John Dykstra


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Hi Leonard Maltin Maltin on movies and our guest today is a man who if you don't know personally air by site you know his work you've just got to know his work because he's the guy who did the visual effects for Star Wars. You remember that one a couple of Batman movies a couple of Spiderman movies so much more but more importantly John Dykstra is one of the creators of the modern era of visual effects. And it's a real privilege to have you here John. Oh It's a pleasure to be here. I I like my intros. Should tell you it's not him it's a Hologram that he created sent over. Help me OBI ONE. I'll be honest. I wasn't even going Star Wars. I was just going special effects. Okay I respect your life choice. I mean it is. An amazing is amazing history and as we often say to people you know. It's not history while you're doing it. Not just what you're doing and What you thought you were going to be doing was industrial design. Now what led you into that field. Well listen I mean again. Life Choices My father was an engineer on. I was a burgeoning artist. I liked to sketch and draw and I like to take things apart. Put Them Together. So it's kind of an interesting combination if you think about engineering and design in together. It's industrial design ended up as fate would have it when. I signed up for school. I was a liberal arts major. I had no specific major and The Guy who was the head of the Industrial Design Department was responsible for people whose last names began with D. and so I was introduced to him and he says you know you ought to be in our department. I I guess he was furthering his own nest so I ended up in industrial design but it was a great fit because I like to draw and I love to think about the way things work and so a fate may have intervened but it was in a good way and was this Long Beach Long Beach State. Where did you grow up one beach? I was born and raised in you and Snoop Dogg. I like it yeah. Local local knowledge. Of what kind of things did you? Where do you think you were headed with that cars house? Of course I mean you know when I when I was growing up. What I wanted to do was to have a motorcycle. I actually built the motorcycle out of parts. It was anybody but it was that kind of stuff. This is the interesting thing about it is It would be nice to have a strategic point of view when you're that age but I'm not sure that that's necessarily available so it was mostly tactical decisions and one of the things that led to my involvement in visual effects. Is I became enamored of cameras. I really liked the idea of capturing images I like drawing but what I discovered was that I could go out. And and instead of spending a half an hour doing sketch and then developing it further. I could photograph it and I could capture lots of images and I enjoyed the mechanics of it and the business of optics so I was A had. Photography is in avocation. And you were you a darkroom guy. Yeah Oh yeah had my parents. To my much. To my parents dismay. I turned a kitchen in an extra kitchen turned into a dark room for me and it had all the attendant smells and and Paraphernalia and tape the windows up. No less time. It was great. I really enjoyed the process And so what was that next step because that was a giant step and maybe maybe I should call it a left. Turn into visual effects. How does that all again? I again I in the Industrial Design Department. I had friends who were working for a man named Doug trumbull which we all know and He was going to make a project called silent running. He was working on Andromeda strain at the time and he had pension for hiring college students and so I went to work at trumbull film facts. I had completed my college education. An actually I I had an issue with the head of my department and I ended up not graduating at that. Time so I went to work for Doug and was doing design industrial design and photography which were my two favorite things so doug we should explain for those who don't know Is One of the people who worked on two thousand one a space Odyssey Stanley Kubrick? And which was the the first modern era visual effects movie. That mattered and that pushed wasn't an envelope. There was no envelope. Sorta helped develop the idea of modern. I keep saying modern but you know new era special effects. I know modern is dated word. It's interesting modern You know it's interesting because that was one of the things that led to me becoming involved in visual effects. Even before my college I I I went to see two thousand one space odyssey and I was Totally engaged by the movie and are totally enamored of the idea of being able to create A reality such an unreal situation I think that was a turning point for a lot of people. Yeah and inspiration for a lot of people as a couple of generations earlier King Kong had been for for kids of that of what but but of course two thousand one had that perfect combination during different opinions about the movie. I think is fantastic But it's the atmosphere the Kubrick creates and the he's a spellbinding spellbinding filmmaker absolutely and so. It's not just affects perfect sake. It's part of an organic hold. That is that movie. Well it's the environment too. I mean that the whole idea of the setting it was to me. It's a subtle stuff. It was sort of an odd way. His projection of what industrial design was going. That's true to its to provide in in this Advanced World and you. I you know. Listen he's what can be said it's Stanley Kubrick an and he. You know it's that's a stew took five years to make so it's going to be very finessed and and gourmet but the choice of his ingredients and the way put the the components together made me feel as though that place existed in a way that I you know movies sort of did that. But his went beyond the telling of a story to creating a totally Believable environment so much. So that you go that place actually exists and and there's two components to this entertainment one is on seeing an alternate reality. That is absolutely real and totally down to the minutia. You know the Bush baby or whatever that kind of stuff and and at the same time a compelling story albeit confusing unless compelling and I was I was thoroughly enjoyed and visually it was just stunning art direction and the visual effects themselves and the choice of the choices that were made with regard Obviously score I mean all that stuff Yeah well it's a hell of a film and made me want to work in movies and that was before I'd even gotten to college before. I'd become an enthusiastic photographer. The Saddam trumbull is sort of like kind of ground zero away for me. Yeah for