Grant McCune, saying good bye to a dear friend

Grant and r2-d2

So Sorry for this very late post, but we lost our internet for the last three weeks and only just got it back up and working.  With that said, the last post of the year was to be about Grant McCune and all the modelers at his shop, but sadly, before it was finished news of Grant’s untimely passing changed the story from one of great fun to one of horrible sadness.

2010 has been a hard year full of many sorrows and tragedies.  We have lost a lot of  Hollywood legends and dear friends, and as the year comes to a close there is one more final goodbye to a dear, dear friend.  If you’re a regular reader here, the name Grant McCune is not a new one to you, and with great sadness, Grant passed away on Monday December the 27th of Pancreatic Cancer which he was only diagnosed with 4 weeks prior to his passing.  For those of you who don’t know of Grant from a friend’s point of view, he was the chief model maker on a little film that came out in 1977 called “Star Wars” and his masterful craft won him an Oscar.  Grant was always a little embarrassed about that because it was really his first film in many ways, and being the humble man that he was, always felt funny about it.

Grant started in the business working with his good friend Bill Shourt on the Mechanical Shark from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws”.  Bill and Grant went from working under water to outer space when George Lucas was putting together a team of specialists to create the undiscovered country of major motion control VFX for his space epic “Star Wars”.  The Original Industrial Light and Magic VFX studio was a rented warehouse in Van Nuys, California, right next to the Van Nuys Airport.  Star Wars was a landmark film and opened the door to  a new world of VFX laden films incorporating Motion Control camera systems and technologies designed and created for Star Wars.  Lucas was signed on to do a sequel and he wanted to move his operation up to the Bay area which was George’s stomping grounds.  A call was made to see who wanted to follow to a new ILM to be situated in Marin County just north of San Francisco, and who was going to stay in Los Angelas.  John Dykstra and six others of the main group decided to stay in southern CA while the others moved on. John Dykstra, Bill Shourt, Grant McCune, Richard Alexander, Roger Dorney, Doug Smith and Bob Sheperd got their money together and formed a new company called “Apogee”.  Apogee retained the original building plus one directly next door to house all the new cameras, machine shop, creature shop, optical and animation department, model shop, and lots of stage and office space.  Their first project was the television pilot and series called “Battlestar Galactica”. Grant would head up the model shop, and crews of modelers would come and go as the projects came in.  Following Galactica came Star Trek (The Motion Picture), Caddyshack, Firefox and a host of other films and commercials.

I knew of Grant from the credits in Star Wars and from all the publications about the films VFX sequences.  After years of research I found an add for Apogee in a trade magazine for film and gave him a call.  We met in early 1984 and for the next year and a half I would frequently make the drive from Arizona to visit.  One hot summer Wednesday in July I stopped by again to say hi.  I was staying at my uncle’s house in Fullerton and doing some side work for him while I was on vacation from my job at the grocery store in Phoenix.  I told Grant in a joking way that I lived here now, and he said; you live in CALIFORNIA!!!  Why yes I do,,,,,  he then said, how do you like working outside….. in the heat???  I had just come from 120 degree Arizona heat to California which was barely 100 degrees so hot outside was NOT California, HAAA!  I said I love to work outside why?  What came next was the big phrase that I thought I would never hear….. Good! would you like start working here tomorrow, your job will be  brushing latex into a giant Dinosaur mold and he pointed outside to two half molds of a full sized T-Rex ! WOOOOOOOOOOO  Oh yes I would love to, and he said; OK then see ya tomorrow at 7:00, and how does $7.00 an hour sound… That sounds Awesome Grant, Thanks and I will see you tomorrow I said and off I went to get ready for the big day!!!!  What an unbelievable time! So on Thursday August 1st 1985 Grant McCune brought me into the world of VFX and one  young boy’s dreams came true.  I called my boss at Bayless markets and gave my two week notice over then phone and the sound of cheers rang out from everyone standing by the phone on the Arizona side of the line.

