Exclusive Interview For The 'Official' Jeff Wayne's Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds Website
MICHAEL TRIM INTERVIEW
In 1978, 'Jeff Wayne's Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds' hit record store shelves. The startling album cover designed by British artist Michael Trim still remains today one of the most iconic album cover images of the 1970s. The wonderful image shows the British battleship 'Thunder Child' pitted against the deadly invaders from Mars, walking tall in its vast Fighting Machine.
Michael not only created the album cover, he also designed the huge machines too that are seen in the 16 page artwork booklet that came with the double album and transformed into stunning images by Geoff Taylor and Peter Goodfellow.
Michael (or Mike as he likes to be called) took the time out from his busy schedule to speak with Jonathan Smith (aka: Horsell Common) about his work and these deadly invaders that have haunted us for the past 28 years.
Q:Michael, could you tell us a little about yourself and your work?
A: Originally, I trained as a graphic designer in London in the early sixties. However, on leaving college in 1964, I found myself working a film company who’s latest project was a children’s TV series entitled `Thunderbirds.’ Within a few months, I had cheekily got a design for one of the rescue vehicle accepted and from that point on became actively involved in the design aspect of the show. After about a year, I left the model workshop to become an assistant to the head of special effects, Derek Meddings, and take over the role of storyboard artist.
I went on to work on the other Gerry Anderson puppet shows, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90 and Secret Service, as well as the live action series, UFO. By now my main role was as a designer, creating all manner of craft, vehicles, ships, machines and buildings etc. But sadly, in early 1970, the company folded and I needed another way of earning a living. It was at this point that I became involved in illustration and joined a small local company called, `Profile Publications’ - who specialised in monograph titles on aircraft, ships, military vehicles, cars and locomotives. In 1973, I went freelance, specialising mainly in aerospace, maritime and military subjects for book-covers, children’s books and specialist factual publications. The style of work ranged from all action artwork to highly detailed and accurate spreads. This continued until 1985, when I began teaching part-time. This eventually developed into my full-time occupation and the illustration fell by the wayside. I quit teaching in 1999 to return to the film industry and since then have being working on several projects, all of which are very much in the original Thunderbird mode, featuring puppets, models, miniature sets and virtually no computer generated imagery. Sadly, as yet, none of these have got off the starting block, although I am hopeful the latest ones will.
Q:How did you come up with the Fighting Machine design and was it based on anything else other than the book?
A: The main thing was the desire to create something that would, in some aspects, reflect the engineering of the period in which the story was set, whilst at the same time, contrasting strongly with the technology of the Thunder Child. The style of the leg assemblies were, therefore, very much influenced by Victorian engineering – the huge beam engines found in pumping stations and the delicate cast-iron work of pillars and columns. The smooth rounded body, with its reflective surfaces, seemed to offer the biggest contrast possible to the slab sides, dull colour and straight lines of the ship, whilst still allowing me to have some sort of logic to the whole thing – a logic that, hopefully, gave the impression that the thing might just work.
Q: Did you work on any other artwork for the cover that has not been seen before?
A: The original design for the Fighting Machine featured a detailed eye at the front, base on the compound eye of a fly. Sadly, this was later changed to the twin green bug-eyes of the final cover. Thus it was that I not only had to alter my own front cover artwork, but also that of the other artists featured, with the exception of the close-up spread of 'Dead London' where the crows are seen pecking at the eye, which retained the original concept. Apart from those modifications, my efforts were confined to designing the two machines and the cover artwork itself.
Q: Your Fighting Machine design was different to the book’s description. Why was this decision made?
A: The decision was mine as, in that respect, the brief was very open. I obviously had some memory of that original description. However, one has to remember that both Wells, and the early illustrators of the machine, were drawing on their own ideas of something alien – a technology more advanced than their own. Yet, from our present day perspective, that concept perhaps now looks quaintly Victorian in style. For me, this was a late twentieth century project and I, therefore, needed to draw heavily upon the technology of my own time, whilst trying to move in on a little further – but including the echoes of the past already referred to. By doing so, the contrast between the nineteenth century technology of the Thunder Child and the machines themselves became far greater than the earlier illustrations, and even Wells’ description.
Q: Was the Battleship `Thunder Child’ based on any real ship, or was it your own design?
A: She was largely based on one of the Royal Navy’s Canopus class, pre-Dreadnought vessels, although there may have been some details grafted on from the later improved Canopus class ships. It is also possible that there were some artistic liberties taken during the execution of the work, but after nearly thirty years, it’s difficult to be certain. I did consider designing her and have done this a number of times before, for book covers. As the story is set in Great Britain and therefore, it would be the navy of that day that would have to deal with the situation. Whilst the ship would have represented the cutting edge of British naval power at the time, I think the actual vessels of that class were all launched shortly after the book was written.