a lot of people and you see Liz. Yeah well he's alive and well thank goodness So you went to work for him. And and what what? What was the atmosphere like there? Was it like a workshop? Was it like a A think tank more like a think-tank. I mean listen I. It's hard to describe. I had good fortune of working with him in an environment. Where we're all collaborators and not to put to find a point on obviously doug ran the show but People were asked to be a common volved in the process and more limited to one particular area. We all focused on one area. We all I did model building to begin with and then photography to pursue an following that but the guy who is the would come in and make comments on the design of the miniatures and a lot of the and the model makers were designing the miniatures as we built them and the whole idea of kit bashing Picking fine detail from existing model cars and tanks and other vehicles and then applying those as surface detail to The basic substructure. I just taught me a new word kit bashing yet cash. Yeah well you know what's interesting. It's so funny. Because the contemporary the Digital Environment. It's come full circle and they now have essentially something that's analogous to kit bashing in the digital world. They go in and they have shapes and and components that are performed in the guys can go through and just pick bits and pieces in them on on models for purposes of creating You know a designs for vehicles that don't exist Wow I'm going to be saying wow a lot. I think this conversation. So so you're you're there and you're learning and you're being inspired by this think tank of humans sure and then what well we worked Let's see okay so that was trumbull film effects. Then I'm trying to remember what the how it broke up. Then he went. He signed another contract and became a tutor. General and worked we worked on is really fun because it's an rnd environment right. We were doing even in the early days of Doug's I shop. We will working with a two thousand line video. This is in what the sixties And A computer control two thousand nine video system clunky which is at a time when American television. What six thirty three lines something? Not even that European and it wasn't even it was five twenty five. Us But it was too interlaced. So it's only explain that for anybody my age. No you don't WanNa Know Okay. Touche in the pre digital era in the pre digital television era. Tv. If I get this right a television screen image was actually made up like as a newspaper photo was made up of lava little dots or used to be a television image was made up a lot of lines very very tightly. Compressed so you'd aren't aware of the lines you don't really looking at the lines if it's a good quality image and when I first went to England and saw British television which was liked wild. This is so much better than American TV. I didn't understand why and it was that they had. Yeah it just. It's basically it boils down to the component pieces that comprised the image the bigger the component pieces are the lower the resolution the image and the less fine. The detail is that you can create so if you have lots and lots of information meaning lots and lots of points you can make very high resolution images and it has an effect on the color and it has effect on the gray scale so the higher the resolution generally the closer to what we would consider to be a real experience terms of what the real world looks like. Two people thank you so so Jesse was asking what the next phase was with trouble see moved into all in all be listen. That's a long time ago so Essentially I worked with Doug. We worked on show right which was incredible. It was a it was motion based simulator with projectors and screens mounted on board discrete four channel sound and Trip through space. That was in sixty seven. And I don't know one star tours at Joe. Wow and the problem was as so many things at Doug does. It was so far behind before. Its time that nobody could fathom it and we took it to show I can't remember was Atlanta or someplace for people who buy roller coasters and things for museum parks. We had a had a display there and did marketing there and and it was a conventional ride was two million bucks. It was two million bucks and people went on our would. We don't think we want to do it. He did. We didn't have A. We had a functioning prototype but it wasn't transportable so we're selling the concept. They had to come and see it. Anyway I don't know what the the intricacies of it where I was there at the show and help I. I did the sound scape for the for the the ride and we did a lot of the programming and stuff so it was again. I got to work on lots of different things. I got to work in sound. I got to do photography. Got To design mechanical things It was just you know it was it was. It was a dream environment. It's like Aruna of a giant garage full of all the tools you've ever wanted. We had a machine shop and all of the metalworking tools and woodworking tools. In you name it sounds like now. South sounds fantastic. It's a perfect place for jack-of-all-trades so then at some point in the mid seventies this young Turk George. Lucas comes along and he wants to make an outer space saga. Well there's A. There's one segue in here this kind of important with regard to my story and that is. I went to work after A. I can't remember what happened. But Future General Stall I went to work for The Institute of Urban Regional Development at Berkeley and hired me on and I was. I became a professor and I have no idea. There was some contractual issue that requires that I teach so I went there and worked on a project That was is verbal racial development which was miniatures being photographed by miniaturized probe camera in representation of the environment and a comparison of that to photography done in the real environment. They were trying to pursue figuring out what components are necessary to deceive people thinking that they're seeing a real environment Interesting right which is perfect. It's like okay. Great so industrial design photography like building things and now I'm into deception. Seems totally appropriate considering what I ended up but What we did is we built a very small scale version of Marin county portion of Maroon County and had a camera that was controlled at that time by computer. The computer that we used to take up the wall of the room here and it was probably as powerful as your toaster oven in terms of computing power and it moved to camera around that environment and photograph this miniature and then they did the same route in a real car with a with a a full-sized camera and at the same speeds and