Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I interviewed Dennis Madalone, the Star Trek stunt coordinator and singer behind America We Stand as One a few weeks back. At that time we talked about his Star Trek involvement in great detail as everyone knows I am an enthusiastic fan.
I found out after watching the official credits for America, We Stand as One, on the DVD that Dennis sent me that someone who I have admired for a long time, for his creativity and artistic ability was involved in the production. Dan Curry.
I have seen Dan interviewed on various Star Trek programs, and I saw the “tour” of his home with his Star Trek history and other endeavors on the Star Trek the Next Generation Season 6 DVD Box Set Special Material. I asked Dennis if he would be able to get me in touch with Dan Curry, as I would love to have an opportunity to interview him for my blog.
Dan and I finally got on the phone yesterday for the interview you are about to read. As you will see he is incredibly talented with what he is and has done for television and film and like me, he started very young.
Without further delay I give you Dan Curry, I really enjoyed the interview and would love to have another opportunity to speak, or possibly work with him!
SebRT.com Welcomes DAN CURRY – Visual Effects Supervisor/Producer and Second Unit Director for Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise
Hi Dan, thanks getting on the phone with me today and for fitting this interview into your busy schedule.
You were the visual effects supervisor/Producer and Second Unit Director on Star Trek for eighteen years – But where did you start out? Were you a film-maker at heart since childhood?
I started making movies when I was eight years old. I constructed a rear-projection sytem with a broken 8mm projector so I could have toy dinosaurs chase my brother. My childhood artwork included doing storyboards for imaginary movies before I knew what storyboards were. In college as an undergraduate I was a Fine Arts major and theatre minor. I found an old wind-up Bolex 16mm movie camera and the school was kind enough to fund a film, about Icelandic peasants in the middle ages. The theatre department provided a lot of props and costumes.
You brought a unique point of view to Star Trek, especially the Klingon aspect, was this because of the time that you spent in Thailand and the Peace Corps. ?
My studies of martial arts lead to the development of the Klingon weapons such as the bat’leth and the mek’leth. We had an episode in which Worf was to inherit an ancestral bladed weapon. The art department came up with something thar resembled a pirate’s cutlass. I felt that the Klingons should have something unique and original and I wanted to create something ergonomically sound. I have never liked movie weapons that just look coll but can’t be used. I am proud of the fact that the Korean Martial Arts Association recognized it as the first new bladed weapon of the last century that is practical.
You certainly have traveled the world, what inspired you to do this, and what was your favorite place you traveled to?
Thailand is certainly the place where I have the deepest connection. My wife is from Thailand and we speak Thai at home.
It is impossible to select one place so I would have to say that planet Earth is my favorite place… there are so many wonderful locations to visit… Asia, California, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Africa, Europe. How can one be selected above the others. There are still too many for me yet to see.
Who were/are your roll models as you built and shaped your career?
So many painters: Picasso, Rembrandt, Dali – Monet, Toulouse Le Trec…Cezanne and of course Michaelangelo, and Leonardo DaVinvi. Da Vinci has been a great inspiration too.
You worked on 100+ feature films designing title sequences.
What was your most rewarding experience when designing title sequences for films?
Each one is unique, some are simple as when the editor already knows what he wants and the job entails creating and positioning the type. The most creatively satisfying title sequences entail making a mini-movie, a sort of visual overture that can stand on its own. One case is “Back to School” starring Rodney Dangerfield. I got to create a little movie using stills to summarize the life of Rodney’s character from age 12 to 50. By an astonishing coincidence, I was able to use the photos from my own family album, as I grew up in the same neighborhood as the main character. I just painted in Rodney’s face and signs for his character’s stores over family photos and period stock stills of New York. Other title sequences I am prod of include STAR TREK VOYAGER and DEEP SPACE NINE, TOP GUN, DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID, and INDIANA JONES and the TEMPLE OF DOOM.
Do you have any suggestions to someone who is interested in working in television and film; an aspiring director, producer or visual effects artist?
The most important suggestion I could make to any aspiring artist to remind you that when you are in school your first task is to become an educated person.
You must make the important distinction between education and job training. An educated person can react to the changes and surprises that are inevitable in life. Someone who only has job training is limited to performing the task he or she has been trained to do.
Study the history of art, film, theatre, dramatic, literature, photography, and traditional media. Figure drawing is especially important. If you can draw, you can communicate more effectively with your team. The better you draw the more effective you can be in instantly conveying your vision and concepts to solve problems but drawing is something that everyone understands.
When applying for jobs do your research; find out who the decision makers are, what they have done and what they are working on now. Make the people who hire you, glad they did. Use your initiative to make their work easier and more efficient.
If you ever do stop learning you move into a vegetative state
You should also continue to do your own personal work on the side. Study the people who are doing what you want to do. Learn how they got to where they are.
You worked with previous SebRT.com guest and my friend, Dennis Madalone on his music video, America We Stand as One. What parts of the production did you influence?
