Monday, March 4, 2013

Exclusive: Secret History of LORD OF LIGHT Concept Art by Jack Kirby, the Film That Became ARGO

Monday, March 4, 2013 - by Maurice Mitchell 1

Check out the untold history of Jack Kirby's concept art for the film Lord of Light, which was used by the C.I.A. and dramatized in the film Argo (2012).

Above Image: "Lord of Light" Concept Art "Brahma's Pavilions of Joy" by Jack Kirby

The story of Argo won BAFTA and Academy Awards, but /Film said, "For all the things going right for Argo, it’s interesting to learn more about the history behind the real script’s difficult past."

Barry Geller gave me an exclusive history behind the project that would become Lord of Light. While many have heard the more sensational parts of the story, there has never been a more comprehensive telling of the tale before now.

In Barry's own words is the incredible vision of a fantastical movie and a ground-breaking theme park.  All images are copyright 1978-2013 Barry Ira Geller. All Worldwide Rights Reserved

NOTE: The views expressed are not necessarily the views of myself or my brother.
Barry Ira Geller

This paper is about the production art work of the film, Lord of Light, originally commissioned by Barry Ira Geller from Jack Kirby for both the film version of Roger Zelazny's LORD OF LIGHT and the 1000 acre Science Fiction Land theme park project in Reno, Toronto, Montreal and Colorado, from 1978 - 1980.
The Lord of Light Art series was envisioned and designed by Barry Ira Geller and Jack Kirby based upon Geller’s screenplay, then drawn with incendiary brilliance by Jack and inked with devastating intensity by Mike Royer. Each Kirby architectural masterpiece was created both as a film set design and theme park illustration. Each drawing portrays the same kick-ass, roving birds-eye view style Jack was famous for, ranging from the power of Captain America and Fantastic Four, to the majesty of Thor and the New Gods. As depicted in Wired Magazine May 2007 and several other magazines in 2012 and 2013, these are the drawings (along with Geller’s original screenplay) used by the CIA in 1980 to secretly free six American Hostages from Iran.

My first instructions (as it were) to Jack was my idea of doing both Lord of Light film sets and SFL theme park designs from the same drawings. This would then become a method of preserving his design flow throughout the entire development and production of Lord of Light and Science Fiction Land. In this fashion Jack could remain, "The General," my conferred role upon him.

In what would hallmark many of our seminal discussions which preceded new drawings, we talked about Space Beings with vast inter-dimensional powers, like being able to be aware of many planets at the same time. Beings that inhabited other planets and many of the technologies possible. Other civilizations and Alien cultures – all of whom we thought were totally real; reality for both of us. Jack was vibrantly aware of and quite verbal about his fear that by sending out our Human info we were informing the not-so-friendly where their next conquest would be. Who were the Gods (of Lord of Light)? How’d they act? What was their sexual lives? Their amusements? What was it like to walk around their city called Heaven? I’d gifted Jack and Mike Royer (Jack’s master inker) with huge books about the Art of India. I wanted to take Jack “out of the box” – knowing his normal state was already extraterrestrial compared to most artists -- and push him into new holographic visions, much the same way his 1962 Galactus art was heroically new at that time. I wanted the new, the original, the Future.

Most of the artwork was based upon scenes from my screenplay and adaptation of the novel. But some of our discussions got so intense that several scenes of the Lord of Light script itself were rewritten accordingly. Usually, I came to Jack with my concepts and plan, whether from my screenplay, or Roger’s book. Sometimes we would come up with stuff of our own, too. The Drawing that followed several days later was always visionary Jack Kirby.

Once "built" in my mind thus, I could take the nascent visions to Jack who truly acted as my mage and master co-conspirator in the final development of the designs we now have. Thusly did Jack and I interact, as father and son, as developer and designer, continually changing places as master and student, and, ultimately, as partners in exploration to create the ultimate characters who were indeed, larger than life, Lord of Light!

Check out the pics and click on the images to expand them.

"Terminal of the gods"

Jack Kirby: This is the first Jack Kirby Lord of Light drawing. Jack had just finished doing the comic book The Eternals for EC; you can still see the Mayan influences here. As more research was done on Indian Architecture, you will notice the growing Hindu mythology themes in the later drawings.