Grant was a great boss, and you couldn’t really call him that because he was more a friend than a boss.  Always quick with a joke and a laugh, he loved his job and he so gracefully shared all of what he knew with you.  Everybody loved Grant and also working at Apogee; it was a place that felt more like a house full of your favorite relatives than a job. There was really no division between the high end and the low end of the crew, and everyone there was incredibly talented and a joy to be around.  Grant was a music lover and was ever so fond of the Gypsy Kings, Linda Rondstant, Leon Redbone, Patsy Cline, and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.  Every morning when he would get in, we would all be blessed by a shout from the door, DOES EVERYONE LOVE THEIR JOB, followed by one of his tunes.  Frech fries and breakfest burritos were next in a day of usual favorites.  “Invaders from Mars”, “Top Gun”, and “Spaceballs” were my first movies working with Grant and and through him I met some of my very best friends, Cory and Allen Faucher, Pete Gerrard, Glen Campbell, Bill and John Shourt,  Robert Beilmere, James Spencer, Pat Denver, David Dryer, Lisa Wise, Debbie Nicoles, Carolyn Diltz, Mike Yost, Greg Jein, Monty Shook, and way too many others to mention here.  As Hollywood goes, there would be times where the modelshop crew would float from Apogee to Boss Films, DreamQuest Images, Fantasy II, LA Effects group, and up north to ILM for other jobs, but we would all gladly come back to Grant and Apogee.

The CGI world started to become the way of the future in the early 90’s and by about 1994 (it was provide it or die), which made up the new Hollywood attitude and about this time all the major model shops where coming to an end.  Apogee’s final days were in 1995, and as the major VFX company closed it’s doors (literally over night), Grant retained his side of the company and formed his own VFX house under the new name of Grant McCune designs. Fifteen years later his company still stands and does various jobs for films and also in the capacity for specialty props and collectables.  Grant was a master photographer as well and he had a darkroom set up at work which he was turning into his daughter Lilly’s new darkroom over the last month or so.  Grant also had  a full shop at his house and he would commute back and forth between the two with goods and parts created for whatever the current project was.  There was nothing that he couldn’t do with his hands and imagination, and he so loved what he did!!!  Grant’s wife Kathy was the subject of many of his photo themes and she was always quick with a tip on nutrition.  Their children, son Cole and daughter Lilly were always around, and it was always a pleasure to see the McCune family in the shop.  Grant was an extremely generous, kind, and grateful man and was always there to talk to and lend some advice no matter what the subject was.  He was like a second father to me; he was my friend, my buddy, and a man I loved dearly.  He will be missed deeply and his passing came way to quickly and the reality of this is not setting in easily with all of us who knew him.  Life is oh so fragile so be sure to tell those around you that you love them often.  Kathy McCune and all the gang at GMD want to carry on with what Grant had started and happily his shop will be staying open. It will always be a landmark of where the true magic of working in the movies began for all of those that worked and visited there.

God bless you dear friend Grant, and love to Kathy, Cole, and Lilly.

Here are some pictures of Grant at work and, as soon as I can find all of mine, I’ll be sure to do an update.

Grant came to Scottsdale Arizona to do a talk on VFX and this was the cover story from our local paper. This still hangs in my office today.

on the set of Firefox, second in from left to right, Clint Eastwood, at the other end of the camera boom is John Dykstra and next to the firefox model is Grant

Grant dropping the blockade runner's escape pod thru the launch tube, from Star Wars

from Star Wars Grant works on the Imperial Star Destroyer

Star Wars, Grant assembling the blockade runner

Grant goofing around with an X-wing

this is from the 10th anniversary of Star Wars and a big reunion of all the VFX folks showed up at Apogee to celebrate, Grant's in the middle bottom row

43 Responses to “Grant McCune, saying good bye to a dear friend”

  1. 1 Brian "Spinny" McFadden
    January 12, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    Thanks John for writing this great article & posting it. I was really shocked to hear about Grant. He was a true Master in the field & will be sorely missed. I can’t remember one day going by at Apogee without hearing either the Gypsy Kings or his Hawaiian Music……

  2. 3 Buckaroohawk
    January 12, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    We’ve lost more than our fair share of filmmaking artists (from both in front of and behind the camera) recently, and it’s sad to see one more name added to that list. I am so sorry you’ve lost such a good friend, John. You have my deepest sympathies, and so does his family. Please take solace, though, in the fact that his legacy of artistry and imagination live on through you and the other talented people he discovered and worked with over the years. You and his other friends and co-workers are the keepers of his flame, and he left it in very good hands.


  3. January 13, 2011 at 3:25 am

    Sorry to hear this. My thoughts go out to you and his fmaily.
    Grant’s movie work had inspired me before I knew who he was. I am greatful that you have shown me who he was and what he had done.

