Isidoro Raponi, the acclaimed mechanical effects expert who helped design, build and operate E.T. for the 1982 Steven Spielberg classic and worked on such other films as King Kong, Alien and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, has died. He was 76.
Raponi died Friday of congestive heart failure at a rehabilitation facility in Los Angeles, a Disney publicist announced.
Raponi also created the various dinosaurs seen in Disney’s Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985). The creatures in that film ranged from the title youngster (a human performer inside a rubber costume used a remote control to execute its expressions and movements) to a mechanically operated Brontosaurus that stood 70 feet long and 25 feet wide.
Raponi collaborated with Martin Scorsese on Gangs of New York (2002) and The Aviator (2004) and with Frank Darabont on The Green Mile (1999) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and handled effects and props for The Running Man (1987), The Hunt for Red October (1990), The Godfather: Part III (1990), Air Force One (1997), Dr. Doolittle (1998) and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008), among many other films.
Born on June 30, 1945, in Frosinone, Italy, Raponi served as an apprentice to future Oscar-winning effects creator Carlo Rambaldi, whose workshop was located across the street from the Raponi family bookstore.
Raponi was 18 when he was hired by Rambaldi in 1963, and during the next 15 years, he contributed to a variety of popular Italian movies.
Raponi moved to Los Angeles in 1975 to work on producer Dino De Laurentiis’ 1976 remake of King Kong, on which Rambaldi received a special achievement award at the Oscars. He then helped Rambaldi win Academy Awards for Alien (1979) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Striking out on his own, Raponi found his way to the Walt Disney Studios in the late 1970s, and he provided mechanical effects for films including Tron (1982), Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983), My Science Project (1985) and Baby.
For the Disney adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, Raponi constructed a series of mechanical stunt tarantulas to appear beside dozens of real creatures.
He retired in 2008 but came back for one last assignment on Ben Affleck’s Argo (2012).
Survivors include his wife of 40 years, Nina, and his daughter, Tiziana. His son, Daniel, died in 2007.
A life celebration is being planned for July. Donations can be made to the Daniel Raponi Memorial Scholarship Endowment at California State University, Northridge here or at CSUN Foundation, 18111 Nordhoff St. – Valera Hall 110, Northridge, CA 91330-8296.