The Creator's Story - Wah Ming Chang
     Part 2 
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The following text is from the 1989 book “The Life and Sculpture of Wah Ming Chang” written by his wife Glen and cousin David Barrow.  ©1989 Wah Ming Chang, Carmel, CA; used by permission.  Since this was written by family, it is Wah’s story as he likely wanted it told.  Some revisions have been made to account for changes that have occurred since then.  Added material comes from Webster Colcord's thread on StopMotionAnimation in pink, the official Star Trek website in yellow, Wikipedia in blue, Don Colman's "Time Machine"-related Wah tribute in green, the book "Wah Ming Chang - Artist and Master of Special Effects" by Gail Blasser Riley in orange, and from us in grey.  Movie and personnel links reference "The Internet Movie Database" (IMDb).

Imagination Unlimited

Wah Ming Chang at Project Unlimited with Gene Warren

Wah Chang and Gene Warren (above far right) formed in 1957 a new company with another friend, Tim Baar.  Under the name of "Project Unlimited, Inc.," they produced some of their best known and most technically acclaimed work, creating special effects, masks, and animation for the TV series "The Outer Limits" as seen below:

Wah Ming Chang's work on the Outer Limits

Wah's association with future Star Trek producer Bob Justman began on this show, for which he designed many monsters and special effects.  In the episode "The Architects of Fear," Chang's creature was considered so horrifying that it was never shown on the screen in full, and viewers only got to see a bit of an arm or a leg at a time.

Perhaps the most memorable achievements of the "Project Unlimited" group were the effects they contributed to several George Pal feature film productions.  It started when Pal had finished principle photography on "tom thumb" (clip at right) and was looking for someone to do the stop motion sequences for the film.  One company submitted a budget which was too high and George had looked for Wah and Gene's company Centaur but by then they had closed that company.  The story goes that George met Gene walking down the street one day and they struck a deal then and there.  Other collaborations with George Pal were "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" in 1962 and "The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao" in 1964.  But it is the 1960 production of "The Time Machine" which is best remembered by film fans.  Magill's Survey of Cinema says of "The Time Machine:"

--- the special effects ... and their believability are crucial.  A substantial portion of the film takes place inside the time machine; the audience sees nothing more than the art of time travel itself.  If these scenes fail to hold one's attention, the film is lost.  Fortunately, Pal and his special-effects cameramen Gene Warren and Wah Chang are equal to the task.  They show time passing in a number of ways:  the sun zips across the skylight, a snail races across the ground, flowers open and shut like umbrellas, and the fashionable dresses on a mannequin in the window of a clothing store change styles as the seasons and the years pass.*

*Magills' Survey of Cinema, Frank N. Magill, Salem Press, First Series, 1980

Wah Ming Chang's work on The Time Machine, with the Academy Award

above - Oscar night 1960.  "And the award for Special Effects goes to... Project Unlimited for 'The Time Machine'!"

Over the next several years "Projects Unlimited" created costume pieces, sets, and special effects for a number of major films, including "Spartacus", "Mutiny on the Bounty," and "The King and I."  They fabricated the headdresses worn by Elizabeth Taylor in "Cleopatra," one of which appeared on the October 6, 1961 cover of Life Magazine.  But by the mid-sixties, fantasy films, the mainstay of the studio, were becoming less popular.  Wah and Gene decided to close Project Unlimited, Inc. in early 1966 and Wah went back to free-lancing from his home at 365 West Poppyfields Drive in Altadena (backyard work shed at right, in 2006.  This is the probable Birthplace of Star Trek props!)However, upon closing their Project Unlimited studio, they held an auction to raise money.  Advertisements for the auction appeared in monster magazines all over the country.  The day of the auction people came from everywhere.  In Wah's words, they were "bidding like crazy."  The crowd was hungry for more, so Wah and Gene dashed back to the trash bins, pulling out anything they thought might be of value.  Wah said, "they snapped these up as precious treasures, the old ragged worn out puppets, in pieces, some of them, that we had cleaned out and discarded."

