The Stanley Kubrick Archives

Author: Joy Cuff ( née Seddon)

On my first visit to the Stanley Kubrick archives, I began looking through an inventory that detailed information on over 700 boxes that related to 2001: A Space Odyssey. My aim was to find some of the artwork that I had produced for this monumental film forty years ago.  At random, I selected two boxes noted as ‘Miscellaneous Polaroid’s and 35mm transparencies’. To my wonder and surprise, both contained photographic shots of the moons’ surface; I had indeed created a number of tabletop models of the moon and its’ complex surface.

Working incredibly closely with Stanley Kubricks ideas, I observed that his research within many areas – visual and dramatic concepts, set design and character situations were always meticulous. These were then translated into film by the technicians whom experimented many times, throughout the filming, working alongside Stanley.

My contract at MGM Studios commenced in February 1966. The live-action shooting was completed at Shepperton Studios, and 2001: A Space Odyssey was shot in 65mm film. When I had joined the ‘picture’, the filming of the astronauts descending into the ‘pit’ to examine the monolith was ‘in the can’ but had not been developed.

At MGM a tabletop model of the moonset was to be created and produced as what is known as a ‘matte shot’. Sculpted in plaster, ‘the pit ‘centre frame was to be the live action, filmed at Shepperton, which was then fused together through the process of working with the camera. This technique was perfected in the early years of filmmaking, however as duped film became of better quality, the process of inserting live action into a still image became less utilised. With attention to minute detail, Stanley Kubrick adopted to use this method predominantly because of the high quality of reproduction it created. John Mackay, Cameraman and Bob Cuff, Matte Artist, were two of the significant technicians that were engaged with the development of both the creation and filming of the moonsets.

Working as a mixed-media artist and sculptor, I felt comfortable working with the medium of plaster when working on the moon sets, but I had not any experience in the Special Effects (SFX) area of film making and in particular the making of Matte Shots – i.e. the fusing of individual shots to make one complete shot. I worked alongside Bob Cuff, an expert in this field and learned the craft of being a matte-artist. I was privileged to be learning this art form, whilst creating one of the most iconic shots in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This shot and subsequent shots throughout the film of the moon bus travelling over the moons’ surface and the views from the spacecraft windows, are actually tabletop models that were 3ft x 6ft in size, within one 10ft square area and an interacting long set for a tracking shot of approximately 25ft. I would work from thumbnail sketches, which can also be found amongst the archive. Some created by me, with some simple drawings drawn by Stanley - mere diagrams to show surface plains and crater edges but all to be very carefully composed on set. After Bob Cuff and John Mackey left to form a company Abacus which serviced films (I later was to join them to work with Bob) I worked alone on the moonsets and in the later stages was joined by Roger Dicken, a model maker.

The content from the Stanley Kubrick archive, now bequeathed to the University of the Arts, London is an amazing and valuable collection of material collated from the many years of Stanley’s filmmaking career. This rich source of subject matter demonstrates an endless insight into the thought processes, pragmatic approaches, observations and creative methods that Stanley Kubrick applied to his filmmaking. The archive illustrates great aspirational content to both the student or would be filmmaker. To view this wealth of material, demonstrates how remarkable a Director Stanley Kubrick was.