing period he produced a folder from beside his seat. "You might be interested in zese, I think" He opened the folder. Inside were many black and white shots, including the Aries, the pods, the Orion (the actual photo that ended up in the book), and the most remarkable photograph, one that took my breath away: a 3/4 shot of the Discovery model, all 54 feet of it, on its stand (the stand draped in black velvet) just before Kubrick decided to have the "cage" removed from around the modules. I was stunned. It wasn't used in the book - why, I don't know. I thought it alone would have sold the book, but Piers decided against it. It's amazing to think back to material that we didn't use!
This meeting with Harry was the first of many. He was most careful not to give us too much information on each occasion, eking it out until we were drooling!
On parting after this first visit Harry, who realised we were hanging on to his every word, told us that he had a box of all his original concept sketches in the attic. "I'm sure I still have zem, I'll look them out for you next time"!
On each subsequent visit he would bring out new treasures, and true to his word there, at our next meeting, was a box containing all of his original tracing- film sketches and drawings. Concepts for the Aries, the Orion, the Space Station, Discovery, the orbiting bombs and satellites... everything. Piers and I were in an Aladdin's cave and Harry loved every minute of it.
It was also fascinating to see Harry's work for the films Dark Crystal and Moonraker, and many designs and paintings for exhibitions and theme parks.
These meetings were the springboard for the project. In that series of meetings we amassed so much previously- unseen material that it could, by itself, have filled an entire book.
Harry and I discussed his designs for the film in detail, he enjoyed the close attention that Piers and were giving to his work. I asked him about certain details on the Space Pod which had always struck me - the way in which certain openings and their surrounding panel features on the side sections seemed to be positioned in a random way - "Ah" answered Harry " zat is ze symmetry of Asymmetry! - beautiful!"
Harry had many delightful stories to tell of his time on the movie, but my favourite recollection was of a discussion with Kubrick over the big 54' Discovery model which had undergone numerous changes of colour and finish. the modelmakers were exhausted and now the model was finally finished and ready to shoot. Lange recalled an unusually distressed Kubrick who was unhappy with the latest finish on the model " Harry, have you seen it? it looks like shit!" Lange looked at the model, turned to Kubrick and said " you're right Stanley, leave it with me" Two hours later - having not touched the model - Lange called Kubrick back to show him the 'revised' finish on the model. Kubrick ,satisfied, got on with the filming!
The circle widens
Harry Lange also gave us the names of many of the crew members and technicians not credited in the movie, but without whom Kubrick could not have made it. Piers and I now set about contacting many of these people. A very useful contact was Laurie Barr of the London firm of Mastermodels. Laurie had built, or supervised the building of, several items for the film and had his own list of contacts who we pursued. Laurie Barr's shots of the basic moonbus were very exciting. Sadly, budget constraints meant that the moonbus was destined never to become one of my finished paintings.
Modelmakers who had built the Discovery were tracked down. They lent us many polaroid photographs of the massive model, which were invaluable in my research even when not of sufficiently good quality to reproduce in the book. Several mouth watering shots showed modelmakers working on the propulsion end of the model showing just how big it realy was. In the pictures they are seen applying model kit details.
We discovered that my old Boss at Space Models in Feltham (I worked there as a trainee after leaving school) - Pete Robbins- had worked on the film and had a selection of delightful slides of the miniature Astronaut figures used for some of the distance shots of the AE35 EVA sequence.
I now set to work on the main artworks for the book. Piers was up and running on research, and our efforts ran in parallel, Piers forwarding information to me as it was unearthed.
A tremendous amount of support and assistance came from a contact in the US. Dennis Gilliam was, and is, an aerospace engineer who had amassed probably the largest private collection of 2001 memorabilia in the world. There was no limit to the help he gave, the photographs he supplied and the sheer support when things appeared to be flagging. This included a self funded trip from California to Minehead in England to help out with our display at the Arthur C. Clarke exhibition (see below)
The artwork takes shape
It had become obvious that my first pod paintings had done their work, but were not good enough, or accurate enough, to be used in the book, so I set about redrawing them. Imagine this task: to produce accurate working drawings without any originals. I had every conceivable shot from the movie and behind the scenes - you name it, I had it. Unfortunately for me, many of the movie stills were filmed in extreme wide- angle, which made proportioning and measuring a total nightmare. I would run and re- run scenes from the film on video over and over again until I knew these devices inside out; I would draw, then redraw until it was right. Exhausting!
When the pod line drawings were finished I received (via Frederick Ordway) a side elevation of the pod - the actual studio drawing!. I enlarged my side elevation to the same scale onto drafting film and overlaid it. The match was perfect! Very spooky, I thought.
The pods were then airbrushed using the previously- mentioned blue shading, which I felt captured the original spirit.
The Orion was the next artwork. Here the research process was rather more difficult due to the small number of scenes that the ship actually occupies in the film. I had the lighting test shot from Harry Lange's collection but little else. Fortunately a copy of the original studio working drawing from which the model was built came to light. Despite containing several differences from the finished miniature, this drawing showed much of the wing panel detailing, top and bottom, and the arrangement of the 'intakes' seen on the leading edges. Once the colour airbrushing and detailing of the fuselage was completed I painted on the Pan Am logo and lettering and the whole thing came to life before me! (I had hoped that we might be able to include the wonderful 60's-look Pan Am food tray featured in the Aries Floyd sequence. The look of those graphics just gives me goosebumps - awesome styling!)