Q: Why were there no images produced for the album showing the actual Martians?
A: I’m afraid I can’t answer this one, as that decision was made by other people. However, space restrictions could be one possible answer. The art director may have felt that he did not want to diminish the impact of the spreads by cramming other images in. It could also be that it is sometimes safer to just leave such things to the viewers imagination and avoid creating something that doesn’t match people’s pre-conceived ideas.
NB: This was a decision made by Jerry Wayne, Jeff Wayne and art director John Pasche to have no image of a Martian. As Michael says, it's sometimes best left to the imagination of the viewers. (TWOTW Team)
Q: Do you regret producing these images? Has it overshadowed your other work and is there anything you would change?
A: I don’t regret being involved in the project at all. After all, it is the piece I’m best known for and it has, together with my work for Gerry Anderson, led to a certain amount of notoriety over the years. And I am constantly please, if a little bemused at times, to find that it is still recognised and apparently giving pleasure all these years later.
Q: What do you think has made Jeff Wayne’s musical so long lasting, and your design in particular?
A: I have often been asked similar questions about the Gerry Anderson series and would love to say I know the answer, but in truth, I do not. It may sound a somewhat glib response but I think, like so much in life it seems, it has a lot to do with simply being in the right place at the right time. It caught the mood of the buying public. It was an extremely imaginative and innovative take on a well-known story.
As to my part in it, I have no doubt that its notoriety, if that is the right word, comes from simply being on the cover of a very successful record. If I had done this as the cover for the book, I’m sure it would not be as well known. But the album has put it in front of a much larger audience and kept it there for many years – something for which I’m obviously extremely grateful.
Q: When painting the cover, did you stick to a certain palette of colours to evoke an emotion of fear, hopelessness and disaster within the viewer.
A: It would be nice to say that I’d been that clever, but in reality, I approached it in the same way I would any other similar work. I tend to have a naturally low-key colour sense leading, at times, to quite a subtle palette – although, like any other artist, I have my more colourful moments. However, as originally conceived, the artwork was quite a bit brighter. There was less black smoke and sunset extended further to the right. The sea, on the other hand, was not as blue and there was less red in the Heat Ray and the bow of the Thunder Child. In fact, the artwork went back and forth to London several times, always returning with the message, `more black smoke’. Nevertheless, in the end, everyone was happy and off to the printers it went.
Q: Where did your interest in The War of the Worlds start? When did you first become involved in the project?
A: I first read the book at school and, being already hooked on science-fiction, it appealed immediately. Living in London, I knew some of the places included in the story and so, for me, this gave the narrative a distinct edge. Even now, for all our sophistication and familiarity with the idea of aliens and spaceships, the prospect of facing such an invasion is pretty horrifying, but the impact on the world of Wells and his contemporaries would have been far greater. And, although I obviously knew that no such thing had ever happened, the thought of just how terrifying it would have been has always stayed with me.
I was therefore, appalled by the mauling the tale got from the makers of the 1950’s Hollywood version, which seemed to lose something of that impact. Somehow, the sight flying bedpans dispensing death and destruction just didn’t seem the same. I look forward with interest to see just what the latest offering comes up with.
The first task was to design the two machines and then come up with a rough for the cover itself. I think it was the combination of my various book cover artworks, featuring warships and battles etc, together with the
sci-fi design background from the Gerry Anderson days that swung the job my way. Little did I realise that I’d still be talking about it twenty-eight years later!
Q: Other than your own, do you have any other favourite Fighting Machine designs?
A: To be honest, I cant’ say that I have seen that many and I certainly can’t recall who was responsible for any of them, which makes answering the question almost impossible. Some I liked, some I didn’t, but the memories are so vague I’m afraid I can’t give you any reasons. Perhaps as a very poor substitute, you will allow me to offer a little story.
In 1984, as a very new and extremely nervous college lecturer, I was having a conversation with a group of A-Level Graphics students. It was only my second week with them and so we knew very little about each other. For some reason, the BBC series `The Tripods’, which then being shown, came up as the topic of conversation. One of the more vocal members of the group didn’t like the design for the machines themselves and asked my opinion. I didn’t like them very much either, but tried to be fairly non-committal. `I tell you the one I really like,’ he said. `And that’s the one on the cover of Jeff Wayne's Musical Version Of The War of the Worlds. He turned to me again and asked `Do you know the one I mean?’
Whatever the group might have thought of me up till then, however they might have rated my performance, from that moment on, I knew I had them.
The War Of The Worlds website would like to say a big thank you to Michael Trim for taking the time out to talk to us and 'The War Of The Worlds' fans and we wish him all the best.
Please ask for permission from Jonathan Smith (Horsell Common) before reproducing any part of it.
For more information on Jeff Wayne and his musical version of The War Of The Worlds, please go to: www.thewaroftheworlds.com