TRCH Priscilla

Ken Clarke

16 January 14 words: Harry Wilding
An artist who worked on most of the classic American films of the seventies and eighties is sharing his knowledge at NTU this month
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Ken's studio.

He's worked with acclaimed directors such as Spielberg, Lucas, Attenborough, Polansky, Cameron, Gilliam, Kubrick, and Ridley Scott. And his portfolio includes Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Alien, Superman, The Shining, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Several months prior to the course, and with spaces still available on it, Harry Wilding caught up with Ken to ask him a few questions.

Tell us a bit about your business, Body Sculpture.
We are highly crafted, articulate and creative. We sell the experience to our clients by taking moulds and castings in a live state and then turn them into an art, art nude, sensual and erotic 3D form. Clients come from all over the world to interact with me and form beautiful art pieces. These can be cast in different mediums - blended plasters is the most popular material.

How and when did you get into this line of work?
I started in 1964 and had the privilege of a five-year apprenticeship at Shepperton Film Studios, alongside a five-year attendance at Lime Grove College of Art and Design. It was very intense and informative – it involved practical and theory of fibrous, ornate plastering for use on massive period, present and futuristic film sets. This was working under an independent studio system at the studios of British Lion. Other studios such as Pinewood, MGM, Denham, Twickenham, Bray and many more were more of a fixed studio system. After my apprenticeship I decided to go freelance and work directly with the companies other than the studio - I was then free to express my creativity, rather than being suppressed.

Did you always want to work in the movies?
I was too young to appreciate or have the knowledge of such a dream. It was purely through my craft at West London College that I could climb a ladder within that craft. I was selected for an interview at Shepperton and from this my career in the film industry opened up. I pushed hard and became the youngest Head of Department, at 24, and started to recruit artisans across the globe. The skills I formed from my training evolved over my first stage of working in films into animatronics, make-up and prosthetics, of which demanded taking moulds and castings from the human form. Most of my work in this area was with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and other directors.

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Ken on the set of Star Wars

Can you give us some examples of what work you did on certain films?
I’ve worked on numerous film sets, ships, planes, spaceships and vehicles, castles, buildings, special effects work, make-up, wardrobe, Chewbacca, C3PO, R2D2, as well as moulding Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver.

Is bodycasting still as relevant to filmmaking as it once was, with the increased use of CGI?
It speaks for itself that it has diminished over the years, but it’s not been forgotten. I still get small commissions but my main target is to continue with my craft of bodycasting. I will never retire, I have too much to achieve. The computer and CGI started to erode the creativity of 3D and that’s when I formed Body Sculpture, to continue my life's journey to work with people and not computers. CGI blue screen, green screen and computer wizardry is fantastic. They make films, we built them.

Is there a film that you had a particularly stand out great experience on?
Midnight Express in 1977, with the location in Malta and Alan Parker directing. All the rest follow a close second. The whole experience was hard work, but a pleasure to be involved in.

Who was the easiest film director to work with?
Steven Spielberg - the creator of the storyboard. It wasn't just reading scripts, it was for people that could read pictures, drawings and 3D. He made everyone's life easier - in the art department, on the stage, and on location. He is a man with vision and the skills to delegate his imagination and apply it to film. An amazing man.

Any missed opportunities?
One film that slipped through my fingers was Ghandi with Ben Kingsley. The make-up side of ageing him down during the film would have been something I would have liked to have been involved in. This was done by make-up artist Tom Smith who invited me to work with him. I believe I was working on one of the Indiana Jones films at the time.

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Any particularly good or bad bodycasting experiences with actors?
All good experiences – they have to be. You have the might of the International Film Industry behind you to assist by means of its experience, atmosphere, and materials. If it went wrong the whole industry would know within twenty-four hours. For these occasions, I have to step up to the block, with the spotlight on me. It sounds a bit confident, but the first thing I learnt as an apprentice is that there is no such word as ‘can’t’. I carried a lot of weight on my shoulders for many years but I think credit has to go to people behind the camera, rather than those in front of it. Actors come and go; artisans stay forever. They are the real troopers.

Do you do a lot of teaching?
I do a lot of demonstrations for different industries, exhibitions, galleries and, of course, teaching. I have taught and trained many apprentices within film & TV. I feel that teaching is for schools, whereas training is for people, so I have trained more than taught. Teaching is theory, training is practical. It is for me to now hand this down to the next generation, which is why I have now formed The School of Lifecasting at my studio.

Apart from attending your course, any advice for aspiring bodycasters?
Never give up. It is a hard road with no immediate results. It is endurance, staying power and vision but the final work is worth the effort. My best advice is to know your materials.

Body Casting for Film, TV and Theatre: Masterclass will take place on Saturday 31 May 2014 at Nottingham Trent University. To book yourself a place on the course, see the NTU link below.

Body Sculpture website

Nottingham Trent University booking