In the final chapter of our interview with William Stout, we learn about how he worked on his first blockbuster and some of his greatest art achievements.
B&S: Did working with Henson before lead to your work on the Muppet Wizard of Oz?
Stout: No, that was all Kirk Thatcher. I helped him out very early in his career. He never forgot that. He was a big fan of my stuff and used to buy my paintings once he started becoming successful as a director. And he personally asked me to work on the project.
B&S: How did you come on for Pan’s Labyrinth?
Stout: Guillermo and I have a lot of friends in common and they all kept saying oh you got to get with Guillermo. You guys are like two peas in a pod. We kept just missing each other, though Frank Darabont was a big fan and collector of mine. He’s the host of a special dinner at Comic Con in San Diego every year where he would invite all his favorite artists and occasionally invite director friends of his like Cronenberg. He invited me to dinner and seated me opposite del Toro. We started talking and the next day, he came to my booth at Comic Con and bought a couple of paintings.
He asked if I would mind delivering them to his home; I was happy to. At his home he talked to me about this little Spanish film he wanted to make. That little film ended up being Pan’s Labyrinth.
He had specific things he wanted me to design, so we were talking. He got a call he had to take, so he went into the other room. I could hear his side of the conversation.
He said. “I feel so honored and that’s wonderful, but I’m sorry. Thank you so much. But I need to make my little Spanish film.”
He came back in and I asked what the call was about. He said, “That was Warner Brothers. They just offered me Harry Potter.”
My esteem for him skyrocketed — to just blow off the Harry Potter franchise so that he could make a personal film!
B&S: How much of the Predator did you design?
Stout: I did the original design, Robert Short added the sort of high-tech dreadlocks and then somebody working for Stan Winston added the four-pronged mouth which I thought was really awesome.
Rick Baker brought me in on that. I had lunch with Rick and with the director John McTiernan and his production designer. We were discussing the design of the creature. They pulled out a book on H. R. Giger, the guy who designed the creatures in Alien. He turned to a page and said, “I would not be unhappy if it looked just like this.”
I said, “If you want that, just hire HR Giger because I’m not going to rip off his style. I don’t steal from people.”
They suddenly excused themselves and Rick leaned over to me and said, “You know what? I really don’t like these guys. I’m just doing this for the money.”
That was my first big studio film, though, and I was ecstatic. Prior to that I’d done all these independent non-studio movies, so this put me on the map in a major way in the film business.
B&S: Are there any projects – outside of the dinosaur film – that didn’t get made that you wished had?
Stout: That’s a favorite topic of discussion on any new film I work on. I always ask “Okay, what’s the greatest film you’ve ever worked on?”
For me, it’s Godzilla – King of the Monsters. I worked for two years on an American Godzilla – Godzilla – King of the Monsters in 3-D – that was going to be absolutely spectacular. Really great script by Fred Dekker. I was the production designer. I hired Dave Stevens and Doug Wildey for the storyboards. For the stop-motion effects, David Allen. Steve Czerkas built the stop motion model for me. Rick Baker was going to build a huge robotic Godzilla head for me. And that’s when I first met Steve Miner. He was the producer and director.
It was the right project at the wrong time.
It was obviously going to be a very expensive film with effects shots in almost every scene. And at that time, four big budget films really died at the box office, particularly Heaven’s Gate. No studio wanted to put up the budget.
I would do the film today in a heartbeat. The script was so good. It all took place in San Francisco, starting out with Godzilla destroying the Golden Gate Bridge. Godzilla ends up dying on Alcatraz.
I also would like to make At the Mountains of Madness and Something Wicked This Way Comes, my favorite Bradbury novel. The Disney movie made the mistake of having Ray write the script for his own story.
B&S: Plus, you moved on to theme parks. Do you still do that work?
Stout: Theme parks were my main business for so many years. Occasionally something will pop up in Korea. That’s all over now. There used to be an entire floor at Universal for the theme parks. Now, it’s not even a chair.
Film stuff still comes my way. I was asked to direct a film by some producers in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve been trying to get the script together for that. It’s nowhere near what it needs to be. I explained to them that you have just one shot when it comes to offering it to an actor. If you give the script to an actor and he turns it down, you can’t rewrite it and come back to him and say “It’s better now.” It should have been better from the beginning. It has to be absolutely perfect.
B&S: There are so many movies, but has the quality dipped with so much product?
Stout: There’s a lot of really amazing stuff out there. I really admire Steven Soderbergh and the work he’s been doing. He directed a great little film called Unsane that he shot entirely on his iPhone. It’s a fantastic thriller.
B&S: Your animal art has taken you all over the world, too.
Stout: I was in Antarctica for four months on my last trip there. Two months at McMurdo Station and two months at Palmer Station. Originally, my first time in 1989 was as a tourist on a cruise ship and I was blown away by how spectacular the place was. I had to do something to help preserve this place for my kids and grandkids. I got the idea of doing a one man show of paintings of the wildlife of Antarctica. To make sure that every kid dragged their parents to see the show, I included prehistoric Antarctica.
As soon as I got back from my first Antarctic trip, I made a beeline to the Byrd Polar Research Center in Columbus, Ohio, where I got a crash course in Antarctic paleontology. I started to notice the same paleontologists coming up over and over in articles and papers about prehistoric Antarctica. Those guys and gals became friends of mine. They shared a lot of their Antarctic knowledge with me. The Natural History Museum of LA County was nice enough to host my one man show and then they traveled the show for seven years. It was my attempt to raise the public awareness of why Antarctica is so special and what could be lost if we’re not careful. We need to take care of that place.
B&S: From Firesign Theater to bootleg albums to movies to theme parks to fine art, your career is everywhere.
Stout: I’ve got to be the hardest guy to collect because you never know where I’m going to pop up. (laughs)
Right now I’m finishing up a big three-volume box set, each book being 350 pages, on all my comics-related art. I’m almost finished with the book on all my underground comix art. And my most requested book is one on my music related work, like the bootleg record covers, and I’m about 80% finished with that book. I’m going to do a book on all my entertainment advertising work, like movie posters and TV ads, and then I’m going to do one on all of my film design. So, I’ve got lots of stuff in the pipeline.
I can’t even explain what a complete thrill it was to speak with Mr. Stout at length. His work on comics, film, music and so much more is of the very fabric of our pop culture.
Previous parts of this interview:
To learn more about William Stout, visit his official site at https://www.williamstout.com