- How did you get involved in EATERS OF THE DEAD/THE 13TH WARRIOR?
- I belong to a medieval/Renaissance group, called the "Society for Creative Anachronism". The local group is the "Barony of Lions Gate", but the SCA also exists in Europe (the seneschae -major officer- is Eleanor Garrett, in case you're interested). A number of us, in the 300-strong group, are sort of hands-on "experts" in many aspects of the period from 650 to 1650. I got a call from Grant Swain, the propmaster for EATERS, asking about Norse arms and armour. I took many of my weapons, etc., to their shop. Grant asked who would be a good person locally to build armour. I recommended Sir Geoffrey de Rennes (mka Ilkka Salokannel): he had tools, technique and experience. Geoffrey turned down the job (he had a full-time job he didn't want to leave) and recommended me instead, using many of his tools. I had built a couple of harnesses of armour (though none in full-plate), some miscellaneous helms, shields, swords, etc. I was briefed on what needed to be done at that point (mostly prototypes for director approval). I was given a copy of the script to read as well, so I'd have a feeling for the context.
- How long did you work on this show?
- I worked on it for some 5 months, and it was a wonderful experience, from start to finish. I was the resident armourer in the prop shop, and constructed about 100 metal helmets for the film (I think only 5 are seen on screen!). These included back-ups, stuntmen's helmets, etc. As well, I did a variety of other metalwork, including the claw hand for one of the actors, shield bosses, edges and handles, etc.
- How does it work, from your workshop to the set? Who is in charge of the design, for example? Do you work from your own sketches? Have your pieces to be okayed by the filmmakers?
- In prop making, the film designer takes care of design, subject to the approval of the director and other interested parties. There is sometimes a specialized designer as well. We had Brent Herron, assistant propmaster, a very talented designer who later was designer for "Stargate SG-1". He was also our prop shop foreman. Brent Lane was another assistant propmaster, who was also very involved in our work. All work that came out of the shop was done to Brent's designs (as far as I know), subject to the usual vagarities: Was the design approved by the director? Can it be done? Can it be modified for faster or cheaper or stronger production? Etc.
- How far was your workshop from the actual set?
- We were in Vancouver. The main set was in Campbell River, on Vancouver Island, about (with a 2-hour ferry ride) 5-6 hours away by car/truck.
- Did you work on the show only during pre-production, or did they also ask you to build some pieces during the shooting too, like at the last minute?
- I worked pre-production and during the first couple of months of production. We often built props to very tight deadlines. However, working to regular 12 hours days, you can get a lot done in a short time!
- Did you do any research for this film?
- I did a small amount of research. Much of the research that had been done by Brent and Brent was available to us. However, this was a movie, not history, so many "historical" items were modified to make them more "Hollywood". For example, the helmets we built all had oversize rivets, because the small rivets that would have been used in period simply didn't show up on camera. Therefore, everything was a bit "overblown", with a very few exceptions. But I was generally pretty pleased, from a historical point of view, with the items that came out of our shop.
- I remember some controversy amongst fans about the various pieces of armour worn by some of the 12 main Vikings, mostly the Roman gladiator helmet, the Conquistador helmet and the Peascod breastplate...
- The attitude was: these Norsemen had travelled through many parts of the Mediterranean and had picked up these various items as spoils of war, souvenirs, etc. The Gladiator helm is very authentic in shape. The "Conquistador" helmet is actually Byzantine. The Peascod breastplate... I don't know, but I seem to recall seeing one of these from around 1000 CE as a separate piece of armour. Italian, I think...
- Tell me more about the helmets. I thought it was refreshing to, at last, see a film where the Vikings did not wear helms with horns, like they are usually portrayed in the Hollywood movies! What were the main differences between the various helmets you worked on? I know that differienciating each of the 12 main Vikings, one from another, was a big issue for the filmmakers...
