Pony R. Horton is a creative artist/film maker/journalist/entrepreneur of Irish and Cherokee descent. He has lent his talents, usually in the area of technical or visual effects work, to a number of low-and-medium budget feature films, including photographic and visual effects, and acting, in the web-based series Star Trek: Phase II.
He has also directed and edited dozens of local and national TV commercials, and industrial/educational films.
1. How long have you been a visual artist? How did you learn?
I’ve been around the arts all my life. My grandpa loved to do paint-by-numbers sets, and he was quite good at it. I seem to remember playing with paints and watercolors from the age of 5, and was very heavily influenced by the work of an artist named Harry McNaught, who illustrated the Golden Science books. I discovered cameras by age 7, which was nothing unusual as most everyone in the family was serious about photography, although none were pros.
By age 8, I was taught by a neighbor how to process film and prints. Whenever I entered any art contests in school, I usually took home an award, which didn’t hurt any. So I just kept at it over the years, but only got serious about painting around age 15, compared to already doing professional-level photography for several years by then.
So, I taught myself by just doing. I’d read a book occasionally, if I thought it would help. Ansel Adams‘ books were a watershed, along with a book by Norman Rockwell on his paintings. I also got to know, or meet, a few artists who gave me tips or encouragement, like Ralph McQuarrie (who told me to move up to ILM, but I didn’t do it), or Ken Marschall, or Harrison Ellenshaw. I also had a long friendship with Domenic R. Palmer, Jr (Palmieri) who was the Director of Photography on M*A*S*H for many years, as well as Robert “Woody” Woodside who was a soundman on TAXI. All of these people taught me simply by allowing me to know them, which for me was great!
2. Which is more fun… acting or manipulating the special effects?
That’s Apples to Oranges. Each fulfills a different artistic and emotional need. I love acting because I like playing with others in a scene, I love the process, and the collaboration, the synergy. Those feed the soul and the mind/body in one way; by allowing you to play-out something you probably could never do or experience in real life. It feeds the kid inside us.
However, the Visual Effects are a different feeling. The thrill there is watching, after the fact, the reactions of viewers who are visually/emotionally blown away by something truly amazing, spectacular, powerful, moving, or beautiful. The process of VFX work is far more grueling, and often solitary. So the rewards there are not immediate, like they can be in acting. And honestly, I think the VFX requires far more discipline and focus than the acting, which can be more spontaneous, but also more ephemeral.
In short, to be a good painter or visual artist, you gotta be obsessive and even a little savant-ish.
To be a good actor, you gotta be crazy, but also able to CHANNEL and HARNESS that crazy into usable energy when it’s not serving the character, or other facets of your life, directly.
Both are highly demanding, and simply not easy.
But as to which is more fun? BOTH!
3. Are any of the visual effects we see today still done with actual paints and pigment, or is it all computer generated?
I started doing effects that way, “Wire, Tape, and Rubber Band-Style” as we used to call it (Good vibes to ya, Bill Abbott!). I did glass matte paintings for a number of low-budget features in the late-1980’s, for Roger Corman, and for Jon Voight.
Personally, I think there are SOME effects which still work better when created naturally, such as certain types of explosions, cascading dirt, rocks, water, smoke, etc.
HOWEVER, since the turn of the century, the fact is, most VFX are and should be done with computers. It’s faster, more detail-able, offers better results than the old methods ever could, and uses fewer natural resources. There’s no way I’d ever do a hand-done matte painting again, for example.
BUT, there may be a moment later this year, if I go up to work with PHASE II on BREAD & SAVAGERY, that I may execute a large backdrop painting to be used in certain scenes as was done in the Original Series episode BREAD & CIRCUSES. Yes, we could probably greenscreen it in, but this way will work so much better, and save me many hours in post later.
That will be an example of theater techniques that have been used for centuries exactly the same way.
In fact, in my younger days I’ve painted several very large backdrops for live stage plays. I’m talking painting a scene on a canvas 30′ X 50′, and doing it in less than a week. By myself.
4. Do you consider Gravity Arch Media to be your day job? Is it your dream job?
It’s the name of my small VFX company. I’ve done some jobs under that name, or under my personal name. I enjoy it. I think at this point my dream job would be acting as a regular, beloved character in a weekly network sitcom. A well-paid one, of course. I’d love to get a part on THE OFFICE, and would have killed to be on MY NAME IS EARL if I had known about it back when it was in production. It would have been fun to have done a part on M*A*S*H, I’m old enough to have played a soldier or even a young officer, if I had been serious about acting back then.