then they had comparisons in which they are reviewed the people who saw the miniature version and the people who saw the live action version. And what their response. Where did they they go? Oh there was a red mailbox in that one. I really liked the horizon. The view was gorgeous from the middle of the Parkway or whatever and so that was there was a psychological it was a psychological component. Now This was Berkeley and it was a it was federally funded and so I got a hunch that there was some defense component in there somewhere but I don't know what it is anyway You had you had no interface with weaponry. So we didn't blow anything up and that was one of the things that one of the reasons I left because I'd like to blow things up which will come to later. Would sell the the upshot of this was I learned about computer controlling cameras and the interface between them and the photographic environment and all kinds of feedback on how miniatures relate to things in real life in terms of perceptual. How people look at a miniature version of this Particular drive and relate it to a live action version particular drive so I have secrets secrets that that was a useful Training ground for you then a lot area. Yeah Yeah his great. I enjoyed. I enjoyed working and happy. Good time lifting Berkeley and Was good life was good so finished up at Berkeley. And that's when Gary Kurtz and George Lucas called me up and said you know since grip and I read the script. I thought it was really fun. I go this is great. This is what could be better. I get to go I get to do. A dog fights in space. I was a pilot as well. I'll really yeah. I'd I'd been flying gliders for. I don't know it all together but since Doug's place and sleep is shoot. We were pretty serious about pursuing life in that motorcycles surfing you name it skiing you or was it was the thing that was so fun about working at Doug's places it was a it was a community was like a family and that was one of the things that I tried to bring to the company. Apogee when we formed our company later on coming later on in it was the paradigm was trumbull film effects. For how I pursued organizing which wasn't well received by everyone so some people think that you're there to work period the thing that's interesting about this you know it's 'cause you work with students all the time there's this manic energy that people of that age have and if you give them a goal and define at least the path you want to take and the strategic in result you find that that cell focusing all of those guys. I mean my friends. People I brought together for alum where people with whom I worked at Trumbull film effects and In other environments Related to filmmaking and on a personal level the guys who I rode motorcycles within flew with and all these other things with so it was it was a group of people who already knew one another. How shorthand had already worked in. The film industry already worked in a call. It lays a fair for lack of a better term environment where your job classification wasn't rigid. It was it was much more of a collaboration If you had a great idea it was to be considered What a lovely thing I think makes so much sense that you all created what you did because that kind of environment fosters everything. Well you think out of the box and you know it's everybody's got their own box. They're not all the same. So it's it's it's bringing a bunch of boxes together. The guy whose focus is on Making precision parts in combination with a guy who's focus is creating a camera in combination with a guy who has an application for a camera of a specific nature in combination with a guy who can build a computer system that will support the specific name of the camera that the guy has etc and all of these guys come in as individuals but are become a part of a family. If you want to call it out I don't know collaboration And it's it's great because there's everybody feels as though they're pursuing the same goal and everybody respects if you have good people they generate their own respect because the guys who are working with them are in awe of their ability to do something that they don't necessarily understand and that and the guy who office and all of them for their capabilities so that it it's a very I don't know it's it's it's a situation where the whole actually can become larger than the sum of the parts So you know I interrupted because you said you were flying. They brought you in not just for the one but because you re pilot glider experience yes. Oh Oh you mean. They brought me in because I was pilot. No no no. I'm saying you were talking about doing the that George brought you in. Yeah George brought me and because I think I had. I don't know who recommended me. Maybe Doug trumbull short could have been a variety of people. I think Doug had something to do with it but they he wanted. George wanted to do it in a different way. He didn't want to do a traditional visual effects house. Not that there were that many visual effects houses around at the time so he decided he wanted to do in much the same way. Doug hired people from college. Because let's get somebody new. Get some new blood in here and I was at Guy. Because I had had unique in the sense that I had worked with Doug Trumbull. I had done a lot of photography a done. A lot of model construction understand understood Colm positing meaning optical composites putting things the other optical printers and and deconstruction of an image and I was An adrenaline junkie So there was sort of for what I think. Georges vision was was kind of an ideal Marriage the first shot the shot. That just sleighs you when you're young and you see star wars for the first time is the gigantic spaceship. Space Transport Star destroyer. Thank you thank you Sir. I get it right. Aristotle is definitely in the other room going. Oh you mean are you talking about the rebel? Blockade Runner is the first thing you see and then it's just flies over overhead and just keeps going and going the Star destroyer and it does not look like an Aurora Model Kit. It does not look like something made of plastic. It looks for one of a better word real. We broke a lot rules. And and you know there's a filmmaking in particular in that area had had some very set things that you didn't didn't do and the one of the problems with miniatures was that this becomes incredibly technical. It's called depth of field. Meaning that your focus extends from a surface close to you to a surface far away from you and that varies dependent upon the focal length. And the the Iris Setting of the aperture of the Lens that you use Traditionally models look like models. Because either the thing that's