Sunday, July 29, 2012

An Interview with Jaws Maquette Sculptor Mike Schultz (Part 1 of 2)


Two Bruce maquettes from Shark City Ozark.


August is going to be a fin-tastic month for Jaws fans. Not only will Jaws be released on Blu-ray on August 14th, but the JawsFest: The Tribute event will be held in Martha’s Vineyard from August 9th to the 12th. At this event will be yet another Jaws milestone: Shark City Ozark will be at JawsFest to officially launch its Jaws 2 maquette, the second in its “Ultimate Bruce Shark” Collector’s Set. That fact that Shark City Ozark has already produced several different movie-accurate Bruce maquettes is amazing, but its production of movie-accurate maquettes for the sequel sharks is unprecedented for the Jaws franchise.

To help celebrate the long overdue Jaws milestone, I had the chance to interview Mike Schultz, the owner of Shark City Ozark and its chief sculptor. Read on for the first part of the interview, where Schultz recalls his first encounter with Jaws, his experiences with sculpting his own mechanical sharks, and his struggles to bring to Jaws fans their own complete versions of Bruce--as Quint himself would say, “The head, the tail, the whole damn thing.” (All photos are provided courtesy of Shark City Ozark.)

Titans, Terrors, and Toys: How long have you been a Jaws fan? When did you first see Jaws?

Mike Schultz: I did not see Jaws when it first came out. I was about 7 years old at that time, so I didn’t see the shark until the re-release. The audience I watched it with included very large woman who blocked most of my view. Every time the shark made an appearance, she screamed and jumped in front of me so I couldn’t see a thing! So, even when I finally did get to see Jaws, that first time was completely Bruce-less. Still, I had loved sharks before that and I was into reading about them and modeling them as well as dinosaurs. If an article, toy, comic or magazine had a shark involved, I collected it.

It was not until home VCRs came out that I began to collect really usable reference materials of the many different Bruce sharks. I would close all of the curtains in the room, set up a camera on a tripod, pause the VCR at the good spots, and take photos. I would study these pictures to death for my different sculptures and models. Back then, I mostly made stop motion puppets and not the fully mechanical kind. They came later. So Jaws has pretty much dominated my time ever since I can remember. Had it not been for that movie, who knows?

TTT: So your interest in sculpting began though your interest in sharks?

MS: Yes. I learned drawing, sculpting, modeling, metal and wood working and working with many different natural and synthetic materials just so that I could achieve my different goals of making sharks, monsters and spaceships for my Super 8 films. I studied under magnifying glass any photos I could get of special effects workshops. If they used a particular tool or material, then I would research it at the library and through effects publications. I was actually making plastics out of spoiled milk and formaldehyde like they used to for making billiard balls last century, and making latex foam using citric acids! Back then, the real materials were too expensive for a kid mowing lawns, so I did what I could with what I learned from study. I would also hang out a lot with maintenance men at apartment complexes and auto mechanics and junkyards just to get experience working with tools and torches and the like. All for the goal of making my stop motion films better. Later, that grew into sets and miniature work, which led to cable control creatures.

Everything somehow always led back to sharks. I even made my first mechanized shark when I was 11 years old. I had to vulcanize the rubber using steam, and I remember suffering many of the same problems that the movie crew suffered with their Bruce sharks. My shark’s paint was stiff and cracked at the stretchy points, and its skins tore and wore rapidly. Smoothly running joints and motors would inevitably stick and jam. The snout and jowls would wrinkly horridly and unrealistically if the mouth closed too far. That sort of stuff. Another shark I made in high school was cable controlled and never broke down, but I got tired of making new skins for it as they wore out rapidly. Many of the sharks I made were just for fun, but this one got me an A as a science project since it could bare its upper jaw just like a real shark.


A Shark City Ozark maquette of a mako shark.


TTT: Did your interest in sharks lead you into the line of work you’re doing today?

MS: Sort of. I decided in my early twenties that I enjoyed making sharks, but did not like the career aspect. The people in the field that I had talked with spent more time worried and unemployed than working, and when they did work it was during insane hours and under high pressure, and not ever enough pay. I did not want that life. Even the pros seemed stressed and burned out and quite used up. Although I loved it, I did not love it that much to lose my life to it. So I no longer aimed to make that field my life’s work. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too somehow.

I became a garbage truck driver for almost 8 years. It allowed me to marry, start a family and pay the bills, but I always had a workshop and a project going. Some of the shark sculpts and models that are pictured on my commissions gallery page on Shark City Ozark came from those years. During that time, I made the forward 6 feet of a 10 foot great white shark. It even rode on its own trolley arm. It was water-tight, pneumatic and strong enough to lift me off the ground. We actually used that prop years later to try and win money in a short funny sketch trying to get on this new TV series called America’s Funniest Home Videos. (You may have heard of it.) I often wonder what happened to that footage we sent to them.

Once Jurassic Park and its sequels came out, I pretty much put the sharks aside to make the money by making dinosaurs. On the side, we set up own local/semi-local Internet business to make and sell dinosaur fossil replicas. We sold thousands of Velociraptor claws and T-Rex teeth at the time. This led to us building the dinosaur displays for museums, too. One job usually led to another, since dinosaurs stayed hot for the first Jurassic Park sequel. Those were fun years. I even got to work on a large fossil dig for awhile in Texas due to knowing the right crowd for such a project. Good times and good pay.