Along with various other jobs, Wah began doing some work for the television series "Star Trek."  He would receive a first draft of the script, do a sketch of the monster suggested in the episode, take the sketch to producer Gene Roddenberry for approval, go home and do a clay model, get another approval, and finally make up the costume.  (The two creature effects used in the first pilot [right >>] were his, but maybe not the clear communicator and barrel phaser props.  While a former staff member remembered hearing on set that he had, Wah, when asked in his elder age, disavowed any involvement in their creation, pointing out the clumsiness of the design.)  Wah also designed and built some of the more famous props for the series, such as the "tricorder" (scan of that purchase order), "phaser," (of which he redressed the low-quality first batch made by the studio) and of course the "communicator."

(HC note of preceding picture - the illusionary monster under Pike's hands looks to be the same mask as above in The Outer Limits, without the bulging eyes.)

Chang applied his skills to the show by making the iconic "Balok" effigy, the fake alien head in "The Corbomite Maneuver" - frequently repeated as part of the closing credits - with its small chin, almond-shaped eyes and large cranium that did much to establish and popularize the archetype of humanoid extraterrestrial life, in addition to the two pulsing "light bulb" ships in that episode.  He also created the creature costumes for the M-113 "salt vampire" in "The Man Trap" and the Gorn in "Arena," along with the Taurus II humanoids in "The Galileo Seven."

Wah Ming Chang's work on Star Trek TOS: communicator, phaser, tricorder, Vulcan harp, Romulan ship, creatures, and more

Chang also made the Vulcan harp and the original Romulan bird-of-prey seen in "The Balance of Terror," which inspired future designs in Star Trek: The Next Generation and was re-envisioned in the Enterprise episode "Minefield."  Also seen in "Balance" were his Romulan ears and Centurian helmets (later painted silver for Vulcan helmets in "Amoke Time").  Certainly one of his most popular creations was the tribble, which he made using artificial fur stuffed with foam.  And he launched the fantasy aspect of "Shore Leave" with the rabbit's head seen at the beginning of the episode.  This comprehensive list of his services to Star Trek comes from the purchase orders on file with UCLA archives.  Owing either to their severe budget cutbacks or Desilu's purchase by Paramount (or both), the Star Trek production staff did not use Wah's services after the middle of Season 2.

Another interesting costume job required Wah to design and fabricate various pieces for the apes in "The Planet of the Apes."

The Call of Nature

Gene Warren and Wah started around 1969 a new animation company called Excelsior! A.M.P., located on Cole Avenue in Hollywood.  The "AMP" stood for Animated Moving Pictures.  However, toward the end of 1970, having tired of the pressures of studio work which always involved long hours, short deadlines, and small budgets, Wah and Glen decided to change both their way of life and their location.  They moved from their Altadena home of twenty-five years to a house in Carmel Valley which Wah designed and built, and he began work on educational films.  During an extensive trip through the western states they shot footage for a film on endangered wildlife which they called "Ecology - Wanted Alive."  This film won the 1973 "CINE Golden Eagle Award" from the Council on International Nontheatrical Events.

Wah also photographed material for a film on natural resources entitled "The World Is a Bank."  These films and two others, "Man's Effect on The Environment" and "Dinosaurs, The Terrible Lizards," reflected his growing interest in educational and environmental subjects.  Wah co-produced a film with a Salinas attorney, William Bryan, known in the Monterey Bay area for his hobby of underwater photography.  "Otters, Clowns of the Sea" was a popular film which advertised the charms of the southern sea otter and also dramatized the animal's precarious relationship with man.

