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Thanks Dr. Catmull

At The Eighth Annual VES Awards Show Dr. Ed Catmull was rightly presented with the George Melies Award for Pioneering. His contributions to computer motion graphics and the entertainment industry as we know it today are myriad and foundational. Dr.Catmull gave a thoughtful, moving and understated speech while accepting the award. At the end of his speech he softly expressed that the best part of the journey had been the people that he had gotten to know. This brought to my mind two very special people that have since moved on.

At The Eighth Annual VES Awards Show held in the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza last Sunday Dr. Ed Catmull was rightly presented with the George Melies Award for Pioneering. His contributions to computer motion graphics and the entertainment industry as we know it today are myriad and foundational. At the podium Dr.Catmull gave a thoughtful, moving and understated speech while accepting the award. At the end of his speech he softly expressed that the best part of the journey had been the people that he had gotten to know through working with them. This brought to my mind two very special people that have since moved on.

Peter Kleinow was one of those rare multi-talented guys that moved smoothly between two demanding worlds. Within the VFX world he worked as a stop motion animator and model-maker on such varied projects as The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, Terminator, Terminator 2, The Empire Strikes Back, The Right Stuff and Gumby.  His career spanned from the early 1960’s when he applied his talents to Davey and Goliath until 2003 when his last credit is listed. Pete also contributed to many commercials that relied heavily on stop motion animation - notably the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Pete was not one to mention his credits in a first conversation and I learned much of his history from others around me who would lean to my ear and fill it with appreciations of his body of work - “Did you know that Pete wrote the music for Gumby?” Pete would have never mentioned it.

Interested in music since his youth he took off thirteen years in the middle of his film career to be a high level professional peddle steel guitar player backing up the likes of The Byrds, John Lennon, Stevie Wonder, Linda Ronstadt, George Harrison and The Eagles. He was also a founding member of The Flying Burrito Brothers. Some of his performances can still be found on YouTube.

On first meeting with Pete he was not a person who immediately sprang to your eye. He was quiet and self-contained. Small and solid, his body and face toned by his tendency to never be at rest. His clothing tended towards faded cowboy shirts and Levis. His hair was sometimes trim sometimes wild about his head. Within the music world the sobriquet “Sneaky” Pete was applied and stuck. His smile rose slowly on his face until all his other features faded in service to it. Pete was a master of subtlety and self-effacement.

If Pete Kleinow could be termed an “understated man” certainly “Doc” Baily is one of the most colorful and talented artists ever to inhabit our business. Richard “Dr” Baily focused his art on the light. His work still exists in films such as Solaris, Superman Returns (where he provided the Kryptonite effects), Core and Fight Club. His website is still up at http://www.imagesavant.com/QT.html and his films are now available on line as royalty free images. He was also a painter. There are several sites dedicated to Richard “Dr” Baily on the net. All are heartfelt and thoughtful tributes but nothing on the page or the screen can ever truly capture the man. He loved the light and he played with it with all his being.

I first met Richard Baily at a screening in one of those theaters on Sunset Blvd where television pilots are sneaked for a random public audience snatched off the streets by struggling actors with clipboards. As I sat in my seat waiting for the lights to dim the aisle to my right lit up with a most unusual man. He stood near to six feet and was reed thin with a strong, prominent nose. His hair was long and dark and ran past his collar several inches. He was wearing a tastefully tight fitting suit of what looked to be black velvet. His shirt an elegant black draped with a narrow banana yellow leather tie. On his wrists he wore elastic strands of small clear crystals, twenty on his right and thirty on his left. A pair of high-quality Italian leather women’s high heels was on his feet. These matched his tie. But the thing I most noticed most about Doc (after the shoes…) was how he held his held up high and his shoulders square.  His strides were sure. He was infused with complete confidence. We became friends.

On one occasion I had arranged with Doc to meet for lunch. I brought a friend. As we sat waiting in the courtyard of The Cat and the Fiddle on Sunset Boulevard in walked Richard Baily dressed in his own unique style. As soon as Doc entered the courtyard on the opposite side from where we were seated all the diners froze into the position they were when he first appeared only their eyes moving to follow Doc as he swept through the space. Soup spoons stood poised mid-air as did sandwiches and forks. The diners’ eyes saucered as they followed his path through the courtyard. It was the only time that I ever witnessed “the frozen moment of time” although I have the feeling that Doc had experienced this quite often. The only thing in motion was Doc. Doc didn’t seem to notice the reactions; he circled around the fountain and looped past our table gesturing to the two of us that we should rise and follow him. We joined this one man parade out into the street. Once there he pointed to a sign on one of the lampposts that announced an upcoming cinema exhibit at the Contemporary Museum; Masters of Light. Doc was all about the light. 

Walking up a long stairway from parking for the Contemporary Museum in downtown Los Angeles I commented to Doc that I thought he navigated wearing the four inch high heels (now a beautiful moss green) splendidly and queried how he managed that. He responded that it had taken twenty years of practice. He once boasted to me that his wardrobe was worth over two hundred thousand dollars. Clearly that would have been difficult to achieve solely in the world of men’s wear. How many t-shirts and Levis would it take to get to $200K? He explained to me that the shoes that he wore were never cheap further he frequently paid $1200 or more for a pair. At that time his girlfriend was a woman that he had met while buying a pair of her shoes online.

At the front entrance he pulled me aside and pointed out his name in raised metallic letters adorning the wall along with other contributors. He explained that it only cost $15,000 to have his name listed there as some sort of patron. Doc put it on one of his credit cards and paid it off over time. He felt it was a real bargain to have his name on a museum and was amazed that no one else in the visual effects field had done the same.

Richard “Dr” Baily was so sure of himself that he dressed as he pleased, spoke what he truly thought and has been described elsewhere as a “true Hollywood bad ass”. That he was. Along with all of this was a very compassionate and warm human being. One of a kind.

So once again, congratulations to Dr. Catmull for his well-deserved award and thanks to him for reminding us that the best part of the ride is the wonderful people that we get to know and work with. Thanks again Dr. Catmull.

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