Wally Gentleman B.S.C

1926 – January 2001

Wally Gentleman started as an effects camera assistant at Technicolor London in 1943. Three years later he was at J. Arthur Rank’s Pinewood Studios as a special effects cameraman where he became a specialist in painted matte shots and after that spent 3 years at M-G-M British. During this period he was involved with the development of the revolutionary Independent Frame Rear Projection system as well as the full range of special effects techniques. His contributions were in the area of research and development and in the incorporation of improved effects into the films as they were being made. This was a very important period in the history of film in Great Britain, and Wally Gentleman was a key member of the teams responsible for the special effects in literally dozens of British films and made between 1943 and 1957 although uncredited, films such as Great Expectations (1947) and Oliver Twist (1948) both directed by David Lean and photographed by Guy Green BSC, Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948) both directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and photographed by Jack Cardiff BSC, among many others with people such as Les Bowie and Cliff Culley. However, by 1957, Gentleman moved to Canada to pursue a career at the National Film Board of Canada as chief of special effects. Shooting on the 16-mm format had been central to the National Film Board of Canada, and it was Wally Gentleman who brought special effects previously only used in 35-mm feature films to 16-mm at the N.F.B. In a book about Canadian film technology, he is praised for bringing "a rare combination of artistic and technical skills to Canada" and this was displayed in the highly regarded short film Universe (1960 Directed by Roman Kroitor, Colin Low), which was about the planets in our solar system. “So well done and realistic were Wally’s scenes that it was hard not to believe that they had sent a real cameraman to photograph them!” It was nominated Best Documentary Short at the Academy Awards. He formed his own company Special Photographic Effects and Allied Crafts working out of a shop front in Montreal and also became involved with industry affairs with various film organizations and guilds. He was President of the Society of Film Makers and fought government bureaucracy to secure a good cultural climate for Canadian filmmakers and was instrumental in getting positive legislation. In the meantime, Universe attracted the attention of Stanley Kubrick, who hired Wally to create some the special effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Wally imagined several of the film's memorable scenes, such as the woman who walks around and upside down in the zero-gravity spaceship, secured by her grip shoes. The shots of the planets were an updated version of his work in Universe, but much trickier - in color and 65mm where any defects in the special effects shooting would be easily seen. People looked for the so-called invisible wires holding up the planets. Wally's simple answer to that threat was to suspend the planets upside down and shoot the scene with an inverted camera. The film was a huge success, with only one sour note. The only Oscar won by the film was for Special Visual Effects. It was awarded to Stanley Kubrick--and was his sole win from 13 nominations. However, while Kubrick designed much of the look of the film and its effects, many of the technicians involved felt it was wrong for him to receive the sole credit. Following this controversy, the Academy tightened its eligibility rules. Wally went on to work on projects for EXPO 67 and in Europe. In 1977, he was appointed as a Director at Film Effects of Hollywood and was associated with a series of films and television projects such as: One from the Heart (1982 Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and photographed by Vittorio Storaro AIC), which was Coppola's intention to demonstrate how electronics and video could revolutionize the making of films. Wally was also one of the first special effects men to combine live-action with animated characters, a forerunner of Who Framed Roger Rabbit by inventing a new kind of aerial image machine. Wally secured a patent on his invention, and sold the unit to Universal, where it was put to use on the television series Battlestar Gallactica. Wally was a major member of the Canadian Society of Cinematographers and was one of three leading lights that turned the Canadian Society of Film Makers into the Canadian Academy of Motion Picture and Television Arts and Sciences.

Member of the Directors Guild of Canada
Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society
Fellow of the British Kinematograph Sound & Television Society
Fellow of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers
Elected member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

Various/Phil Méheux

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