Favorite Practical Effects | The Writers’ Room Podcast | Episode 317
Jim Henson’s creatures, The various endoskeletons from the Terminator franchise, Bastien riding Falkor, Bruce the Shark from Jaws, the scale model work in the Lord of the Rings oeuvre, all these and many more memorable scenes stay with us because they achieved movie magic without the use of computers.
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Practically speaking, a practical effect is a special effect done in a real, physical space without the use of computer-generated imagery/visual effects or other post production techniques.
Special effects artists work with the director team to film dangerous/impossible things like bazookas, bullet wounds/battle damage on humans, elements like rain, wind, fire, and explosions. Other examples can be found in the make-up department, whose personnel work with the special effects team to craft and film prosthetics, masks, and puppets.
Don’t even get us started on miniature effects or the use of scale models that are photographed to appear full sized. Five words: The White City of Gondor.
This year we lost a great master of the craft, Bernie Wrightson. We wish his family our best wishes and look forward to enjoying his great legacy of work for years to come.
In 1966, Wrightson began working for The Baltimore Sun newspaper as an illustrator. The following year, after meeting artist Frank Frazetta at a comic-book convention in New York City, he was inspired to produce his own stories. In 1968, he showed copies of his sequential art to DC Comics editor Dick Giordano and was given a freelance assignment. Wrightson began spelling his name “Berni” in his professional work to distinguish himself from an Olympic diver named Bernie Wrightson, but later restored the final “e” to his name.
In 1968, he drew his first professional comic book story, “The Man Who Murdered Himself”, which appeared in House of Mystery No. 179 (March–April 1969). He continued to work on a variety of mystery and anthology titles for both DC and, a few years later, its principal rival, Marvel Comics. It was for Marvel’s Chamber of Darkness and Tower of Shadows titles where he was first encouraged to slightly simplify his intricate pen-and-ink drawing, and where his lush brushwork, a hallmark of his comics inking in the 1970s, was first evidenced.
Like many artists in the 1970s and 1980s, Wrightson moved to New York in hopes of finding work with comics publishers such as DC Comics or Marvel Comics. At one point Wrightson lived in the same Queens apartment building as artists Allen Milgrom, Howard Chaykin and Walter Simonson. Simonson recalls, “We’d get together at 3 a.m. They’d come up and we’d have popcorn and sit around and talk about whatever a 26, 27 and 20-year-old guys talk about. Our art, TV, you name it. I pretty much knew at the time, ‘These are the good ole days.'”
With writer Len Wein, Wrightson co-created the muck creature Swamp Thing in House of Secrets No. 92 (July 1971) in a standalone horror story set in the Victorian era. Wein later recounted how Wrightson became involved with the story: “Bernie Wrightson had just broken up with a girlfriend, and we were sitting in my car just talking about life – all the important things to do when you’re 19 and 20 years old. [Laughs] And I said, ‘You know, I just wrote a story that actually kind of feels like the way you feel now.’ I told him about Swamp Thing, and he said, ‘I gotta draw that.’
In summer 1972 he published Badtime Stories, a horror/science fiction comics anthology featuring his own scripts and artwork (from the period 1970–1971), each story being drawn in a different medium (ink wash, tonal pencil drawings, duoshade paper, screen tones, e.g., along with traditional pen-and-ink and brushwork).
In the fall of 1972 the Swamp Thing returned in his own series, set in the contemporary world and in the general DC continuity. Wrightson drew the first ten issues of the series. Abigail Arcane, a major supporting character in the Swamp Thing mythos was introduced in issue No. 3 (Feb.-March 1973).
Wrightson had originally been asked by DC to handle the art for its revival of The Shadow, but he left the project early on when he realized he could not produce the necessary minimum number of pages on time, along with his work on Swamp Thing. Michael Kaluta illustrated the series, but Wrightson did contribute much to the third issue in both pencils and inks, as well as inking the splash page of issue four.
In January 1974, he left DC to work at Warren Publishing, for whose black-and-white horror-comics magazines he produced a series of original work as well as short story adaptations. As with BadTime Stories, Wrightson experimented with different media in these black-and-white tales: Edgar Allan Poe‘s “The Black Cat” featured intricate pen-and-ink work which stood in direct contrast with his brush-dominated Swamp Thing panels. “Jenifer”, scripted by Bruce Jones, was atmospherically rendered with gray markers. “The Pepper Lake Monster” was a synthesis of brush and pen-and-ink, whereas H.P. Lovecraft‘s “Cool Air” was a foray into duotone paper. “Nightfall” was an exercise in ink wash and a subtle “Little Nemo in Slumberland” satire, and “The Muck Monster” a sequential art precursor to Wrightson’s Frankenstein, with the Franklin Booth-inspired pen-and-ink style in evidence. “Clarice” was also drawn in pen, brush, and ink, and with ink wash.
In 1975, Wrightson joined with fellow artists Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Michael Kaluta, and Barry Windsor-Smith to form The Studio, a shared loft in Manhattan where the group would pursue creative products outside the constraints of comic book commercialism. Though he continued to produce sequential art, Wrightson at this time began producing artwork for numerous posters, prints, calendars, and even a highly detailed coloring book. He also drew sporadic comics stories and single illustrations for National Lampoon magazine from 1973 to 1983.
The “Captain Sternn” segment of the animated film Heavy Metal is based on a character created by Wrightson (first appearing in the June 1980 issue of Heavy Metal magazine). The Freakshow graphic novel, written by Bruce Jones and illustrated (via pen, brush, and ink with watercolors) by Wrightson, was published in Spain in 1982 and serialized in Heavy Metal magazine in the early 1980s.
In 1983 Bernie Wrightson illustrated the comic book adaptation of the Stephen King-penned horror film Creepshow. This led to several other collaborations with King, including illustrations for the novella “Cycle of the Werewolf“, the restored edition of King’s apocalyptic horror epic, The Stand, and Wolves of the Calla, the fifth installment of King’s Dark Tower series. He also did a cover for TV Guide magazine’s April 26 – May 2, 1997 issue, illustrating the TV miniseries of King’s The Shining.
Jim Starlin and Wrightson produced Heroes for Hope, a 1985 one-shot designed to raise money for African famine relief and recovery. Published in the form of a comics “jam“, the book featured an all-star lineup of comics creators as well as a few notable authors from outside the comic book industry, such as Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, and Edward Bryant. In 1986, Wrightson and writer Susan K. Putney collaborated on the Spider-Man: Hooky graphic novel. That same year saw Wrightson and Starlin produce a second benefit comic, Heroes Against Hunger featuring Superman and Batman which was published by DC and like the earlier Marvel project featured many top comics creators. Starlin and Wrightson collaborated on two miniseries in 1988, The Weird and Batman: The Cult, as well as Marvel Graphic Novel No. 29 featuring the Hulk and the Thing for Marvel.
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