Harry Lange: "Until '2001,' every science fiction film was a great 'B' movie. And '2001' was the first one that was considered a science fact film. And it still is."

Harry Lange hopes "2001" has stood the test of time

Noted sci-fi design consultant got his start in the 1968 classic

By Chris Boraski

      Harry Lange, a design consultant that got his start in film working on "2001", and Piers Bizony, author of "2001: Filming the Future" spoke at Foellinger Auditorium on the making of "2001: A Space Odyssey" Tuesday.
      The presentation started with a thirty-minute promotional film that had been created to justify the long and increasingly costly movie production to MGM Studios at the time of "2001"'s creation. The promo stressed not only the extreme technical accuracy sustained in the film, but the incredible lengths that were taken to create a unique and compelling experience.
      Why should the film studio be interested in such attention to detail? The promo answered that it was the only way to "meet the requirements of director Stanley Kubrick's bizarre and insightful imagination."
      Lange, the first to speak, had nothing but praise and respect for Kubrick. He talked about how it was Kubrick's creative vision and his drive for quality research and detail that allowed the rare seed that was "2001" to germinate and develop. He recalled one conversation with Kubrick when Lange landed the job.
      "Stanley Kubrick looked at some of my artwork and said 'Yes, yes, looks all right. Well, I can get better illustrators than you are. A dime a dozen in New York City. They're all starving, hanging around Greenwich Village. But they don't have that background. I need your background.' So I said, 'Fine, I'm freelancing, you pay me, I'm your boy.'"
      Lange had worked for NASA for many years before deciding to try to get into movie production. "2001" was his first experience in film, and Lange categorized it as a very exciting time.
      "Until '2001,' every science fiction film was a great 'B' movie," Lange said. "And '2001' was the first one that was considered a science fact film. And it still is."
      Lange spoke somewhat of his career in other movies that followed "2001", including "Moonraker" and the "Star Wars" trilogy. "2001" was the serious science fiction precedent that allowed these other films to enter the mainstream.
      But during Lange's long career, the art of filmmaking itself evolved heavily. Back in 1968, they had to do things the hard way. Lange described how numerous scenes were filmed, such as the 'weightless' astronaut suspended by ropes in such a way that his body blocked the ropes from the view of the camera. In these scenes, a black background was used, then film footage of stars was juxtaposed over the scene with the actor. This presented the problem of the stars looking like they were going through the astronaut.
      "So we had about 30 or 40 young students in London that worked and slaved, 10 to 12 hours a day over projectors," Lange said. "And they painted out every star that went into the astronaut and before it came out again. And when you look at the film, if you want to be very critical, there's only one star that somebody had missed. It sort of goes through a leg."
      Lange was very clear on the point that the creation of special effects in those early films involved extreme efforts, constructions and measures that would be unthinkable today. Yet far from belittling the past, he took special pride in knowing that all of the hard work resulted in an accomplishment that has stood the test of time.

Coming soon: Piers Bizony talks about irrational desires.

See also: Lange's history