Lord of Light: While there is a bare mention of a central transportation complex to and from Heaven (Milehigh Spire), I got Jack to start with this drawing and Jack envisioned it perfectly. I saw it mostly as part of Science Fiction Land. In the film it can be the home of the Garuda Bird, flown by Yama. Disembarkation point of the Jet Tube Transporter

Science Fiction Land: The entrance to the Theme Park. 300 yard length, like an airport. Connects to the local Airport, via Jet Tubes Hovercraft emerges from the Subterranean Transport System. Food bars in the heads of the statues. Beacons emit light from statue eyes. Collapsible Dome & elevators to street level.

Jack Kirby: This is actually the first version Jack did of the Royal Chambers of Brahma. It's Jack's concepts of (God) Odin-like omnipotence. Like many of our seminal discussions which preceded new drawings, we talked more about Space Beings with vast inter-dimensional powers, like being able to be aware of many planets at the same time. As the Creator of the famous comic book THOR and the world of the Norse Gods, he was well familiar with a pantheon of Gods. So our discussions of god-hood and god-consciousness came into play. I mean, this is what the Brahma of the novel, Lord of Light was trying to impress everyone with -- so why not have his personal building which flaunted it all?

Here Jack truly did something remarkable -- attempting to display Brahma's consciousness and omnipotence and vision of different beings, all springing from his awareness, The Creator! Sotheby's Director of Auctions, Jerry Weist, thought this one to be the single most valuable piece of the whole set. To him, it was the essence of Kirby all over! And it’s one of two drawings which I gave back to Jack for his own collection.

Lord of Light: In the Novel, there is nothing called the Royal Chambers of Brahma - Interior or Exterior. There does exist a meeting of Brahma and the rest of the Gods and I thought, well, these guys just don't meet in a bar! So I got the idea of the pomp and circumstance of Brahma's Chambers, both interior and exterior! Additionally, in the novel, Brahma does allude to his Pavilion of Joys as the ultimate pleasure palace to take Kali and explore her charms, in exchange for extending Sam's life. But Brahma -- and all the rest of the Gods -- had to live somewhere fantastic! So I came up with this stuff and brought it all to Jack.

Science Fiction Land: I envisioned this as a 100-150 foot holographic projection at the top of the Chambers of Brahma. Viewed from different angles, the revolving Artificial Gardens (the Gardens of Brahma) appear to be revolving, appearing, or disappearing, depending upon where from where the person is looking. One of the most complex yet rewarding holographic displays of the entire Science Fiction Land theme park.

Jack Kirby: This is actually the second version of Brahma's Exterior. The first drawing Jack did for me on this subject is presently called "Brahman's Supremacy,." Jack's concepts of (God) Odin-like omnipotence -- but I was after a much more specific design. Look at the perspective here! I said to Jack, This, to
me, had to represent "God's Office." I mean, if such a thing really existed physically, what would it look like? I had to work hard to come up with the concepts which Roger Zelazny only briefly alluded to but which didn't exist in the novel. With both Brahma Chamber Exterior and Interior drawings, I literally had to invent, in the broadest mental brushstrokes, buildings which were alive with their own consciousness yet would dramatize the full nature of the Beings who built them. It couldn't be weird, it had to be real. This drawing was originally described in my screenplay: "The omnipotence of Brahma reflected by the lotus canopy, holographic walls made up of his Eight Heads (Mystic Powers) which change shape as they revolved in opposing directions to his multi-scented, always summer, cantilevered, Floating Gardens of Delight, where Brahma kept a cool tan...."

What we came up with finally is one of the most astounding drawings I personally believe Jack Kirby ever created.

Lord of Light: In the Novel, there is nothing called the Royal Chambers of Brahma - Interior or
Exterior. There does exist a meeting of Brahma and the rest of the gods and I thought, well, these guys just don't meet in a bar! So I got the idea of the pomp and circumstance of Brahma's Chambers! Additionally, in the novel, Brahma does allude to his Pavilion of Joys as the ultimate pleasure palace to take Kali and explore her charms, in exchange for extending Sam's life. But Brahma -- and all the rest of the gods, have had to live somewhere fantastic! So I came up with this stuff and brought it all to Jack.

Science Fiction Land: The Exterior building of the Royal Chambers is capped by a great light source which will beckon for miles. A cantilevered multicolored artificial Garden of Joys rings around the building, where visitors will run into Godlike Androids playing music. One cannot imagine the kind of horror engineers displayed when I demanded their own architectural renderings of this drawing!
"Planetary Controlroom"

"Brahma's Pavilions of Joy"

"North East Corner of Heaven"

"Jet-Tube Transporter"

Somewhere in 1976 after film school I had the vision to develop a film project which would bring certain types of “psychic powers” to the screen, the same way that Star Wars brought the acceptance of
many cultures living in other galaxies.

