Cinefantastique, Volume 6, Number 1 (c)1977, pg. 42 - Land of the Lost by S.S. Wilson

The show's major live action characters, Holly (Kathy Coleman), father Rick Marshall (Spencer Milligan), and Will (Wesley Eure).  Holly is seen pictured with a Sleestak, the reptilian race which once ruled the lost land.

Lu Lu lives in water, another troublesome element to dimensional animation. So there were two Lu Lus, on animation model used in medium closeups (where animatable plastic water is partially hidden by tall grass) and one submersible hand puppet (filmed live action) which is seen in long shots rising or submerging in a pond of real water. The hand puppet was operated from below via strong rubber gloves waterproofed into the base of the pond tank. This technique was the source of a minor disaster at Excelsior about the third day the tank was in use. The crew was discussing the next shot when, suddenly, Warren, Sr. noticed the water level dropping very swiftly. Looking underneath the set, he saw that one of the rubber gloves had somehow turned itself inside out and was now a huge, grotesque udder nearly two feet in diameter, already holding much of the tank's 60 gallons and swelling rapidly. The crew scrambled snatch up electrical cable and valuable equipment just before the glove burst, instantaneously dumping virtually the entire contents of the tank in a miniature tidal wave. Hours were required to clean up the mess.

From the animation buff's standpoint, the most interesting monster seen on LAND OF THE LOST might be what I've dubbed the "armature monster." In sophisticated animation models and puppets the armature is a steel, ball-and-socket jointed skeleton on which the foam rubber and latex body of the model is built. When the show needed a new, inexpensive character, the armature for an unfinished model was pressed into service. Dressed up a little, provided with eyes that lit up, and animated to plod slowly and mechanically, it came off as a delightfully eerie robot creature.

Most of the animation for the show was carried out by Gene Warren, Jr., Pete Kleinow, John Hunek, and Harry Walton, with Warren and Kleinow the bulk of the limited third season work. Some larger scale hand puppet heads (for Grumpy the tyrannosaurus; Big Alice, the allosaurus; and Dopey, the baby brontosaurus) were used on the occasional closeups. These were operated on the live action video stage by Gene Warren, Jr., and Harry Walton. In addition to the animation, Excelsior provided a number of live action miniature effects, such as the "After Shock" earthquake sequence.

Because the miniature sets were the *only* sets for much of the show, Excelsior also prepared footage of them without animated characters, for use as straight backgrounds to be combined with live action. The full scale live action sets (Marshall cave interior, jungle, pylon interior, pond, Temple, etc.) were quite cramped, affording very little room for movement of actors or cameras. Thus the "vast" miniatures added much needed scope to the Land at relatively little cost.

When the film footage was complete, the similarity to conventional animation/live action composite work ended. A positive print of the film was taken to Burbank-based Compact Video, a state of the art facility which offers all manner of services and equipment for video production. There the film was transferred to videotape using a Simplex projector modified to maintain optimum registration while running at 24 frames per second (film effects printing machines normally run much slower than this). Registration relates to image steadiness; it is particularly crucial when two images are combined.

An additional 1/2 inch videotape copy (standard broadcast tape is two inches wide) of the film was also made to provide quick reference to animation segments which could be re-used in later episodes.

The compositing of live actors with the animation "background plates" (any image source which serves as a background to which new images are added is called a background plate) took place in the surreal world of a sound stage in which the floor and backdrops were entirely one shade of blue. A special effects switcher incorporating an improved form of chroma key, called Imagematte, created the composites.


Well, basically, a switcher is a device which switches from one video source to another. Chroma key *combines* two sources in a selective manner, using blue as the "key" color. A TV camera is pointed at the live actors on the blue stage; this is one video source. The other source in this case is a videotape machine playing back the background plate. The chroma key switcher combines the two sources, inserting the background plate image whereever blue is visible in the image coming from the TV camera. Since the actors aren't blue, the composite image shows them standing "in" the background plate image. This composite can be displayed continuously, live, on television monitors for rehearsal and line up purposes, and then may be recorded on a second videotape machine.

Obviously, an actor cannot wear blue clothing on a chroma key stage, since the switcher would insert background there, too, punching apparent holes in his body. If for any reason, it is imperative that blue be worn, the chroma key can be adjusted to work with any other highly saturated color. Blue just happens to be the easiest to work with. Also, blue clothing can be used to create special effects. An unearthly first season character [sic] called the Zarn, for example, had a humanoid form made up solely of tiny points of light. It was nothing more than an actor in a blue body stocking dotted with small lights. The lights were the only things visible in chroma key composites.

Chroma key systems are by no means new, but they have been improved in recent years. They now can produce softer, more rounded edges on the matted subject (the subject on the blue stage) instead of the harsh, sometimes ragged, or "tearing," edges of earlier systems. They actually perform a rapid dissolve between the edges of the matted subject and the inserted electronic switch. This allows them to work exceedingly well on difficult subjects with fine hair and transparent objects. Furthermore, they can segregate the subject's shadow into the background image as well.

Since the actual animation in a given LAND OF THE LOST show was rarely more than a few seconds long, the background plate tape began with a freeze frame which lasted a minute or so. Often the freeze frame included scale cut-out figures of the actors (photographed in the sets at Excelsior and them removed before shooting the animation). The actors simply moved about on the blue stage until their image size in the composite matched that of their cut-out counterparts.

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