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Creating Vigo the Carpathian, and the Ghostbusters II Ending You Never Saw

Glen Eytchison was deep in the planning stages of his next theatrical production when he got a phone call from Industrial Light & Magic. It was early 1989, and employees at George Lucas’s famed visual effects house needed to create a painting of a 16th-century Carpathian warlord that could come to life for director Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters sequel. They had to do it fast: The movie was due to come out in June. Could Eytchison help them? 

Living paintings were something Eytchison knew well. As director of the Laguna Beach, California show Pageant of the Masters, he had, at that point, been creating tableaux vivants—three-dimensional sets containing actors that were lit to look like flat paintings and would, at the right moment, shockingly come to life—for more than a decade. “We’re the best at it,” he tells mental_floss. “No question about it. There’s no one any better in the world.” Eytchison was also a Ghostbusters fan whose idol was ILM visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren—so, of course, he said he’d help. 

What followed was a whirlwind month in which Eytchison and his team created a painting that would terrify moviegoers, sewed together Vigo the Carpathian’s costume, built a physical set of the painting, and shot footage of Wilhelm von Homburg as Vigo—complete with warlord outfit and facial prosthetics—stepping out of that set to fight the Ghostbusters. Eytchison, his crew, and ILM had no idea that their creation would become an iconic movie villain.

When he flew up to meet with Muren at ILM’s headquarters, then located in San Rafael, California, Eytchison intended to talk them out of using his services. “When all is said and done, the Pageant is about wood, unbleached muslin, paint, and light,” he says. “It’s not easy—in fact, it's very difficult—but it’s based on common sense: Eliminate the shadows and the set will look flat. I didn’t want them to go, ‘We’re paying this guy and that’s all you have to do?’”

But Muren wasn’t having it. “There’s no question we could figure it out, but you already know how to do it,” he told Eytchison. “Why should we waste our time?”

So Eytchison officially signed on and took a look at the script, while Muren and the ILM team outlined what they wanted their living painting to do. “They wanted him to be convincing as a flat painting in the early museum scenes where he’s being restored,” Eytchison says. “Then they wanted him to come to life and start speaking his lines, and they wanted that to be a really shocking moment.” 

Eytchison knew he could pull that off, but first, he had to tackle the most pressing issue: Creating the artwork on which he would base his living painting. “Some of ILM’s best people had produced some really brilliant and beautiful paintings, but they had all been rejected by Ivan Reitman,” Eytchison says. “They showed me a stack of paintings; Ivan had said that they were 'too Conan.' So our first task was to create a composition that would work for Ivan, and also work for us technically. It also had to work for Wilhelm von Homburg, who had already been cast as Vigo.’”

Eytchison knew they had to get started right away if they wanted to finish in time. So he asked ILM to send a matte painter down to his home in Southern California, where the Pageant’s costume department came prepared with books from their library. “We spent the day doing research to determine what a 16th-century Carpathian warlord would look like and what he would wear,” Eytchison says. “And while they were looking at costumes, I was looking through books of painters from that time and in that geographic location so we could match the look and feel of the period.”

After the team had compiled a number of samples, the next logical step would have been to spend a couple of days creating a painting to show to Reitman, but Eytchison decided to do something a little different. “We got a blackboard and we painted a background on it,” he says. “Then we painted several versions of each element—skies, trees, the burning castle, the throne of skulls—on separate layers of acetate.”

The final acetate assemblage. Courtesy of Glen Eytchison.

ILM representatives came down to Burbank, where Ghostbusters II was shooting, and went with Eytchison and executive producer Michael C. Gross to Reitman’s trailer, where they presented the painting. “I set it in front of him and said, ‘This is what a 16th-century Carpathian warlord would wear in battle,’” Eytchison recalls. “And he said, ‘I like it, but I don’t like the tree.’ And so I took the tree cel out, and put a different one in.” Reitman experimented for a while, testing different combinations and elements, and changing the positions of the acetate layers until he had a composition that he liked; then, Eytchison taped everything down. The meeting had taken just 15 minutes.

Eytchison took that composition, along with the reference material and photos of von Homburg, to a painter named Lou Police, who has created art for everyone from Warner Bros. Television to Walt Disney Studios. “We only needed one meeting with Lou,” Eytchison says. “He dialed in immediately to what we were going for. I was able to say, ‘The sky on this painting Ivan really likes, the patina on the armor in this painting he really likes, and the skulls he really likes in this painting.’ We gave the guy a stack of reference material that we had taken out of art books and circled and pointed arrows and pointed at stuff, and he said, ‘I know exactly what you want.’” 

