Film: Superman's secret weapon

Film special-effects legend Roy Wood is still going strong.
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FOR CENTURIES, man has dreamt of flying - we all know what happened to poor Icarus. It took cinema special-effects legend Roy Field to realise the dream. In 1976, he lifted Superman from the pages of a DC Comics book, straight into the sky. Without him, filmgoers may never have heard those immortal words, "Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Superman".

"The director of Superman gave me the task of making people actually believe that a man could fly," explains Field on the set of Lighthouse, a British movie currently being filmed in London. "The interesting thing was that Christoper Reeve was a glider pilot and instinctively knew how to angle his body, how to bank, for instance. We used that to enhance the flying."

Field and his team, including his one-time mentor and the godfather of special effects, Les Bowie - with whom Field collaborated in his early days at Hammer Films on titles that include Quatermass Experiment - were awarded the Oscar for their work. "I used an effect known as `Blue Screen' for those sequences - a technique I'd been using for some 20 years during my time at Pinewood," Field explains. "Today, we have digital computers but when I started out, it was all done optically."

Field is still a busy man. He's just completed two episodes of Hornblower, a new TV series based on CS Forester's book. Most of the work was done at "the tank" at Pinewood. "Hornblower was pretty dramatic as far as effects were concerned," says Field, "plenty of sinking of model ships and loud, violent battle sequences with live gun-powder recreated. The decks were shrouded in smoke most of the time and we had to intercut the tank work with shots of cannonballs hitting masts and big guns firing."

His latest project is to oversee the special effects in Lighthouse, a low-budget chiller-thriller. Its director, 29-year-old Simon Hunter, explains: "Roy has so much experience. The challenge is to make a lighthouse seem to be in the middle of the ocean, miles from nowhere."

"We're using just about every technique I can think of," says Field. "There's a sequence in which some of the characters are hanging over the edge of the lighthouse on ropes. The background will be a real sea, 120ft below."For 17 years, from 1959 until he arrived in Hollywood to work on Superman, Field was employed as a Visual Effects Supervisor for Rank. His expertise was required on the first seven James Bond movies.

"I think Goldfinger was the most challenging of all, particularly the sequence when 007 breaks into Fort Knox using the same laser that nearly cuts him in half," says Field, "And of course there was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang".

Field is one of that rare breed of postwar, British behind-the-scenes film-makers. Lighthouse may be Field's cinematic swansong. But it's a tribute to his adaptability that he has managed to remain in the glare of the spotlights for so long. Unlike Icarus.

`Hornblower' begins on 7 October, at 8pm, on ITV