5. Where online should people look to see some of your work?
Just Google pony R. Horton. I’m all over the web. Go to YouTube and put in “ponyhorton” (without the quotes).
6. Do we live in interesting times? Is this a curse?
Yes, we do, and it is a curse… of irony. In fact, irony itself IS the curse!
7. How and why did you learn to crack a whip?
Because Indiana Jones was soooooo cool doing it! It’s fun to be able to do something that’s really cool AND that over 99% of the rest of the world can’t do anymore. And honestly, I kinda fancy myself a Harrison Ford impersonator. I have Han’s lines down pat, Indy’s too.
A few months after RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK came out, I bought my first bullwhip, a 10′ swivel-handled Mexican bullwhip that cost me $45 on Olvera Street in L.A.
Back then there was no internet to meet other whip people, you had to go to professional leather stores and shops, and horse culture places. Luckily, I’m no stranger to horse culture, and the day after I got that whip I walked into a saddlery shop in Burbank and met a man named Ken Smith, who was from West Texas,…
(“Ken, where in Texas you from again?”
“Yeah. Halfway b’tween Plainview an’ Olton.”)
PIcture a guy who looks kinda like Humphrey Bogart if’n he was playin’ a cook of’n a chuck wagon on a cattle drive near Abiline.
A face with a sunny smile, dancing eyes, and skin like ten miles of Death Valley fire trail. Ken knew ’bout ‘ol bullwhips, an’ even reckoned he could learn me how ta pop it. Uh… sorry, whenever I think a’ Ken I start thinkin’ in a West Texas accent, an’ muh words all kinna lean up ‘gainst one ‘nother. Anyway, he learned how ta pop a whip, taught me a lot about spirituality and life, made me his kids’ Uncle, and has been a deep, close part of my life since the day after I got my first bullwhip in 1981.
Since then I have trained with Anthony DeLongis, and worked with Joe Strain and Mike Murphy, who make the best whips in the world. In fact Joe made several whips for KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. I have one of his INDY whips. Been poppin’ whips for 31 years.
8. In your childhood, did your family encourage your love of SciFi?
Yes, my mother had actually been briefly engaged to Irwin Allen years before I was born, so we always watched LOST IN SPACE and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA when I was a kid, and Mom loved reading the various SciFi pulps, like AMAZING STORIES. When STAR TREK came along, we started watching around 1967-68. We also had a strong love of the sciences in our family, so that helped.
‘Bout 1966 I guess, I was sitting in front of our little black & white set at about 7 or 8 years old with a neighbor friend named Josh. I always looked-up to Josh, as he was one of the Good Guys (if he thought something was good, it must be so), and as we watched the ENTERPRISE drift past that red planet in the opening credits, Josh exclaimed in wonder, “Wow! Look at the size of her! She’s like a city in space!” At that moment, I remember being deeply intrigued by the notion of a spacecraft so big as to appear to be a floating city.
Then I saw, and heard, the Transporter effect for the first time….. and I was HOOKED!
10. What’s your favorite memory from a SciFi convention or event?
2010, the Hollywood Xpo, I actually had several people whose work I knew, tell me THEY knew of MY work, either on P2 or on line. That was an eye-opener. Meeting the wonderful Brian Thompson, who has been a Klingon several times, is always fun. Malachi Throne is always nice as well; so’s Arlene Martel, Tim Russ, Walter Koenig, and many others I’m forgetting. During that convention, Ralph Miller and I invaded the autograph room dressed, respectively, as Richard Nixon and Agent Smith, and a lot of the actors got a laugh out of that! Getting to know JG Hertzler was GREAT, as we’re both fellow Klingons, and Robert O’Rielly and I seemed to hit it off, too.
11. How did you come to work with Phase II?
I had created an INDIANA JONES fan film, or spoof film, and put it up on the web in 2006. As a result of that, I came across the term “fan film” and started hunting for other fan films, and pretty quickly came into contact with STAR TREK: NEW VOYAGES. That was when they were doing the post work on TO SERVE ALL MY DAYS and W.E.A.T.
On the website, they had a recruitment call for the upcoming BLOOD AND FIRE, so I submitted a test video of me doing the Transporter effect out at Vasquez Rocks, they liked the work, and next thing I knew I was doing Transporter effects and various other VFX for the show!
This year I will be working on my 9th episode as a VFX artist, and if I go back to Port Henry this summer for filming, it’ll be my fifth visit. As of now I hold the record number of episodes for contributing VFX work to the show.
