The Illusionists — John Bruno

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - John Bruno

CINEFEX — How did your visual effects career begin?

JOHN BRUNO — I got into visual effects through animation. I’m from northern California, and there were a lot of published cartoonists living nearby — people like Hank Ketcham and Charles M. Schulz. I was mentored by those guys at an early age, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I got a bunch of reference letters from them, went to Disney Studios and said, “I want to be an animator.”

CINEFEX — And they hired you?

JOHN BRUNO — They hired me and I started working in film animation for Chuck Jones. I did a film with Richard Williams, then eventually got a call from Ivan Reitman at Universal. We met and he showed me a magazine called Heavy Metal. He opened it up to this page with a character called Arzach, drawn by Jean Giraud — you know, Moebius. Ivan said, “Can you do animation to look like this?” I said, “Sure.” I moved to Montreal and we started doing Heavy Metal as an animated feature.

CINEFEX — So what prompted the move from animation into visual effects?

JOHN BRUNO — George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Richard Edlund were looking for somebody to do Poltergeist. Richard invited me to a meeting and I showed them my Heavy Metal reel. Before I knew it I was at Industrial Light & Magic, setting up an animation department.

CINEFEX — You stayed with Richard Edlund when he left ILM to form Boss Film Studios.

JOHN BRUNO — Yeah. The first film we did at Boss was Ghostbusters. I remember Richard coming into the office and saying to me, “You know this guy Ivan Reitman. You worked with him before on Heavy Metal. Well, he wants to do a kind of comedy Poltergeist with the cast of Saturday Night Live!”

CINEFEX — Did you have any idea what an iconic film Ghostbusters would become?

JOHN BRUNO — We never thought about it. There were just eight of us in the room watching dailies. We would laugh and say, “I think it’s funny, but I don’t know if anybody else will.” We did all the ghost stuff just like we were doing it at ILM — guys in suits, miniatures, animated effects — and we got the movie out in just ten months. That totally screwed up things in Hollywood, because suddenly everyone was shaving six months off their postproduction schedules. We got heat for that.

CINEFEX — A few years later, you were visual effects supervisor on The Abyss.

JOHN BRUNO — That’s right. I’d met Jim Cameron at a showing of Aliens in Westwood, and then again at the Tokyo Film Festival. That’s where we became friends, talking about favorite films like Mysterious Island, and old-school techniques like rear projection, stop-motion, puppets. We ended up using all that on The Abyss — 65mm rear screen process, full size sets underwater, miniature submarines. We used every technique imaginable, including computer animation for the water tentacle.

CINEFEX — Did it feel natural, moving from animation into visual effects the way you did?

JOHN BRUNO — Never at any time did I think it was strange or weird. Think about it. Animation has backgrounds, overlays, underlays, character elements, special effects elements. In visual effects, you have a background plate, you’ve got a character, you’ve got overlays, you’ve got mattes. You need to understand how to separate those elements, and how to manipulate time and space. A good knowledge of animation is good for any visual effects supervisor, even if you’re making a live-action film.

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

The Illusionists — Bill Westenhofer

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - Bill Westenhofer

CINEFEX — Can you pinpoint the moment when you first become interested in visual effects?

BILL WESTENHOFER — I know the exact moment. I was nine years old, watching the Star Destroyer fly overhead at the start of Star Wars: A New Hope. That was it, 100 percent. I went out and bought every Hasbro action figure — only they kept coming out with new ones and eventually I couldn’t keep up any more. I would make little videos with those figures. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the start of my moviemaking.

CINEFEX — What was the next step along the way for you?

BILL WESTENHOFER — The next major moment was when Jurassic Park came out. Having grown up as a huge dinosaur fan, to actually see them moving around and breathing was mind-boggling. I’d been studying computer graphics in college and I was like, “Oh my god, I’ve got to get there!” It became the kick in the butt I needed to raise my game, get resumés out and make it happen.

CINEFEX — So both Star Wars and Jurassic Park blew your mind at critical moments in your life.

BILL WESTENHOFER — Right. But, you know, it’s really hard today to blow your mind to the degree we all felt when Star Wars first appeared. Keeping up with audience expectations, coming up with new and creative things — it gets harder and harder.

CINEFEX — You’re no stranger to aiming high. Richard Parker was a real milestone, the tiger in Life of Pi. Then, with Gemini Man, you took on the challenge of creating a digital human, which has long been considered the Holy Grail of visual effects.

