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The Making of

Chapter 6: Concluding the adventure


Filming took 73 days, just as planned. Post-production lasted a couple of months and was spent mostly on special effects and pick up shots.

Filled with virtuoso stunts and exciting escapes, Raiders of the Lost Ark presented very special challenges to the special effects team of George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic in Marin County, California. Far away from today's CGI effects this enormously exciting action epic was a hard act to follow since they had such a difficult subject as to portray the wrath of God.

During pre-production storyboard artists Ed Verreaux, Dave Negron, Michael Lloyd and Joe Johnston were asked to try to imagine what would happen when the Nazis open the Ark for the first time. The script described the scene by only saying: "They open the Ark and all hell breaks loose". Though they knew that spirits were involved Lucas and Spielberg weren't sure how they should appear on the screen. So each of the artists did a preliminary set of storyboard on their own. One had come up with no ghost at all and it was all firestorm. Another artist had all ghosts and no flame while the third one had all these weird light effects. Lucas and Spielberg then asked that all three ideas be combined and Johnston was given the task.

With storyboards completed Richard Edlund and his team were responsible for translating them into film. The main question the team faced was what does a real ghost would look like, what would look believable and scary. Of course, nobody had ever photographed a ghost, so the visual concept depended on legend and their imagination. ILM's resources and personnel had to be carefully divided between Raiders and Dragonslayer, which was also in post-production at the time.

At first, it was thought that the ghosts could be created with cel animation, but early tests soon proved unsatisfactory. Edlund was searching for something with a different look. Eventually, the old cloud tank used in Close Encounters was refurbished and tests were shot with small puppet-ghosts in water. Several elements were shot using the tank to achieve the flow and feel of ghosts as insubstantial spectres floating and swimming through the atmosphere. Although there are four shots in the finished film that make use of cel animation to achieve ghosts and ghost effects, the bulk of the material was shot using other techniques including miniatures in the tank and full-scale puppets and actors. Special optical techniques were developed to combine the ghosts with live action footage giving a transparent "look" that would not look like a simple double exposure or "burn-in."

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Preparing small puppet ghosts for in the old cloud tank.

Cloud tanks were developed by Doug Trumbull for Spielberg's Close Encounters and later seen in the De Laurentis Flash Gordon. For Raiders, Edlund's team also generated cloud effects in the tank, but found other uses as with the ghosts.

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Making cloud effects in the tank and the result in the film.

They created an inversion layer in the tank using different temperatures and densities of solutions, for example a layer of salt water on the bottom of the tank with a layer of fresh water above it. Various pigments and dyes could float in the plane where the two layers meet thereby generating different types of cloud effects. They used what they called an 'atomic arm' (a remote-controlled hand, such as the ones used for moving isotopes in nuclear laboratories) to squirt pigment into the tank at the appropriate level. It is designed so that someone can control the insertion of the pigment from back near the camera, so he can see pretty much what the camera sees as he makes a shot.
For the death of the villainous trio.

The most startling shot in this sequence occurs just before the debacle, when one of the wispy manifestations drifts up toward the camera to reveal a rather angelic-looking female countenance which then suddenly transforms into a ghoulish death's-head. A woman dressed in a white flowing gown and with white makeup on her was placed on a platform that was hanging from three wires and was filmed in many movements.

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From a beautiful white female to the ghostly demon.

Once the transformation from angel to demon has been effected, the full fury of the awesome forces within the Ark is unleashed against the Nazis violators. Flames leap forth from the open chest, and in a matter of moments, Dietrich's face shrinks to a mummy-like visage. Toht's features melt away from his skull, and Belloq's head explodes into a pulpy mess. Spielberg had decided that the villains should be disintegrated. The storyboards dictated close-ups of Belloq, Toht and Dietrich with their faces shutter and crumble away but after many efforts and thoughts they realized that they couldn't do such a thing, so instead of disintegrating them they decided to give to each of them a different kind of death. Life molds of the characters in the screaming positions they would ultimately reach had to be taken. They had them hold their positions while they took castings of their faces and then special make-up artist Chris Walas had to rebuild their faces from the molds. Walas produced a series of three artificial heads. The first, representing Colonel Dietrich, employed inflatable bladders which when pumped up with air, sustained the face's proper shape. Joe Johnston's hand was used during shooting in the close-up to impart some added life to the scene. When the air was sucked out, the bladders deflated and the face became instantly mummified. It took eight or nine people to control the effect, manipulating different levers inside the head, all of which had to be done on hand.
Toht's head was made from a multi-layered gelatin compound and was filmed in time-lapse as it melted down the skull from the heat provided from a dryer. The time-lapse for the melting head was shot at a little less than a frame a second.