My promotion of the film in 1979 was to bring attention to our extraordinary mental powers just as Star Wars brought recognition of life in the Galaxy. The Science Fiction Theme Park was an extension of
this, to expand the imagination of children by bringing together the greatest scientists and new technologies utilized completely for an entertainment basis. This is where I brought in Futurists like Ray Bradbury, Paolo Soleri (Arcology), and Buckminster Fuller (Geodesic Dome) as consultants. Knowing we were changing the future, the Theme park/Film Project became the grandest dream for all of us, perhaps even the culmination of a life's work for several of my collaborators -- including myself.

Prior to this, in 1977 I was an associate producer at an indie TV production company helmed by a writer-producer who already had two number one shows to his credit. I had, for several years prior, been pushing science fiction stories for TV and Film but, save for a few options of my stories, I was mostly met with strange looks.

Then in 1978 came across such a project to fulfill my plans: Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. I optioned it for film development and all exploitation and left my job. I relied upon my masterful attorney, accountant, and financial manager to educate me in contracts and tax law concepts – which I became fairly adept at promoting -- and began to raise private funding by creating workable investment structures similar to that used by Superman’s producer Illya Salkind. So my earliest mentors where business geniuses like attorney Peter Hoffman (who went on to become a studio head and film producer) and George Gottfried, designer of several IRS investment strategies who also managed three major studio heads’ finances. Most brilliant of businessmen, these two. In fact, George had an invitation of a negative pickup deal with one of the studios, and it was listening to his advice in the Denver fiasco, which totally saved my bacon and the project, as it were.

In the summer of 1978, not really knowing what I was about to commit myself to, I had the idea of building a science-fiction Theme Park starting off using the sets of Lord of Light, as a viable way to get the film financed. I was also highly attracted to Zelazny’s amphitheatre of new technologies used by his gods in the novel. I envisioned that mankind was on a threshold of major change, due to the new technologies I saw being created and about to be – with computers for example. I envisioned that this threshold of Change by upcoming technologies similar to 2000 years previous, which saw consciousness being awakened and spread by the Buddha and the Christ. I formed the Science Fiction Land Foundation to work on heralding the changes I foresaw.

The creation of the Theme Park Science Fiction Land was also my plan for the funding of the film, Lord of Light. Adding to all the merchandising I was licensing from the film, I also planned to bring to the park merchandising from every science fiction film I could lay my hands on!

During the year of 1979, as events began to shape up as to where and how the Theme Park was going to be built, I went through some of the most serious times of my life. I remember the utter pressure I felt to constantly be developing sources of money. Often, just when I’d thought things were really about to happen, some emergency would occur and I’d be there building and rebuilding, always raising more funds, more organizing, more developing, more rebuilding. Yet it was also a glorious time for me, when I thought I was just about to change the world.

On the good side, I found the project excited everybody I talked to, bankers, artists, businessmen, actors, physicists and scientists. In each arena I sought after people I’d previously only dreamed of meeting and working with, who were like gods to me, and then became mutually creative partners in pursuit of our dreams, just like children.

With 75 million turnstiles clicking cold cash to theme parks around the world, Disney with 300 Million+ cash reserves, Star Wars raking in hundreds of millions of dollars, I saw the idea of Science Fiction Land as the greatest of possible theme park operations on the planet, with the potential resources of financing mine and everyone else’s dreams, changing the course of the history of the future, as it were.

While it may sound strange to some, it was a serious business for me and I tried in all ways possible to make it come true.

My direct plan as I said was to bring together the greatest scientific minds, artists, and businessmen of my generation. In this regard I sought out the most important men of every field, and showered them with my excitement of the project’s potential. I slowly assembled my “dream team” engaging each one with the plan of doing the best work of their lives – and making millions for themselves in the process. Thus my “pitch” to both artist and scientist was twofold: total creative control with major financing and, second, the chance to retain major portions of earnings for their work. For example, both Kirby and Chambers had made millions of dollars for their respective employers but earned relatively little for themselves.

As Lord of Light and Science Fiction Land began to become more real, my relationship with each man became like being genius children together, exploring all the possibilities in front of us. I think things worked so well because my approach to each man was genuine, from my heart. Even though they were sought by many, each man worked together with me as peers. It was because I was not trying to “get something from them” but had the dream to merge science fiction into Reality – which were also their dreams as well.