close you'll be out of focus in the background will be sharp or the background will be out of focus the foreground sharp and you inherently understand because of real life that when that happens that that's a small object no matter how it's presented perspective was so that's a dumb thing but it's part of the deal so they had to build Mon- miniatures big enough and light them with enough light to create a deep enough stop. Meaning the aperture. Smaller aperture makes more depth of field so the entire miniature was in focused which meant that majority of the miniatures at that time were pretty good size for his ass. Oh Jeez I duNNO SCALE MODELS. Were One tenth scale does it. Which doesn't even apply in Sikhism. A star destroyer. It'd be even one tenth scale at a quarter of a mile long so let six foot long ten foot long four feet long. The analogy word. I'll get the starter squares too. Big The the point is what we were doing. We were making miniatures a fraction of the size that conventional wisdom said. They should be right so we were breaking. Rule and part of breaking that rule was that we had. We had to design a camera that would allow us to have a tilting Lens Board. What a tilting Lens Board does is allows you to tailor the depth of field. Meaning that by tilting the Lens Board you can. You can skew the depth of field so I can keep a smaller miniature in focus as if it were larger miniature by tilting. Landsberg CONVENTIONAL MOTION PICTURE. Cameras didn't have that it goes on and on but the key things. I think from the point of view of what happened was that we designed a system that allowed to camera d'or to move during exposure. That was one of the things that was so effective about the thing that I did at Berkeley was that the camera moved during exposure as cameras in real life. All do now as you guys know because you're sitting in a studio where they do. Stop Motion Stop. Motion is a series of still images. And there's a stutter. That's apparent because each of the images. His sharp no matter what the camera move or the subject move when you look at photography cinemagraphic photography of the world. The camera is exposing the film but the Movement of the camera and the subject continues during that exposure so it gets motion blur right so the thing that we added with our computer controlled camera was the ability to make complex moves and to repeat those moves. Well let's not get into repetition yet to make complex moves during which the shudder of the movement of the camera was continuous during shutter open phase when it was exposing. And pull down which you don't need to know about so the the ships had the proper blur on them for the speeds that they were traveling which made them creditable if you did that with. Stop motion without the Blur would be here and it just looks like it disappeared Right so that was the depth of field and putting that motion blur on. Were soon things that linked it to our subliminal cues for what's real and what's not and it's like anything else there's so many of those cues you have to be very have to be precise and you have to be to do more. You can't just do a couple of it'll help. But the more of those cues you can satisfy the more realistic or the more willing. People are to suspend disbelief. Well it worked. No no well listen you look at it today. I want. I went through there was we. Were under the gun. You gotta remember that was. I think we took eighteen months from the point at which we opened a facility with built the cameras built miniatures. Did the photography did all the composite. Ing and Completed the show in eighteen months and big shows. Don't get done in eighteen months now but they don't build the camera you also inventing what you were doing. Of course I'm anymore. It just wasn't just a job. It was a job where you had to reinvent. Redefine the tools. Yeah and the and the imagery. We got to harvest a lot of good ideas. That was what was so fun about having people who come from variety of backgrounds One of the guys was a social worker. Another guy was a lab tech. Another guy was a sandal maker. We all came from these odd places. We were all involved in invention and and design and construction fabrication in some form or another in different places but we all came together to do this project and the the great thing about it was that we got to pick the best things from different environments and put them all together in our in our new version of what this machine looked like and there were a lot of interdependent. Stuff I mean. This was like A several bets were made several things that could go wrong. If any one of the concept's right the blue screen the motion blur the camera. Computer control the larger format film? The optical printer that hadn't been used for thirty years all of those were weak links. So if any one of them failed there was a good chance that it could bring the entire thing down and fortunately We got lucky and all of the stuff worked and it. There's there are anomalies and errors in the work. That are really obvious. But the spirit of it in terms of the people who worked on it and Georgia's concept for what it was overcame that it's you know it's the illusion that really counts as opposed to the reality. Sure add to that you know. Great Cast John John Williams music package of course is in the studio. Thought it was gonNA be the kids. They just wanted to keep him happy. Gareth wiggins I think was the only Fox Executive I. I don't know for fact because I wasn't involved in that I was in my warehouse out in the man is exotic than I do was next to the airport. That's pretty good. A lot of wood. Flying out of the airport was good of is. This is a dumb question. I'm sure you've been asked many times before but this is our first conversation on the subject. Is there a shot or a moment or a or an effect in that film that you are proudest of that? That makes you smile and Edmund. The whole film is Great I mean it's interesting. You know 'cause that's a question that gets asked a lot. I don't know that there's I'm not sure that there's a real answer to that. The opening shot is great. It is I. I love that shot. It's is it the is it the essence of everything about the the facility that we built That is is worthy of praise. Probably not but like to shot a lot The experience it was it was absolutely wonderful. I mean I it's it's it's hard to get around The idea that you are working on a job that you are so engrossed with it. You're willing to do it. Twenty four seven under without being under duress. And you know listen. We had our. We have our hot tub in the in the in the parking lot to cool off on hot days and and you know we went. We assume