Emilio Ruiz del Río
Emilio Ruiz del Río was responsible for many of the special effect foreground miniatures for Dune. These pictures are from his personal collection, and were kindly supplied by his son-in-law, who has also created a site, 'Emilio Ruiz del Río - The impossible plan', chronicling Emilio Ruiz del Río amazing work.The text is from the chapter dedicated to Dune from the book written by Emilio Ruiz called "Rodando Por El Mundo", which I've tried to translate it from Spanish
Note: Click on each image to bring up a large version of it
The filming of Dune began on 30 March 1983 in the Churubusco studios in the city of Mexico.
In 1972 this project had started under the producer Arthur P. Jacobs; they thought to film it in Yugoslavia or Turkey, but some time later I found out that he had suffered a heart attack, and little later died.
The project wandered for several years, with several attempts that did not materialize. In 1976 the producer Dino De Laurentiis bought the project and looked for a director. He made contact with Ridley Scott, but many differences of criteria existed and the again the project did not get to materialize.
After his great success with the film The Elephant Man, David Lynch entered scene, and was chosen to direct the film. He took the book from Frank Herbert and rewrote the script again. With the project start set for March, they begun to look for the locations in diverse countries, North Africa, England, India, Italy and Australia. They tried to pair up countries, in England for the interiors and Spain for the exteriors, or India with England, and even studied the possibility of Italy matched with Tunisia, always trying to have some desert. But at last the decision was made to film it in the city of Mexico, counting on the Churubusco studios and the desert of Samalayuca, near the city of Juárez. Churubusco is comfortable and great studios, they are something old fashioned in technology but it is possible to fix that by bringing it in from Los Angeles, and boasts eight soundstages and three backlots, lots of space to mount scenery outside.
When filming in Mexico, Mexico contributed greatest number of manual labor, with some technicians. The weight of the equipment, nevertheless, corresponded to foreign specialists, of France, Italy, Spain, Venezuela and the USA, equipment that was very complex was sent and organized by the producer Raffaella De Laurentiis and the associate producer José López Rodero.
I received a telephone call from Raffaella De Laurenttis, saying that she was in Madrid with David Lynch, and that they would like that we have an interview to present/display me to the director, whom would love to know me. They were in the Eurobuilding hotel. I was there, I knew Lynch and they invited me to participate in the project of Dune, and I accepted thankfully, without suspecting that that gratefulness was going to be for life, because I consider this film and not just another one, but the one that has given me more satisfaction within my long professional life.
When speaking of satisfactions, I mean means without restrictions to make the work, freedom to interpret it, facility of understanding with the director and the members of the equipment and brotherhood with all, so much that after so many years I have returned to Mexico, Churubusco, and have come specifically to embrace many old Mexican companions to me, and recently found out that it was working in Rome, the Cinecittà studios, and came to salute and to give me to a hug were Jimmy Devis and Kit West. All this I put of camaraderie and affection that was between us, is fruit of Raffaella De Laurentiis, that dealed with us to all without distinction with the affection a mother (not by the age, of course). This is the film of that I keep the best memories, the work was magnificent and exciting, with a fantastic equipment made up of great chosen professionals carefully in countries like England, Italy, Spain, Mexico and the USA, treating to us all in a friendly way and leaving a permanent memory.
When I arrived, there was already many people working in the factories, and also there were several building scenery. The art department, with production designer Tony Masters leading, and the art directors Benjamin Fernández and Pierluigi Basile were all in activity. There was a number very elevated of specialists in scenery, recruited from Spain and Italy, that was those that took all the weight of the construction under the orders of the construction head Aldo Puccini.
Already before arriving they had designated more work to me. So I brought my assistant from Spain, and first thing that I had her do was to build my department. First with Mexican workers, carpenters, painters and stucco workers, and soon, as they increasing the amount of work we had to do, I had to incorporate two magnificent Spanish carpenters, who had been in the construction department.