- The helmets we made initially were as authentic as possible: skullcap types with riveted banding around the edges and over the top seam (which was welded under the band). Brent's initial designs were variations on this: longer and more elaborate nasals, pieces added to the top or sides, hanging skirts in mail leather or fur, etc. We did a "show and tell" for the director et al. While he liked the helmets, he commented that they all looked like they came from the same "football team" (American football, of course)! So we made them "larger that life" and more elaborately different.
- You said "only 5 are seen on screen"... What happened to the other helmets?
- I have no idea! Since actors generally don't like their faces covered, decisions were apparently made on the set for many of actors not to wear helmets at all...
- How distinctive is it to work on pieces intended for stuntmen (rather than actors)?
- We try to make stunt helmets lighter and, where possible, in plastic or foam, so there is as little possibility of damage to the actor as possible. We try to make 5 helmets in all: two "hero" helms for the actor (in case one gets broken, misplaced or needs refinishing), one for the photo-double and two for the stunt double. Of course, this is sometimes reduced to two, with lots of trading around.
- On average, do you know how the actors and stuntmen dealt with their helmets and pieces of armour?
- The only complaint I heard was about the weight of the helmets and armour. We built them out of lighter gauge metal, and they were very light compared with the SCA combat-legal helmets which I had built previously, but I suppose they were heavy compared with the plastic or foam helmets that actors would usually wear.

- The shields I most remember from this movie are the ones from the swordfight / duel between Herger and Angus, the giant redhair guy. Did you work on those too, the round shields with central bosses of metal?
- Yes. The shields for the film were glued and nailed red and yellow cedar. The shields that were used on most of the other scenes were solid wood, top to bottom, with a full-height bolted-on hand grip made of 3/8" square forged steel bar stock. For this scene however, the grip was "T" shaped, with a cross-bar just above the top of the center boss. The top 1/3 of these shields were made to break-away on impact by a sword. This break-away section was made from baked pizza dough, with thin slivers of bamboo or balsa wood, to hold the dough in the correct shape.
- In the production notes, it is said that many props and costumes were "made of fabrics from that period and put together by hand. Even the chain armour worn by Banderas was produced in a technique used before thousands of years." Did you too use ancient techniques of metalwork to build your pieces?
- Yes and no. Most of the initial helm shaping was done with a 40-top hydraulic press, operated by a hand crank. I welded with gas for the most part. Much shaping was done with hammers, an anvil, shaping stakes, etc. The metal was cut with a swage-plate Beverly shear, while the large initial cuts outt of the 4' x 87' sheets of steel and brass were made with an electric shear.
- Could you please elaborate on the weapons used by the Wendols in the film? They are, for the most part, rather non-descript in the film...
- Apart from the claw hand I already mentioned, they mostly used clubs and atlatl...
- Atlatl?
- Yes. "Atlatl" is the Central-American word for a spear-throwing device which, in essence, extends the length of the thrower's arm, thus giving the spear that is being hurled more velocity and range. The ones we made were about 14"-16" long with a rough grip at one end and a small hook at the other which the javelin butt sockets into. It is believed that such devices were also used by early man in Europe; thus, their use by the Wendols in EATERS OF THE DEAD (there are illustrations in G.C. Stone's book "A Glossary of the construction, decoration and use of arms and armour in all countries and at all times", page 576).
- In one scene, one of the 12 Vikings gives some chainmail to Ibn. Was chainmail the average body armor used by the Vikings?
- Yes, where it was a planned battle. Otherwise, it seemed they usually wore just normal clothes, plus a helmet. But chain has been around for a long, long time... The Romans used it for their horsemen and auxiliary troops.
- Tell me about the swords used by the Vikings in the film...
- The swords were made in Fort William, Scotland, then modified and aged over here by the swordsmith, whose name I can't remember (nice older man who worked in a separate shop from us). They were much longer and wider than real swords of the period (Hollywood and the camera...). There were two types, steel for the closeups and aluminum for the action scenes. There was little ornamentation. While we had samples from various sword-makers, including some extremely gaudy ones, it was generally felt that Norse swords were tools, not toys. I liked the simplicity of the finished weapons. At the prop-shop sale, I was able to buy a few of both the steel and aluminum blanks, shaped and fullered (fuller: the so-called blood groove, which actually exists to make the blade lighter and stiffer). They're big! I also have several longbows and a couple of arrows, wendel clubs, atlatl, etc. from the film, as well as sketches of some of the helmets we made.