motorcycle rioting and some other things As a part of the program there but It was just it was wonderful is working with your friends and being successful and it is the key element to it with. All of those pieces fit together and they worked at because of their efforts the individuals dedication to making their concept's integrate with the other concepts that were being presented to create the final product and a capital off to academy award. Well yeah exactly. Yeah we did. We got the technical work for the facility The the mind boggles boggled. Then looking back on it. It's it's quite. I was going to get him. You know no one does too. That was drunk in Canada at the award. Show I'm sitting there in the audience and I've been drinking and I'm going and we won. I went Christ guys why my speech was so. I can't even remember what I said and anxious to not remember. Well came away with a lovely souvenir. Yeah no kidding. Distribute that is the epitome of not history. While you're making it because you're just trying different things you guys. We were doing what we enjoy. That was I look at it. If there's anything to be said about your life's endeavor is it. I pursue your bliss whatever that is I mean I've had the good fortune to be able to do something that I enjoy for my entire life. And it's it's terrific. It's a beautiful thing. Yeah this scorgeous In going over your credits doing my homework for our conversation. I did not realize that. You've been working of late with Quentin Tarantino. Yeah on his last three films in fact for four Doing what that's the key. You can't tell you know my favorite kind of visual effects are the ones aren't you don't know there. There's not a lot of a lot of stuff in in Clinton's movies and he wants to traditional stuff the most recent Once upon time in Hollywood and we did some building removal comes in the digital age some fairly straightforward kinds of things We did some aging film for the clips that were from the TV show and from a fourteen fists. Mcklusky the drive in shot where the car drives into. The van is drive in which is obviously no longer. There now has done with a miniature really. Yeah wow well he. He wish all on film we shot a miniature with motion control on film instead of doing digitally That's his preference and the you know inglorious bastards. We did the the big fire sequence in the theater which is really fun stuff. I like to do and something. That's kind of unique I don't know that you naked. I don't know that this job isn't any longer available but One of the things that I used to really enjoy doing is mixing mechanical effects with with photographic effects in the early days. During you know we blew the models up. We had the we had the guys in house and they blew the models up and we photographed him and all that stuff and Since with the advent of digital imaging income positing it's it's become much more specialized in the mechanical effects. Guys have their part of the movie in the visual effects. Guys have their part of the movie they collaborate but the you don't as an individual often get to do you know say well let's blow this up so I got to do that on. Inglorious bastards working with the visual effect the Special Effects Guys German special effects guys and I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember their names at this point At any rate so the whole business in the theater at the end and the fire was he wanted to practical so we had to figure out how to project in image onto the screen. Have the screen burn synchronize. The speed of the fire with action on the screen had had to the fire had to go over her image at a particular point and that had to be done practically in an environment where once screen burned it revealed an inferno behind it and there were stump people in the theater in the seats while this is all going on all took place in an abandoned cement factory in East Germany. And it was it was it was just. It was great. 'cause we went through the process of figuring out how to make the screen burn at the proper rate how to ignite the screen. How to synchronize the IGNAT ignition to the screen with the film that was being projected how to to Meggett so the inferno didn't burn the screen from behind and how to secret is that infernos looked like it was already a light as the screen burned but to not have it burning before that transmission transition took place so it was this. It was integration of mechanical and visual and performance stuff and it was like as brilliant and that was what the stuff was for Star Wars. So that's why I enjoy working with Clinton because we get to do that kind of thing. How cool very very cool is now. I grew up watching old republic pictures serials. Yeah and so the lie decker brothers were heroes of mine. Howard and theater the guys who did all of their practical yeah and their optical effects too and so the one thing I learned. I made a few home movies when I was a kid with my friends. And they'll our eight millimeter camera and the two things that I learned from experience and from watching with the the toughest things to crack our fire and water. Sure 'cause if you shoot a a A vote in your bathtub. It looks like a boat in a bathtub. Exactly it's not looked like it's in a body of water right and if you light something on fire it looks like it goes up and it looks like you just let something a road flare. It's for the road at the back of it and smokes going up in the road for spitting Now just just before we We rolled on this conversation. I mentioned I worked at paramount for many many years. And they have a famous tank there with Sky Cyclorama behind it one time and I used to park in that tank and one time. We couldn't park there for a couple of weeks because they were flooding the tank. So that you and your crew could shoot right irritation of central Park Lake. Yeah for Stuart Little. Yeah you had a little boat sailboat. Your against a real sky backdrop very convincing sky backdrop and real water. Yep Talk about detail wagging the dog. It's a tiny little boat an acre and a half of silk which was used to cover the tent. And that's no Phoolan. It was like being on a boat. We had rigging in the overhead and the SIL which dis- diffuse the sun because it needed to feel like The sort of a high sky. A clouds didn't Wanna be hard sun and That tank was Setup and I'm trying to remember I think we had now which is how to take. We didn't have. We had a bridge on one side or something. There was some set-pieces anyway. The boat is like about six feet long but the boat had to travel specific path in the tank. They had to have a wind blowing sale. So it looked like we're outdoors and it all sounds