I started with Jack Kirby, in the summer of 1977. It was funny; after hiring some artists to “do stuff like Kirby” and never being satisfied I got the idea of just calling Jack himself. When we met and continued working throughout the next year it was pure and intense magic, nothing less. I am writing a separate story relating all the meetings we had for the development of each drawing.

Rather than including each man’s phone-book size resume, I had my PR girl interview them, to freely talk about themselves and their involvement in Lord of Light. Here’s the ending of Jack’s interview:
“Why then did Kirby decide to do this film?
"Firstly, had I not been invited to be involved with "Lord of Light", I would have gone out of my way to make sure that I could be."
"I wanted to get involved because I am a concept man. I can get to the nut of a story. My way of looking at things and the way that I develop is exactly what this film needs. That's my background. This is a very special project. It's very's also very powerful."
Kirby maintains that as the story was so unique, the approach has to be also. It has to have a new way of looking at the subject..."it is also going to be very valuable to humanity."
"This film is going to have a tremendous impact in the world, it will show enormous strength. It will allow the Eastern man and the Western Man to relate to each other. And once mankind relates, they will never again have to fight. They will understand each other's needs and idiosyncrasies."
"I believe that this film and the way we are conceiving it could contribute to saving the world."
"I had to be involved...and I most definitely am."
After Jack and I hit it off so well, I realized I could call up anyone I wanted in the world. And so I did.

In meeting Ray Bradbury for the first time I began our discussions with a topic I called, “The Politics of Science Fiction” -- which continued going to our amazement for a few hours. We’d met at a famous café in Beverly Hills called the Daisy. Here is a quote from the letter I sent him in November 16, 1979:
“On the underside, producing the film, Lord of Light, and being the seminal force behind. Science Fiction Land, a result of years 'of attempting to push true science fiction in films and in television. The resistance I've met in the past has obviously not stopped me, but instead has served to corroborate my beliefs and hone my insight to the fact that science fiction will become, if not already, the major force of cultural growth in the 1980s! To be blunt, to achieve a Modern cultural explosion of self awareness, film is not enough; literature and theater is not enough; neither are the showcase demonstrations of super-sophisticated advancements of scientific technology which won't be commercially available to the public for ten years.
A theme/amusement park which can synthesize, coordinate, juxtapose, and integrate, on a huge scale, all these elements is what Science Fiction Land is dedicated to be. Imagination married to Reality creates the future. That is my highest belief. Science fiction is the greatest imaginative medium invented. A theme park combining historically popular amusement fairs, the dramatic adventure of the science fiction genre, including comic strip characters, with the highest and latest developments of science and technology--I mean applying these developments and experimental technologies towards an amusement basis--that combination as sole purpose and goal--will allow people everywhere, both children and adults, to participate in and experience that future, on an entertainment basis, which Science Fiction Land will dramatize now. 
People will get completely involved in the pure imagination qualities of Science Fiction Land's reality. It is in the shaping of this great endeavor and the maintenance of the high integrity involved. that I appeal to you for your help and your inimitable assistance and respectfully request that you do me the honor of becoming the spokesman for Science Fiction Land at our press conference in Denver, November 28, 1979.”
While Ray and Roger Zelazny could not make it due to writing deadlines, I still flew John Chambers and Jack Kirby to Denver for the press conference in November 28, 1979. As John was still working with me until I got the fateful call towards the end of December that the FBI had raided my Denver office, it would be
impossible for John to have “pulled my script off a pile" sent to him months earlier. When John saw the end of the project days after our last meeting, it was at this time he pitched the project to Tony Mendez as the solution to the Iran exfiltration problem.

With Buckminster Fuller it was the chance to use the same technology he tried to convince the New York State Fair to use in 1964 – a floating dome over Manhattan which air-conditioned almost the entire island at once. For me he agreed to help design it again for Science Fiction Land. 3M had already expressed interest in building a half mile high Floating Heated Dome (based upon Buckminster Fuller's original designs, so to compete with air conditioning and climate control over the entire park. The estimated cost was a quarter billion dollars, alone. I handed Jack my blueprints for the theme park and he drew the piece with unimaginable brilliance, as always.

With Paolo Soleri, the most celebrated futurist architect in the world at the time, I wanted him to become my architectural consultant and I also planned to build a small version of his Recusant project at the theme park – or possibly the city surrounding the park.

