When I was growing up, there were almost no learning resources at my disposal. Trial and error is extremely frustrating. Around the age of seven, I saw an interview with Ray Harryhausen on the making of Clash of the Titans. That was the first “making of ” I’d seen. He discussed making foam puppets from sculptures and placing ball-and-socket joints inside to give them the ability to be positioned one frame at a time. I turned to my father and said, “Dad, I need some ball-and-socket joints.” Years passed. My thirst for knowledge grew exponentially. I watched every movie and read every article that implied “How they did it.” I picked up tidbits of information, nothing more than buzzwords really. Until one day, I found a magazine called Cinemagic at a collector’s shop. This magazine didn’t just describe the entire process of creating a special effect in one paragraph; it actually had step-by-step instructions with photos. More importantly, it told how to do it on a shoestring budget and where to buy the materials. My 12-year-old world exploded. I was officially making movies. I bought back issue after back issue, and I couldn’t wait for a new issue to arrive. Suddenly, they stopped coming. Not even a year after finding it, the magazine had been cancelled.
So my quest began again. I scoured libraries, bookstores, and the TV Guide for anything that would talk about how to create special effects. Most of them were on entirely different subjects, but they shared the same materials that I heard were being used in the effects industry. However, nothing proved more valuable than my own experiments. Working in my garage at every hour of the day, sometimes in place of going to school, I made short stop-motion movies. Trying to make each movie bigger than the last grew to be incredibly expensive. I wasn’t very good and made many mistakes over and over. I constantly destroyed my equipment and accidentally burned down my sets. The knowledge that I had acquired was, as they say, only half the battle. The other half was the actual application. I did not have any practical sense of style.
When you train under someone or work for someone in a trade, you learn at a gradual, ordered rate. Not having anyone to learn from except a magazine, I would take everything that I had read and try to apply it before mastering any one skill. I never took the time to refine what I had learned. I was my only judge and teacher. Although I was extremely critical of my work, it didn’t matter. It looked bad, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I needed training. So I found one of the few schools around that actually taught special effects, California Institute of the Arts, and I applied. It didn’t take long for them to reject me.