fairly simple except that the boats thirty feet away and to try and make a fan blow thirty feet and fill the sales. It's like well that's not going to be so easy. And the boat of course was already to control boat and you couldn't ever make a radio controlled boat. Do what is you wanted to do? So tracks had to be built in the bottom of the tank and there were guys with scuba gear in the tank during the photography. It was like it was so funny because it was like this giant thing around this little boat. They'll six foot boat and again six foot not so little no well. Yeah that's true. It wasn't but it was big. It was a that was the that was the hero boat. The stuarts boat was like three feet or something something like that anyway. Like to work with us. He a diva and I'm really. That movie was that movie was great. I love it. I felt the character was. He was really developed all of the acting performances regret and Sony. That was their one of their early entrees into visual effects for movies. Did a terrific job. Without characteristed in an era before for was a known commodity and they did a terrific job of making the character look realistic their composite and the integration the lighting for the. Cgi character was stunning. And as like I to this day. That's still one of my favorite Environments or favorite movies in terms of the integration. The character He really fits in nicely. You know again. All the components have to work. Yeah and and you forget it. He's a little animated mount exactly because actually character you invest in that. Yeah exactly that's the proof is in the right there. It was great fun. And you know it's like the the that whole deal at the tank was. I can't remember how many days we spent her. But when the wind would blow we had a nanometer and we had to refocus the silk when the wind speed reached a certain point. So we'd be in the middle of a shot and the Guy Grips would call out. We got a refit. And they'd pull the Silk Back and the thing all the lighting with change and we couldn't shoot for it was like it was great it was a microcosm of a much bigger movie idea of everything being driven by these random events. Wow now you worked on both Spiderman and Spiderman two yeah and of Spiderman moved differently in those two films. Yeah looked like you. You actually progressed in your ability to to make him a hobbyist convincing obviously Anthony Lamar Lamola. Nora was the animator on the Spiderman Spiderman two and he he We had done a lot of motion capture to begin with and that was the early days of motion capture but one of the things that was true was that for Spiderman when you took him and motion captured a stuntman and then tried to interpret that into a CGI character The it didn't work it. He looked to moral. I mean the stunt guy would jump off of a platform. He'd go ten feet and land on a pad or put him on a decelerated and let having dropped him twenty feet and have him land on the pad his posture. His reaction didn't look real. It looked like what it was. Looked like a guy on wires. And if you imagine you know a guy jumps off the top of a twenty story building in hits the ground. He's going to turn into a little puddle of blood and bone but our character has to hit the ground and looked like he can absorb that energy and then recovering and you know go on to do whatever it is that he's he's arrived to do and so it was a lot of exploration of mass musculature human motion and A healthy portion of postures that came from the comic books in terms of that larger becoming what it is. You expect him to be kitschy. It's weird right. 'cause he's he's a his human being but he has these spider capabilities and so when his physiognomy does things that humans don't do it's gotta be something that a spider does or or it's got to be one thing or the other can't be he can't suddenly become some other kind of creature and I I think that Anthony. Due to all the animators did a terrific job of doing that integration. Both on the first showman subtle in the film. I feel you know there's more I was really good. Yeah But then you when you see the second one I felt anyway that It was it was better. Yeah but you know from that point of view. Yup We also got to improve. Every you know it's funny because there's a whatever it is it's the Moore's law of visuals right the Because of the integration of digital imaging the the learning curve is fairly steep. I mean you improve in a very short period of time and with processing just processing alone between the first spiderman and Spiderman to increased exponentially so all of a sudden the characters could be they could have more polygons which is the same as the more pixels. We talked about before which defines their shape so their shapes were more on. The surfaces could have a more variation reflectively because we had the ability to render a broader. Getting Gray scale. Improvements occurred in terms of what the the digital lighting instruments. Where you could make something other than just a point source. You could make diffuse light. You could Create a what's called ambient inclusion which is basically shadowing that occurs From the SKYLIGHT THAT STRIKES. You it so those things all brought the Spiderman two guy forward so even if his animation was the same he would have appeared to be more creditable simply because he was he was it was a better render it will end his integration the way his motion blur integrator the backgrounds and our ability to create an environment inaccurate environment. Got Better so that you know it's there's it's like the the paint job has something to do with it now. How much of this is driven by in this case? Sam Raimi's the director Is He is he pushing you guys? Is He Is he directing you? Of course of course. Yeah no I mean. The the process working with SAM is Great. The process in that environment included the actual animator. Who was going to do. The shot doing a provision ation which is essentially a very simple form of animation of the shot and that would be given to the editor and the editor and Sam would integrate it into the story as they wanted to tell it. And he picked the the previous that he liked and then the shot would be executed to make real and high-resolution of after he had chosen. And then it'd been reviewed in the cut. So that's so I if not just Sam Ramey but any director says I wanted to bounce a little more or can you. Can you give me a little more or less density in this in this stunt that we're doing those kind of notes are they? Are they commonplace? Sure and we also get. Can you make more French do? Are you allowed to ask for a definition of that as one of the beauties? It's too it's too. It's sort of