Creating the Look of Another Dimension in TZ’s “Little Girl Lost”

Anyone who’s read a book or a short story by Richard Matheson can tell you: The man knew how to write.

He didn’t need flashy dialogue or over-the-top descriptions to pull you into another world. A few strokes of his lean prose was all it took. Whether the setting was a dusty saloon in the old West or a far-flung planet in another galaxy, you could easily see it in your mind’s eye.

But when it comes to TV and movies, a writer can’t count on his words alone to transport you. He has to rely on actors, directors, and set designers.

Fortunately, when it came to The Twilight Zone, Matheson was in good hands — “television’s elite”, in Rod Serling’s words. Take Season 3’s “Little Girl Lost”.

In his seminal book on TZ, author Martin Grams Jr. recalls how the show’s art director approached Zone producer Buck Houghton to ask a very good question: How were they supposed to create another dimension?

He showed Houghton another page in the script where it said, “INTERIOR: LIMBO.” He asked, “What’s that supposed to be, Buck?” Houghton’s reply was, “It’s up to you.”

“He broke his neck to make a limbo set,”

recalled Houghton proudly. “That’s challenge and response. That’s what the scripts were full of. From the assistant prop man to the cameraman, they worked their ass off. They wanted to do the scripts justice, and that made a lot of difference in how the episodes looked. The crew was absolutely thrilled to see how the shows were going to come off.”

Needless to say, so was the audience. Even TZ fans who aren’t particularly fond of this episode can’t deny the otherworldly appeal of getting a warped glimpse of what the world beyond our everyday senses might look like.

Today, of course, TV producers could use CGI to create that disorienting extra dimension. In 1961, though, it was old-school practical effects or nothing.

As Houghton indicated, though, the TZ crew was up to the task. “We did a lot of it with putting oil on glass and moving it in front of the camera,” cinematographer George Clemens (who had won an Emmy for his Zone work) says in Marc Zicree’s Twilight Zone Companion. “And secondly, where we were unable to achieve all the results we wanted, we put it in the optical printer.” Adds Zicree: “Additionally, Clemens double-exposed reflections from a mirrored ball onto these scenes.”

Who can argue with the results? I’m pretty sure I’d want Mack to help me get back to the “normal” world, too.

***

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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 02/21/2020, in Twilight Zone. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Richard Matheson was one of my favorite writers. Loved his brief cameo experience in the film, “Somewhere in Time”

    • He was so skilled at writing in a variety of genres, too — not just sci fi and suspense. You mention “Somewhere in Time”, of course, and I also have some western tales he wrote called “Journal of the Gun Years.” All good stuff!

  2. Love your addition of scenes from the episode! Special effects crew did a superb job all all the TZ episodes

  3. Howie Manheimer

    It really gave me the feel of what another dimension could really look like, the fifth dimension was in our collective view! I don’t know why some people make a big deal out of the daughter’s voice being dubbed in, it’s one of my favorite episodes

    • The overdub, at least to me, is such a minor thing. Besides, the episode gives us so much more to focus on. Have always enjoyed it.

  4. I can’t imagine how tough it must have been creating special effects back in the early 60s. They always did a great job on the TZ. Matheson had such a creative mind that often went beyond the TZ. Credit to him for all the episodes he wrote.

    • Agreed. My hat is off to them. They had so little to work with, but more often than not, it beats what we get today. You’re forced to be more inventive when it’s not all handed to you on a platter.

  5. I am still impressed with that scene, as well as so many others. The way they used light and camera angles to achieve effects that matched the quality of the writing was incredible.

    • So true. I also love the way the crew was so into it — that it was a spirited team effort. You can imagine how they were inspired to do the material justice.

  6. Great post, Paul! I’ve always loved the freakiness and imagination that went into creating that inter-dimensional existence!

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