A few days later, Eytchison had the painting of Vigo the Carpathian in hand. He photographed it and sent it to ILM and Reitman, who approved it immediately. Things were off to a great start. There was just one problem: Eytchison knew their original plan wasn’t going to work.

Lou Police's oil painting of Vigo, which Eytchison used as reference for creating the set and photograph seen in Ghostbusters II. Courtesy of Glen Eytchison.

There’s a big difference between creating a living painting on stage, where the nearest person is 40 feet away, and creating one for a film, where the painting is blown up across a huge movie screen with the audience sitting directly beneath it. “You're going to see every pore on his face—every imperfection,” Eytchison says. Which is why he knew that Police’s painting, as good as it was, would never be an exact match for von Homburg’s actual face. They would never be able to believably switch between the painting and the set for the scenes where Vigo talked to Dr. Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol) and ultimately stepped out of the painting.

Fortunately, Eytchison had a plan: The source painting would be used as a reference, but he and his crew would build the set, place von Homburg as Vigo in it, and photograph the whole shebang. Then, they’d blow up the photo to life-size and treat it in such a way that it would look like an oil painting, and that’s what would be used on the Burbank set. “That way, when he came to life, all I had to match was what we had already done,” Eytchison says, “as opposed to taking a painting of a guy and trying to match it exactly.”

ILM agreed to the plan, and Eytchison and his Pageant of the Masters team got to work. Rather than fly everyone up to San Rafael—which didn’t make financial sense—Eytchison opted to build the set in Southern California and ship it upstate.

Mike Smithson applies makeup to von Homburg, while sculptor Judy Park holds a palette. Courtesy of Glen Eytchison.

Many things had to happen very quickly. “We asked ILM to send us the cast of von Homburg’s body, which they did, in a big wardrobe box,” Eytchison says. “It came in three pieces, and we put them back together.” While Skipper Skeoch and Marci O’Malley were building the costume using the mannequin, Richard Hill was designing the set, then constructing it with the help of John Clancy. Simultaneously. Judy Parker was creating the structural elements of the set, like the skulls, which she sculpted from Styrofoam. Both the costume and the set were painted by David Rymar and Leslie Turnbull. “You need to use a similar texture on the background and on the foreground elements, and on the costume and the skin, because it’s the texture that’s going to make everything merge together as one piece,” Eytchison says. “That’s why the set painters are also the people who painted the foreground element and the costume.” Diane Challis Davy provided additional supervision of the physical production.

All of the elements took about two weeks to construct. Everything was shipped up to ILM, where the crew set it up in a light tent, which would help to eliminate shadows. Using a stand-in for von Homburg, Eytchison spent hours tweaking the lighting and getting rid of shadows to make the set look as flat as possible.

When von Homburg arrived, ILM’s Mike Smithson applied make up and prosthetics to his face (which he had designed along with Tim Lawrence). Then, the actor was inserted into the set, which was about 4 feet deep. They spent the next week taking the photo that would be blown up and turned into the oil painting on set, and shooting tests of Wilhelm speaking, moving, and stepping out of the painting.

Reitman wanted von Homburg to deliver his lines while standing perfectly still, with only his mouth moving. “We used several techniques to help him, including building a simple armature behind him to give him reference points and support, but he was having a tough time of it,” Eytchison says. “We were also dealing with the big reveal, where he stepped out of the set and onto the stage floor. It was an awkward move for Wilhelm, and he never got it quite right.”

Despite everything, Eytchison thought the results of their month-long sprint to create the effect looked fantastic. “I’m usually the one who is most critical of our work,” he says. “But when we saw the dailies, I thought the effect was going to be really interesting, and with a few modifications to the set, we could make Wilhelm more comfortable stepping in and out.” But not everyone agreed.

Eytchison on set with von Homburg, Dennis Muren (on the ladder), and Smithson (in blue). Courtesy of Glen Eytchison.

Though Eytchison was very happy with the results of the “test shoot, something about it—Eytchison is still not sure exactly what—just didn’t work for Reitman. “Ivan changed the entire ending,” Eytchison says. The director decided to replace the living picture scenes with a visual effect of Vigo’s disembodied head floating over a river of slime. At the end of the film, the villain doesn’t step out of the painting, but disappears from it, then reappears in the scene. Eytchison and his team weren't called back for the final shoot, which is why Vigo looks so different at the end of the film.