BILL WESTENHOFER — Yes, ever since I started 25 years ago, it’s something people always talked about. But, even after doing Gemini Man, people are already asking, “What’s next?”

CINEFEX — So what is next?

BILL WESTENHOFER — Well, as much as we love touting the next new tools, it’s more what you do with those tools that’s exciting. If you think back to some of the advances in computer graphics techniques, a lot of things happened fairly quickly, like getting texture mapping really working. I don’t want to say it’s slowing down now, but I don’t feel the technology changes themselves are as important as they used to be.

CINEFEX — It’s more about the creativity?

BILL WESTENHOFER — Of course. I do worry that some people still feel that visual effects is technology, and don’t appreciate the amount of creative input we bring to the table. We’re not just technicians coming to fix problems in the background. We’re really adding story. A visual effects supervisor will suggest script ideas to help tell something better, maybe even suggest shots. If you look at a write-up in Variety, by default they always call out who the cinematographer was, but it’s rarely they mention who the visual effects supervisor was — even in an effects-heavy movie. That does get frustrating sometimes.

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

The Illusionists — John Knoll

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - John Knoll

CINEFEX — What drives the spirit of innovation that we see so often in visual effects?

JOHN KNOLL — Well, most big advances don’t really happen because somebody decides they want to develop a new piece of technology. It’s more that a script lands on a desk, and someone reads it and says, “How are we going to do that?” Back on the first Star Wars movie, it isn’t like somebody wanted to do motion control and then figure out a way to use it in movies. It happened because George Lucas had this reel of World War II aerial combat and said, “I want to do shots like this, where the camera’s panning with the ships and the motion is very fluid.” Motion control was the solution to that problem.

CINEFEX — So you don’t consciously try to innovate? It’s purely about answering the brief?

JOHN KNOLL — It’s a little bit of both. Take the on-set capture we did for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. I had done the first Pirates movie with Gore Verbinski, where the challenges were the skeletal pirates. The transitions from the live-action to the animated characters and back were particularly challenging. The methodology was that we shot the actors in wardrobe on the set, matchmoved them in post, painted them out and put in the CG.

CINEFEX — Matchmoving the actors from the plates must have been tricky, especially back then. Why didn’t you do separate motion capture shoots?

JOHN KNOLL — The matchmove was really hard, but here’s the thing. At the end of the first movie, Jack Sparrow becomes a skeleton as well. There were a number of transition shots, and about half a dozen where he’s a skeleton for the duration of the shot. For those all-CG skeleton shots, we did get Johnny Depp in a motion capture suit and have him redo his on-set performance on a motion capture stage. But when Gore looked at the results we immediately got busted, because he really liked what he had shot on set. He said, “I’ll be really up front — I’m going to torture you guys until this performance matches exactly what we shot on stage!” And he was right to do that.

CINEFEX — So when you came to do the second movie, you knew Gore would want to direct his actors on set, even though Davy Jones and his crew would end up as CG.

JOHN KNOLL — Exactly right. We started a conversation with R&D to find a way of capturing motion on set. We needed something as good as what we would get from an optical motion capture system. It had to be robust and lightweight enough to take out on location, and it couldn’t put any restrictions on the filmmakers. We were aware this was something nobody had done before. We knew we were innovating. But, it was all in the service of solving our problems from the first film, and letting Gore work the way he wanted to work.

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

The Illusionists — Joe Letteri

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - Joe Letteri

CINEFEX — Early in your career you were at Industrial Light & Magic, pretty much at the start of the digital revolution.

JOE LETTERI — Yes, but before that I was working for a company doing commercials in Los Angeles. I got to ILM right in the middle of their work on Terminator 2, although I did not work on that film. I did a couple of commercials for them, then got put onto Star Trek VI. I worked on the opening shot — that big ring-of-fire explosion of Praxis. That was the first shot I ever did on a film, and it made me want to keep going and do more.

CINEFEX — Soon after that you sunk your teeth into Jurassic Park.

JOE LETTERI — That’s right. That film opened up a new avenue of exploration in that we were doing organic characters. As cool as Terminator 2 was, with the T-1000 as a moving character with real performance, we now had to figure out how to do the dinosaurs’ skin, the skeleton, the muscles, all that organic movement. A lot of work went into making that happen believably for what I think was the first time.

CINEFEX — Were aware of how revolutionary the work was?

JOE LETTERI — It certainly felt pretty new at the time we were doing it. But we were flying by the seat of our pants, just eyeballing it: “I think this looks good. This looks about the right exposure.” We really had no way to measure things like that at the time. That worked for 65 shots on Jurassic Park, but now, when we’re doing thousands of shots in a film, we need ways to really understand what we’re looking at.

