Archive for Willis O’Brien

A Glimpse of the Oso Si-Papu

Posted in STOP-MOTION with tags , on August 8, 2011 by MONSTERMINIONS

The Last of the Oso Si-Papu is an 18-page story written by Willis O’Brien around 1950. He also created 90 water-color storyboards and seven large illustrations of the Oso Si-Papu (“Bear from the darkness of the underworld”). The creature is described as being 20-feet tall, bear-like, a native-Indian demon roaming the badlands, and having the pebbled skin texture like a Gila monster. The image above shows the beast —this is from a screen capture from a 1984 video taken of an Oakland exhibit on O’Brien’s legacy. This appears to be a water color painting. You can view the news feature (and other conceptual drawings of the Oso Si-Papu) on Obie here:

The Last of the Oso Si-Papu was never developed as a feature and we don’t know if Obie animated the beast or collected some test footage. An armature, clad with “musculature” was found in the famous Pete Peterson trunk. Some of the art work indicates that the beast had webbed ears similar to Gorgo. Willis O’Brien really had a fruitful imagination. It’s too bad some more of his ideas didn’t materialize on film.


S. Archer, 1993. Willis O’Brien: Special Effects Genius, McFarland, pg. 129-141.

Obie’s Dubious Ceratopsian

Posted in STOP-MOTION with tags , , on August 4, 2011 by MONSTERMINIONS

Here’s a terrific image of Willis O’Brien animating a ceratopsian dinosaur (said to be Agathaumus). Check out the glass plate in back with a matte painting and model “Dr. Seuss-like” trees in the foreground. The source of the image is “aintitcoolnews” (see link below), submitted by William Forsche from a photo credit by James N. Doolittle. At first, I thought this was the styracosaurus from Son of Kong, but Obie is too young and the model is different. Aintitcool referenced 1925’s The Lost World, which is correct. Here’s a few screen captures from the film:

Note the squiggly palm trees in back on the screen-captures and in the photograph. Yup, they’re the same. I like the detail on the ceratopsian. I had to look up the dinosaur Agathaumus. It’s a nomen dubium —a fossil of unknown and doubtful or dubious nomenclature. It was the first known ceratopsian described by science (1872, Lance Fm., Wyoming). The original specimen was largely identified from fragments and incomplete remains.–actually-film–Styracosaurus-Elasmotherium-pursuit—lo?page=2#.TjskM80e0eg

Black Scorpion’s Trapdoor “Spider”

Posted in STOP-MOTION with tags , , , on August 2, 2011 by MONSTERMINIONS

Due to superb animation largely executed by Pete Peterson, The Black Scorpion (1957) remains one of my favorite films of all-time. Next to THEM! (1954) it’s my favorite giant “bug” film. I like it a lot better than Tarantula (1955), which seems dull to me now (I wish it had been animated).

The Black Scorpion offers plenty of action, voluptuous Mara Corday, a volcano, and a chasm full of cannibalistic scorpions, an odd articulated clawed worm, and a “trapdoor spider” —ah, but this blogger doesn’t believe Willis O’Brien meant the arthropod (joint-footed organisms) to be a trapdoor spider. Ok, it lives in a tunnel with a trap-door, and it springs out of its lair like a trapdoor spider. The scene is so effective it startled the liver out of me as a kid —I jumped clean out of my pajamas and an afghan blanket.

The stop-motion animated arthropod that pursues young Juanito looks nothing like a trapdoor spider, which are powerful and stout burrowing spiders with short stubby legs. They are the bulldogs of the Order Araneae. Let’s take a look at the scene and the trapdoor arthropod. This occurs approximately 56.30 into the movie. Juanito stumbles upon a large circular object that is ever-so-slightly moving. He lifts it up!

Out pops a hairy, tear-drop shaped beast. In the image below you can see it has extended pincers. Trapdoor spiders don’t have outstretched pincers. Hmmmn.

Run Juanito! So, what was Willis O’Brien showing here? I think he based the design of the trapdoor arthropod on the look of a pseudo-scorpion. They’re tailless, bulb-shaped arthropods with extended pincers. Except pseudo-scorpions have 8 legs and palpal chelae (the pedipalps or pincers). O’Brien’s creation has 6 legs like an insect, plus the pincers. Maybe it was cheaper to animate! In any event, O’Brien certainly based his creations on known animals. Ray Harryhausen has remarked that O’B certainly understood animal locomotion and anatomy.

This scene from The Black Scorpion also offers us a glimpse how some of the footage and creatures from “The Lost Spider Pit Sequence” (King Kong, 1933) may have looked. The 6-legged trapdoor pseudo-scorpion is definitely creepy and a memorable stop-motion creation. I like it better than the title creature!

Modern pseudo-scorpion, below, approximately 1mm long (about the size of a grain of rice).

Images from Pete Peterson’s Trunk:

War Eagles Re-Visited

Posted in STOP-MOTION with tags , , , , on August 1, 2011 by MONSTERMINIONS

These two stop-motion armatures from War Eagles appeared in the Hollywood Auction Catalogue #44 (March 14-15, 2011). They are items #991 (left) and #990 (right).  I’m not sure how much they sold for or who bought them. According to Ray Harryhausen, in an interview with author David Conover, the armatures from War Eagles were all machined by Harry Cunningham.  The armature to the right still retains a rubberized skin on the legs and talons.  The skin for this model was developed by George Lofgren at MGM, who used flesh-eating Dermestid beetles to render pliable bird skin and feathers clean for latex application.  All this information is available in Conover’s exquisitely researched new book on War Eagles.

The armature with the skin showed up at a Camden House MGM Props Auction in 1989.  I think the one on the left was also part of that lot, but the tail appears to be missing.  There are 4 known armatures. Director Peter Jackson owns a wingless model.  The fourth armature was found in Pete Peterson’s trunk and was eventually owned by animator Jim Danforth and most recently by collector Ronald V. Borst.

The provenance on film memorabilia can be sketchy.  I can only speculate, but I think it’s because a lot of collectors don’t like people to know what they have and where they got it.  I suspect in some instances film props are black trade —stolen items historically pinched from places like Uncle Forry’s collection.  Three of these War Eagles armatures too have sketchy histories prior to 1989.  Where were they all these years?  

I like Conover’s book.  It’s a tremendous effort and the best reference to date on the history and reconstruction of War Eagles.  My one quibble would be to better document the provenance of film documents and props researched for the book.  Images are referenced to be “from the author’s” collection, or “courtesy of Bob Burns.”  So where did they get these items?  I don’t doubt the items are authentic, but it would be nice to know the history of ownership.


D. Conover and P.J. Riley, 2011. War Eagles: The Unmaking of an Epic. An Alternative History for Classic Film Monsters, BearManor Media.

Images from Pete Peterson’s Trunk:

New Book on “War Eagles”

Posted in STOP-MOTION with tags , on July 27, 2011 by MONSTERMINIONS

A new historical book on Willis O’ Brien’s ill-fated War Eagles has been published by BearManor Media. Author David Conover and editor Philip J. Riley examine the history of project development and provide a detailed reconstruction of the film with anecdotes, interviews and an original copy of the script by Cyril Hume. Best of all are several production drawings, production stills and images of armatures developed for the film. A few year’s ago, I filmed Bob Burns and friends discussing War Eagles at WonderFest. Here’s the clip: