STARGATE was a very special project.
in 1991, a construction coordinator and friend, John Stone and I worked together on a TV series. I was Art Directing the show and was using my first Apple computer to design sets and I also rented to production some hand sculpture that I was making at the time. A few months later, John got hired by the Stargate Art Department. Because my work with computers and sculptures, John consulted me regarding the sculpting that had to be done on the movie Stargate. “It would take ten years to sculpt by hand” he said ” and we only have 9 months. Can you find a solution?”.
This was 1991. I had gotten my first Apple + in 1986 and it was the beginning of personal computers. There was no internet yet, at least to my knowledge.
I investigated computerized machinery, CNCs and laser cutters, that were manufactured for the furniture, wood and modeling industry. I thought that even if it hadn’t been done before, there was a very good possibility to achieve the very intricate work that the sets of Stargate needed.
I talked to John about it and he arranged a meeting with Roland Emmerich and the art department. I proposed the technique I thought was appropriate.
As soon as I finished my proposal, “What do you need?” they asked. I was taken by surprise as everything was going so fast. “Well, I need computers, a team to help me, the machines and a building to install them.
“Can you design the building? They asked. “Of course!” I replied. And that was it. That’s how it all begun.
I went home and could not believe what was happening. I quickly designed the building and the office to install the first digital sculpture department in the movie industry.
A month later the building was built in the parking lot of the construction department and the machines were installed. The CNC manufacturer knew how to build the machine but had no idea on how to use it in the field. There was no place to ask for help. This was a new field and never were computers, nor computerized machines used in the movie industry art department. So I was trying hard to figure out how to carve egyptian futuristic hieroglyph into MDF. It was as futuristic for me as the movie wanted to be.
A few days later, John came to me and told me that there were problem with construction and we were late. “It’s in your hands, Antoine, either you make it work or the movie is canceled. Roland Emmerich and the producer are coming tomorrow at noon and you better have something going on, or if not, we’re all out”
I was close to panicking and sweating bullets. I stayed very late that night keeping on testing. Finally I was able to start carving a figure. I thought that wasn’t good enough, but it was a beginning.
The day after Roland Emmerich showed up at my workshop and I showed him my first carvings. A hint of a smile showed in his cold eyes. “That’s ok ” he said.
In the next days 4 of the best sculptors in Los Angeles and I were asked to sculpt the same motif. Once my drawings were done in the computer it took me 10 minutes to carve the piece. It took several days to sculpt the same piece by hand.
The team was then convinced and I started designing what we called the “alphabet”, the collection of futuristic hieroglyphs that filled the panels. Then, from the art department sketches, we designed on the computer all the elements of the sets. Practically every detail coming from the art department needed to be redesigned and finalized on our computers.
It took 9 months of hard labor to achieve what was for for all of us the largest and most artistic set ever built. It was so large that production did not find a sound stage where the spaceship set could fit. It was finally built and shot at the Spruce Goose Dome in Long Beach where Howard Hughes built the largest airplane ever built.
Stargate remains a very special movie with a different look, and I still have never built anything like it.