CINEFEX — Every year you’re called upon do more and more shots, of ever-increasing complexity. How has that changed your thinking?

JOE LETTERI — In visual effects in general, we’ve started to take a really broad approach. This started for me on Avatar, where we had so many components to work out. We weren’t just putting a character or a creature in a background plate — we were creating a whole world. First time around, we hand-dressed that Pandora forest. Then we spent years thinking about how forests really grow, writing software to mimic that whole process. That came in really handy when we did the avalanche scene in the third Planet of the Apes film, when were able to deploy this software to grow the forest.

CINEFEX — On the flipside, is there anything in your thinking that hasn’t changed?

JOE LETTERI — Really, what we’ve always done with visual effects is try to convince an audience that they’re seeing what was in front of the camera on the day everything else was shot. But we also have to add a fantasy element — because that’s what we’re doing, right? We’re shooting things that could not be shot, by definition. So we’re always looking at reality — things like having the correct weight in an animated movement — but with an eye towards making something a little bit more fantastic to serve the film.

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

The Illusionists — Rob Legato

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - Rob Legato

CINEFEX — When did your interest in visual effects begin? Did you enjoy watching effects movies when you were young?

ROB LEGATO — Quite frankly, whenever I saw movies that had something odd or fanciful in them, I just knew I didn’t like it very well. I know this is a blasphemy, but even when I saw the Ray Harryhausen stuff, like the skeletons fighting, it looked kind of strange to me. I guess I was starting to identify that things looked weird without motion blur — not that I knew what motion blur was at the time. But there were also things that were incredibly well done, like hanging miniatures and the Schüfftan process, all those things the masters did so many years ago.

CINEFEX — Early in your career, you made a name for yourself working on Star Trek: The Next Generation. How did that come about?

ROB LEGATO — I started out working in commercials, using videotape compositing in standard definition — more analogue than digital. I also became pretty proficient in shooting miniatures with motion control against bluescreens. I was recommended to the people doing the television remake of The Twilight Zone. To make their show on time, they switched from film opticals — where you could only do two or three shots per show — to doing it this more expedient way. When Star Trek was reborn as this new television show, they were looking for ways get the right production value in a short amount of time, and I was the only one around who had the requisite skillset: I had on-set experience, I knew visual effects, I knew postproduction compositing, and I had already worked on a television show.

CINEFEX — You were essentially a one-man band.

ROB LEGATO — Yes. I was shortcutting the system because I could shoot eight ship shots in a day, make the shots up, supervise every composite. I learned that the more you do yourself, the more you can do it expediently and inexpensively, and hence get much more production value. That show became my training ground to try things out. If an idea didn’t work, I’d just try another one next week.

CINEFEX — These days, easy access to the latest technology means almost anyone can become a one-man band.

ROB LEGATO — Absolutely. When I first started, there was only a handful of people who could do this stuff. Now, there’s amazing films coming out of film school by people who are self-taught. It’s like, “Holy shit, you would have had to be a genius to do that when I first started.” You can do almost anything at home on your laptop and in just a few months get experience it took us years and years to get. There’s lots of Mozarts out there right now waiting to flourish.

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

The Illusionists — Ken Ralston

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - Ken Ralston

CINEFEX — When did you first get interested in movie magic?

KEN RALSTON — As a kid, I was always interested in monster movies and monster makeups, and I read Famous Monsters like a lot of us bozos did way back then. Then I started to see the films of Ray Harryhausen. I didn’t know who he was, but I knew there was something amazing about what I was watching. I can still remember being in a little theatre watching The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad — I think it was a reissue on a Saturday matinee. I was mesmerized by it, just obsessed. It changed the wiring in my brain and off I went in my awkward, clumsy way. That’s what really kicked me into gear.

CINEFEX — Your career was well-established long before the digital revolution, with films like Star Wars, Dragonslayer, Cocoon. What was it like making the transition to the new technology?

KEN RALSTON — It was more frustrating than you might think. The technology was so complicated and awkward. In those early days at Industrial Light & Magic, you had to fight for the smallest amount of space to do digital shots in a movie. And you couldn’t do that many because it was too difficult and just took too damn long.

CINEFEX — You’ve worked a lot with Robert Zemeckis over the years. Have you got any anecdotes from the set of one of his films?