12. What’s the most anachronistic thing you’ve witnessed either filming or in the Green Room for Phase II?
Seeing, and filming, Clint Young in full Adam West Batman regalia on the Bridge and Transporter, beaming him in and having him say, “What am I doing here? This is the wrong network! I’m supposed to be on ABC!” and then punching-out the CAMERA with a big, Bat-style POW!
In an unrelated note, I once caught a live Brown Bat in the Green Room and let it go outside.
13. What is Phase II’s “Pony Express?”
The Transporter, because the Pony creates the real magic, sending your atoms via Pony Express all over space!
14. How many different hats have you worn with Phase II?
A fedora, a coupla baseball caps, a wig…. I, and my friends Chris LaRoche, and Mike Stearn, are called “The Hat Squad”, at PHASE II, because we all wear fedoras.
Actually, I handle all VFX that don’t take place showing the Enterprise or stuff in space. In general, that’s Tobias Richter’s area, but there can be some overlap.
I do all set extensions, matte shots, phasers, Transporters, a lot of screen graphics like on the computers and such. I disruptor-disintegrate some people really horribly in KITUMBA, and if you look closely at the moments in ENEMY STARFLEET where they fire any energy weapons like phasers, when they hit a person, you actually see, for a couple of frames, the person’s bone structure glowing under their skin, like a reverse X-ray, or when Young Frankenstien’s skull glowed through his skin as the power hit him. James saw that and laughed, “Pony, you’re EVIL!”
I also do all of the art paintings seen on the walls of the sets, mostly spacescapes or landscapes. Scotty has one in his quarters over his bed, a view of Earth from orbit.
In addition, I do some acting. In KITUMBA I was one of the main guest stars, playing the Klingon professor K’Sia. That was fun.
15. Have you ever found a topic of conversation that can be discussed among the Phase II family without someone getting into an argument?
Why, you gotta PROBLEM WITH ARGUMENT!?!
Actually, it’s lively in the same way as if Calvin’s Barber Shop at 79th & Exchange had somehow crashed into a TREK convention at Faber college, and had kids who are now all Delta House pledges. As lively as things have gotten in the Green Room, a few people have required Double-Secret Probation.
I’ve done some work on WILD, WILD WEST, matte shots mostly.
17. Can you explain to me why facebook keeps suggesting I become friends with Richard Nixon, and when I click his name all our friends in common are Trekkies?
Yes, but then I’d have to kill you. But don’t worry, it’s all on tape.
Until then, see 1701 PENNSYLVANIA AV. on YouTube. It should answer some of your questions, or at least give you something to look at.
18. What inspired you to do 1701 Pennsylvania Ave?
I’m not sure. I know I wanted to make some kind of film of Ralph Miller doing his hilarious Nixon impression, and somehow, since we work together on P2, it somehow morphed in my little horse brain to use the sets to make a movie of Nixon in STAR TREK. From there it was just a matter of coming up with a story, and in a case like that, a dream sequence or imagination sequence usually works to attach two such non-related things. And, as a matter of course, anything I write is usually gonna be funny, that’s just the way it is with my work. So that’s pretty-much it.
I’d like to thank James Cawley, Ralph Miller, Kurt Carley, Charles Root, Gwen Wilkins, and Mike Stearn for their generosity on that video, as well as my significant other, Darryl Banton, for financing all of it.
19. Given unlimited resources for a one-time project, what would you choose to create?
Probably bring the TOBY PETERS MYSTERIES to the screen. Or my IMAX film, SONG OF THE SPIRITS.
20. Who shot first, Han or Greedo?
The flip, but honest, answer is “I don’t give a damn. It’s only a movie.” The more in-depth answer is, I like both the Original AND the Special Edition. In fact, S.E. is my preference. I look at it like Disneyland, where it says on the plaque and motto, “Disneyland will never be completed.” If George Lucas wants to re-edit his film, I have no moral or artistic objections to it, and in fact there’s a lot about it I like. But it’s his movie to do with as he wishes, and not ours to gripe about.
The only problem I have with Greedo shooting first is the poor visual look of the effect. Han’s head moves unatuarally because the shot was never staged that way to begin with. As to the PC aspect of it, I really don’t care. Han can shoot first and be a Bad Ass, which was a reflection of the 1970’s anti-hero, or he can be more thoughtful and deliberate, as they portrayed by Greedo shooting first, which is a reflection of Lucas’ growth into a mature, adult human being.
Either way, I’m fine with it.
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