The scale models that I made for Dune were:
The scale model was constructed 4.88 x 2.44 meters to place in first shot and to fit with the rock scenery of the bottom, giving it more dimension. It consisted of a stone strong wall that ends the desert, and it is where Paul and his mother flee. One at night filmed with effect of wind and dust. For the dust a display cabinet was constructed that held a turbine, in order that it removed the dust deposited in its interior; this display cabinet was placed between the scale model and the camera.
Taking advantage of the existing stairs in parking lot the Aztec soccer stadium, a set was built there that consisted of a great wall with the door of the palace. The rest was one massive scale model of 8.83 x 3.96 meters, placed in first shot to fit with the top of the stairs, that became the front of the palace and appeared to be carved on an immense rock, surrounded by a wall. The distance of the scale model to the camera was of 5 meters, and the scenery was located to 109 meters from the camera.
Atreides Ship, Arrakeen.
The scale model was to complete a wide shot of the arrival of the Duke Leto Atreides and his family, in a spaceship. For this scene the door of the ship with its stairs was constructed in parking lot of the studio; when the door opens the travellers exit. In addition a portion of ground in front of the stairs was made, where there are the people that welcome them. The scale model included all the rest of the ship, joining with the portion of the ship-door, and in addition the rest to floor that joins with the real floor at the foot of the stairs, where there are several rows of 7 centimeters high troops in formation. Behind they appeared other ten ships, those that have come giving escort to the Duke Leto, and at the bottom, the steep strong wall is already seen that it protects to them of the desert.
The construction of this ship was quite complicated. Due to its form, it had much work and its elaboration very was taken care of. Final finished it imitated an iridescent and scorched metal. Naturally always in agreement with the painting of the part constructed at full size, so that differences did not exist.
The dolls were of latex. Once we decided the scale of the set, the size was calculated so to have them match with the set. One in clay was modelled, from which a mold took control of stucco and it filled up of latex. As there were lots of dolls, enough molds were prepared to reproduce them in bulk.
The scale model caught people's attention, and they christen my system of scale models 'Emiliós miniature', and they still call them that today.
Many people visited, the word spread, and mainly members from other departments of scale models and effects came. They raised the turret of 6 meters high and they requested permission from me to watch through the camera, all said the same 'very good', 'so easy', 'what a simple thing', and peculiarly what surprised them was to see everything was so more integrated, fitted well, with no difference of color.
They generally never film the scale models with the live action plate, all they do it separately, and after in the laboratory they are in charge to mix it and to correct. It is not that they cannot get to make just like I do with my traditional system.
There are many ways to arrive at the same place, which I create, it is that to my system they were separating it not to obstruct the filming, or have to worry about preparation as well, since I have done so that this did not happen, and in addition arrived the "boom" from the electronics and it squashed everything; but this is the same like when you step on a wild plant, you step on it, and single it rises.
The truth is that there is an infinity of things that before we could never dream of that now would be possible to be done, and those techniques that still will be discovered, but the well-known techniques can be continued doing without despising the one nor other. There are scenes that last a single second and they do not deserve an excessive cost of postproduction, there are other times that do not interest you that they manipulate the negative, also can be that haste demands the result be known to you, for example: the actor goes away who has finished his period of filming, needs to disassemble a set, or must move a studio, a house, etc.
Imagine a scene in which a person tries to force a door, and trips the alarm; everything can be built with an real electronic system for the alarm, or it is possible to set off the alarm by pushing a button off-camera. There are directors who, by snobbishness, would build the alarm, when they sure are not simultaneously producing the film. This is just like with test tube babies, a day will come in which people will be astonished how children can be conceived of the traditional way. I prefer the traditional way!
The reports that arrive from Dino De Laurentiis, would be seen as it came through customs. That was reason why outside, friends mine who were in the production department privately said that she had received a cable coming from Los Angeles sent by De Laurentiis to Raffaella, in which he said to her that urgently she was contracted to me fixed in the company.
Raffaella called to me to her office and it notified to me, that which I already knew, and she did offer me a contract. We stipulated the conditions and I entered into the company. For convenience reasons that only they know, the company whom I contracted to was Conan II Productions, S.A., with the date of 27 January 1984, and signed Raffaella De Laurentiis.
The troops of Atreides going to the landing field.