KEN RALSTON — Here’s one from Death Becomes Her. You know the shot where Meryl Streep pulls her head way up, and her neck stretches, and then her head snaps down? One of the things I asked Meryl to do was wear this kind of a beard that was the same color as her hair. It was basically a hairpiece to help us fill in the area around her neck later. Of course, Meryl wanted to know why she was doing this. Bob said to her, “Whatever Ken wants, just do it. You can trust him with your life.” That kind of trust is incredibly important because, when you’re in these weird moments trying to get the raw material to do the work you have to do, you sometimes have to ask for some really stupid things!

CINEFEX — When you have an ongoing relationships with a director, does that help the trust to develop?

KEN RALSTON — Oh, yeah. As the years went on, Bob and I developed a shorthand that was great. It also helps you feel free to try new things. If the director’s confident about what you can do, maybe it opens up different shot design ideas. Younger supervisors, or people without the kind of credits I’ve been lucky enough to get, may have to beat people over the head to do the right thing.

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

The Illusionists — John Dykstra

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - John Dykstra

CINEFEX — You began your career as a photographer. What sparked that original interest?

JOHN DYKSTRA — The reason I wanted to be a photographer was a television show called Love That Bob. In the show, Bob Cummings was this photographer who got to drive nice cars and meet a lot of women. I thought photography would be the ideal thing for me to do!

CINEFEX — And once you started, you found you couldn’t stop?

JOHN DYKSTRA — Oh, I became enamored of the process, both the mechanics of the cameras and the optics involved, and also the assembly of the image in the darkroom, the ability to take something apart bit by bit and put it back together again in registration. I did a lot of research on disassembling images into their component parts — a little bit of color but mostly black and white — analyzing contrast, luminosity, making my own masks, creating assemblies of deconstructed and then reconstructed images.

CINEFEX — When you think about it, that process of deconstruction and reconstruction lies at the heart of the visual effects process.

JOHN DYKSTRA — Yeah. Taking things apart and putting them back together. It’s essentially what an optical printer does for cinema.

CINEFEX — So how did you make the move from photography into visual effects?

JOHN DYKSTRA — Well, I was also an avid model builder when I was a kid — lots of cars and airplanes. Then I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in the theater. I remember being in awe of the illusion that was created in terms of its verisimilitude. I did a little research on how that was done and, as fate would have it, I met Doug Trumbull and ended up working with him on The Andromeda Strain.

CINEFEX — You assembled the original Industrial Light & Magic team for Star Wars, inventing a lot of technology from the ground up — not least the Dykstraflex motion control system. Is the visual effects world still an inventive place to be?

JOHN DYKSTRA — We’ve lost one aspect of invention and gained another. Invention as an element of creating visual effects has diminished — you don’t often invent and build things like cameras or motion control systems any more. But, invention has increased in terms of the ability to visualize things of gigantic or minuscule proportions, and interpreting those things to the screen in a believable and understandable way.

CINEFEX — Making things believable … is that still the fundamental trick?

JOHN DYKSTRA — The trick is as it’s always been: to ask the question, “How does this visual contribute to the emotion of the story?” We’ve all seen movies in the recent past where the visuals are very complex and very accomplished, but don’t do a whole heck of a lot to advance the story. That’s always been the criteria that’s hardest to meet.

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

The Illusionists — Dennis Muren

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - Dennis Muren

CINEFEX — What’s the appeal of visual effects for you?

DENNIS MUREN — You know, ever since I was a little kid watching effects films, I always had an opinion about what I saw. Always. I would think, “That doesn’t look real,” and I would also think, “Why doesn’t that look real?” In those days, you could look at the screen credits to find the names of the guys who did the effects, and then look them up in the Los Angeles phone book. You could talk to them, even go and meet them. Doing that, I learned that this looked real because of this, and that looked fake because of that.

CINEFEX — Has that early sense of curiosity endured over the years?

DENNIS MUREN — Yeah, because I’m unsatisfied with everything. Whenever I finish a show, I put in my mind that it’s obsolete, so what’s the next thing? That’s a conscious thing that I do.

CINEFEX — So each show is part of a continuum, and you’re moving from one, to the next, to the next.

DENNIS MUREN — Exactly, and that all started because George Lucas kept Industrial Light & Magic going after the first Star Wars. As more films came in, we could stay in the business and continue to learn, doing effects year after year. That was wonderful. We had an opportunity to improve the technology, and also our own mental vision of what we were trying to do. We were able to get our minds out of the nuts and bolts and start thinking, “We’ve got a great toolset. Now, how can we improve it and make something better?” That ultimately opened the way to where we are now, when we can almost do anything.