At first Dennis wanted me to direct the film. Dennis had already had some storyboarding done by a friend of his and when I saw how personal and specific his concepts and images were I told Dennis that he really should direct himself as I would only interfere with his expression. I gave him technical advice on how to set up green screens and other visual effects issues. I guided him to achieve his personal vision.
I felt that for his film to be artistically pure, he didn’t need my vision interfering when he had his own.
Some of your work on Star Trek has inspired me to take the direction (no pun intended!) I have in my own life – I have been fascinated by the inner workings of the production on Star Trek for as long as I can remember. I would like to ask you a few questions that relate to your tenure on Star Trek.
I have seen you describe the Kazon battle sequence in the pilot episode “Caretaker” of ST Voyager. Could you take me through what it takes to animate a phaser beam and the planning that it takes?
Phaser shots are relatively simple. We have pre-built elements of vibrating beams over black. The animator will then correct its perspective using a paint system and then add the hit splash when someone or some ship is hit. We have an element of a mylar cheerleaders’ pom-pom shaken over a mirror and photographed with a 35mm movie camera that we use to add some random-looking kinetic energy to some of the hits.
I watched the only episode of Star Trek TNG that you directed, Birthright II, before this interview. I noticed that Worf used the martial arts exercises you designed the, “Mok’bara.” Why did you only direct one episode of TNG?
There was a starship named after you on Star Trek, the U.S.S. Curry, did you choose this ship to be named after yourself and or have a hand in designing it?
We had to do a fleet of damaged ships. We got together (Gary Hutzel, and other people from Image G) and we kitbashed* Star Trek models in ways that they were never meant to be put together. Just for fun each person who built a ship named it after him or her self.
The USS Curry is not supposed to be a specific class, just a model I threw together.
*Kitbashing is taking parts of other model kits and placing them on other models to add detail and create texture and details.
In a documentary I saw you in, you showed a prop that you had built for use on Star Trek TNG’s first season, a weapon made out of a L’Eggs pantyhose case and a shampoo bottle. What other kind of wacky, everyday objects did you find yourself using to give Star Trek audiences something exciting to look at each week?
To reserve our budgets for the bigger ships seen in close-up I sometimes used everyday objects for things such as “worker bee” ships. For example, when the Enterprise is in Dry-dock a small utility vessel passes by. It is actually a broken toy robot foot embellished with throw-away razor handles glued to it. We didn’t have much time and used whatever was available to do the job. The makers of everyday objects do a great job of precise industrial design and manufacturing. If you can look at things independent of their actual size you will discover that the world is filled with space ship parts.
Regarding the model robot built for the TNG episode “Arsenal of Freedom” – the Echo Papa 607, I decided to hand animate the model for its levitation sequences instead of using motion control which was the norm. As a result the model has a more fluid natural randomness to its movement. My thirty years of Tai-Chi allowed me to move the model in a way that kept its motion believable, threatening, and saved the expense of days of motion control photography..
You designed the deadly Klingon weapon Bat’leth for Worf and fellow Klingons to use in their ritual combat. What was your source of inspiration for these unusual weapons?
I had been imagining such a weapon for a long time. When the producers asked for a new Klingon weapon for Worf I made a foam-core version of what I had in mind and showed it to them. After a quick demonstration of how it could be used they decided to go with it. It has now become one of the visual symbols of the Knlingons.
You are very active in art circles and maintain a website showcasing some of your paintings. Can you tell me a little about your paintings and what you are working on right now?
I like to paint in a variety of different styles. I like creating works from the imagination, realistic landscapes, and genre or portrait shots of people. Oil, Pencil, Color Pencils, and “Pen and Ink” are favorite media. To me creating works of art is part of being alive.
I also play guitar and have over 20 different ones in my collection, both electric and acoustic. Each has its own personality. My son, Devin, also a filmmaker, is the real musician in our family. He plays piano/keyboard, guitar, bass, and drums and composes his own music.
Is there anything else that you are working on right now that you would like to share with the readers of SebRT.com?
I am developing a wonderful Christmas fantasy musical adventure family film starring the real-life great grandchildren of Captain and Maria Von Trapp (the subjects of The Sound of Music.) We are hoping to start shooting in January.
I am always working on something. Currently we are finishing a short supernatural children’s film I directed a while back.
My son and I are also shopping around a supernatural thriller that we wrote together with a friend, Sean E. Williams, that takes place in a winery. Involves the spirit of a Native American shaman seeking revenge for an ancient atrocity.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
The most important thing I would like to add and Star Trek was important in a lot of people’s lives. The success of its visual effects is owed to the tireless dedication of the visual effects team. They recognized that STAR TREK was greater than the sum of its parts and worked for more thank just a paycheck.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many terrific people.
Thank you for joining me Dan I really appreciate you taking the time!
Thank you, I’ve enjoyed it.
If you would like to find out more about Dan Curry and his work, point your browser to his website at www.dancurrygallery.com or check out his profile on MemoryAlpha the canon Star Trek Wiki. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me – Email Me.