From Carmel, Wah continued to do occasional commercial work, as well as jobs for Hollywood and television in collaboration with his friends at Excelsior! (which closed its doors in 1980 to be succeeded by Gene Warren Jr.'s studio Fantasy II).  One of these was a series of animated heads for an ad featuring the Pillsbury Doughboy.  He also created dinosaur puppets for Sid and Marty Kroft's Saturday morning children's show, "The Land of the Lost," which ran for several seasons, as well as the frightening skeleton animated in The PowerDuring the Excelsior! days Gene and Wah still had a separate business together called Genuwah Corporation.

More and more, however, Wah and Glen's interests and activities turned toward ecology and the plight of endangered wildlife.  With various species as his subjects, Wah began doing small sculptures, first in plastic and then, using the lost wax process, in bronze.

Wah Ming Chang's work as a bronze wildlife sculptor
(HC note - his sculptures are frequently sold via eBay.)

He submitted some of these to local galleries and discovered that there was considerable demand for the pieces.  Soon he was doing more sculpture and less film work.  This was fortunate timing, as school budgets for educational films were being cut back, decreasing the royalties from the primary market for his films.  The demand for Wah's bronzes increased steadily, and soon there were some twenty galleries showing his work from Florida to the Hawaiian Islands.

In 1975, Wah was accepted into membership in the Carmel Art Association.  With a roster of 120 local artists, the Carmel Art Association is one of the oldest and most respected artist-owned galleries in the country.  Wah served several terms on its Board of Directors and for a number of years had been at the top of its list of producing artists.

In 1987, Hank Ketcham commissioned Wah to do a life-size statue in bronze of Ketcham's cartoon character "Dennis the Menace" for the children's park by that name in Monterey.  Four sculptures were eventually done, one went to Ketcham's own garden, one in his studio, one at the Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital and the forth was placed in Dennis the Menace Park in Monterey, California.  Wah gained a great deal of pleasure from the fact that the sculpture was (and still is) regularly polished by the many small, affectionate hands of the neighborhood children who visit the park.

Wah Ming Chang in elder life

HC note - The story in "The Life and Sculpture of Wah Ming Chang” ends here, in 1989, with the following words:

 

 

 

Blanding Sloan died on August 5, 1975, approaching his 90th birthday.  At ninety-seven, his wife, Mildred, is still living in her Altadena house.  It is with love and gratitude to these two, that this story is dedicated.

 

 

 

In 1992 Wah experienced post polio syndrome as a result of his earlier bout with polio.  It was necessary then for Wah to use a walker which he modified by the addition of a metal basket in which he had on hand paper, pens, his incoming and out going correspondence and his cordless telephone.  Glen did more of the business dealings regarding his bronze sculptures.

After 60 years of marriage, Glen passed away in 1997 after an extended illness. 

Glen Taylor-Chang

Wah then had a live-in helper Virginia Park to takes care of the daily tasks.

A show of Wah's work was on display from July to December 2003 at The Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco.

At 10:15 AM on December 22, 2003, Wah passed away quietly with his caregiver and companion for the last six years, Virginia, at his side.  She said in reference to his relationship with his wife Glen, "It was a love story that never actually ended.  Several times last night he said, 'Glen's playing with my toe.'  It was a little signal they had when she was alive.  At 6:30 in the morning, he said it again.  A few hours later, he was gone."

Glen and Wah, young and old

Wah was 86, and is survived by a half-sister, Lana Price of Carmel, and several nieces and nephews.

*  *  *  *  *

It is in honor of Wah that we, The Chang Gang, dedicate HeroComm.com.  Thank you, God speed, and we miss you.

Rounding Out Your Education...

Much has been written, and rightly so, of Wah's extraordinary creations and contributions.  Should you wish to know him just a little better, then please pick up and read the following two books.  The first on the left is a moving account of Wah’s innate skills first seen in childhood, his loves (Glennella, artistry, and nature), his tragic and inspiring adult encounter with Polio, and his success in Hollywood and later in sculpting.  The second, on the right, from which the above text was borrowed, primarily highlights in pictures his later career in wildlife bronzes:

Wah Ming Chang - Artist and Master of Special Effects

by Gail Blasser Riley

This hardcover book can easily be purchased here at Amazon or eBay at a good price.  It does not have any useful communicator pictures and was written for a grade-school audience.  However, the book goes into greater depth on some subjects than above and can be in moments very moving and inspiring.