It was a shame but, Eytchison says, that is the nature of the film industry—and he knew that going in. “I wished we had a little more time with Wilhelm to work out the bugs, but I realized that Dennis and ILM were dealing with hundreds of issues,” he says. “There were a lot of people working on it—other people at other jobs in other departments whose needs also had to be considered. And when all is said and done, you have to trust that the director knows best.” Eytchison, a director himself, understood that.

Still, Eytchison is proud of the work he and his team did. “The fact that we managed to get it up there at all—I was just so pleased and impressed that we were able to work so quickly,” he says. “And Dennis Muren, Ned Gorman, and the rest of the crew at ILM were incredible to work with. They made us feel like a part of the team from the moment we arrived, and it was much appreciated.

The photograph that was turned into the "oil painting" used on the Ghostbusters II set. Courtesy of Glen Eytchison.

Since Ghostbusters II, Eytchison has created tableaux vivants for more movies—including Taylor Hackford’s The Devil’s Advocate (1997) and Barry Sonnenfeld’s Wild Wild West (1999), as well as for Broadway shows like Hairspray and The Will Rogers Follies, and for television series and commercials. But Vigo is still his most popular creation. 

“I get fan mail about Vigo,” Eytchison says. “I’ve been doing this 42 years. That’s a long time, and Vigo is the one thing that just keeps coming back. I get more attention for Vigo than I get for almost anything else I’ve done.”

The two paintings of Vigo survive. The photograph done up as an oil painting glowers out over a hallway at the San Francisco offices of Lucasfilm and ILM. Lou Police’s original hangs in Ivan Reitman’s home.

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15 Things You May Not Know About Close Encounters of the Third Kind
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We are not alone. Here are a few facts about Steven Spielberg’s 1977 UFO classic, on its 40th anniversary.

1. IT WAS INITIALLY A VERY DIFFERENT FILM.

Spielberg’s initial story outline involved UFOs and shady government dealings following the Watergate scandal, which became a script entitled “Watch the Skies.” The idea involved a police or military officer working on Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s official study into UFOs in the 1950s and 1960s, who would become the whistleblower on the government cover-up of aliens. There were numerous rewrites—Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader even took a crack at it, penning a political UFO thriller titled “Kingdom Come” that Spielberg and the movie studio rejected—before the story we know today emerged.

2. IT’S NAMED AFTER LEGITIMATE UFO RESEARCH.


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Spielberg partly based his idea on the research of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a civilian scientific advisor to Project Blue Book who eventually admitted that 11 percent of the study’s findings about unidentified flying objects could not be explained using science.

The title (which is never specifically explained in the movie) is actually derived from Hynek’s own alien close encounter classification system: A close encounter of the first kind is sighting of a UFO; the second kind is physical evidence to prove the existence of an alien; and the third kind is actual contact with alien life forms.

3. THERE’S A CAMEO FROM THE GODFATHER OF UFO RESEARCH.

Hynek, who also served as a technical advisor on the movie, makes an uncredited cameo in the final scene of the movie. You can spot him pretty easily—he’s the goateed man smoking a pipe and wearing a powder blue suit who pushes through the crowd of scientists to get a better look at the aliens.

4. NOBODY WANTED THE STARRING ROLE.

Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Columbia Pictures

The director first offered the part of Roy Neary to actor Steve McQueen, who turned it down because he said he couldn’t cry on cue, something he saw as essential to the character. Spielberg then went to Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, and James Caan who all turned him down as well before asking his friend Richard Dreyfuss, who previously worked with Spielberg on Jaws, to take the part.

5. BUT IT WASN'T THE MOST DIFFICULT ROLE TO CAST.

Spielberg approached French actors like Lino Ventura, Yves Montand, and Jean-Louis Trintignant to play Claude Lacombe—who was based on famous UFO researcher Jacques Vallée—before settling on director and sometimes-actor François Truffaut. The initially skeptical Truffaut, who was nervous about appearing in a big budget Hollywood movie, accepted the role because he wanted to compile research for a book about acting (he never did write the book).

6. MERYL STREEP COULD HAVE PLAYED ROY'S WIFE.

Many actresses—including a then-unknown Yale Drama School grad named Meryl Streep—auditioned for the part of Roy’s wife Ronnie, but he ultimately cast actress Teri Garr because he saw her in a coffee commercial and loved the way she was able to convey a wide range of emotions in a 30-second clip.