While I was drawing and painting, Piers hunted around for sponsorship to move the project on. He succeeded in getting some modest backing from 3M, the company which had supplied the highly- reflective front projection screen material to Kubrick during the filming. Piers also found archive information and stills from a variety of other sources, which could be used to bulk out the book.
Around this time, Piers and I were invited to attend the Minehead event at which Arthur C. Clarke was to make a triumphant return to his birthplace. With the 3M funding we were able to set up a modest display which we hoped would advertise our intentions and arouse interest in the project.
The event was a great thrill for me. I presented one of the original pod illustrations to Arthur (see above - Piers Bizony on right) and we had some time to chat with him over several beers. Other highlights were getting to meet Dennis Gilliam and to see Harry Lange wearing the original Dave Bowman helmet from the movie, the first time Harry had seen the prop since 1968. In the evening we all retired to the local cinema to watch an ancient copy of the movie, Harry commenting on details as the film progressed, a slightly surreal but wonderful experience for Piers and I.
Harry lange posing with Dave Bowman's original helmet from Dennis Gilliams collection at the Minehead event. Behind Harry is the display board set up by Piers and I to promote 'Filming The Future' with my original Orion Artwork , Aries working drawing and mock-up pages prepared by Piers.
Completing the project
Over the next months I finished the Aries drawings, which proved to be even more complex than the pod had been. The main area of complexity involved the geometry of the landing gear which can be seen unfolding so majestically as the ship descends to the lunar surface. That movement, or unfolding, may look simple but it was to demand much time and effort, as it was so important that it all "worked" on my drawings. The only way I could do it was by running and re-running the video sequence in slow motion and frame- by- frame advance, and plotting the movement with paper cut- outs pinned to the various pivot points on my rough drawing, until the magical moment when it all worked! How magnificent is that shot of the Aries touching down with the landing gear compressing and then lifting a little as the ship bounces slightly on the pad - my favourite shot of the entire movie, and I got to watch it hundreds and hundreds of times!! ( Below is the drawing I ended up with, corresponding to the side elevation I showed one of the Landing Legs in its extended position, with the others retracted.)
Unfortunately, as always, budget constraints held back many of the colour works. It was always intended that the book would feature three colour views of the Aries, the plan, the underside and the side elevations. Alas, only the latter made it to the book. How grand it would have been to be able to show the underside and plan in all their glory. Imagine my delight and pride when, several years later, the movie actor I most admire, Tom Hanks, acquired my original Aries artwork to add to his own collection of 2001 memorabilia.
With the artwork almost completed, the paths Piers and I were following diverged as he was now fully involved in the writing of the book (and a mammoth task at that!), while my work was almost complete. Saving the best until last (the Discovery being my favourite ship in the movie) I was looking forward to spending several weeks on various views of the spacecraft, only to receive a call from Piers telling me that he had to have a side view completed by the following day to fit in with the photography schedule! That was a very long and very stressful day!. Alas, no more views were produced of the Discovery. Perhaps I might get around to all of the missing views at some point in the future.
Further drawings which feature in the book but are not credited to me are effectively re-draftings of the Original studio plans which Frederick Ordway had loaned us late into the project. The quality of many of these was of too poor a quality to be used in the finished book. I was also honoured to be given permission to 'enhance' some of Harry Lange's concepts of the early versions of Discovery -adding detail to the Command module areas amongst others. The additional work is can be seen in the book (pages 92-93)
There can be little doubt as to the dramatic impact "2001: filming the future" has made on the careers of both Piers and myself. Piers's richly deserved success in all aspects of Science and Science Fiction and Space-related writing means that he now acts as a consultant to TV and publishing companies, as well as his work as an author. He is, without doubt, seen as 'The' 2001 expert, and his services are in constant demand all over the world.
My modelmaking and illustration career have moved on and continued into many varied projects, but every now and then 2001 will reappear in my life. I very much enjoy the steady stream of letters from 2001 fans all around the world.
I currently still work as a freelance illustrator and modelmaker on projects which, over the last few years, have moved increasingly into the fascinating and exciting world of TV science fiction concept art where I can indulge my passion, the design of space vehicles and systems from scratch. The latest project for which I am designing spacecraft is currently secret, but does give me a wonderful opportunity to pay homage to my heroes in SF concept design, namely the late Harry Lange (of course) and the late, great, Derek Meddings whose Thunderbirds, Stingray and UFO designs so influenced my childhood ambition to become a Modelmaker / Illustrator.
A tour of this new website will give readers an idea of the varied work that I have done in the past - and continue to do. Please say hello on the guestbook as you travel through.
More news as it happens!
Long live "2001:A Space Odyssey". I owe it a great deal.
Simon Atkinson © 2001 (Edited & Updated 2009)
2001: a space odyssey Pod working line drawing: Front Elevation.
2001: a space odyssey Pod working line drawing: Side Elevation.
2001: a space odyssey Pod working line drawing: Rear Elevation.
2001: a space odyssey 'Discovery 1' working line drawing: Side Elevation detailing transition between Command Module and 'Spine'. Click on image to enlarge