By Arthur C. Clarke

© 2003 by Arthur C Clarke & Dan Richter. All rights reserved. For more information about "Moonwatcher's Memoir" visit The Idea Logical Company website.

What, a mime who can talk? I thought they were not supposed to! Dan has certainly broken union rules in writing this fascinating account of his role in the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It brought back many memories, which I thought I had forgotten, after what will soon be forty years. Shortly after the film was released in 1968, I published The Lost Worlds of 2001 (1972),and Chapter 6, “The Dawn of Man,” tells how it all started.

Though “Encounter” (“Expedition to Earth” first appeared in 1953 in Amazing Stories under the title “Encounter at Dawn.” This story is the basis for the “Dawn of Man” sequence that opens 2001: A Space Odyssey) was not one of the half-dozen stories originally purchased by Stanley, it greatly influenced my thinking during the early stages of our enterprise. At that time, and indeed until very much later, we assumed that we would actually show some type of extraterrestrial entity, probably not too far from the human pattern. Even this presented frightful problems of makeup and credibility.

The makeup problems could be solved as Stuart Freeborn later showed with his brilliant work on the ape-men. (To my fury, at the 1969 Academy Awards a special Oscar was presented for makeup to Planet of the Apes! I wondered, as loudly as possible, whether the judges had passed over 2001 because they thought we used real apes.) The problem of credibility might be much greater, for there was danger that the result might look like yet another monster movie. After a great deal of experimenting, the whole issue was sidestepped, both in the movie and the novel, and there is no doubt that this was the correct solution.

But before we arrived at this, it seemed reasonable to show an actual meeting between ape-men and aliens, and to give far more details of that encounter in the Pleistocene, three million years ago. The chapters that followed were our first straightforward attempt to show how ape-men might be trained, with patience, to improve their way of life.

It was part of Stanley’s genius that he spotted what was missing in this approach. It was too simpleminded; worse than that, it lacked the magic he was seeking.

In the novel, we were finally able to get the effect we wanted by cutting out the details and introducing the superteaching machine, the monolith, which, even more importantly, provided the essential linking theme between the different sections of the story. In the film, Stanley was able to produce a far more intense emotional effect by the brilliant use of slow-motion photography, extreme close-ups, and Richard Strauss’s Zarathustra. That frozen moment at the beginning of history—when Moonwatcher, foreshadowing Cain, first picks up the bone and studies it thoughtfully, before waving it to and fro with mounting excitement—never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

It hit me hardest of all when I was sitting behind U Thant and Dr. Ralph Bunche in the Dag Hammarskjold Theater, watching a screening, which we had arranged at the United Nations’ Secretary General’s request. This, I suddenly realized, is where all the trouble started and this very building is where we are trying to stop it. Simultaneously, I was struck by the astonishing parallel between the shape of the monolith and the UN Headquarters itself; there seemed something quite uncanny about the coincidence. If it is one. . . .

The skull-smashing sequence was the only scene not filmed in the studio; it was shot in a field a couple of hundred yards away, the only time Stanley went on location. A small platform had been set up, and Moonwatcher (Dan Richter) was sitting on this, surrounded by bones. Cars and buses were going by at the end of the field, but as this was a low-angle shot against the sky, they didn’t get in the way, though Stanley did have to pause for an occasional airplane.

The shot was repeated so many times, and Dan smashed so many bones, that I was afraid we were going to run out of warthog (or tapir) skulls. But eventually Stanley was satisfied, and as we walked back to the studio he began to throw bones up in the air. At first I thought this was sheer joi de vivre, but then he started to film them with a handheld camera—no easy task. Once or twice, one of the large, swiftly descending bones nearly landed on Stanley as he peered through the viewfinder; if luck had been against us the whole project might have ended then. To misquote Ardrey, “That intelligence would have perished on some forgotten Elstree field.”

When he had finished filming the bones whirling against the sky, Stanley resumed the walk back to the studio; but now he had got hold of a broom, and started tossing that up into the air. Once again, I assumed this exercise was pure fun; and perhaps it was. But that was the genesis of the longest flash forward in the history of movies: three million years, from bone club to artificial satellite, in a twenty-fourth of a second.

During November 1950 I wrote a short story about a meeting in the remote past between visitors from space and a primitive ape-man. An editor at Ballantine Books gave it the ingenious title “Expedition to Earth” when it was published in the book of that name, but I still prefer “Encounter in the Dawn.”

