by Joe Vento
A Brontosaurus model made of foam latex brought us together. If I had never opened that issue of Cinefantastic back in the mid 80s, I sadly would never have known John Schmitt. You see, he had placed an ad in this magazine selling animation models that he had built himself. These were wild creatures he had - each one better than the last, and I couldn't believe that I could actually buy my own ball-jointed terror of the Jurassic!
So I made a mad dash to the bank and forked over - I think it was - 80 bucks to the address in Ohio. When the model was delivered I was thrilled with it! I thought it was the best thing I had gotten so far. I mean, it was like getting a present from Ray Harryhausen or something. I couldn't believe I was now the proud owner of an actual stop-motion figure. I thought, maybe now I could animate the right way and film something more substantial than almost burning down my basement! Although I didn't know it at the time, John and I were to know each other and become good friends for many more years to come - and that was the best part of all.
Soon we were calling each other and writing on a regular basis. The topics of discussion were everything that had to do with monsters, stop-motion, Harryhausen, King Kong, Dinosaurs and maybe there was time to talk about the weather! Over the months, John would send me videos of his latest animated efforts. I would send him stuff from my museum of horrors, including film stills, stories, masks and I believe John is the only person in Cincinnati to have an actual piece of the rampaging brontosaur from the original 1933 King Kong! How's that for a Christmas present! Our friendship was solid!
Here was a guy who was doing the same stuff as I was. We both made our little puppet films from scratch - although his beasts were truly amazing since they were more professionally built than my clay models. My film making always went for broke, always using odd angles, never editing - and my dinosaurs laid strange eggs on screen and chewed up scenery for a good 200 feet of film! I actually drove an actor back and forth between takes just so I didn't have to edit an animated sequence! Whereas my film shoots usually involved calling the fire department at some point, John Schmitt's stuff actually had a beginning, middle and end.
His "Dawn World" opens the way Willis O' Brien would have wanted. A guy comes running out of nowhere followed by a hissing, grunting Sauropod. Classic! Later on, a flying reptile swoops down out of a clear sky and attacks a pair of explorers. Somehow, while I was sleeping I guess, John found a way to make this extinct lizard fly! Not only didn't my creatures ever leave the ground - sometimes they would literally melt from the intense heat of my cheap lights.
Over the next couple of years John would go on to build and animate a dead-on copy of the original King Kong! He made a film of our favorite ape swatting airplanes from atop the Empire State Building - and it looked just like the original! He built two Kongs, I believe - one of which he gave to me to do a film with, which now sits in my monster museum, perched on a little Empire State Building base. My film showed Kong grabbing a guy from a house and then shows him falling from the famous skyscraper. Danny Banic actually animated a few scenes in my film.
The background was a huge photo vista of lower New York, complete with the World Trade Center buildings standing tall. In a few years those towers were gone... A two-headed giant from the middle ages also sits in my collection - a John Schmitt creation that is amazing in detail, and a painting of a Tyrannosaur that he did and sent us. Incredible stuff!
Just like the dinosaurs did years ago, in the mid '90s Super 8 film became extinct and sank into the tar pits! John made the switch quickly to computer animation, a decision made in part by film being so damn hard to buy! Kids today don't even know what super 8 movie film is! John produced, over time, a remake of an old film he had done called "Mission Terminated" and a neat promotional trailor for his own rendition of "War Of The Worlds"! Computers seem to drive the technology, but one look at the character design or the imagination, and you can see it's all from the dinosaur infested mind of John.
What's next for my friend of almost 20 some odd years? I hear he's doing an underwater experiment that will have a Jules Verne theme and the look of the old animation master Karel Zeman. Can't wait! John and I will eventually meet one day again soon. We have to. My daughter Jessica is his big fan! Meanwhile, wherever a dinosaur is rearing it's head, or a giant ape is just looking for a place to sit down, here you will find my friend John Schmitt pulling the strings!