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Working on Toht's crumbling's face effect.
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Dietrich's face melting away.

In the case of Belloq they blew his head up by using a sort of plaster skull with a pliable substance over it to built the sculpture up. The final effect for Belloq's head employed a large air cannon directly in front and below the head, two shotguns placed about fifteen feet or so behind the head and off to the sides and explosive charges. Then they used four or five pieces of primer cord to sever the neck and three different dets under the eyes and chin. Inside the head Thaine Morris, who handled all that with the assistance of Ted Moehnke, had placed a very thin plaster skull, which they filled with blood bags that had all kinds of garbage in them - dried latex, vermiculite, pieces of foam etc. The head had to be blown up three times before they got the desired effect turning the stage in an absolute mess. Since the exploding head was to lead directly into the holocaust shots the optical department decided to superimpose pyrotechnic effects to help detract from the gore. The pyrotechnics, which were put in front and in the back of the head, were being exposed more than the exploding head itself with out losing the impact of the effect. A certain amount of optical work was done on all three shots, which included matting fire on one side of the frame.

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Constructing Belloq's plaster face.

While one part of the Raiders effects team was busying themselves creating elements for the film's breathtaking conclusion, others began with the comparatively few effects shots that occur elsewhere in the film. One of the earliest in the film is the shot of the China Clipper that Harrison Ford boards for the flight to Nepal.

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The Clipper in the film.

They knew that there was only one similar seaplane in the world that could still fly. But it was located in Puerto Rico and due to budget constrains they couldn't go there. As luck would have it, they found an old flying boat that was in a shipyard about five miles from lLM. It wasn't a real China Clipper, but it was close enough - a four- engine passenger seaplane. It was on dry land and could not float. So they built a ramp next to the plane to suggest a dock and placed pans of water on the ground to reflect a moving water effect underneath the wings. Actors were dressed in appropriate 30s costume and filmed boarding the plane and then the only working engine would get started to add some realism.
Then they took a helicopter trip around the bay to find a pier that would look right for the foreground of the shot. They found such a pier on Treasure Island and made a deal with the Navy to film there.

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The real Clipper in the shipyard & the boarding dock matte painting.

The completed shot is made up of two separately photographed plates and a matte painting of the seaplane base, taxicabs, etc. tying the elements together. There was the plate of the pier, the plate of the seaplane and the matte painting by Alan Maley. Subsequent flying shots, photographed by Jim Veilleux, were done with a miniature replica of the plane built by Mike Fulmer.

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Making the miniature replica of the Clipper and preparing it to film.

One of the most popular shots in the film was the shot at the end of the truck chase sequence with the Nazi car flying off the cliff. It was a cooperative interdepartmental effort. The cliff was a matte painting by Alan Maley, photographed by Neil Krepela. The animation of the Nazis and the car was handled by stop-motion artist Tom St. Amand with Jim Veilleux as cameraman.

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Cliff matte painting.

First a test pan on the painting had to be shot. The live-action plate was rear projected into a corner of the painting as the matte camera recorded the plate and painting with a slight pan of the matte camera to suggest the effect of tracking with the falling Nazis. This test footage was taken over to the miniatures stage and used as a guide to shoot the miniature car and Nazis. The match-up of the matte painting and the stop-motion miniatures was done by eye. The stop-motion miniatures were shot against the standard blue screen backing. Later, Bruce Nicholson's optical department went through the necessary steps to produce an anamorphic holdout matte of the car and Nazis.
This black and white travelling matte film element went back to the matte department just about the time Alan Maley was putting the finishing touches on the cliff painting. Then the matte department shot the final take of the matte painting with the live action rear- projected into the corner window, but this time the black and white travelling matte is running in bi-pack in the camera. This matte leaves a perfect 'window' of unexposed emulsion for the car and falling Nazi.
Finally, the optical department took this 'held take' and exposed the miniature car and falling Nazi into the hold created by the travelling matte in the matte camera then the film gets developed.

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Nepal matte painting.

