After a long deserved vacation, George once again set out to produce his next film. The next two years were spent trying to promote funding for films regarding tom thumb, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, The Time Machine and a film about Atlantis.
tom thumb (1958)
George's idea for tom thumb was to have Tom be a puppetoon character inserted into a world of real actors.
Donald O'Connor's agent contacted George and expressed interest in the project. George thought O'Connor would be perfect in the role of Woody, O'Connor however, was interested in the role of tom. After conversations with O'Connor, George was convinced to use him as tom in place of his puppetoon character concept.
Pal presented his proposal to M.G.M. not expecting a favorable response. To his amazement , M.G.M. reacted favorably to the idea, but with one exception, the studio wanted tom to be played by Russ Tamblyn. Russ had been nominated for an Oscar for his role in "Payton Place" and M.G.M. was prepared to back his career. From watching footage of Russ which demonstrated his dancing and athletic abilities, George was convinced that Russ could do the part. George established a budget of under one million dollars for the film, M.G.M.'s production department said it couldn't be done for under two million. M.G.M. was losing interest in the project due to the excessive budget until George's attorney suggested the film might be made for less at M.G.M.'s studios in England. George flew to England and presented his proposal to the head of the studio, Matthew Raymond, who jumped at the chance as the studio was desperately looking for a film project.
George decided to direct the film, his first, "because it was full of special effects". The British labor laws came into question as they wanted a British Director for the film. Pal pointed out the difficulty of the special effects and the response was "We have nobody who can direct this, you are the one to do it."
Pal finished principal photography for just under $900,000. Costs were less in England and the government had a program to aid film productions.
In order to make Russ appear only 6 1/2" tall, several film techniques were employed. One technique was to build the sets larger, this of course would not be practical in all instances due to construction costs. Another technique would be to film Russ and matte his image into the other film elements. The standard method was to film the actor and then reduce the image and matte it in. This caused the actors image to be sharper than the other elements. George had a new idea and finally convinced his photographic effects supervisor to try it. They filmed Russ against a black background and filmed him from as mush as 90 feet away to get him the right size. Then this image was matted in the the other elements making a much better composition.
George had planned on using Joop Geesink Studios in Holland to produce the various Puppetoon sequences for the film. Geesinks's proposed budget was too high so George considered opening his own studio to handle the work, but due to the other responsibilities regarding the production he would not have the time to oversee it. Once George returned to the U.S. he began to look for someone to take on the stop motion sequences. He recalled that Gene Warren and Wah Chang (former employees of his in the Puppetoon days) had opened their own studio, Centaur Productions. Unfortunately Centaur Productions was no longer in business.
One day while George was walking down the street he chanced to meet Gene Warren. Gene told George that he and Wah Chang and Tim Barr had started up a new effects company, Project Unlimited. A deal was struck on the spot for the sequences for tom thumb. Project Unlimited would be responsible for all the stop motion effects in the film. Among the sequences would be the Yawning Man. The Yawning Man was done in the same manner as the earlier Puppetoons were done by stop motion replacement animation. This process required up to 30 different faces to be sculpted by Wah Chang each with a different expression.
Tom Thumb proved to be very successful for M.G.M. and the success proved to be greatly beneficial to George Pal as well. The success encouraged M.G.M. to offer George a contract to do more films for them. George's next project would be The Time Machine.
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