    He will be turely missed!

  4. 7 Barrie Suddery
    January 13, 2011 at 4:44 am

    Awww man! Another epically talented man passes away; this sucks! I always feel that the Human race is being somehow deprived when a man of Grants’ talent passes.

    My sincerest condolances to his friends and family and a big thank you to his memory for all the fun his work provided over the years; Firefox is an all-time favourite movie of mine.

    Chin up, John…

  5. 9 MRCAB
    January 13, 2011 at 7:47 am

    “DOES EVERYONE LOVE THEIR JOB?!” —Really going to miss that.

    Saw Ray Moore had posted this on his FaceBook. Great article, John!

  6. 12 the bluesman
    January 13, 2011 at 11:57 am

    John, Sorry to hear about this. I think we all can appreciate Grants talent and his contributions to some of our favorite sci fi films. Its also too bad the CGI is quickly pushing models out of the biz. I think CGI is cool, but real models have something that a bunch of ones and zeroes don’t.

    • 13 johneaves
      January 13, 2011 at 6:30 pm

      I miss the model work oh so much!!!! Last years Nostomo project really made me miss it. What I miss most was the camaraderie What was the most fun was a gaggle of modelers would gang up and work together on the big stuff and that was the best of times. lots of jokes, bad gas passing,and more fun than folks should be aloud to have.

  7. 14 Craig A
    January 13, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Beautiful article and great photos, John. I was shocked to read of Grant’s passing a few weeks back. Shocked and speechless. I have the exact same memories as you working for Grant as I had just moved out to LA, and he was my first boss in the industry. I was on “cloud 9” when I began working for GMD. As a modelmaker, it doesn’t get any better than Grant! While there, I met some truly amazing and talented people, including yourself. And yes, I’ll never forget that workshop door swinging open and hearing him yell, “Does everyone love their job?!” The resounding answer was always an enthusiastic ‘Yes!’ To this day, I feel very humbled to have worked with such talent. Grant will be sorely missed, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family.


    • 15 johneaves
      January 13, 2011 at 6:32 pm

      HI Craig, Thats where we first met too!!! Grant really made a lot of wannabe’s dreams come true. and humbled is such a perfect word for describing the thrill of working there

  8. 16 Terry
    January 13, 2011 at 2:58 pm


    I am sad to hear of Grant’s passing, my thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends, he was a true artist and he will be missed, and as McCoy says He’s never really gone as long as we remember him. I never had the honor of meeting him and your stories have made him real and not just a name on a credits roll.


    • 17 johneaves
      January 13, 2011 at 6:34 pm

      Thanks Terry, and there are so many memories that I relive from time to time and now more so.. Grant will always be someone that you hear me talk about

  9. January 13, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    I must admit, its been a very sucky year for Hollywood backstage legands, I was quite dismayed last week to find out that Dick Winters (Probably known by most from band of brothers) died a couple of weeks ago as well 😦

    It is a great shame that the model making is starting to become a thing of the past with CGI been so prominant now, but I think what annoys me more is that CGI artists don’t get the same kind of recognition as the old model makers did.

    The more I look at the work some of the legends like Grant produced, the more I get inspired to move to hollywood to try and make a go at doing CGI on movies and the like!

    • 19 johneaves
      January 13, 2011 at 6:40 pm

      in the day there were very few modelers and I think the big recognition phase came in the 70’s with Star Wars and by the early 80’s very few individuals stood out.
      Mark Stetson, Greg Jein, Grant McCune, Bill George, and a few others were the household names. In the CGI world there are literally thousands of modelers and to stand out would take a very special film and a very special modeler. the little shallow pond of goldfish has turned into the deep blue sea.

      Yes give it ago, make your plan and come on out!!!!

  10. January 14, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    Very sad news, bro. And I didn’t know how close you were to the man. Wow, what a deep loss for his family, as well as you. It’s so great they are keep-on-keepin’-on with GMD. Such a talent and spirit the man is. A fine tribute, my friend. He will always be an inspiration to me.

    Fair journey, Grant.

    peace & bananas | deg

    • 21 johneaves
      January 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm

      Thanks my friend,,, been a bit amiss with this and haven’t been keeping up with you!!!! I’ll get back to the updates with you this week.

