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Help Support Features Interviews George Gibbs
George Gibbs interview
by Gilles Verschuere - posted on January 22, 2002

Special Effects Supervisor George Gibbs has received Academy Awards for his work on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
His other films include A Fish Called Wanda, Labyrinth, Brazil, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, Flash Gordon, Superman, and many more classics.


How did you get into your line of work?

l started work at the local Theater known as The Hackney Empire, in East London. l started off training to be a Theater Electrician. l did this for 5 years until l was 21 years old, finished with that and got a job at Pinewood Film Studio`s. Got involved with small special effects on a couple of movie`s. After this job at Pinewood l got a start with Gerry Anderson`s puppet series.

What was your job when working with Gerry Anderson on the science fiction puppet series "Thunderbirds"?

Special Effects assistant, helping to build and assemble the sets.

When did you decide you wanted to make special effects?

When l started with Gerry Anderson and got a start on "The Battle of Britain".

Who are your major influences?

My major influence was Dereck Meddings from the Gerry Anderson Stable,and Glenn Robinson From MGM.

When you received your Academy Awards as mechanical effects supervisor of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", did it make any changes in your career?

No to that question. People in England are not impressed by awards all they want to know is can you do the job. It just started to make me a legend in the movie business of special effects. l have 7 awards together with 4 nominations as you know.

Do you generally find directors to be easy to work with?

l have been very lucky all the Directors l have worked with are great. Spielberg is the best.

Which directors you have worked with are especially fun to work with in terms of special effects in their films?

Steven Spielberg, Philip Noyes, and Terry Gilliam. Spielberg is well aware that good special effects are important to the film, the same goes for Terry Gilliam, and are as interested in how the effects are going to work and what the result will be, and like to see tests when possible. Philip Noyes is just great a real Australian he is good fun with a great humor and listens to your idea`s.

Are you able to front your own ideas and touches?

Yes, l have many idea`s in various films l dream`t up, "A Fish Called Wanda", and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" are two of my greatest films for rewards on screen. Directors always listen if you write it down first, so they can think about it. Although Spielberg used to listen and just say "do it".

Has it ever happened that a film plot has been changed just to add a special effect?

Well the answer to that is sometimes the plot is changed to make the effect work better and be more believable. On "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" we wrote a whole scene about the reason why the ship sinks. l suggested that it blows up with explosives on board to make it more interesting.

How do you setup a special effect?

Read the script. Make a shot list. Work out what you need in the way of manpower to do the work. Work out the materials required. Set up and test where ever possible. Most of my effects were one off`s like the Bridge in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", or the Transporter Plane blowing up in "Air America".

The rope bridge from Temple of Doom and an effect from Air America.

How do you know when a special effect will be needed?

When you read the script you just know what is an effect and what can be done for real but even when things are done for real effects are always required to enhance them or make it look good on the screen.

What kind of special effect is the most fun and challenging to do?

All special effects are challenging from squirting ink from a pen, to collapsing bridges. Whether it is a big effect or small effect it is always important it is done right. Effects that are fun to do are like the Road Roller squashing in "A Fish Called Wanda".

How much planning goes into an explosion effect?

l could write a book about the planning that goes into explosions from registration and law rules to fullers earth. A lot of planning and thinking about peoples safety.

Tank blowing up truck in the Last Crusade.

When you are working on a lower budget project, how vastly does it affect your work?

Lower budget means cutting your cloth to suite your width. If the producers do not have the money to do the effect the way it needs to be done l say write it out of the script. There is only one way to do an effect that is the right way.

How often is someone injured during an effect? If at all.

Considering the amount of effects filmed and done in the movie business our injury rate is 99.9% free. To the best of my knowledge the only people who get hurt are stunt men, fortunately not the actors, although its not good for any person involved with film making getting hurt, the only accidents l know about are when stunt men get a little too hot or scorched from the fire type explosions, but this is very unusual.

What was your most favorite effect in the Indy films?

Preparing the tank.

The bridge cutting and the Mine Cars in "Temple of Doom", and the Army Tank we built for "Last Crusade". But also The Road Roller in "A Fish Called Wander", Glenn Close in the Slime in the barn in "101 Dalmatians", and the wing blowing off in "Air America".

Is there a difference between making special effects for an Indiana Jones film and other films?

Yes if Spielberg is the Director. No time wasters or none professionals. Every film has its own demands and each film requires the same input.

How do the effects used then compare with what might be done today?

