One of the most influent masters of special effects, although not always
well remembered or credited. His techniques were used since the sixties
until the computer graphics era.
meddings bagan to work in the fifties as assistant for Leslie Bowie, who was then the best british visual effects technician (amidst his works we can remember “The Quatermass experiment”).
Particularly skilled in “matte paintings” (fake backgrounds painted on glass for particular shots), Bowie’s first principle was that the simplest method to create an effect was always the best, because that reduced its chances to go wrong.
Learning all the secrets of special effects, meddings discovered his specific skill, which was building very realistic miniatures of vehicles or landscapes.
A little more than 25, he made his life’s encounter with british producer Gerry Anderson, with whom he would have worked for almost 15 years, allowing him to show all his great skill.
Derek Meddings created all the effects, still
believable, for all the most famous Gerry Anderson’ shows, from “Supercar”
(1961) to “U.F.O.” (1970), passing through the great hit “Thunderbirds”
(1965) and the long feature movie “Doppelganger” (1968).
It’s worth to remember his most important techniques:
1) creating several miniatures in different scales for different shots: the closer is the shot, the bigger has to be the model scale;
2) “dirtying down”: old movies’spaceships and vehicles were often irrealistic, because their sparkling new paint made clear they were miniatures. So Meddings used to dirty his miniatures with oil spills, painted mud splashes making them more similar to real life;
3) use of plastic vehicles kits. Due to very low budget, Meddings and his
assistants bought kits of aircrafts and tanks that were modified and used to
build more realistic miniatures;
4) use of any object. Meddings and his assistants often went to household articles shops looking for inspiration, turning everyday objects into miniatures or parts of them;
5) explosions. When a miniature exploding was shot, the film speed was increased so that a ralenty effect made it look like a real size explosion.
His work had only a weak point, due also to low budget and time: all his miniatures and flying vehicles were always hung by wires and shot with a back projection. A very primitive technique but absolutely necessary: creating matte shots would have needed a lot of money and time, anyway Meddings was always able to
handle all the problems and wires were almost never
seen thanks to a very clever photography and lighting.
In year 1968 he was contacted for “2001: a space odyssey”, but he had to refuse because he was already employed by Gerry Anderson. At his place went (uncredited) one of his best puplis, Brian Johnson, who later created the effects for “Space: 1999” (again for Gerry Anderson) and for the classic “Star Wars” trilogy (credited for the V episode only).
In 1970 Gerry Anderson temporarily stopped with science fiction and Meddings began to work in cinema productions, creating the effects for several “007” movies, the first three “Superman” movies and Tim Burton’s “Batman”.
1957: The adventures of Twizzle (TV)
1960: Torchy, the battery boy (TV)
1960: Four feather falls (TV)
1961: Supercar (TV)
1962: Fireball XL5 (TV)
1964: Stingray (TV)
1965: Thunderbirds (TV)
1966: Thunderbirds are go!
1967: Captain Scarlet and the mysterons (TV)
1968: Thunderbird 6
1968: Joe 90 (TV)
1969: The secret service (TV)
1970: U.F.O. (TV)
1974: The man with the golden gun
1977: The spy who loved me
1980: Superman II
1981: For your eyes only
1983: Superman III
1985: Spies like us
1990: The neverending story II
1991: Hudson Hawk
1991: Cape fear