 

Life and Sculpture of Wah Ming Chang

by David Barrow and Glen Chang

This is a large soft-cover book featuring his beautiful sculptures.  Try Amazon, eBay or Biblio.  You can frequently find it signed by the artist (those of course selling for a premium).

In collecting and/or building Wah's props, you really should have his soft and ever-modest voice in your head.  To hear from Wah himself, we offer the two following opportunities:

An extraordinary DVD with a short autobiography given by Wah, along with many rare moving and still clips, can be obtained from its creator Webster Colcord for $15.  Many of the above photos came from this disc.  Accompanied by a moving soundtrack, it first played at Wah's memorial service, after which there wasn't a dry eye in the house.  Reach Mr. Colcord at wcolcord@aol.com.  He also accepts PayPal with that address.

 

If you're on the cheap and don't want to spring for Webster's DVD on the left, then we suggest this nice video interview available on-line, which also briefly shows the wide range of his work.

Summer '09 update - Unfortunately, the clip above is no longer posted on that website.  If anyone knows where else it could be found for casual viewing, please drop us a line.

A Partial Filmography by Webster Colcord

Short Films:
The Puppetoons (1941-46) incl. "John Henry"
The Way Of Peace (1946) Produced by Wah Ming Chang and Blanding Sloan
The Three Dwarfs (stop-motion puppets)
Suzy Snowflake (stop-motion puppets). This and The Three Dwarfs were 3-minute promotional films for a music company.
Alphabet Rollcall (year unknown) produced by Wah Ming Chang, an educational film
six films for John Sutherland Productions, including The Lady Said No and The Flying Jeep.  Wah Chang was part of the production crew.
It's Only a Paper Moon (year unknown) Produced by Wah Ming Chang, starring Glen Chang.
Nasa training film (1969) for the Apollo astronauts
Dinosaurs, the Terrible Lizards (1970) stop-motion puppets
Ecology-Wanted Alive (1970) Produced by Wah and Glen Chang

Feature Films and Television Shows:
Pinocchio (1939) reference models
Bambi (1942) reference model
Fantasia (1942) sequences: The Rite Of Spring, A Night On Bald Mountain
Variety Girl (1947)
Cat-Women of the Moon ...aka Rocket to the Moon (1953)
Tarantula (1955) giant spider puppet
The King and I (1956) Siamese masks
The Black Scorpion (1957)
Kronos (1957)
tom thumb (1958) animator
Monster From Green Hell (1958)
Goliath And The Dragon (1960) dragon animation puppet, full size dragon head
The Time Machine (1960)
Dinosaurus! (1960)
Spartacus (1960)
Can-Can (1960) special costumes
Atlantis, The Lost Continent (1961) stop-motion cut from film
Master of the World (1961) special miniature effects
The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse (1962)
Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962) rat monster puppet
Jack The Giant Killer (1962) animation puppet design and fabrication
Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm (1963) animation puppet design and fabrication
Cleopatra (1963) special costumes
Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)
Around The World Under The Sea (1966)
The Outer Limits TV series (1963-1965)
Star Trek TV series (1964-1968)
The Power (1968)
Planet Of The Apes (1968) special props
Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968) matching special effects props to previously shot footage for this Roger Corman re-work of a Russian film.  This version was directed by Peter Bogdonavitch.
Land of the Lost TV series (1974) dinosaur model designer

Commercials:
Pillsbury Doughboy
Purina Chuckwagon
McDonald’s
Mattel
Total Cereal
Wonderbread
Campy Marshmallows
Dole Pineapple
marching beer bottles for a beer commercial

Documentary interviews:
The Fantasy Film World of George Pal (1985)
Time Machine: The Journey Back (1993)

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(at right - Wah holding a Playmates replica)

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