This consisted of a general set in which leave the soldiers following the track. The scale model in this occasion was all way from the strong wall and the exit of the soldiers was on the left, hidden by a rock. It was necessary to mark in the floor the path that they had to follow so that they did not appear below the scale model.
The strong wall was placed in front of the camera to a distance of 4 meters, to appear that it was to 50 meters of distance.
This scale model was to present the castle of the Duke Leto, and lead into the interior. It wanted to reflect the fact that he lived in a full water place, to show the contrast with the devoid planet of where his destiny would lead him. For that reason all the scene had to be very aquatic. The castle was located in the edge of a cliff that lowered abruptly towards an enraged sea, with tremendous waves that jumped on rocks and great lightning profusion.
The scale model of the castle, 1.60 meters high, was constructed, and a stood 8 meters high that finished in a cliff where they broke the waves. Also constructed was a swimming pool 22.86 x 18.29 meters, and a system composed of shovels to move the water to produce the surge, and in addition four inclines 4.50 meters high, with deposits in form of dumps, alternatively to throw water whirlwinds that were going to crash against the cliff. It was filmed at night, with background of painted sky of dark grey with rain and lightning.
Fremen Streamed out.
This constructed scale model was prepared to film it as-is, without attachment to an live set. It was made to look like a general set with the great rocky strong wall, that descends directly on the desert, and the from that exit in a mad rush the Fremen that live in its interior, and that they are going to pursue to the worms, to use as them in their liberating fight.
In order to have a true quality of the strong wall, I was transferred to a rocky zone, accompanied by a sculptor, and there we were choosing between rocks those that fitted to the preconceived idea of the strong wall, those which had small cuts, those which were pretty and which were within our scale; we chose four portions of a square meter each one, and a mould was made of stucco, to later create the reproductions necessary and to compose the wall with them.
The great mass of thousands of Fremen that leave, was in fact numerous groups of dolls that measured 6.50 centimeters, that were connected to a series of drive belts, placed parallel to each other, and guided by channeled pulleys, whose axes were built on ball bearings and fixed to a wood frame. The movement was produced by a crank placed outside the field of view of the camera.
In order to give the impression of mobility in the legs of the dolls I used the system to place them on a strip trimmed in form of mountain range, a system that already I have explained previously. Filmed one day, with wind and dust, placing the ventilator that produced it level with the ground to obtain the wind drift on dunes. The camera was arranged to a distance of 5 meters, on a turret, being the objective to a height of 3 meters, and the speed of the camera set to smooth the movements.
A test had been filmed to see the result, the speed of the camera, one of the dolls, if there was too much or too little dust, in short, for a control; the test was perfect, it was not necessary to touch anything, and the scale model awaiting the definitive filing remained. The scale model was mounted on a frame with legs to a meter high, and located near the factory; one day returned I to eat and was surprised to see that something moved underneath the scale model, I approached, somewhat alarmed, when I bent and saw four American colleagues watching all the mysteries, I did not say anything to them, when they saw my legs they started to leave.
I tell this story because in a visit which I did in Orlando to the attractions of the Universal Studios Florida, they had told it to me and I verified exactly that it was truth, that is a scale model done in cut of plate, with the same system that use I. It was not strange to me because I have worked in films for Universal. The scale model is placed in a street and fits with buildings that there are in the opposite sidewalk, and the painted thing (quite loose) has buildings on them and the celebrated mountain of Hollywood. In the position of the camera there is a support to support the camera and that each one becomes its photography.
We had located a desert located near the city of Juárez, to film all the desert sequences that were in the film, among them the continuation of the sequence with scale model of the exit of the Fremen to the desert, and a general place of the desert was needed for it, already without strong wall of rocks, but that yes, plenty practically of Fremen.
There was a dune in first real shot and they left the Fremen there, and already with the rest of the other, until the horizon, it was necessary to complete it with dolls in movement. The camera was located on a turret to a height of 5 meters, that became very extensive, that it even served as base to work and not to have to be down on the sand. It was necessary to do until a way was found to be able to arrive at the foot of the turret, that is where the camping settled. First thing we did was to establish a work schedule, the heat was so unbearable that at noon that it was necessary to stop work, starting it at 5 in the morning.
