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Richard Alan Greenberg, the Oscar-nominated effects artist who took main titles for movies to another level with his designs for such films as Superman, Alien and The World According to Garp, has died. He was 71.
Greenberg died Saturday in New York City after a bout with appendicitis, his family announced.
Greenberg’s Oscar nomination was for best visual effects (shared with Stan Winston, Joel Hynek and his brother, Robert Greenberg) for John McTiernan’s Predator (1987). He also collaborated with the director on another Arnold Schwarzenegger starrer, Last Action Hero (1993).
In 1977, the Chicago native and his brother launched R/Greenberg Associates, and they worked (and lived) out of tight quarters in a brownstone in midtown Manhattan.
To land R/GA’s first job, they suggested a teaser trailer and a “streaking” opening-title sequence for Superman (1978), directed by Richard Donner. There was one problem, though. “We had no idea how to do it!,” Greenberg said in a 2013 interview for the Art of the Title website. “For about two weeks, we kept trying to figure it out.”
The teaser trailer for Superman won a Clio Award that year and gave R/GA “something that’s very, very important in New York advertising: a tie to the entertainment business, which — I don’t care what New Yorkers say — is very fascinating to them,” he said. “Everybody in New York wants to be a movie director. When they say they don’t, that’s bullshit.”
Their second job, the main titles for Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), employed, as described by Art of the Title, a “disjointed version of the Futura typeface to instill a sense of foreboding, the letters broken into pieces, the space between them unsettling.”
Said Greenberg: “It’s disturbing to people to see those little bits of type coming on. … We wanted to set up tension, and as these little bits come in, they seem very mechanical. We wanted to break the type apart using that letter-spaced sans serif, which really hadn’t been done in film before.”
Greenberg’s main title work also can be seen on Altered States (1980), The World According to Garp (1982) — well-known for that baby floating in space — The Untouchables (1987), Dirty Dancing (1987), Death Becomes Her (1992), Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) and Edge of Darkness (2010).
In 1991, Greenberg came to Hollywood and formed Greenberg/Schluter with Bruce Schluter, and they designed main titles for films including Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Independence Day (1996), Donner’s Lethal Weapon series and The Matrix (1999).
In addition to Predator, Greenberg did VFX work on such films as Xanadu (1980), Donner’s Ladyhawke (1985), Family Business (1989), Goodfellas (1990), The Devil’s Advocate (1997) and Phantoms (1998).
Greenberg also directed the 1989 feature Little Monsters (1989), starring Fred Savage and Howie Mandel, and a 1990 episode of HBO’s Tales From the Crypt.
Greenberg was a senior at the University of Chicago when he animated pictures that were shot during the tumultuous 1968 Democratic Convention for a 2½-minute black-and-white short film, Stop.
Stop won the first prize of $3,000 at a New York Film Festival student competition (two little-known filmmakers, Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese, were among the judges), and the recognition “gave me a lot of confidence,” he said.
After earning a master’s degree in graphic design and teaching gigs at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois, Greenberg took an entry-level job working for famed main titles designer Pablo Ferro (Dr. Strangelove, Bullitt, Beetlejuice, L.A. Confidential) in New York.
Greenberg realized, “I could do this,” he said in the Art of the Title interview. “I sensed that graphic design in motion was nowhere near as advanced as it was in print, because print had this Swiss-German influence, and all the motion stuff was just a carnival. It was really a circus. I thought we could take that print discipline and apply it to film graphics.”
Greenberg’s work can be found in the permanent collections at the Louvre in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In addition to his brother Robert — still running R/GA — survivors include his daughter Jessica, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated investigative journalist for The New York Times; and sons Luke, a co-founder of the Hollywood creative agency Bond, and Morgan, chief product officer at The Whittle School.