In the original script Kasdan embroidered dozens of images to take the story from one country to the next - huge montages from San Francisco to Nepal, from Nepal to Cairo, from Cairo to the Mysterious Island in the Mediterranean. To save money and pay tribute to the films that inspired Raiders Spielberg decided to show a map of the world with little animated travel lines tracing the route of our adventurers. As Indy's plane flies to Egypt a map with a red line moving across it is superimposed over the image. Such a device was used in many old films, amongst them Casablanca. The shots of the mountains in the background, according to Tony Crawley, were rented from the 1973 film The Lost Horizon while the exterior shot of Indy's house is supposedly taken from The Hindenburg, although Richard Edlund maintained that it was shot with miniatures.

The film's last shot of Indy in the staircase of the government building wasn't in the script. It was Marcia Lucas who after watching the rough cut observed that there was no emotional resolution on the ending, because it showed only Indy delivering the Ark to the US government officials, and Marion wasn't shown anywhere. Spielberg re-shot the scene in downtown San Francisco, having Marion wait for Indy on the steps of the government building.

Spielberg's first cut had a running cut of approximately 3 hours but together he and editor Michael Kahn cut it down to something less than two hours.

When Spielberg completed his version of the film he voluntarily turned it over to Lucas. Lucas filled the screening room at Parkhouse the first time he watched Spielberg's cut, because he didn't want to see it without an audience. The next morning he called Spielberg and told him, "I've got to tell you, you're really a good director". Later Lucas, together with Kahn, cut seven minutes out of the first half of the film, making it more tight, slick and fun. Spielberg although he questioned some changes he was pleased and impressed. "I would trust George with any movie I ever direct to edit in anyway he sees fit. He knows the secret of what an editor can do to a movie, how he can enhance the film".

Lucas had visited the set of Raiders many times, in fact he was on location in Tunisia two of the five weeks of shooting, three of the nine weeks in London, and throughout the shooting at La Rochelle and in Hawaii. Lucas claimed that he visited the sets only to keep company to his friend although many believe that he did it to keep an eye on his friend's job. Lucas' presence was catalytic in Spielberg's work. He was there to drop ideas, while on the other hand he provided the required liberty that any director needs. At the end of shooting Spielberg told to Time magazine, "Lucas was to me what David O. Selznick was to his directors on Gone With The Wind. I respect his comments totally. Raiders proved that two people can make a movie together and remain friends". Indeed, the relationship between the two worked as best as it could for the film's interest. When they would have a disagreement they treated it with humor. Lucas would say, "Well it's your movie. If the audience doesn't like it, they 're going to blame you". And Spielberg would answer, "okay, but I'm going to tell them that you made me do it", and after that they would start exchanging ideas to find solution.

During some pick-up shots in the hold of the Bantu Wind, where the Ark is being carried we see the Ark surrounded by rats. They had got the rats so that they'd start to run toward the Ark; and most of them scattered to the corners, which were dark, which was great. But there was this one rat that, all of the sudden, ran toward the Ark, and then stopped and started turning around in circles. It just kept turning in circles, which was perfect, because it looked like the hum from the Ark was hurting its ears. Richard Edlund and Kathleen Kennedy were dying because they didn't know what was wrong with it. They found out from Mike Culling, the animal trainer, that he'd had the rat since it was a baby, and it was deaf and also had an equilibrium problem.

The film's score was composed by renowned composer John Williams who Lucas and Spielberg had used in almost every of their previous works. He had allocated themes to people, and symbols, with some distinct separation. The Ark: this is religious, orchestra and chorus but using the two as one sound; you won't hear the chorus. Indiana Jones theme: this is a heroic. Marion's theme is a recurrent love theme. The baddies theme, the Nazis, etc is dark music. Those are the four main themes, which recur. There is a fifth, almost a set piece within the main music and related thematically, for the scene with the monkey and Marion and Indy in the Cairo street. This was Spielberg's idea. He was trying to have a kind of "As Time Goes By" feel, a '30s attitude. Much of the atmosphere in the old serials was evoked by the score. John isn't as familiar with the music of the old Republic serials as I am. Johnny is essentially a classicist and a lover of Victorian and Elizabethan sound. Johnny isn't a "pulp" composer and I'm not a "pulp" director, but this is a "pulp" movie. But Johnny watched the film and saw that it was a very realistic kind of movie on one hand with a sort of pulpish treatment; he was not about to compose a score for this as he would compose a score for, say, Bridge on the River Kwai. By the same token Johnny's music has a seriousness, which is important; I wanted a serious score, which is what he gave me. For Raiders Johnny and I discussed some sort of a march, something you could walk out of the theater whistling. The Indiana Jones theme has a lot of whistle value and the Marion theme is right out of the Warner Bros. Classics - a cross between Dark Victory and the love scene from Casablanca.

Next: The great adventure returns >>


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