Effects can be more ambitious today because of the Computer. In the old days, only 10 years ago may l add, we had to do it for real in camera. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" was probably the last animation movie to be done without the help of a computer.

How much high tech compared to low tech were used in the Indiana Jones films?

I would say the lndy films were all low tech.

How has CGI affected your work, as compared to doing special effects in the past?

Not effected our work if anything l would say. It gives us more work because producers and directors have bigger ambitions for what's on screen. Then they need us more when they get the costs of the CGl Budgets.

Is there anything you always wanted to try but never got the chance doing?

Under Water Movies!

Are there any films you dreamed of doing?

To do the effects on a James Bond Film.

Any film that every special effects fan must see?

"Pearl Harbor".

How do you become a special effects supervisor? Are there any schools where you can learn it?

Not really. To become an Effects Supervisor is getting the breaks being in the right place at the right time, also most important knowing your job and craft well.

Will you be back to do the special effects for the fourth Indiana Jones film?

l have not been approached yet, but it would be a great opportunity. A nice finnish off to my career.

What movies are you signed on to do effects for in near future?

Unfortunately l am not signed up to a film at the moment. This year is starting off slow. l don't think the stars are too keen to fly to England since September 11th. Also a lot of films are going to Australia and New Zealand.

Aaron asks:
Will you be working on Indy 4?

Hello Aaron. l don't know the answer to that question. They have been talking about making lndy 4 for years before Harrison is 60 years old. The latest rumor is that the trio (Lucas, Spielberg, Ford) have a budget of 100.000.000 dollars for lndy 4, but as of yet no dates are set, so as of yet l haven't been asked.

What are the best classes to take in college for someone who wants to get into this? Is 41 to old?

Well your never too old to start a new career. There are no classes as far as l know for Mechanical effects. There may be classes in America for Visual effects (computer digital effects) to learn engineering is a good way in or model making or electronics. Special effects men are jack of all trades masters of tact. The best way to get in this job is to have a relative or being at the right place at the right time or best of all who you know is the quickest way in.

Tom Lind asks:
If you should choose a film that can be seen as a massive breakthrough in the VFX business, what film would it then be?

Hi Tom. Well the biggest breakthrough in the movie world was the first "Star Wars" Film. George Lucas has incredible visualization and should be credited with his futuristic ideas... at that time.

Tom Lind asks:
Are there any films with special VFX that you think should never have been produced? And in that case, which titles?

There are hundreds of films with special effects that shouldn't have been made not only because of the effects but also because of the Directing. If a film is entertaining with good Directing and a good story, inferior effects can be over looked. But you can have a good effects film with a poor story, and it is all a waste of time. A good example for me is Spielbergs "A.I." but that is my opinion.

Tom Lind asks:
Which of these titles (both Academy Award winning in the category Special VFX) have got the most impressive work of special VFX: "Jurassic Park" or "Forrest Gump"? (from Tom Lind)

Jurassic Park for sure no mistake about it.

Has Zoltan Perisec's "Zoptic" process pretty much been abandoned in today's digital rendered film market? It was even dropped for "Superman IV", IIRC.

Hi OM. Zoltan Perisec was a very lucky man. His equipment was fully developed and paid for on Superman 1. l don't think it is used now very much maybe on low budget productions or TV commercials.

Celtic Dan asks:
Following all your masterful work in movies over the years, do you look back at the visual effects of Superman or Indiana Jones and think they look dated and unreal considering the technology today?

Hi Celtic Dan. No l don't look back on the films mentioned and think they are dated. In fact all the effects we did on those films were for real in front of the camera. That gives them good wholesome quality, although l must confess some of the optical effects in "Temple of Doom" could have been improved.

Seeing how there was an ongoing financial tug-of-war between Terry Gilliam and Universal Studios throughout Brazil's production, how did this affect the duties of your profession? Did you have to place more limits on what you thought could be done, or did a major concern even exist about the special effects pushing the movie over budget?

Let me put things straight. There was no financial tug of war between Gilliam and Universal. The film was financed by Universal and 20th Century Fox half and half. It was agreed that Universal would have the American distribution and 20th Century would have the rest of the world, or maybe the other way round, so when the film was finished (we came in one million pounds GB under budget) but the studios hated it, didn't even understand it and refused to distribute it. So Terry Gilliam smuggled the film into America from England (where he lives) and exhibited it without the studios knowing.
At a film press awards show in America (cant think of the name) it won first prize, so it was agreed to exhibit the film. The French went crazy about it. The Spanish went crazy about it. The Germans went crazy about it. The English well only intellectuals thought it was good, but it did make money.
There was never any problems with money on the film in fact many of the model effects were filmed again and again until they were right and looked good. Terry Gilliam is a real perfectionist. There was never any concerns during filming, and we all won awards for our work.

