Western grad sails into Oscars
By Becky Somerville
Fourteen-time nominee Titanic will contain a little bit of purple at the Academy Awards on Monday as the result of one Western engineering graduate.
As a consulting engineer for Titanic, Peter Higgins was responsible for the design and safety of the sets of the film and used his engineering experience to quickly and strategically do the required building.
"You get to be a little kid with a Meccano set, but it's huge scale," Higgins said. "We're big kids in a sandbox with a lot of money to play with."
On the average working day Higgins put in 12 to 16 hours but admitted the production of a movie of this calibre was not without glitches and one instance kept him on the set for 69 hours straight.
"Hollywood builds things in a very small fraction of the time they are normally made," Higgins said. "The nature of film-making is very fluid. It's not your normal type of engineering."
"Watching filming is like watching paint dry," he said. "After eight hours of filming, if you have one minute of useable film, you're lucky."
After approximately 180 days of shooting, only 180 minutes of film could be put to use, Higgins added.
Despite the hard work and long hours, he characterized his experience aboard The Titanic as very interesting and said the crew was wonderful to work with. He met the majority of production staff and actors and spoke highly of Leonardo DiCaprio, whom he described as a "nice kid," a "good comedian" and "a lot of fun."
In terms of the Academy Awards nominations, Higgins credited the special effects coordinator and the production designer of Titanic as particularly deserving, "absolute geniuses."
Higgins also gave credence to his Alma Mater, from which he graduated in 1976. "Western taught me my basic engineering which left me in good stead," he said. "I received a good, fundamental education in my field and I am where I am because of that."
Higgins is the owner of Higgins and Associates, a structural engineering company in Glendale, Calif. which finds much of its work in Hollywood.