Veevers, Wally

Veevers, Wally
(1907– )
   Born in England in 1907,Wally Veevers was a special effects supervisor on DR. STRANGELOVE and 2001. Veevers had served his apprenticeship on the groundbreaking British SCIENCE FICTION film, Things to Come (1936), under the tutelage of William Cameron Menzies, the foremost production designer of his day.
   While making Dr. Strangelove, KEN ADAM, the production designer, advised Veevers that Kubrick had decided to have Major Kong (SLIM PICKENS) sit astride the nuclear bomb that he is releasing on its Russian objective at the film’s climax; he dislodges it from the chamber in which it is stuck and then rides it all the way to its target far below. Adam is cited by JOHN BAXTER as saying that he was very fond of Wally Veevers; whenever he had a tough technical problem he would take it to Veevers.
   When Adam asked Veevers how they might accomplish the complicated shots just described, Veevers responded, “Give me overnight to think about it, and tomorrow I’ll tell you what we’ll do. ” The next day Veevers told Adam how to accomplish this special effect. Kong first descended into the bomb bay of the B-52, which had been built on a soundstage at Shepperton Studios; Kong then mounted a nuclear bomb. At this point “we cut away to Kong sitting on the bomb outside the plane”; the bomb was suspended from the rafters of a soundstage, Adam continued. Veevers took an ordinary photograph of the Earth as seen from a plane and had it enlarged; he then projected it on a screen behind Kong. Then he had the camera crane backward away from Pickens, thereby giving the impression that Kong was riding the bomb as it plummeted downward toward its destination.
   Kubrick was fascinated with Veevers’s cinematic sleight of hand; and Adam believes that “it started his interest in special effects,” which in turn helped to draw Kubrick to make another science fiction film, 2001. Indeed, Kubrick phoned Veevers when he began planning 2001 and invited him to assume the chores of a special effects supervisor on the film. Veevers, who had suffered a heart attack after finishing Dr. Strangelove, demurred. So Kubrick, whom Adam says thought the world of Veevers, visited him in the hospital and drew from him a promise to come on board for three months—an assignment that stretched into three years.
   Wally Veevers was an expert at nondigital special effects, which were the order of the day during the bulk of his career; and Kubrick encouraged him to employ his “old-fashioned” methods on the effects he produced—leaving DOUGLAS TRUMBULL and other effects technicians to experiment with the latest computer-generated effects. Under Veevers’s supervision, 103 model makers created spacecrafts and planets to create shots portraying the immensities of outer space.
   Thus a star field was created by having the crew splatter stars on a backdrop with toothbrushes, and then Veevers would maneuver his miniature spacecrafts against this background. “The models had to move absolutely smoothly,”Veevers explains in Baxter’s book, because Kubrick wanted the spaceships to glide with swanlike grace through the star-filled sky. The model of the spacecraft Discovery, which is manned by astronauts Dave Bowman and Frank Poole as they pursue their mission to Jupiter, was actually 54 feet long and moved very slowly along a track 150 feet in length. “And each time we photographed it, it had to move at exactly the same speed,” in order to have continuity from one shot to the next.
   Often Veevers was ailing during the making of 2001; yet his work on the film, as one of the principal architects of its special effects, capped a long and distinguished career.
   ■ Baxter, John, Stanley Kubrick:A Biography (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1997);
   ■ Bizony, Piers, 2001: Filming the Future (London:Aurum Press, 2000).

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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