A frame made of wood, to mount on all the mechanism that was going to need to give movement to the dolls, that was not little. We took to Mexico about 4,000 dolls made in a size of 2.60 centimeters. In spite of the amount, as soon as we began to place them we quickly realised we hadn't enough; I had to multiply by three the amount, since luckily we had the molds for the reproduction. I committed a tremendous failure when underestimating the amount that was needed, perhaps I did not notice myself that the conveyor belts had to go fully above and below. Another misfortune we had it with the quality of the dolls; latex wears very badly, it seems that it has beaten and are taken off, and is possible that the humidity and the change of temperature were the cause, meaning sometimes there were more dolls on the ground than on the tape.
Of course also I put the plate strip here in front of the dolls with the form of teeth of mountain range, painted of the color of the sand to disguise it. I had to make some dune in the scale model to cause that the dolls left behind, and in this case a painted sky was put because the real one was very earthly, and we were in the Arrakis planet. A backdrop behind the scale model was placed that covered all the real sky and it was painted of a greyish color, and in addition the dunes extended painting them in backdrop.
In front of the camera to about 60 centimeters the display cabinet of the dust with its turbine was placed, to have the effect of the dust, that in all the scenes filmed in the desert needed control of great ventilators.
We calculated the time that took a person in walking an amount of meters and worked out the proportions to know the amount of time corresponding to a doll in the scale model, and thus, since there were real persons, it was filmed at the normal speed.
One was a great scale model of spaceship, ready on a tower of 11 meters of height and located at 4.50 meters from the camera, to fit with the door of the ship constructed in the full size one built in the set, that it was at a distance from the camera of 90.50 meters, and that it intended the disembarkation of the soldiers Harkonnen. Here it was not intended to use dolls, but to have an honors guard, located in formation around the ship, but Raffaella on the day of the shooting asked to me if this honor guard were possible to put dolls instead of figures.
Luckily we had molds that were within the scale, and urgently I issued the order to begin the reproduction of dolls. The filming was at night, meaning we had eight hours to reproduce and to paint the dolls. Quickly and smoothly, this operation began in the factory, and we were in the Aztec stage of the capital, which we had resorted again by lack of space, and to a distance of the studio was nearly 20 kilometers. I had a car continuously going and coming to gather three dolls per trip, according to which of them were finished; the number that requested Raffaella to me was of 500 dolls, in the last minute before filming I placed the last one.
This was not everything. I, with time, had warned the operator of the second unit, Jimmy Devis, of English nationality, that as it was to be filmed at night, and considering the size and distances of the camera to the scale model, and of this one to the scenery, it would have necessity of a diaphragm of 5/6. It was in agreement, until the night arrived from the filming, and then he said to me that it cannot give that diaphragm to me, because we did not have enough light. We discussed, I said to him that already it had warned to him with time, and it was locked in his refusal.
It had to the field limit a truck crane in which it was installed with a great vertical grill, in that had aligned a series of projectors with quartz lamps. With this it illuminated only the portion of door and the soldiers who left; soon the interior of the door had its light aside.
Immediately I realized solution, and I said it; I do not know if he did not want to understand to me, or that he despised my ideas, donkey put itself, and we did not advance anything. Everything became paralyzed. I proposed to him that he approached the truck crane with his grill until marked to the diaphragm the 5/6 to him, and that I would cover the truck to him placing a trocito of black plate in first shot, that would be confused with the bottom because also that was black. Then there was no way, it was necessary to call to Raffaella, who came and - she listened and it understood, that which Devis did not. He filmed himself as I said, I did not need a trocito plate more than of 10 x 5 centimeters painted black, and placed near the camera covering the truck.
From that night Jimmy Devis became a friend, he even said to me, that it was arranged if I wanted, to accompany him in future films who illuminated my scale models.