On a side note, how did you get all those newspapers to cling on to Robert De Niro? That sequence mystifies me every time I watch it, and nowadays I can't imagine anybody having the cajones to shoot that without CGI. Fantastic work!

We built a large Air Staightener, they are made for Air Conditioning in Buildings.
If you could imagine a piece of ducting about 5 feet square and 10 feet long cut it in half then cut two 45 degree angles at the end of each piece put them together to make a right angle then have 5 feet long x 3 ins wide pieces of metal rolled to form a shape like a rain gully or gutter then fix these vertical along the joins of the 45 degree join like a louse blind with curved slats.
We then have a wind machine pushing air in one end and the air goes in turbulent but the third round strips act like a curved louse blind in the open position. When the turbulent air hits these they straighten the wind enabling us to hold a news paper in front of the ducting and the smooth air blows the paper perfectly flat like a sail, and it lands flat on to the actor. After the first piece lands we substituted Robert De Niro for anther guy.

Scott Middlebrook asks:
In "Alien 3" were you responsible for the explosion and fire sequence while trying to trap the Alien? If so I heard it set a record for longest time a stunt man was on fire. Is this true?

Hi Scott. l don't know about any records but we sure had as many people on fire as in "Towering Inferno".

Scott Middlebrook asks:
Were you disappointed when a lot of the sequence was ultimately cut from the final "Alien 3" film?

l never get disappointed when effects are cut out of a film. It is to be expected that some times good scenes end up on the cutting room floor, for actors also. l was really disappointed with "The Saint". We had such incredible effects in that movie we filmed in Moscow and England they were so good the studios in America wrote me a letter to say how they couldn't believe all the explosions and fire we filmed with stunt men were not computer generated, but would you believe they re-cut the movie turned it into a love story instead of a spy thriller came back to England re-shot the ending spent another two million Dollars US... and it flopped after that the producers actually said they wish they had left it alone.

Craige asks:
I would like to ask what was the problem on "Alien 3" I heard stories that the fx company totally stuffed up a few of the fx shots were OK but a lot were very average was this due to the usual studio interference it was a good story it just seemed to get lost along the way were you disappointed with the final film? Would CGI have helped?

Hello Craige. Well l think the film got lost. It was David Finchers first real movie, his big break. l don't know about the politics. l know there was a lot of bad vibe's on that film. l don't think CGI would have made any difference. In my opinion it was a bad story from the beginning they changed the Director at the last minute, two weeks before filming... Yes l was disappointed with the film.

Dave Simkiss asks:
I am currently working on a site based around the Alien movies and would like to ask how you felt about so much special effects footage being cut from "Alien 3". Also do you know how much of the footage still exists and if it will ever see the light of day, in DVD format perhaps.

Hi Dave. Well "Alien 3" was a long time ago. David Fincher shot for so many hours that was the first film l worked till 10 o'clock at night. So l don't know what happened to the cutting room floor out takes. It never upsets me what is left out of a film that's the nature of the business. On "Last Crusade" there was a great scene involving one of Steven Spielberg's favorite actors cut from the movie. The actor still got a good credit but he was really upset when he came out of the crew showing because nobody warned him. Steven was so apologetic to him.

Chez Radwin asks:
You are credited with "additional model effects" for "Superman". What did you do exactly on that picture, and who was the f/x cameraman?

Chez, The Cameraman on the models was Paul Wilson and later Harry Oaks. l worked with Harry and Dereck Meddings worked with Paul. l re-shot some of Derecks work because Dick Donner was an absolute perfectionist. Also Dereck left "Superman" to start on a James Bond film so l took over on his recommendation. l shot Superman flying up to the Golden Gate Bridge to stop the school bus falling off and saving the children, also the falling helicopter with a tiny little model Superman catching the helicopter and carrying it back up to the top of the Daily Planet Building also Louis Lane (Margo Kidder).

You are currently working on "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" with Sean Connery. It sounds like many people are looking forward to it although we don't know that much about it. What can you tell us about this film project?

Well l can't say too much about "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" because l have to sign a confidential contract, but it is on a theme with the original "The League of Gentlemen" film made in 1959, but with lots of amazing surprises.

Thank you very much for this interview and good luck with your future projects.


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