MEDDINGS, DEREK

Entry Source: The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin


(January 15, 1931–September 10, 1995) Academy Award–nominated British special effects supervisor who joined the Bond team on Live and Let Die and later contributed extraordinary effects work to The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, The Living Daylights, and GoldenEye. Meddings got his first Bond assignment while working on Fear Is the Key (1972), an adventure film based on the novel by Alistair MacLean. He recalled, “On Fear Is the Key, I was supervising all of the effects on the picture: the floor effects—explosions, etc.—as well as the model effects. It involved work with a crashing airplane, a bathyscaphe, and underwater sequences. And it was a very successful picture. Syd Cain was the production designer, and when he was assigned by Cubby Broccoli to Live and Let Die, Syd asked me to come along and work on the film’s special effects.”[1]

Meddings’s principal contribution to Live and Let Die was the explosion of Kananga’s poppy fields on mythical San Monique—a terrific fiery effect that was done completely in miniature on a Pinewood Studios effects stage. The producers were so pleased with the sequence that they offered Meddings an assignment on The Man with the Golden Gun, where he used his explosives expertise to expunge Scaramanga’s solar reactor.

The model work that Meddings conceived on The Spy Who Loved Me qualifies as some of the best in the series, especially some terrific aerial shots of the Liparus supertanker swallowing the American nuclear submarine. In that particular sequence, both ships are beautifully realistic, appearing to cruise on a sparkling sea as if they were being photographed from ten thousand feet up.

“When we went on location in Nassau to look for a place to film the model sequences,” Meddings recalled, “we found a place called Coral Harbour, which was ideal because it was right on the ocean and had these canals that led out to the sea where we could prepare our models. We wanted to be near the ocean because of its unlimited scope. With the sea, you don’t have to go around wondering whether the camera is going to catch a bit of the studio tank or whether the lighting is realistic or whether the water looks like real water. And since we were dealing with a sixty-three-foot-long tanker model, we needed a vast work area. The ocean next to Coral Harbour was perfect.

“One day, when we were planning the capture of the submarine and were looking for the right angles, I spotted a huge cement tower that was part of a nearby deserted hotel complex overlooking the ocean like a lighthouse. It had a staircase leading up to its concrete observation tower and had long since been abandoned. I went up there on an impulse to see what our tanker model would look like from that height and discovered a great shot. I knew that if we picked the right day, we would have a lovely, sparkling ocean, and it would look as if we were shooting the ship from an airplane. And that’s exactly what happened.”

In addition to the submarine miniatures that were filmed entering and leaving the tanker, Meddings was also working with a miniature Atlantis, the base of villain Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) that, in the script, is destroyed by torpedoes; and the little four-foot miniature version of Bond’s Lotus submarine car, which appears in the brief sequence in which Bond (Roger Moore) drives up to the window of Atlantis to peer through a glass viewing port.

On The Living Daylights, Meddings and his team worked on the exciting sequence in which a Russian tank unit is obliterated on a bridge in Afghanistan. Later, one of his most exquisite miniature creations was the giant Cuban satellite dish that proved to be the final location in GoldenEye. GoldenEye director Martin Campbell explained, “We had a tight budget, I think the final budget came out to $57 to $58 million, which was quite a lot at the time. . . . A lot of the success of the movie—in terms of the scope of the movie—was as a result of Derek Meddings, because he’s brilliant at doing models. The whole Arecibo dish at the end, even though we went to Arecibo [Observatory], Puerto Rico, to shoot this, an awful lot of the shots were created by Derek Meddings—it was something like a fifty-foot model, which was an exact replica of the dish and three-fourths of that sequence, if not more, was his model—rising up out of the water. Right at the beginning of the movie, there’s the blowing up of the factory—that was all Derek. There were model helicopter shots coming down when we go to Russia. There’s this big kind of secret station where the helicopter lands—all of that was models. He was one of these who with his models would give tremendous scope to the movie by economic means.

“Sadly, he died about four weeks after the end of the movie, and I remember him very, very fondly. He just had a genius for creating what looked like enormous sets but were actually very small models, perfectly in scale. He was a genius in a way and I’ve never worked with anyone like him.”[2] Special effects supervisor John Richardson subsequently used some of those same miniature techniques on Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day, working with members of Meddings’s previous miniatures crew.

Born in Pancras, London, Meddings made his motion picture debut as a special effects supervisor on director Michael Campus’s science fiction thriller Z.P.G. (1972). Meddings received his Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects for his work on Moonraker—he lost to the special effects team behind Alien. The previous year, Meddings and his team shared a Special Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their work on Superman (1978).

After his death in September 1995, a dedication was added in the closing credits of GoldenEye: “To the memory of Derek Meddings.”


[1] Derek Meddings, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, London, June 27, 1977

[2] Special features, GoldenEye, James Bond Ultimate Edition (1995; MGM, 2006), DVD.