A Shark City Ozary T-Rex Head Mount--a perfect gift for Turok!


TTT: That sounds like it was a lot of fun. What made you decide to pursue the Jaws license as a professional project?

MS: When the dinosaur-craze cooled down, I returned to work in sharks. Sharks are almost always hot in terms of demand. I had acquired a poor quality taxidermy great white shark head about this time. I cut off about 35 percent of it, added about 50 pounds of clay, and remodeled it into a picture-perfect Great White Trophy Head Mount. Once molded, I was able to produce and sell these replicas of a ten foot great white shark’s head at a rate of about two per month on Ebay. I did this for about six years to make ends meet.

One day after searching the Internet for anything new on Jaws, I realized that it was a dead field--dead only because nobody was making anything for fans that was worth their money. I felt that between my background in shark fishing, shark modeling and special effects, I might just be the guy to do Bruce justice. So I found a fan site and announced my goals.

TTT: How hard has it been to find materials regarding the Jaws sharks?

MS: It has been a nightmare finding worthwhile material of the movie sharks. Like many fan bases, it was rare to find those in the Jaws arena who had what I needed and then convince them to share it with me. You have personalities who horde everything that comes their way and once they get their hands on something they never share, even though they often hint at what they have for pride’s sake. Others actually have been doing their homework and gathering materials all these years for things like the Memories From Martha’s Vineyard book. Let me tell you, if had I the photo reference material put out in that book last year, the Jaws fans would already have been drowned in my accurate Bruce Shark collectibles years ago!

TTT: How hard has it been to make something that actually looked like Bruce, as opposed to just a mean looking shark?

MS: I believe that the two main areas that must be addressed in order to replicate the Bruce sharks perfectly are that of proper resource material study, and then sticking with what the reference materials measure out as and never guessing or going with some artistic flair. What many artists and fans do not understand at all is the simple nature of these props. Most have never made a mechanical shark or stop motion puppet. They don’t understand the materials or reality of what is in front of their faces. They think “shark” and superimpose their will on their model and that is the basis for nearly every attempt at modeling Bruce coming out looking like a great shark, but not like Bruce. Or, if the artist does try hard and does have talent, then he will achieve a ‘Bruce-like’ shark that looks somewhat like Bruce from maybe two or three angles but the illusion melts from any other angle. I had never seen anyone actually make a proper scale model of Bruce the shark like they would an F-16 fighter jet or model tank.

My scale Bruce shark model was going to be different. Mine would reflect the actual proportions, with carefully measured angles and curves that make Bruce look like just like Bruce. In a nutshell, I did back then what laser scanners do for people now. Even if I don’t believe my eyes, I will still convey those curves and angles and measurements. I have built props and puppets and mechanical sharks for over 30 years, so that is naturally part of the input as well. I understand the properties of skin stretch and where and why models have hard and soft areas. My wrinkles will look like Bruce’s wrinkles because I know what was under that skin, what that skin was made of, how that skin works, how thick the padding is, and what these materials are like when waterlogged and stressed. You can’t replicate on this scale at this level of museum display quality and remain accurate historically unless you have truly been there, done that and got the t-shirt yourself.


A Bruce maquette wearing a bib, because munching on Amity swimmers can get messy.


TTT: How do you go about converting the information that you get about the mechanical sharks (productions stills, schematic drawings, etc.) into something that can be scaled down into a miniature size?

MS: I do what a laser scanner tries to do, only it has the benefit of working from an actual three dimensional model. For me it has been slow going. My archenemies are lens warping, and poorly cropped or poorly lit photos. Of the 14 GB of photos and footage I have of Bruce, I would be stretching the truth to put my blessing on even 3 GB of that material being of any use as reference material. Often what you need to measure is covered by water, or a boat, or someone’s hand or head. In other cases, the area you need to see is dim or out of focus or in the shadows or something. It is a very frustrating process, and very time consuming and error prone once the material can be found and measured. It must be taken into Photoshop and tortured into giving up its useful data.

Many don’t realize that the sculpting and modeling artist has been nearly completely replaced these days by lasers and computers in the toy and action figure industry, which is a shame. Rapid prototyping and the race for the quick buck has nearly wiped out the joy of getting your hands dirty with clay and materials. Those that still know how to get their hands dirty have been relegated to the tasks of simply cleaning up what the computer prints out in three dimensions. Very few companies will pay for talent, but they will mortgage their futures on the latest in rapid prototyping machines and software. To be blunt, it’s very sad. I think we garage-artists share the pain that Phil Tippet must have felt when computers were brought in to replace go-motion in Jurassic Park. Mind you, computers have a place like any other tool, but it is wrong to replace or to starve a talented artist just to rush the next “Amazing Spider-Man Dirt Bike” toy out to Walmart.



Stay tuned for part two of this interview, where Schultz discusses the fans’ response to Shark City Ozark’s maquettes, the feedback he’s received from Jaws franchise vet Joe Alves, and what he has in store for horror and sci-fi collectors in the future.





2 comments:

  1. Sorry Little SharkyAugust 1, 2012 at 6:55 PM

    What a fun interview, well done, so interesting! Bring on part two!

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    1. Glad you like the interview! Part 2 will be posted shortly!

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