Now I have had the pleasure of meeting Dan here in my Colombo home (no, I didn’t recognize him). And I congratulated him on his unique career—from man-ape to L.A. executive in one lifetime. (This is progress?)

—Arthur C. Clarke—Colombo, Sri Lanka—19 February 2001


By Dan Richter

Thirty-four years have passed since the days in North London when we made 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick, the director, hired me to be his choreographer for “The Dawn of Man,” the opening scene of 2001. I was a young mime working and teaching in London and had no experience at all with motion pictures. “The Dawn of Man,” which is set three million years ago in the mists of the past, is the story of a tribe of man-apes, our ancestors, who take the first step on the long road to modern humankind.

I was called out to the old MGM Studios north of London in the fall of 1966 to meet with Stanley. He had completed shooting the live action sequences of 2001 and was ready to turn his creative genius to the enormous special effects requirements.

“The Dawn of Man” presented immense difficulties. Before costumes and makeup could be developed successfully, problems of how these proto-men looked and moved had to be resolved. A set or location had to be found or created. The tribe would consist of twenty man-apes that had to be cast, trained, and costumed.

Stanley set out to make a scientifically accurate science fiction film, which meant that the old cinema convention of men in “monkey suits” would not suffice. The high standards Stanley set for 2001 meant that old techniques and technologies, which had traditionally been used to make this kind of picture, were being put aside.

Stanley surrounded himself with the very best of the old guard of film technicians, which he actively supplemented with a cadre of bright, creative, young men. We were ready and eager to help him move into new cinematic territory. In order to make “The Dawn of Man” to Stanley’s requirements, a massive system to project images of South Africa on a screen behind us was invented, and makeups, costumes, and choreographies were created that dramatically raised the standards for future films.

Over the years numerous people have asked me how we made “The Dawn of Man.” I have always tried to answer them accurately, but the story has so many elements I have always felt there was a great deal still to be told. The passing of time has taken so many of the people who worked on the sequence, but Stanley’s death in 1999 brought home the need to write down the extraordinary story of how we created “The Dawn of Man.” What began as a simple memoir has grown. I began to reconstruct the story from my memories and notes from the period. The more I worked, the more questions arose, and I set out to conduct a series of interviews with those of my colleagues who were still alive.

Arthur C. Clarke, Keir Dullea, Tony Frewin, Stuart Freeborn, Keith Hamshere, Doug Trumbull, Roger Caras, Andrew Birkin, Brian Loftus, Ivor Powell, Tony Jackson, David Charkham, Jimmy Bell, Keith Denny, John Esam, Mick Carmen, Ronnie Corbett, Richard Woods, Frederick Ordway III, and many others were extremely gracious and helpful and I give them my heartfelt thanks. Thanks also go to my copy editors Whitney Ross, Lisa Melhado, and Marin Gazzaniga. I will also be forever grateful to my friend and program manager, Ernie Eban.

The reader will also find examples of my original choreography notes, photographs, memos, Polaroids, correspondence, and numerous other visual artifacts from the production. Virtually all of these have never been published before and it is my hope that they will give the reader a greater sense of the story. I particularly want to thank Keith Hamshere, Ivor Powell, Andrew Birkin, and Anthony Frewin for providing me with many of these. My thanks also go to my son Mischa, who took such wonderful contemporary photographs, particularly of Arthur C. Clarke and Stuart Freeborn, and to my son Will, who traveled with me to East Africa.

Despite Stanley’s bleak view of the human condition, in the end, 2001 is about transformation. Moonwatcher becomes Bowman and Bowman becomes the Star Child. “The Dawn of Man” has had a profound effect on not only the audiences who saw 2001, but also on those of us who made it. So many of us came into the center of Stanley’s pentagram and were changed. Indeed, our lives were changed and transformed by the alchemy of Stanley’s art and process. Putting down these words thirty-four years after Stanley gathered us around him as he, like Merlin, conjured up this wonderful majestic film 2001, is like being back there once again.

In the end, this is Moonwatcher’s memoir so I have tried to keep my main focus on the creation of the eighteen minutes that begin the picture. Over and over, I have heard that the section of the film where Moonwatcher raises the bone in the air and hurls it into the future is one of the greatest moments in film history.

This is the story of how Stanley created that moment and of the people who helped him bring it to life. Using my notes and a journal that I kept at that time, I have written the memoir as a diary. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

—Dan Richter
Sierra Madre, California
June 15, 2001