traditional visual effects. Supervisor's Issues are. Somebody will look at it and go. Just make it more real and the other one is split the difference so you always show up short with three things so that they can pick to split the difference on you know listen. The process varies with every director. Some directors do not want to work with previous. They want The freedom to invent as they go I. I'm sure that's true of the temple moves that are in the current marketplace. The you know you as a visual effects supervisor. One of the things that we used to do is show up and go. You can't do that. I need more stop. Can't point to camera that way camera has to be locked off. Can't wear that suit. It's blue you know so you were. You were the Naysayer and it was terrible. And now you're going set and you can pretty much do anything. But and so the onus is on the director and the other filmmakers because just because you can do something doesn't necessarily mean you should But the IT'S CHANGED. The personality has changed and a in an odd way. It's really It's really great because I get to think much more about how the image integrates with with the telling of the story. Not that I didn't before but there was a huge component of. How the hell are we going to do this before? We strapped cameras on airplanes and motorcycles and boats and stuff like that and we had a great time. We got to Greenland and Lear jet with Cameron. The knows got to fly all over Greenland and at low altitude and do all kinds of crazy stuff and that W- that you can see me just highlight up because that was the stuff that I love doing. But the Contemporary Environment require a dozen require that I mean we didn't you don't have to go. Well you WanNa go to greenland was just pull up a greenland got the I got the digital. I got the The lighter of of You know the icebergs and we just put some Cgi water into knows. Icebergs in new in cameron fly through it and that I think it's too weird in a weird way. Visual effects is sort of become commodity. And I don't know whether that's good bad or just inevitable But it's processing power and if you've got an processing power you can make pretty much anything you want to. And if you've got enough time you can make that thing be however you want it to be so it's a challenge because it means obviously it's it's There's no limit to the bar has been set pretty high now. Oh Yeah of course. Oh yeah but it's but the bar could be much higher. We could be at eight K. Instead of four K or two K not that anybody would ever be able to tell but we could be at eight K. And the we can render on the fly which means that the the movie can be done more quickly but the all the things you talked about water and fire those were the things you took a long time to where the we got a creditable image out of the computer environment and now You know that's it's kind of. It's a mixture. Look it's it's funny for years. When digital was first introduced it was the challenge was to try and make the digital image either captured digitally or composite digitally. Looked like Phil wanted to look like Phil wanted to have that one have grain wanted to have. Hey listen one. How all of these things. That are. Basically anomalies to a certain extent in film and that that was the that was the gold standard well digital has now gone pastoral. Now not to say that the style of film isn't great and some people prefer it including myself to a certain extent But digital cameras now capture enough information. That if you want to make it look like film you have to degrade it right. So you're doing it's it's it's an odd thing it becomes a stylistic choice as opposed to being a goal. You're going I am going to degrade put grain in it. And then I'm GONNA I'M GONNA make I'm GonNa add shutter angle and we're GONNA WE'RE GONNA shoot with old lenses so not razor-sharp precisely and and but the thing is and I guess that's what's interesting to me to I don't know that this makes sense or not. But you there was serendipity I mean the whole thing of. Im when we started. It was serendipity and there there was always when you blew up and we love to blow things up. You'd set up six cameras and you never knew which one of those cameras was going to either break shot or have the little piece it flips right towards the lens out the left hand side. So yeah you never knew until the next day but now you you go in and you make peace and flips over non. I want to. I want to see that bolt is. I don't want to see the name on the bolt as by the Lens right and it's like I don't know what it is but there was something about that. Gamble that was cool. Sounds as you're describing it very easy to relate to what you're saying so I lament the loss of that and I applaud Clinton's willingness to do quote live TV. That's my metaphor for him. The way he shoots he doesn't have Videotapes he bob. Richardson looks at it. Says it's good. And they move on and Quinton watches from the side and he decides whether or not the performance was right without ever seeing an image. And he has he'll he'll have a video monitor cameras in some curious position or something but And I that's that live nece life stuff I think shows up and I think that showed up in that for star wars because the part of the flavor of the dish was the the mistakes or the non-conventional components you referred to as mistakes. Yeah yeah the in more recent times you've worked on one of the Godzilla movies and Kong Yuk that King to his friends on Skull Island and was that your first experience with creatures. Well let's see. I did the mouse. Well of course we don't know the mouse is a hero crater. Here's a tiny man okay. That's the same deal if you WANNA make thirty foot gorilla believable. I you got to figure out how to make an a mouse believable. We've all seen a mouse. We've all been in close proximity to a mouse and the subliminal cues you gotta vocabulary this huge about real animals in real environments. You don't have much of a vocabulary about thirty foot girls in terms of their motion except for the Lizard Brain stuff. Which is how fast it moves tells you how big it is. Whether or not the first the right scale relative to the creature Whether the muscular musculature moves in a way that looks like there's some subtext to the skin and it's not just a balloon So I mean it's all the same stuff when you do big creatures. It's all the same stuff. But frankly when you do be creatures or Godzilla or or or Kong or a Dragon. You you know it's easier than doing would just did this stuff for do little. You know got an ostrich polar bear and a gorilla and dragon the dragon and a sugar glider but the but those animals real animals and