    • September 10, 2011 at 11:03 am

      Wow, seeing as I now live 3.2 miles from GMD and the original site of ILM, this all makes more graspable sense to me now. You were in it right there, brother! Ground zero for VFX of the day. Man, I wish I was there with you at the time building pracs. Wow. Was sad to hear you tell me Thursday that GMD was closing it doors. We gotta get together again soon, bud.

      peace & bananas | deg

  11. January 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Thank you for sharing this as you don’t often get to hear about those, many talented, people behind the scenes. As visionary as Lucas and Spielberg are they would be nothing if not for the people who take their ideas and turn them in realities. I am still awestruck by the opening of Star Wars and how, in those first few minutes, in knew movies would never be the same.

    CG is great but I have always held in high regard people who take sheets of plastic, card stock and assorted detritus and turn it into amazing works of art.

    • 25 johneaves
      January 16, 2011 at 9:30 pm

      It was truly a magic time and I so miss the talent that was abound in the model shop and the creativity behind it, I’ll never forget when we had to make mine nozzle cones for the thrusters of this rocket we were making, and so we made a field trip to the local drug store and walked the isles of shampoo bottles till we found the one with the best looking nozzle shaped cap!!! what fun and your right all the visionaries needed the hands of creation…

  12. 26 Jay
    January 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Pancreatic cancer is just a brutal, brutal illness. My sincere sympathies to Mr. McCune’s family and friends as they cope with their loss.

    I owe a lifetime of geekiness to seeing Star Wars (which is what it was called back in the day, before it had that “Episode IV” and “A New Hope” stuff tacked on to it), at the movies, when I was four years old. First movie I ever saw and it set my course. As a child, I believed every frame of it; as a man, I find it and the effort to put it on screen endlessly fascinating. I literally just finished J.W. Rinzler’s “The Making of ‘The Empire Strikes Back'” last night and I remain completely in awe of the effort, skill, ingenuity, artistry, and just plain old hard work that went into that film and its predecessor. I realize that CGI is an advance that makes the impossible possible, especially on a budget, but when I think about the beautiful models, the cel animation, the stop motion animation, the unbelievable matte paintings, the costuming, props, puppetry, real physical sets – the FULL SIZE Millennium Falcon (!!!) – that’s really the magic of the movies to me. I have great respect and even reverence for the people who made it with their hands and put love into it. It wasn’t for nothing, friends.

    • 27 johneaves
      January 16, 2011 at 9:32 pm

      So well said Jay!!!! Grant’s Family has been visiting here and I am so glad they have all these lovely notes to read. Thanks again.

  13. 28 ScottDS
    January 16, 2011 at 6:24 am

    In your recent startrek.com article, you mentioned working on the miniatures for the film Executive Decision under Grant’s supervision. That film is one of my guilty pleasures and I was wondering if you could tell us more about working on it. 🙂

    • 29 johneaves
      January 16, 2011 at 9:37 pm

      That was my last big model show and we were working on the stealth planes and the big &$& model. We got the molds from ILM that they had created for Die Hard 2. I was working with the 747 crew and it was a behemoth!!! I never got to see the finished piece but when I was at Warner Brothers the other day I was in a production office that had the stealth jets and a couple of other models from Grant’s shop hanging on the wall. If your ever in Bakersfield California. the giant german submarine that GMD built for U-701 is on display in the parking lot of the Supply Sergeant surplus store.

  14. 30 DeanneM
    January 16, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Wow, John, my condolences on the loss of someone who meant so much to you in so many ways. Editing the content took me a little time because I was reading as I went and sometimes got so into your words, I realized I hadn’t been editing for a bit….

    I think Buckaroo said it well…his legacy is in you and all those who carry his flame forward; it’s in good hands. I can also echo Terry in thanks to you for sharing the stories and making him feel familiar to me. I appreciate Mr. McCune for what he’s done for you, my friend.

  15. 32 Matt Boardman
    January 17, 2011 at 11:52 am

    This is truly sad news! It’s always too bad that these moments are when we start to remember those around us the most and wish that we could always remember them so dearly. I suppose death is just one of those things that is in the back of our minds, but never really “real” until someone close to us passes. My heart to Grant’s family during these tough times and to you as well John as you contemplate the loss of this dear friend. Guys like Grant don’t come along often and when they do, usually leave a legacy of love behind.

