Interview with Dave Axford, model shop supervisor on the Nick Fury television movie
Late in 2006, Dave contacted me via email to share some images and memories as Model Shop Supervisor on the Nick Fury television movie. Here are his words reproduced in Q&A form.
Humberto M. Ferre'

Dave Axford: Working in model FX since the early 1990s, Axford has worked on a number of Candadian sci-fi series, including TekWar, Robocop, and Stargate. His film credits include The Santa Clause 2, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and the film version of Thomas the Tank Engine.

How did you get your start in the industry?
As a kid I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey and was rather mesmerized by the visuals. Then Star Wars came along and drove my curiosity on 'how'd they do that?' into overdrive. At the time, I'd read up on article pertaining to visual effects, but almost all were rather simplistic or incorrect. It wasn't until Cinefex magazine came along that I began to get a reasonable handle on things... Having said that, I wish they had a glossary! What the hell is rotoscoping?! It took years for me to get an idea about that one! After high school I went to York University and enrolled in the film and television program. Can't say it helped me too much in the field of visual effects. I guess it was too much of a 'black art' for even my film professors. After university, I went to work for a film equipment rental house. This was a bonus, as they were supplying gear to all sorts of productions and allowed me to see who was doing what. Basically, the rental house was my 'in' to the business, more than anything else.

How did you come to work on the Nick Fury movie?
Flew to Vancouver from Toronto for some art department meetings with my right hand man Rick. Met the Production Designer and had discussions regarding potential designs. Had meetings with the visual effects supervisor (part of GVFX's team) and the producer to discuss where was best spent for VFX. Returned to Toronto to begin the build on the Helicarrier and two "transports". Went into studio for the motion control shoot of the miniatures Participated in the pyrotechnics shoot as assistant pyrotechnician.

Production did run over budget on the shooting portion of the movie. Money in post production was cut, to make up for this shortfall. Essentially, our days in studio to shoot motion control were cut in half. The transporters were the first in line to be shot and prooved to be quite tricky to nail... But we had a strict time line and they didn't receive the TLC that they needed. Fortunately, the Helicarrier was a gem to shoot. It looked great from the get go. After the first rough composites of the Helicarrier were delivered, the producers wanted more and came up with a small amount of money to go back into the studio and get additional coverage... However, the sum was deemed too small to go back to studio, re-light, re-set the motion control etc. and this didn't happen (pity).

Some day time shots were colour corrected to appear as night. This worked very well. Some night time shots were colour corrected to appear as day. This did not look good. In fact the company refused to allow them to go 'out the door'... However, Production re-timed the shots themselves and cut them in to the show. Grrrr! (It just made us look bad, even though it wasn't our doing!) We could not complete the pyrotechnic shoot on the tight budget that we had, so we had to 'piggy back' it on to another pyro shoot that we were doing for another client. (We did use a rather new pyrotechnic system to do the shot and it worked quite nicely!) Production was so tight for money that they couldn't afford the traditional 'crew t-shirts' as a thank you... Mr. Hasselhoff jumped in and supplied the team with "Baywatch Crew" t-shirts instead... LOL! It's so true!


Were you at all familiar with Nick Fury before working on the movie?
I am sooo busted!.... I had never heard of Nick Fury before. One of the guys in the shop told me, "Oh Nick Fury... He makes Sgt. Rock look like a wimp". I was told about look of the show and was intrigued, but once I saw the drawings in the art department, I knew we were getting into something really cool.

The helicarrier in the film differs from the classic design from the comics. How much research did your team do in terms of the design for the helicarrier?
Very little really. The Production Designer/ art department came up with the new design. The only input we really had was A) Whether or not the design would fit into the budget. B) If it were to be problematic from a model building/ shooting point of view. Basically, we went with the design they had because it largely fitted both. Only minor alterations were made.. To flesh out the drawings which were provided, we got research material on the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier. After that, we were largely allowed to 'run with it'. It was one of the more pleasurable builds that I have participated in and generally, everyone was psyched to participate in it.

Were there any other inspirations other then the comics?
As mentioned above, recent U.S. military hardware. The look was to be 'present day technology retrofitted for future use'..

In the comic SHIELD uses the hovercars, but the transports in the film are more realistic. How did the designs for the transports come about?
The Transports were modeled after the Apache helicopter that the U.S. army uses. In fact, I went out and bought a radio control Apache helicopter and used the body as a mould for the Transports. Needless to say, there were modifications made (add ons), but the heart of the beast is definitely the Apache


What happens to models like those of the Helicarrier and the transports after the shoot?
We hung them up at the office for display purposes. But sometimes they go to the dump. You simply can't keep so much stuff in storage. I know this is a tragedy, but it is a reality. I heard that the Helicarrier was donated to a comic book shop here in Toronto. I haven't seen it myself, but two co-workers told me they saw it.

On your filmography it lists Robocop the Series; as a huge Robocop fan (although not so much of the series) what can you say about working on that show?
If there was an element of the show that I found challenging, it was that fact that we were providing 'special effects props' that would be handled from everyone from producers to crew and actors. This sounds fine, but in reality the show was shooting around the clock with so many people 'playing' with props, that if something went wrong, they wouldn't hesitate calling me at three in the morning and say, "We've got a problem here...". To which I would frequently reply, "Have you checked the batteries?". Sure enough, the problem was only flat batteries!

You also worked on Resident Evil: Apocalpyse (one of my favorite popcorn flicks); what was your experiences on that film like?
My contribution to Resident Evil was fairly insubstantial. I made some "bio mechanical" pieces for the Nemesis character that in the end were difficult to see. Also I did some gun wrangling which was fun. Nothing like a mini-gun to brighten your day :) Perhaps the most memorable part was meeting Milla Jovovich (not that I'm a fan of hers). She was totally cool and man could she swear like a sailor!!! She was anything but stuck up. Very refreshing really.

What has been your favorite project that you've worked on?
I think I'd have to say, "Thomas and the Magic Railroad". I worked on that movie for 13 months. It started out as a rather long model build, then progressed to a miniature shoot for about 4 months and then the digital post production which I also supervised (for GVFX) for the remaining duration. The visual effects supervisor was Bill Neil (Francis Ford Coppola's brother in law as it turns out) and Bill was just great to work with. A quiet, reflective man with very little ego. Producer Phil Fehrle was also a treat to work with. A reasonable man who always made time to talk to you and see how things were going. If you had a problem or concern, you could always go to Phil and sort things out. Believe me, I appreciated the open door policy! I'd gladly work with both Bill Neil and Phil Fehrle anytime!

What projects are you working on now?
Dave is presently working on an unnamed miniseries and is in negotiations on a children's television show.



Enormous thanks to Dave Axford for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions.