John Muto

AS: We were talking about Home Alone before and about how some people will say, that house is like a character in the movie.
JM: I think that’s a very glib, bullshit thing that people say because they think it sounds clever. Characters are characters. A character is an entity. Generally it’s like a human being that walks around on two feet, talks and stuff. Maybe it’s a ghost. Godzilla’s a character, but for Christ’s sake a set’s a set. A set’s a setting. It’s someplace something happens. Maybe if it’s the house in the Haunting that’s a character because it does things and it talks to you.

AS: Do you think production design needs to be “invisible”?
JM: I mean is the design of this restaurant invisible? We like this restaurant because we like the way it looks not because it’s invisible. If you’re on the beach is the beach invisible? The beach is sand and spray. If you’re in the desert is the desert invisible? I think it’s another way of trying to sound clever. Life is full of sights and sounds and smells. Nothing’s invisible really.

AS: In Species, H.R. Giger designed the monster- Did you interact with Giger at all on that one?
JM: That was the first thing we did on the picture was get on a plane and go to Switzerland. It was interesting, we went to his studio, he was building a Sil statue out of Plexiglas and tubes, I think that the face was cast off a girl and he had a bunch of guys working on it. But he clearly didn’t understand what was required for a movie. It was sort of like, Why are you doing this? We can’t make this work, it’s not a robot. I suppose once he finished it we could have scanned it and animated it that way…

He’s a very interesting artist. He seemed like a very sweet guy. Very pale. Kind of sickly-looking. He took us out to dinner at this restaurant in Zürich that was a very interesting because it had art on the walls from all these different artists who never had money, who would give a piece of art in return for eating there. It’s a very fancy restaurant now. And in the middle of dinner this girl showed up who was his Sil. I guess he thought that we were going to hire her to be Sil in the movie. She made the mistake of bringing her boyfriend along, I don’t think that pleased him very much.

We went to his house, which was really kind of scary. From the outside it just looked shabby, ratty foliage and stuff. You go inside and everything inside was painted black. Even the insides of the windows were painted black. His paintings, the paintings you know in his books were zip-screwed to the walls. And he had a Giger table. There was a skeleton there that looked kinda scary. I certainly didn’t eat or drink anything. We stayed there several days. I think part of the reason we went was because we hoped we could get him to come to California to work with us. He wasn’t willing to leave. He said because of his mother he couldn’t leave town. Luckily our producer had a pretty good relationship with him. And then it turned out there was this guy named Steve Johnson that Giger actually liked, a guy who he felt could make his designs work. So that was the lynch-pin I think -that we had Steve Johnson. He made a full-size puppet. It wasn’t in the movie nearly enough. Really beautiful. Really something special.

That movie happened unfortunately before digital animation really got good. So you know at the end when she’s jumping around there’s not much of a sense of weight. I mean you can say she’s an insect. You know I think it helped kill Boss FX, that film. But the film itself was successful. I’m very proud of everything in it.


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