Sam Nicholson - Interview - The Watcher In The Woods
NOTE: SPOILERS - Do not read until you see the film...
SMB - Lets start with Kinetic Light. You first developed it and used it in STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE?
SN - That's right. It was used in the engine room, and the Veger sequence when Decker and Ilia turn into light and then disappear. If you look at that set it has massive amounts of Kinetic Lighting. They were used under the Veger set itself. That was over 100 kinetic projectors back lighting, or really under lighting, the entire set.
SMB - Please explain what Kinetic Lighting is.
SN - It's light that moves. I designed a lighting unit that we call, Light Gun. It's capable of putting out either water patterns or fire. Whatever you like. I made a lot of them up for STAR TREK then also for theme parks in Disney. It's a type of projection system where you can really control light.
SMB - Is that you standing in front of the effect?
SN - Yeah, that's what it looks like when it's projected on a very large screen. That was a test shot of what we were planning to project in the set. It was projected on Lynn-Holly in the scene and was all inside the spaceship. It was all Kinetic Light. The ship had a lot of beams and structures but then we projected Kinetic Light on them and then put a matte on it, so you would see the structure, but it would be translucent.
SMB - Giving the impression the ship was composed of pure energy?
SN - Yeah!
SMB - Was it used in any other parts of the film?
SN - No, just the end scene. The river of light, and the spaceship was supposed to be sitting on and the aurora borealis. We used it all through the atmosphere to create the layer of the auroras. It was a lot of effects, but just in the end the “Other World" sequence.
SMB - Had you made any enhancements in the usage of the effect after STAR TREK that you were able to apply to WATCHER?
SN - Well we really refined the system. Then we turned them into motion control units so we could shoot them stop motion and have very long exposures on the set. For WATCHER we had a more controlled use of Kinetic Lighting. In the Veger set we just pounded it with quantity. On Watcher we shot the Kinetic Light as elements and later matted them in as atmosphere effects which we had not done before. If you remember the Veger set, the atmosphere above was all black. There was no background which is something we would have liked to have done - big auroras that would have been spectacular.
SMB - Is the process connected with lasers?
SN - Somewhat. You don't use lasers per say but it's a culminated light source like a laser. It works off white light, then you mix up the white light and spit it out. Essentially like a illuminant projector, created in the 1930's. There's also a whole movement of kinetic lighting in abstract art.
SMB - By use of prisms?
SN - Yeah. I kind of derived it from that abstract art approach and turned it into a tool.
SMB - Has it been used in any films since WATCHER?
SN - I used it extensively in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KAHN and MILLENNIUM.
SMB - Again in the engine room in STAR TREK II?
SN - Yes. Also in the transporter bays. It's also been used in the OLYMPICS during the openers. But a lot of people saw it, and don't even realize it, in a CBS logo a couple of years ago. It was a really soft field of light floated around the logo. It was part of their major campaign and aired during commercial breaks almost every 60 seconds.
SMB - From what I remember the WATCHER had the head of an alligator and its body was mostly wings - which looked like sea weed?
SN – Yeah, you can say that. Its wings were very amorphous, not that well defined. And it didn't have that much of a body. It was more of head with wings.
SMB - But it seemed wet, or it glistened.
SN - Well it wasn't wet. It was kinda of dry.
SMB - What surprised me was the shot you sent me of the WATCHER'S ship. I didn't expect it to be so delicately done. It's got some really nice detail. As a rule the studio that made WATCHER usually used an in house effects team. How were you called in?
SN - By Leon Harris the production designer who I worked with on STAR TREK remember he called me and said we have this wild set, come down and take a look at it.
SMB -... meaning the "Other World" set?
SN - Yes.
SMB - How far into the production of that scene were they when you came in?
SN - It was still in the planning stage. It was all on paper. Nothing had been started. It took us about six months from the time we first started talking about it to realizing it. That's why it was a disappointment when the studio said they were going to change the ending. We were working on one schedule and a mandate came down from the studio that they wanted to release the picture on a sneak preview, two weeks early. Of course none of the opticals were ready so we showed them (the studio) the opticals in progress, a first composition. It was meant to be a forty-layer composite and naturally it was only a test composite so the colors were all off You generally composite something ten or twelve times when you have a sequence that complicated. So they looked at the first composite and said we don't want to put this in the movie for the sneak preview. Then they got a bad response when they did that, particularly the ending ... an ending that wasn't there. I mean it was missing an ending. So a week later they came back and said they were going to change and re-cut the whole film.
SMB - But this "Other World" ending was in the original script?
SN - Well when I came on yes. But there may have been something else planned before this, but I never knew about it.
SMB - In the original print I saw Jan (Lynn-Holly Johnson) is picked up by "The WATCHER" in the chapel and they both disappear. Now, how did your "Other World" sequence figure in?
SN - She's supposed to go with it. It picks her up in the chapel and they fly across this landscape to its spaceship.
SMB - How was that shot? I know stuff was filmed of Lynn-Holly on wires.
SN - It was seen as if “you’re" flying with them over the alien landscape.
SMB - A long shot or over their shoulders?
SN - Over their shoulders, flying with them as they go over this landscape and towards the ship.
SMB - It was probably very impressive looking.
SN - Yeah, it was real cool. It was a very exciting sequence. They go inside the ship and you see the other girl (Karen) inside this crystal pyramid. The ship had crashed landed, that’s why it's seen in this river of light. For some reason the girl (Karen) who disappeared imbalanced this alien's craft when she went through this portal. Which in turn caused this alien to crash.
SMB - Did you have any input in the design of the spacecraft?
SN - The alien landscape. Leon Harris designed the ship. We meet on it for months. We talked about what it would look like, what we could make the ship do. It was in the early days of motion control so we had to design the whole thing to fit what was called the A.C.E.S' set up.
SMB - That was the motion control camera system originally made for film THE BACK HOLE.
SN - Yes. We built the miniature set around that A.C.E.S. stage. It was going to be a really cool set. It finally came down to having a very interesting and complicated effects composite and not enough time to do it.
SMB - The ship is a very traditional "flying saucer" design. Were other concepts considered?
SN - In the beginning yeah. But that one won out. They were all variations of the
SMB - There are pyramids seen spread out over the "Other World" landscape. Which makes sense because triangles and 3's figure throughout the film.
SN - Well, yeah it was thematically tied in and part of this Being's world.
SMB - So then the "Other World" is the WATCHER'S HOME?
SN - That's never said. It's kinda left open. It is were the alien is at the time it crashed.
SMB - Did the alien ever change form once in was in its own dimension or world?
SN - No. It stayed the same.
SMB - Kinda monstrous without being a monster.
SN - Yeah, that's what they wanted.
SMB - I think that was part of the confusion. That this thing may have looked one way, but was really opposite.
SN - Yes, I think that's all part of it. People just don't get that. They seem to want either a black or white representation.
SMB - Was there at any time a voice over or a narration in the scene to further explain what was going on visually?
SN - No. In retrospect it was a very visual and cerebral approach