So, my vision in 1979 began to explode with all the possibilities which I became convinced was quite feasible and eminent. This vision was to include computer-controlled rides, magnetically levitating cars operated by voice command, billboard-sized Holography, a bullet-train from Japan, and many other venues for children to envision the future.

"Rocky Mountain News" November 30, 1979 image via

The park was heralded in the press as the first theme park ever to become a center for new technologies invented, developed, and presented to the public solely on an entertainment basis.

Commercial applications of new technologies would further act as continuing revenue for scientific, educational, and research foundations set up by the parent company, the Science Fiction Land Foundation.

To quote from my Science Fiction Land Foundation prospectus,
“Practical application of the Developer’s philosophy is the embodiment of its highest purpose: to allow children and adults from all over the world to become aware of, experience, and participate in the great technologies and developmental prototypes of the future --- NOW, on a pure entertainment basis.” 
“Greater than any “future” showcase or exposition, it will exist to adapt technology to entertain, utilizing the models of the great theme parks of the world. A traditional “haunted house” will have holographic creatures projected in the air, which pass through visitor’s bodies. People can tour the entire part with the press of a button on a panel of a wheel-less car which floats on magnetic levitation. Or travel through the universe with the latest of video, sound, holographic and 3-D techniques (developed by our own scientists), and never to return quite the same”
In the winter of 1979, after more than a year's preliminary development and upwards of $1 Million in pre-production fundraising, spanning potential sites from Reno, Nevada, to Toronto, Canada, then Mixable, Quebec -- 1000 acres were finally leased for a Theme Park called Science Fiction Land, set to be built in Aurora Country just outside of Denver, Colorado. The Park's buildings were to be based upon the production designs and sets of the film, Lord of Light, designed by myself and Jack Kirby, and brilliantly drawn by Jack.

Fortune 500 companies around the world had been contacted to act as sponsors, like 3M, Pepsi, and Dairy Queen. Internationally acclaimed scientists, architects, and engineers were intrigued and several had begun work on Research and Development. Future Technologists like Buckminster Fuller, Paolo Soleri, and Ray Bradbury were enlisted to come in as consultants.

The film's financing was totally contingent upon the development of the theme park – and when that went down, so did the entire dream.

End of Part One.

There's more to come!

Part Two: In-depth looks at the Project going from Reno, Nevada, Toronto, and Quebec – and the amazing pressures of dealing with politics and blockages at each juncture. Politicians, I discovered – and often to my detriment – were much harder to deal with than artists and scientists because I never could pin down agendas – and sometimes I could not tell the difference between the Ministers and the Mafia. Very Funny. I will also go in-depth about my work with Jack Kirby and John Chambers.

Preview of Part Two:
(1) While in Reno I made presentations to the Real Estate Magnate Kirk Kerkorian – and presented him with all the Jack Kirby Theme Park drawings. The pitch I made to Kerkorian was that people coming to Las Vegas never brought their children, so Science Fiction Land was the chance to change attendance of some 8000 people per year to many multiples of that. While we didn’t close a deal due to various factors, I certainly took notice some years later when Las Vegas hotels turned themselves into self-contained theme parks. Amazing!

(2) While in Montreal, Quebec – where I was given a major building as my offices and was just about to be given 10,000 acres of land, just as their Ministerial Council was about to approve my Theme Park Plan, I got a call from one of the largest businessman in Canada telling me he just bought new acreage for my project and I was to immediately move to it – or else! As he owned one of the Ministers, that person moved to close the meeting to discuss the move – just as the vote was about to be taken. Amazing!

(3) In-depth look into what really happened in Colorado, how close the project came to becoming real.

A documentary about Geller and his attempts to film Lord of Light and create a huge Sci-Fi theme park called "Science Fiction Land" is currently being produced by award-winning documentary director Judd Ehrlich. A Kickstarter campaign completed financing. The documentary explores the true story behind Argo, which is more layered and wilder than any fictional account. In that I was building a super Science Fiction theme park and establishing a Foundation for technological advancements. You have to see it to believe it!

You can buy limited edition prints of these images at Lord of Light and read more about the amazing documentary at

This article has been cross-posted on

(Via Wired Buzzfeed)

What do you think of the illustrations and the history of Lord of Light?
© Copyright 1978-2013 Barry Ira Geller Productions, Big Films Inc. All rights reserved

About the Author

Maurice Mitchell
Lover of science fiction and art.

1 comment:

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