7. THEY SHOT IN A DISUSED AIR FORCE HANGAR.


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Spielberg wanted to shoot in real suburban locations rather than studio backlots, but the production had trouble finding locations. The biggest question: Where could Spielberg shoot the climactic canyon sequence with the mothership?

The production looked for huge indoor enclosures that would allow for the massive scale of the scene, though they only found ones with center support dividers that spoiled the openness Spielberg wanted for the UFO runway. The only location producers found without center dividers was a 300 foot by 300 foot disused hangar that had been used for dirigibles during World War II at Brookley Air Force base in Mobile, Alabama.

8. THE TEAM BOUGHT A HOUSE FOR THE PRODUCTION—AND SOLD IT FOR A PROFIT.

The Nearys' house, which is located at 1613 Carlisle Drive East in Mobile, was actually purchased by the production for $35,000 so they could do whatever they wanted with the interiors. It was later sold for $50,000 after production wrapped, netting a $15,000 surplus that went back into the film’s budget.

9. THE MEMORABLE 5-NOTE TONES TOOK A LONG TIME TO FIGURE OUT

Composer John Williams worked with Spielberg to come up with the movie’s distinct five-note musical method of communication between humans and aliens—which Spielberg partly based on the Solfège system of musical education—a year before shooting began.

Williams initially wanted a seven-note sequence, but it was too long for the simple musical “greeting” Spielberg wanted. The composer enlisted a mathematician to calculate the number of five-note combinations they could potentially make from a 12-note scale. When that number proved to be somewhere upwards of 134,000 combinations, Williams created 100 distinct versions, and they simply whittled the combinations down one by one until they had a winner.

10. SPIELBERG USED TRICKS TO GET THE PERFORMANCE OUT OF HIS CHILD ACTOR.


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Cary Guffey, who plays little Barry Guiler, had never acted before, so Spielberg set up ways to coax a performance out of the 3-year-old. To get a shot of Guffey reacting to the aliens first approaching the Guiler house, Spielberg slowly unwrapped a present for the young actor just off camera, making him smile. Guffey even exclaims “Toys! Toys!” in the final take.

To get the boy to react to the aliens offscreen, Spielberg had Guffey walk up to his mark where—unbeknownst to the little actor—two crewmembers were dressed as a gorilla and a clown standing behind cardboard blinds. When Guffey entered the kitchen, Spielberg dropped the first blind revealing the clown to scare him, and then dropped the other blind to reveal the gorilla, which scared him even more. The gorilla then took off his mask, revealing the film’s makeup man, Bob Westmoreland, who Guffey recognized, causing him to laugh and smile in the final take.

11. THE MOVIE NEARLY FEATURED VERY EARLY CGI.

Spielberg originally toyed with the idea of using computer generated images to create the aliens and their ships, even going so far as to have animator Colin Cantwell create a CGI test of three UFOs floating over a stadium. The single-shot test, which took three weeks to complete and was one of the first computer generated images ever created for a film, proved to be unfeasible for the whole movie—so the idea was dropped.

12. THERE WERE SOME UNORTHODOX IDEAS FOR CREATING THE ALIENS.

Spielberg wanted the aliens to be non-human beings that glided instead of walked, and he had a weird idea to pull it off: An orangutan dressed in a specially-made suit. For a screen test, the production team outfitted an orangutan in grey spandex and strapped it into roller skates. The orangutan immediately took off the skates and crawled to its owner, so a full test couldn’t be completed, and the team scrapped the idea. The majority of the small aliens in the final movie were played by local elementary school girls from Mobile in specially made grey suits and masks who were heavily backlit to create the final alien silhouette effect.

13. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS FEATURES A PRECURSOR TO E.T.


Columbia Pictures

To create the alien who bids farewell using the musical hand signals at the end of the film, Spielberg enlisted the help of Italian special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi, who designed a fully articulated steel, aluminum, and fiberglass animatronic puppet that Spielberg nicknamed “Puck.” Puck’s expressions were based on photos of Guffey. The puppet was operated by a crew of seven puppeteers, with Spielberg himself controlling the final articulation before the alien leaves to go to the mothership.

Puck would help inspire E.T. after Spielberg asked himself, “What if this little guy didn’t get back on the mothership?” Rambaldi would also go on to design the character of E.T.

