Cold Dead Hands at Tempus: Charlton Heston lives!

Matt Normand imagines the NRA icon back on the Planet of the Apes.

Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, many of us are familiar with the now-infamous speech actor Charlton Heston gave during a National Rifle Association convention in 2000, the one in which he raised a rifle over his head and declared that his Second Amendment rights could be taken away only "from my cold, dead hands." Now Matt Normand, an assistant professor of graphic design at USF St. Petersburg, has appropriated those five words for a new show at Tempus Projects that reflects on the history and representation of violence.

Two years in the making, Cold Dead Hands consists of a Twilight Zone-inspired series of animations starring Charlton Heston in the afterlife, centered on a package designed by Normand. In the animations, the late Heston is being stalked by the apes from his role as Taylor in Planet of the Apes (the original draft of the screenplay by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling).

Normand spoke with CL recently about his inspiration for the show: "When [Heston] gave that speech, I just had this picture in my mind from an old comic book or record ... like an ape holding a rifle over his head. But in my vision, the ape had Heston's muzzleloader and I originally wanted it to be a T-shirt. After he died, I knew I wanted to do this, I wanted to make this happen."

Can you explain more about the centerpiece package?

Matt Normand: It's a gun that's packaged similarly to Planet of the Apes toy packaging and Lone Ranger and Star Wars. But inside is a real gun.

What was the process like for the animations?

The animation was taken from clips of The Planet of the Apes movie, then I animated over them. It's a process called rotoscoping. But instead of it featuring a young Heston, it's the elder Heston from the NRA speech with the suit. Since Heston is in a loin cloth on a horse in the end scenes of the movie, I had to reenact the scenes wearing a suit. These scenes I tediously rotoscoped frame by frame. I also had to create similar costumes for the ape, since, in the original movie their are groups of apes and they are shooting a different kind of gun at different angles. I am almost literally in every scene of the animation, wearing Heston's face. I shot two scenes on location in the same place they shot Planet of the Apes in Malibu.

So all the scenes in the animations are taken directly from the film Planet of the Apes?

Well, I also did my own version of things. In one scene from the film, he's running with a crowd of humans. So I had to rebuild a new narrative. For just a short snippet a few minutes long, I had to re-shoot that scene by scene with me wearing a suit. I had to align myself with the shot, and the setup of the tripod was mathematically determined using 3D software. I shot two scenes on location in the same place they shot Planet of the Apes in Malibu.

Why did you turn to this kind of animation for this work?

'70s cartoons were kind of my inspiration. The animation is a little jolted. It's almost a cross between Super Friends and South Park.

Heston definitely became a sort of poster boy for the conservative side of the NRA after his speech in 2000...

In his younger years, Heston was not as conservative as later in his life. He grew up in Michigan — I have that in common with him. It's a hunting state. I remember shooting clay pigeons and going to these NRA things with my dad. At first I thought of him [Heston] as this cold, dead ass. But then I started to read other stuff; he was known to lampoon himself, he had a sense of humor. In my imagination, he would understand the connection between his NRA speech and all these other things.

So what audience are you trying to reach — those for or against the NRA?

I don't know if my audience is the NRA or not. It's not for everybody. ... While shopping for my muzzleloader, I was at a pawn shop, and a gentleman shopping took the gun in his hand and pointed it straight in front of him. When the guy behind the counter ducked and covered, the guy holding the gun said, "Hey man, it's not like it's loaded." The guy behind the counter said, "All guns are always loaded," because that's how you're supposed to treat them. That's an NRA rule. But people are really stupid about these things. I saw that and thought to myself, "This is why I'm doing this. This is why this needs to be done."

The following the portion of the interview includes text that did not appear in the print version:

So, you received your B.F.A. from Eastern Michigan University in 1996 and your M.F.A. from California Institute of the Arts in 2003, both with a concentration in graphic design. How did you end up all the way here in Tampa?

I was working as a freelance designer for Kyle Cooper, a designer of motion picture title sequences. But I had to pay my student loans and I became more interested in being a teacher. Then I got a job at Ringling School of Art and Design. It was supposed to be a 1-year appointment but I was given the opportunity to extend it to 2 years. I was teaching graphic design and motion graphics classes. In 2006 my contract was up at Ringling, and while offered a position to stay, I decided to change schools and work at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Can you explain a little of what you did with Kyle Cooper?

I worked on a number of different films, including Eurotrip, Dawn of the Dead, Angels in America and for Ghost House Pictures. For Eurotrip, I helped create the original concept, build the story board, set all of the titles. I think I animated the stewardess juggling chainsaws. A longer piece was in Amsterdam. I had to art-direct a model in a cliché Holland outfit against a blue screen. The model was supposed to be smoking a joint. But she was appalled by the idea of holding anything lit or anything that had been lit. So I created a prop and we later added smoke. That was kind of a tough job for a whole 2 seconds.

As a graphic designer who’s worked on both coasts, can you share what it’s been like going from L.A. to Tampa as a graphic designer?

In California, especially L.A., you have the movie industry so the motion graphics fits in there. Here in Florida, it’s a little harder to apply motion graphics to a need. The motion graphics jobs here are hidden in agencies. It’s like designing cars here versus designing cars in Michigan.

In your animations, you interweave Charlton Heston, the Twilight Zone and Planet of the Apes. How did the idea come about to combine Twilight Zone and Planet of the Apes, both of which were scripted by Rod Serling?

It was a little of a coincidence. It made it more relevant, rather than just random. I’m a really big fan of making connections. It helps me question things and look much deeper than just the surface. Everything you do is much more interesting when you get into the complexities of the subject matter.

Are you trying to convey a message to your audience about the NRA and the use of guns in America?

There’s this duality between the NRA as having a purpose for the safe use of guns and then there’s this conservative right to bear arms. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with owning a gun as long as people are safe with it. I’m not against the NRA specifically. I don’t want to antagonize them. I’m just a delivery device for something that someone else was going to say anyways.

Thoughts on the upcoming prequel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes?

In general I think prequels are unnecessary. Star Wars had put way too much into making everything tie together neatly. We do not need to see young Boba Fett or see Darth Vader literally being built and breaking out of his shackles a la Frankenstein's Monster. ... Perhaps this new movie will take some cues that Tim Burton's remake missed out on. It is probably going to be terrible; it does not line up with the original series, but I will probably see it anyways.

Visit papergeist.com to view some of Normand's latest work, including his own product line of sketch books, journals, and appointment books made from recycled materials.

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