Man-eating snakes just part of the job

January 23, 2003 12:00 am

By LENORE RUTHERFORD

Mark Terzich's welding business went from inventors' prototypes and stair railings to whales, huge snakes and assorted movie monsters in a single phone call a dozen years ago.

When the telephone rang at 11 one night in 1990, he at first regretted advertising 24-hour emergency welding.

But the call set him on the path of some of the most memorable experiences of his life and career.

Since then, he has attended movie premiers and wrap-up parties, worked with world-renowned actors and helped create some of the movies' best-known critters, such as the stand-ins for the trained Orca, Keiko, the leviathan star of "Free Willy," and the famous dolphin, Flipper, as well as the 40-foot snake in "Anaconda."

The owner of M.D.T. Welding, he lived in East Palo Alto at the time, doing a variety of custom welding jobs, including making railings and prototypes for inventions.

The late-night call was from Walt Conti, owner of Edge Innovations, a company that makes and operates life-like, animatronic fish and animals for the movie and television industries.

Conti had an old railroad car filled with water that he was using as a test-tank. It was badly bowed, and he was afraid it would give way under the pressure.

Terzich worked nonstop for two days to fix the problem.

"When I was finished, (Conti) said I was a hard worker, and he wanted hard workers on his team," Terzich said. "He asked if I was interested in being their fabricator."

Terzich jumped at the idea, and since then has been involved in one project a year.

As the fabricator, he makes the skeletons and mechanical insides of animatronic creatures.

His projects include the three "Free Willy" movies, "Anaconda," "White Squall," "Flipper," "Deep Blue Sea" and "The Perfect Storm."

He also worked on the television series "Sea Quest," starring Roy Scheider, who played Police Chief Martin Brody in "Jaws."