- What did you think of the scene where Ibn makes his scimitar out of the broadsword given to him by Herger? Is this believable?
- Fairly, yes.
- There is also one funny moment with the armours: when they are entering the Wendol cave, the scout (Edgtho) asks them to remove their breastplates, and they all agree, except one, and, later, he nearly reveal their presence by making noise with his breastplate, when they are crawling... Later, I figured out it was some screenwriter's trick to make them remove their armours, before making them swim underwater, for escaping concern!
- I think you're right!
- Did you perform in the movie (as extra, for example)?
- No.
- Finally, what was your best challenge on this show?
- Building the Roman gladiator helm! We actually made five of these, as I recall. The first two didn't look right, but I persevered.

- Could you please elaborate on this helmet?
- As memory recalls, the Roman gladitorial helmet is the one seen in most books about gladiators. There are seven major elements: 1/The skull - a two-piece covering for the top of the head, slightly bulged toward the front, but otherwise similar to a norse helmet. 2/The comb - made from three piecs of metal (two sides and the front-top strip). This had to be made separately and welded on to the
skull. 3/ The front rim - one-piece of metal, curving down at the front centre
and slightly up at the sides. It is welded to the skull and to the... 4/ back rim - one piece of metal, curved down at the back. 5/ The drum and cheeks - a single pieces of fairly flat metal welded to skull and rims, which protects the back of the head and neck, and the sides of the head. 6/The "cage" - a piece of steel, extensively drilled with large and small holes, then hinged to the left side of the helm and with a hook
to close it. 7/The faceplate: welded on, and serves as an attachment for the cage. Each piece had to be carefully cut and formed, then welded to the other elements to form a single, fairly cohesive item. This type of helm took about 3 times as long to make as any of the other helmets, with two of us working on it (I had an assistant metalsmith). You can see the sort of helm on this site, helm #DP 6207. Ours had a lower comb and a more complex single-piece faceplate.
- Do you know why they changed the title, from EATERS OF THE DEAD to THE 13TH WARRIOR?
- Not really, though I think it was probably to fit the Disney image better and get away from cannibalism!
- And how did you feel about the finished movie?
- I enjoyed it, though, as described to me by Brent Lane: "They started out to make an epic and ended up with sword fighting in the dark"! I wish they had made the film 10 minutes longer, to flesh out some of the characters, like they were in the script version (#3) that I read.
- Do you still have a copy of this script version?
- Sorry, no. The script I read was the prop shop copy, so I don't have it.
- And how do you know it was version #3?
- Each script for film is colour coded and dated, and shows on the front sheet the previous versions and their dates. This one was version 3, and was quite close to the book.
- Anything to add? Any anecdote you would remember?
- The director really didn't like to make prop decisions based on sketches; he liked to see the actual prototype. Buliwyf's dog's collar, especially the clasp, was typical. Brent Herron submitted a dozen possible designs to the director on set. He finally narrowed it down to five. After much prodding, he finally selected a design and sent it to us early one morning... and the collar was being shot the next day! One of our prop-shop sculptors went to work on a clay master, while the leather people did up that part of the collar. As soon as the master was finished and approved by Brent, I made a one-part RTV (Room-Temperature Vulkcanizing rubber) mold and was able to cast five pieces in lead-free pewter before the mold deteriorated (I still have what's left, and could probably cast a few more, with much extra finishing). The castings were then cleaned up and aged with pewter black, fitted to the leather collars and went out late that day to the set. Apparently they were pleased... but I don't recall seeing the collar on film! Those are certainly challenges, but the people in the Prop Shop were all very good at their work, and all very pleasant to work with. I still have friendships from that film, notably Lionel, an assembler; Brent Lane, the assistant propmaster; and Trinita Waller, a sculptor...


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