One night my friend Jimmy Devis nearly became no more: he fell from the stop of a scenery, in a hollow between stones of the steep strong wall. It is possible that the height was going up to around the 10 meters. It was one night that we had finished filming the scale model Cliff Rock, that took with the characters of Jessica and her son Paul. The scene of the scale model was that general where the characters ran fleeing from the worms to take refuge in the strong wall, and there finished the general scene with the scale model. Once filming, my equipment and I was myself, and they continued filming. They had to film, already on the set, the scaling, Paul who slips and falls, and many scenes more, among them one in whom the character of Paul must jump.
Jimmy Devis, the operator and director of the second unit, apparently was not contented of how it looked, and repeated the take several times. The time urged, the night finished, and Devis began to feel nervous and to badly remove his genius and pride. After one of the shots he went up to show the double how he had to do it, and without thinking it twice he jumped and fell with a tremendous bump; he broke some ribs, a leg in two parts and something more. I don't think he told the specialist, like he told me, that in the future he would like to go with him to jump in another movies.
The City of Arrakeen.
This scale model consisted of a rocky mountain where the houses of the city were carved, and in the center was the great gate that gave entrance to the Arrakeen palace. In the peak it emphasized a castle, with a great door in the high wall that surrounded it and protected of the desert; it was constructed to a very great size, 12 x 8 meters, because there was to be explosions and fires in it. To accomplish the explosions, we create zones, weakening them so that it broke in the correct points, and preparing rocks, dust and earth so that they were given off and jumped in the air. It was assembly and filmed outside, in parking of the studio, filmed at night.
The Guild Heighliner.
One was a scale model, fitted in with the scenery of a portion of ship, where is the door by which the Guild Navigators leave the Heighliner.
One assumed that this one was a great spaceship; in its natural size it would have 190 x 190 meters, with a height of 43 meters, that in the scale model 190 was equivalent to 11 meters. It was scheduled to film at night, and therefore the scale model had to be so great, to be able to sufficiently frame the thing and to center in the scale model with the scenery. The scenery was 75 meters from the camera, that was on a platform 9 meters high, an extra for 1.5m the tripod, and the nearest point to the scale model the camera was not less than 4.80 meters.
The scale model included the general floor of the airport, where the spaceship had landed, with a hole through which you could see the real floor. Starting from the ship it left a corridor that went towards the camera, that was sufficiently wide so that people who leave the ship and come towards the camera do not cover themselves with the floor of the scale model.
The ship is supported in four legs, that leave their interior when landing; each leg is composed by four hydraulic tubes, like four immense columns; in the center of the ship it lowers a cylindrical elevator, which contains the door, and from different points from the spaceship steam spurts out that are scattered to the ground. The point of view of the camera is located underneath the belly of the ship, and includes all the floor up to the horizon, where the lights of a city are visible.
In one of the interviews on Dune that an American did, all the interest resided in knowing the amount of kilos of stucco, cubic meters of wood, painting cans, resins, containers, etc. that we had used in the construction of each scale model. If we mentioned the steam spurts to him, he asked "whichever HP?", it always was the same "that amount?" I had to say to him that one had been confused of department, that what we did was miniatures and that the cost was the minimum here.
I need only say that Dune for me has been my best film in all the senses, and the one that has given me the most satisfaction in my long professional life. My stay in Mexico was wonderful, and there I made and keep good friends. I had a good equipment, workers and disciplined, who helped me much, and the relations with the others they were magnificent. Production did not scrimp resources to me and I keep from them affectionate memories, as well as from the Churubusco studios.
I would say that they were 75 sets constructed for this film, that was to prepare the studios, constructing space to be able to lodge 20,000 people, and the necessity to construct to rooms for factories and offices in spite of being huge studios. Some sets were so great that they did not fit within lot and they were constructed in lands of the studio, and for still greater set it was necessary to resort to more extensive sites, like parking of the Aztec stage, like for the set and scale model of the Harkonnen spaceship, among others.
The scenery and scale models without exception have been wonderful by their dimensions, but also by their strange beauty and detailed completions. In addition, everything was built for the occasion, suits, shoes, furniture, arms... this film did not take advantage of a single vase, it even built an artisan factory of ceramics and a furnace to cook the pieces. There were 4,000 costume and in the preparation it collaborated with a Spanish company. From the USA came all the electrical equipment, for filming, cameras, material of assembly, moviolas, etc.