    Thanks for everything, Grant! May Heaven be filled with the smell of resin, paint, smiling faces, and Hawaiian music for you.

  16. January 18, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Off topic, but I’ve just posted a review of the Green Hornet on my blog and I’d be very interested in everyones’ thoughts.

  17. January 19, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    4 weeks… geesh.. sad stuff.

    The main problem with all the cgi ships is that you can’t have them sitting on your desk next to your computer monitor while you make more cgi ships…

    plus blowing them up isnt the same…


    • 36 johneaves
      January 31, 2011 at 9:48 am

      yes it’s very sad that the model making with your hands day are all but gone!!! Grant was a master, and so glad that he shared his talents with so many

  18. 37 MichaelP
    January 19, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    Thanks for writing this John. Had a lot of good times with you, Patsy Cline & Mrs Miller. HaHa.

  19. January 24, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Lovely post, John, and amazing pictures. Thanks for posting those. I only chatted with Grant a few times, but was honored to meet him once when Monty was giving me the 10¢ tour at GMD while I was covering “Spider-Man 2” for Cinefex magazine.

    I arrived to talk to Monty on a blistering hot day. When I walked up to the studio, I saw a gruff looking bearded fellow in shorts and a T-shirt was sitting outside on a lawn chair reading a newspaper. I figured he was one of the staff members, so I asked him if Monty was around and he said, ‘Yep, he’s inside,’ then went back to his newspaper. Monty gave me a great interview, telling me all about what he and John Dykstra got up to building a giant tumbledown miniature for Doctor Octopus’s lair. As he walked me around I was geeking out at the X-Wing in a perspex box in their conference room and a small-scale Blockade Runner that was lying on a shelf. I told Monty how I used to want to be a modelmaker before I got into writing, and how folks like Grant were my heroes, and then Monty said, ‘Oh, did you meet him? I think he was sitting outside.’ I was embarrassed but did get to say ‘hi’ properly on my way out, and as you describe above, Grant was very unassuming and I think a bit embarrassed by the attention.

    I interviewed Grant a couple of times over the phone and he was very precise and matter-of-fact, not one for airs and graces. He will most certainly be missed, but I am encouraged to read GMD is going to continue. I’ll look forward to the next time I get to cover their work.

    Best wishes,

    Joe Fordham

    • 40 johneaves
      January 31, 2011 at 9:52 am

      Thanks Joe, Cinefex was a major doorway for me in starting my VFX career. Your mag got me to the whereabouts of all the model and FX houses and all the behind the scenes folks and without it I never would have gotten to Hollywood and Apogee!!!!!!! Thanks and so glad you were able to meet n talk to Grant!!!!

  20. 41 Dave Horvath
    February 5, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Some of my fondest daydreams as a youth involved pouring over photos of the ILM shop in books and magazines and thinking about how cool it would be to work there. It always blew me away to see how he and the others in the business could take a pile of raw materials, found objects, model kit parts, plus imagination and combine it all to create an entire new reality on film. I was always inspired by the work of Mr. McCune and his legacy will live on in my imagination. I never knew him personally but he impacted my life in a very positive way and challenged me to become a better modeler. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there in his debt. John, thank you for sharing your memories with us and I offer my most sincere condolences to you and your family.

  21. March 1, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Thanks for this post, John. I was just devastated to hear of Grant’s passing. Grant truly was great to work for and with. It’s been many years, but I still think of you, Grant, Bill, Cory and Allen and all the others with a lot of affection. Some of the best years of my life, really. I remember that shout from the door – also the “no one is indispensable” sign. That picture of Grant with the x- wing is just perfect. I’m glad they used it for the Oscars this year – the only time that show has ever made me cry.Be well,

  22. October 7, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Great article John, very well written and moving, he was a great mentor to me too so easy going and happy, I still see a part of him every day at the shop… the box of foil marked “grant”. The kenedy tool box with all of his instruments still in place.
    He is missed, took me a few months to shake the ” is that Grant pulling in” syndrome while sitting in the conference room.
    When he was ill he detected my sadness and stated ” hey man I’m not going anywhere”, Friday I went over to his house, he was playing solitaire and up and about, I thought to myself he’s going to be fine….that Sunday around 2am I got the call and wept…. 15 great years…
    We miss All miss him

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January 2011

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