14. SPIELBERG BET AGAINST HIS OWN MOVIE—AND REALLY CASHED IN.

Spielberg and his buddy George Lucas both had new movies coming out in 1977; Lucas’s was a little movie called Star Wars. Lucas thought his ramshackle space movie wouldn’t make back its budget, and he knew his friend’s new movie would break box office records just like Jaws had done, so he offered Spielberg a friendly wager. Both agreed to give the other 2.5 percent of the profits of their respective films. Lucas grossly underestimated his movie, which went on to become the second highest grossing movie of all time if adjusted for inflation (in comparison, Close Encounters is #71). The difference ended up being $40 million.

15. SPIELBERG DIDN'T LIKE THE VERSION THAT WAS INITIALLY RELEASED.

Spielberg wanted to release Close Encounters in the summer of 1978, which would have given him ample time to edit the film and finish its special effects—but Columbia Pictures, which was going through major financial troubles, insisted he have it ready for a November 1977 release, leaving the director with a final cut on a movie he didn’t feel was completely ready. 

Three years later, the company allowed Spielberg to “finish” the movie under one condition: That he show the inside of the mothership, which would give the studio’s marketing department an angle to sell this new version. The director capitulated, adding new scenes and cutting others to create a “Special Edition.” The director was unhappy with the scene, though, and later cut it for the Collector's Edition home video release.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:Blu-ray special features; Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic FilmClose Encounters of the Third Kind Diary.

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What Happens to Films Selected for Preservation by the Library of Congress?
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On Wednesday morning, the Library of Congress announced its latest slate of movies selected for permanent safekeeping in the National Film Registry. As always, the picks varied widely. The National Film Registry’s class of 2017 includes Dumbo (1941), The Goonies (1985), Die Hard (1988), Field of Dreams (1989), and Titanic (1997), plus the home movies of a Mexican-American family of life in Corpus Christi, Texas in the 1920s.

Originally established in 1988, the National Film Preservation Act tasks the board with selecting American films that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically" significant. They can pick up to 25 per year, and the movies must be at least 10 years old. The National Film Preservation Board is made up of representatives from a number of industry organizations, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Directors Guild of America, and the National Society of Film Critics. With the new selections, there are 725 films in the registry.

Selection for the registry is an honor, of course, but what does it mean beyond that? How does the Library of Congress, the U.S. legislature’s storage agency for documents and media, go about preserving movies?

According to Steve Leggett, program coordinator for the National Film Preservation Board, selection implores the Library of Congress to get the best possible copy of the film in its original format and store it in their vaults at the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia. This ensures the film will be available to future generations.

For Hollywood movies, the process is usually pretty easy. “We simply ask the studio to donate a copy,” Leggett told Mental Floss in 2015. In some cases, that isn’t even necessary. The Library of Congress has more than 1 million films on file, many of them sent by studios or filmmakers for the sake of copyright registry. When the original Star Wars was selected in 1989, Leggett says, congressional librarians simply checked that the 35 millimeter print submitted with Lucasfilm’s copyright application was in good shape. It was, so no further action was needed.

For older and more esoteric selections like newsreels, silent films, documentaries, and early technical achievements in filmmaking, Leggett says the library often seeks out a copy from the community of preservationists. Universities, private foundations, and hobbyists that preserve old films might get a call from the Library of Congress if they have a good copy of a National Film Registry selection. In rare cases, the library will barter for the film, using redundant materials on its shelves. Other times, it will make a copy or pay the archivist to make a new 35 millimeter copy for them. The Culpeper facility stores nitrate prints, the original film stock for many early movies, in specialty lockers because the material is highly volatile and flammable.

Silent films can be tricky because studios often released, revised, and then re-released versions of the film. When one is selected, Library of Congress archivists collect as many aspects and versions of the film as they can, which might mean contacting several studios and archivists.

Of particular challenge in 2015 was the induction of Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, William Greaves’s quasi-documentary of his 1968 theatrical project staged in Central Park. The film was screened often through the years, as Greaves gained a cult following. It was released on DVD in 2006, but the National Film Preservation Act specified that the library should seek a copy in the original format, which it didn’t have. Leggett said Greaves’s 1968 original cut was “lost,” but the library worked with the late filmmaker's estate to create a new 35 millimeter version that resembled it.

The Audio-Visual Conservation Center itself, buried on a mountainside, has storage space controlled to stay cool and dry. “A film could survive for hundreds of years there,” Leggett says. He admits the audiovisual center wouldn’t survive a nuclear strike—in the event of World War III, the world might lose its best copy of Buster Keaton’s The General—“but it did survive an earthquake with all materials intact.”

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