Spotlight – Scott Stokdyk

by Graham Edwards

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Scott Stokdyk’s career as a visual effects supervisor embraces films including Hollow Man, all three Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, G-Force, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk strikes a pose on the set of "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets."

Visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk strikes a pose on the set of “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”

CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Scott?

SCOTT STOKDYK: I had always been a fan of effects work, but seeing early 90’s computer graphics working its way into visual effects gave me a notion that it was something that I could participate in. My big break was when I first got access to SGI workstations running Side Effects Prisms software. That happened while I was doing programming work on a digital ink-and-paint software system at a small visual effects company called Motionworks.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

SCOTT STOKDYK: The most exciting part of my job is the moment when I’m loading up a sequence of images that I haven’t seen before to review. It still feels like a Christmas present for me, with all the possibilities contained within. I’m a big fan and appreciator of visual effects as well as having it be my job.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

SCOTT STOKDYK: Computer and networking crashes. We manage around it better now, but we still depend so much on the tech problems not getting in our way!

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

SCOTT STOKDYK: Working on the ‘birth of Sandman’ shot in Spider-Man 3 is probably at the top of my list – so many moving parts, both literally and figuratively. I think that if we tried it again 10-plus years on it would still be excruciatingly hard. Any sequence I deal with now that combines character and effects animation is something I give special attention to, because I know the inherent problems.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

SCOTT STOKDYK: Hollow Man was unique in so many ways. It was so ambitious in terms of what was trying to be done – all this amazing tech and artistry to do an invisibility transformation in an anatomically accurate way. The amount of artist and scientist brain power to make those pixels was absurd!

John Frazier, Anthony LaMolinare, Scott Stokdyk, and John Dykstra. Academy Award winners for Achievement in Visual Effects their work on "Spider-Man 2" at the 77th Academy Awards. Photograph copyright © AMPAS.

Left to right, John Dykstra, Scott Stokdyk, Anthony LaMolinara and John Frazier celebrate winning the Achievement in Visual Effects Oscar for their work on “Spider-Man 2” at the 77th Academy Awards. Photograph copyright © AMPAS.

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

SCOTT STOKDYK: The growing collective experience of visual effects artists keeps making images better and better. Yet, it is very hard to impress anyone with visual effects imagery anymore. It takes a very interesting story context nowadays to really shock people.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

SCOTT STOKDYK: More discussion on the art and design of visual effects is needed. Marketing and press is still so focused primarily on tech innovation, but our industry has now gotten more mature as a craft, so the artistic contributions are most relevant.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

SCOTT STOKDYK: There is still no single best path to getting a job in visual effects. Above all, you have to really love what you do to put up with all the hours. Find a niche that you don’t mind spending thousands of hours living with.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

SCOTT STOKDYK: Blade Runner, The Matrix and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I would want to watch them all together with fresh eyes, and try to figure out why I love the visual effects in these movies so much, how does the visual storytelling draw me in, and do they still hold up and feel as amazing as the first memorable time I saw them? I still recall vividly where I was when I first saw these movies – that’s how much they imprinted on my brain!

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

SCOTT STOKDYK: Popcorn! It best fills out the other senses – taste, feel, smell – besides sight and sound to help round out the cinematic experience!

CINEFEX: Scott, thanks for your time!