Michael Novotny

Michael Novotny

Through friends I met Bob Skotak. John Muto was art directing for his effects group. I rolled in and I said, I want a job. They said, What can you do?

I said, What do you want me to do? And they said, We need to sculpt this underwater mountain range and all these whales and sharks.

Great, I’ll do that. And they were like, Are you a specialist in that area?

No, I’ve never done it before but I’ll have a go at it. So I just took big billets of foam and just started sculpting and they said, You’re on. You can stay.

AS: Was that for Jaws 3D?
MN: That was Jaws 3D. We worked on Jaws and that company folded. Then we did dog movies like Creature with Klaus Kinski, total Alien rip-offs. Get a warehouse in Burbank and violate every fire law there is. Get a chainsaw and sculpt extraterrestrial landscapes. Unbelievable the stuff that we did for nothing. And we would literally cruise with a truck down the alleys of the aeronautics areas in Burbank and look for odd shapes. If you saw water tanks or you saw an old jet cowling that wasn’t being used for something we’d take it.

AS: And it becomes a spaceship…

MN: Well, we made a junk pile in a warehouse. Bob Skotak would come and look at this junk and he’d start to sketch. Well, let’s make this -here’s the airlock door, we’ll put this over that. Oh, you didn’t finish that lunch? Let’s take that little package. He used everything. Once you stand back and take an airless and spray everything grey it looks like it’s on purpose. So functionality starts to come into the design element and it all seemed to work.

AS: And from there you gradually made your way to art director…

MN: Well, I was art directing on that show. They brought me in as a construction coordinator but the art director candidate they had got drunk and left or something. Nobody predicted anything that could happen on those kinds of shows. Usually it was like, Well, you’re going to have to be the art director now, okay?

Okay, alright, I’m going to be the art director. And then to all your friends that were working with you: Hey I’m the art director now. So it was a very informal, very shoot-from-the-hip process but it got the job done. And actors would commonly come in the next day and they’d be dealing with wet paint because you had to work all night. It was the only way -they couldn’t afford to spend money on anything.

Then I left that show and did a lot of commercials and music videos and met Bill Creber. Somehow he heard of me through some of the effects circles. He summoned me to a meeting at MGM and when I came in he asked how would I build this spaceship he was conceiving. I told him how I would build it and he seemed to think that was different from what anybody else had told him. So he hired me. And that was Flight of the Navigator with Disney. That was a very interesting project because it went from LA to Ft. Lauderdale and then I got a phone call to take the spaceship and pack it up to Norway. We shot all the interiors in Norway because they were doing a sharing production deal. We shot there for months. That to me was like everything I’d been doing for ten years. Everybody else thought that was sort of exotic but it didn’t seem very exotic to me.

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About the Interviewer

Tom Lisowski is a production designer who has designed swamp mazes shot in China, crumbling cliffs in Utah, future arenas in South Central, dilapidated tenements and twisted laboratories under luxurious mansions... William Anthony is a Los Angeles-based commercial and editorial photographer specializing in portraiture, lifestyle and documentary imagery... Guest photographer Nelson Cragg is an award-winning cinematographer who shoots and directs television, feature films, and commercial projects. Contact ArtStars: tom@artstars.us