Sunday, July 24, 2016
The Thing (1951) was first motion picture to feature a man completely on fire from head to toe.
The Sinclair Paint company was commissioned to come up with a flame-retardant suit. Each suit featured a full face-mask. To permit breathing, an oxygen bottle containing about a minute's worth of air was fitted under the right armpit. Two suits were created, each with multiple layers of clothing.
Each suit could withstand about two and a half minutes of fire. Alarmingly, the oxygen the stuntman breathed was pure -- and they were just goddamned lucky it didn't ignite!!
A special paste was applied to each suit. When the burning kerosene it the paste, the paste ignited and burned a bright, bright orange that showed up well on black-and-white film.
Once sealed in the suit, filming had to take place within seconds or the stuntman would run out of air.
Two stuntmen were used. This allowed one stuntman to do the scene. Then the scene would be reset by a swarm of prop people, and the second stuntman would do the scene. Repairing each suit, replacing the oxygen bottle, and reapplying paste would take up to an hour.
Hawks wanted two minutes of footage showing the alien completely on fire. This required about four days of filming. Just enough paste would be applied to burn fiercely for two minutes, then it would self-extinguish. And it worked every time.