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Adam Savage, the S.F. model-builder who worked on A.I.'s underwater scenes

Wednesday, Aug 1 2001
Starship Troopers As a child actor in New York (he played Mr. Whipple's stock boy) whose dad did a lot of animation for Sesame Street, Adam Savage got a varied show-biz education. "I learned from my father that it was possible to make a living from something you love," says the Mission District model-builder. Savage is only one of dozens of model and prop builders employed by Industrial Light + Magic, but he has the distinction of having devised many of the elements of the New York underwater section of A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Among Savage's contributions to the surreal segment were the buildings shaped like naked women in Rouge City.

Savage represents one of the little secrets of the movie biz: In the post-Terminator age of computer-generated special effects and high-tech sleight of hand, models continue to be utilized widely in sci-fi epics. "We get drawings [from the filmmakers], but very rarely do they have the level of detail that the final model will require," Savage explains. "Part of our job is to add that detail. It comes down to the narrative of objects. I think, "What has this part been through? What is its function?'"

Before constructing a destroyed building with ripped-up floors, exposed rebar, and broken glass, Savage spent months looking at images of the Kobe earthquake and other natural disasters. "If it's a good model, the history of what happened to the floor is all there. Ask any model-maker from Star Wars about a detail they put on a ship and they will have perhaps not a verbal, but a physical understanding of why that piece is there." Savage will be in the Zeum atrium on Aug. 11 and 12 as part of the "Buildit" performance series, crafting a miniature science-fiction ship out of a refrigerator box -- and inspiring kids to similar heights of creativity. Just don't ask him for details about his current project, Lucas' next Star Wars flick. He's not talking.

Band of Outsiders Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World is a certified critic's fave (see review above), and I'm not surprised. "It attacks what most other films are about," the Potrero Hill iconoclast told me five years ago, when he and cartoonist/screenwriter Daniel Clowes first landed Hollywood backing. Today Zwigoff's still got a bad attitude. As he recently confided with a chortle, "I don't like politicians, I don't like organized religion, I don't like police, I don't like most people." Many film critics would concur. Incidentally, MGM is screening Ghost World at art houses rather than at the suburban multiplexes where it belongs. But Zwigoff persuaded the studio to book the film locally into the AMC Kabuki -- where all the disaffected teens can enjoy it.

Eyes Wide Shut "Face Time: 17 Years of the S.F. International Film Festival" collects fest photographer (and former SF Weekly shutterbug) Pamela Gentile's witty and revealing black-and-white portraits of auteurs and actresses. The show is up Aug. 3-28 at the 39th Exposure Gallery in the San Francisco Film Center, in the Presidio at 39 Mesa, Studio 4 (basement level); call 561-3123 or visit for info.

About The Author

Michael Fox


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