David Allen : 1944 - 1999

By Neil Pettigrew
Pettigrew is the author of The Stop Motion Filmography
and a long time expert in the field of stop-motion animation.

David Allen
Allen interviewed during the creation of one his last films, Special Effects: Anything Can Happen, with his King Kong model in the background.
D avid Allen, who contributed stop-motion animation sequences to more feature films than anyone else in the history of the cinema, has died from cancer at age 54 on Monday, August 16th, 1999.

Allen's untimely death robs the world of fantasy films of one of its most cherished exponents. His professional career in puppet animation spanned more than 35 years and he was one of the few who kept the flame of this esoteric art-form burning while others turned to computer-generated imagery. In David Allen, fans of old-time fantasy films could see the visions of Ray Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien still kept alive. In fact, right up until his death Allen was working on THE PRIMEVALS, a film straight out of the traditions of old stop-motion classics like KING KONG and 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

THE PRIMEVALS - a tale about a secret Himalayan valley populated with giant Yetis and an ancient race of alien lizard men - was a project which Allen had nurtured in various forms since the late 1960s. After attempting to finance his dream-project independently, Allen was introduced to producer Charles Band who, at various times during the next 17 years, started up the production only to cancel it later for various reasons. But in the late 1990s, it looked like Allen had finally found the backing he needed from Band and the film would be completed. Live action was filmed in the summer of 1994, and from 1995 though much of 1999, Allen worked constantly on the film, devoting untold hours to executing its complex animation sequences. How cruel that Fate should choose now of all times to play such a callous trick, preventing Allen from ever seeing THE PRIMEVALS up on a cinema screen.

Allen's choice of a career as a stop-motion animator was the result seeing the films of Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen in the 1950s and early 1960s. They so inspired him that he decided to follow in their footsteps. His first professional work was doing animation for television series and commercials such as GUMBY, DAVEY AND GOLIATH, the Pillsbury Doughboy, The Planter's Peanuts mascot and Mrs Butterworth. Allen's first work in a theatrical feature can be seen in EQUINOX (1967 but not released until 1971), in which he animated a nightmarish octopus-like creature, a giant tusked simian character called Taurus and other creatures.

In 1968 Allen began working on a project called RAIDERS OF THE STONE RING, the project which eventually became THE PRIMEVALS. A list of other artists who have been involved with the project over the years reads like a Who's Who of stop-motion: Jim Danforth, Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston, Phil Tippett, Randy Cook, Tom St Amand, Dave Carson, Jon Berg, Chris Endicott and Kent Burton. In 1970 Allen assisted Jim Danforth with the stop-motion for WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, executing the animation for a classic sequence in which a group of cavemen encounter an angry chasmosaurus.
King Kong
Allen's model of King Kong made for a Volkswagen commercial.

For 1974's FLESH GORDON, Allen animated a number of shots featuring the Great God Porno, a giant creature which, in best King Kong fashion, had a penchant for kidnapping blonde beauties and climbing tall buildings. Around the same time, Allen also recreated KING KONG's climax for a fondly-remembered television commercial in which the giant ape climbs down from the Empire State Building and drives away in a giant Volkswagen. In 1977 he was stop-motion supervisor on THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER (1977) in which a prehistoric plesiosaurus causes some wonderful monster-on-the-loose mayhem.

In 1978, Allen was recruited by low-budget film producer Charles Band to supply stop-motion aliens for LASERBLAST, and the two thereby began a fruitful relationship which spanned over twenty years. Following the marvellously quirky lizard-aliens of LASERBLAST, Allen went on to supply unforgettable stop-motion effects for a number of Band films. They include: DUNGEONMASTER (1985), which featured a stone statue that comes to life, GHOULIES II (1987), with its mischievous foot-high title creatures, DOLLS (1987), featuring murderous toy dolls in some quite graphic splatter scenes, PUPPETMASTER (1989), whose vicious puppets include the marvellous Pinhead, Blade and Tunneller, ROBOT JOX (1989), in which giant robots battle it out with one another, and SUBSPECIES (1991), whose title characters were delightful foot-tall red-skinned demons. In most of these films, Allen's brief stop-motions sequences were the highlight of the show

Away from Band, Allen has supplied some magnificent stop-motion sequences for larger-budgeted films. He animated an elderly tyrannosaurus and a pterodactyl for the excellent and much-underrated CAVEMAN (1981). For Q THE WINGED SERPENT (1982), he created a series of superb shots of a flying dragon. In *BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED (1987) he made us believe that flying saucers the size of frisbees really were living, feeling beings. And in HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS (1989), he created a tour de force sequence in which a group of miniaturised kids encounter a giant ant, befriend it and ride on its back.

Cover art for "Q"
Allen received an Academy Award nomination for his work on YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES (1986), ironically for a sequence which made use not of stop-motion animation but rod-controlled puppets. In this eye-boggling scene, a young Dr Watson hallucinates that he is being attacked by a horde of vicious cakes and pastries.

In 1996, when the makers of an IMAX large-screen film called SPECIAL EFFECTS wanted to open their film with a recreation of KING KONG's legendary Empire State Building finale, they recruited Allen for the job. Allen executed the sequence brilliantly. The makers of the film fashioned a half-hour documentary around the sequence, entitled BEHIND THE SCENES WITH KING KONG IN SPECIAL EFFECTS. In it, Allen can be seen at work animating the sequence and discussing the various problems that were encountered during it. It was one of the rare occasions when Allen stepped in front of the camera and as such is now a treasured reminder of the Puppet Master who put so many monstrous creatures and fantastic dreams up on the cinema screen.

Allen never achieved the status of stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen, nor did he enjoy the creative control which Harryhausen exercised over his films. But all that was due to change with THE PRIMEVALS, a production which would have demonstrated the full potential of stop-motion as a medium for depicting fantasy and adventure situations. David Allen's legion of fans are holding their breaths and hoping that THE PRIMEVALS will still be completed.


Interview with David Allen discussing his work recreating the final scene from King Kong from Special Effects: Anything Can Happen.

David Allen Filmography

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