they they're harder to To animate and to to create to built from scratch than the Dragon Dragon. Nobody drag us all. You can do it any night. So that's that's one of the I. I don't know that then answers a question. No that wasn't the first preacher the skull on and stuff I consider Stewart probably to be the first creature Probably because we did some the first Batman we did some Cg Batman stuff but it wasn't it was limited by our capabilities at the time. But you know and creature stuff is always fun because there's performance involves so you get to try and figure out what they're supposed to be saying you're doing or feeling or you know it still blows my mind that we are able to whether you're Disneyland. If you see Mickey Mouse and you know that it is a man wearing a costume. Same thing you know when we watch we watch stuart little or something like that. If it's done well you just go with it and you just want it to be real. Short is yeah and that always amazes me that we're just has to be all those things and asked if he said has to be done well and has to be presented well and has to be conceptually evocative otherwise it doesn't make any sense. It's like okay Mickey Mouse Great. What's he doing Meghan sandwiches? Oh Okay I believe that. Make you live. La He's Vegan. Okay Yeah but No it is it is fascinating every piece of it and that's the thing is for you. This is your work at. It's something that you love for us. We're the ones receiving benefits. Well did you feel is. It's a benefit. I promise I mean if you took a poll of people saying is the world a better place because we have light sabers. Oh yeah most people would check the box. That says yes okay. Well that's good well. Listen and that's what's so fun of that back to industrial design The one of the things that I hated about dust design is I actually had to figure out how to make this stuff work as an industrial designer. You sit down and go. Okay what am I going to do? I think I'm going to make I know what I'll do. I'll make a a toaster radio and you know you go okay and then you design the toaster radio and it's everything you expected a toaster radio to be. But then as part of the design process you have to figure out what the materials and processes are that create this toaster and then you gotta be. You're limited by how much money you can spend because the material that would be ideal for this is too expensive. So so there's this whole Infrastructure the goes around the execution this idea and four to come to fruition all of these components after work and you have to do a lot of nasty math and draft angles for mold release and all this kind of crazy stuff and and I found that in visual effects. All you gotTa do is make it look like it works in surround running. Doug had this pool table and there was this robot arm right it was. I can't remember who is early. Robot arm anyway and it's supposed to shoot this pool ball into the The proper hole on the table and they could get the try as they might. They could never get the robotic thing. So Don Crumble. Doug's dad was off camera with a broomstick and a and a manipulator arm any shoved it over there and hit the ball into the deal so it was four all the impression that you you know. It's like he's just off camera. There's there's guys you know. It's like smoke and mirrors. And that's great. That's part of that same deal. It's like a certain rogue quality to the idea that you create illusions. I'm that's one of the greatest joys being that we we watch this stuff you know it. It is joyful to see what people can create. Even what you're saying with Stuart and for now it's ridiculous what can be done and how lifelike but if you watch anything that's part of to me. What's fascinating is how certain things hold up beautifully. Because if they were done really well they were done really well. You know I'm not looking at it and sang off. That's not moving exactly like I think. No it's beautiful. It's art was advised. Stage STAGE ORIENTED THAT. God every I mean it was it. Would you choose to make the Emerald City more realistic or would the show be better because the the you know the flying monkeys weren't guys on wires I like? Oh I think so so John You are. I was GONNA say you're as busy as ever. What are you working on now? Nothing actually I just. I've just finished working on Dr Doolittle and I'm taking a hiatus. Well how nice yeah. That's great you've earned beach more the dog on the beach. How can that be not at all not at all well? We're glad you had the time to come to spend an hour with us. Sure my pleasure. Very kind of coming to my dad's class because the students really appreciated I'm glad it's it's it's an oddball deal. The you know the biggest thing when kids to me and go. What do you have to do to become a visual effects guy? I always say get out more. Well that's just it as they say in a larger sense about film school altogether. Yeah you WANNA BE FILMMAKER. Go live life exactly. Yeah have some experiences to base your assumptions and and projections on. Yeah exactly well. You've done all of that and you still doing it and we were so happy to have you here. Thanks thanks for being part of our little menagerie of I don't know where that's going. Didn't work menagerie okay. That would be a bad start to all right. Well we're so glad time to spend with US and Are you a social media person? Not particularly my daughter is why did I guess that? Why do I guess that your guy likes to blow things up and go to the beach and fly gliders I I it's I- social media's fine. I don't have any problem with it. I find if it's sunny out I'd rather be outside. I will say everyone whenever they have a moment. Go to Rick Baker's instagram because watching him create is the greatest joys of life and anytime I tell someone that really yes go watch. She's printing miniatures. He's he's made a doctor Frankenstein's lab. It's fantastic. I know it's a separate tangent but it just brings me joy. Good you are at Leonard Maltin at Jesse Molson on instagram and twitter. You can Leonard Maltin Dot Com for movie reviews book round ups and all kinds of good stuff. And we're on patriotic folks miltary Patriots Maltin on movies North Patriots Dot com slash malt non movies to a better than I do Practice anyway if you want to support what we're doing and let us keep doing it. Thank you very much for that. And thanks for listening. We'll see you next time. Today's episode of Maltin on movies is brought to you by Legion m. The world's first fan owned entertainment company. If you love movies as much as we do why not own a piece of them find out more at? Www DOT legion. M Dot com.

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