CINEFEX — You were a real mover and shaker during the digital revolution. To what extent were you taking a leap of faith back then?

DENNIS MUREN — Oh, every step was an unknown. We just went with the best information we had. We did a CG dinosaur test for Jurassic Park that came out really terrific, then we did a second test and it was horrible — and we never fixed it. But it wasn’t like I was just being foolish about it. I had backup systems for everything, even for Terminator 2 and The Abyss. If the CG didn’t live up to a certain standard, we were going to do shots in a more traditional way. In my mind, there was always a way we were going to be able to get through it in time and on budget.

CINEFEX — Now that almost anything is possible in visual effects, given time and money, are there any real challenges left?

DENNIS MUREN — It used to be you would spend a huge amount of time just getting things to look real. That’s much easier to do now, so what’s more important is designing the shot in the first place. How can I take this sequence and make it different and more entertaining than the other eight films that have had the same thing in them? It’s an incredibly important question, and it’s where the effort ought to go in, because the end part is now taking care of itself. There’s enough money and talent and people to get the stuff to look real. What we have to ask now is, “Was it worth getting it to look real?”

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

The Illusionists — Richard Edlund

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - Richard Edlund

CINEFEX — What do you remember about watching films as a youngster?

RICHARD EDLUND — I remember being in the seventh grade, going down to one of the movie palaces in Minneapolis and seeing The Robe, the first Cinemascope movie. I remember seeing Victor Mature standing on top of a mountain with this green halo vibrating around him. I didn’t realize it then, but I’d spotted a matte line!

CINEFEX — You spent many hours later on trying to keep matte lines out of the picture on Star Wars. How did you get that gig?

RICHARD EDLUND — After I had gotten out of college, I was a rock‘n’roll photographer for three or four years, and then I worked in commercials with Bob Abel, which was where I got involved with visual effects. One day I got this call from John Dykstra, who wanted to talk about a sci-fi movie he was going to do for George Lucas. I jumped in my car, drove out to what was then Industrial Light & Magic, and wound up talking to John and Gary Kurtz. After about half an hour I was given the job as director of photography for the miniatures.

CINEFEX — What did you think when you first read the script for Star Wars?

RICHARD EDLUND — I thought it was a teenage movie. I was a little bit worried about lines like, “Trust in the force, Luke.” I couldn’t think of many actors in America who would have the gravitas to pull off those lines, except maybe Marlon Brando. About three or four months into the project, when we were getting ready to shoot in England, we heard that George had just cast Alec Guinness to play Obi-Wan Kenobi. I thought, “That’s it! He’s the guy!” It was the perfect casting. I realized at that point the film was going to transcend the teenage demographic and capture the adult audience as well.

CINEFEX — So Alec Guinness was the key?

RICHARD EDLUND — Oh, there were four keys to Star Wars. The first was Ralph McQuarrie. He did a series of maybe 12-15 paintings of various aspects of the script, and George used those paintings to sell the project. The second was choosing us to do the visual effects. It was just a great team that John put together. Nobody else at that time that could have done it— you have to remember there was no infrastructure at that time in visual effects. The third thing was the casting of Alec Guinness, and the fourth was John Williams’ music. Those were the four super-critical things.

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

Now Showing – Cinefex 169

Cinefex 169 - celebrating 40 years of the journal of cinematic illusions

We’re proud to present the 40th anniversary edition of Cinefex!

It was tempting to make this special celebratory issue, Cinefex 169, all about the past – after all, Cinefex is a grand old lady, and reminiscing is what grand old ladies do. But we quickly discarded the idea as too pat, too self-indulgent, too expected. Instead of looking back, we decided to look forward. We would talk to visual effects supervisors and directors, and though, inevitably, there would be some shuffling down Memory Lane, the focus of our discussions would be the future.

It was a big idea, but we think we’ve pulled it off.

Inside our 40th anniversary issue are interviews with George Lucas, James Cameron, Christopher Nolan and Robert Zemeckis, all of whom have delivered some of the most spectacular and innovative films covered in the pages of Cinefex. We also offer a roundtable discussion of visual effects past, present and future with 21 Academy Award-winning visual effects supervisors.

We round out Cinefex 169 with detailed coverage of The Mandalorian and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which seemed fitting for an anniversary issue of Cinefex. By launching a new era in visual effects, the original Star Wars was, in part, responsible for the magazine’s inception, and The Empire Strikes Back graced the covers of both our second and third issues.

All of us offer our profound thanks to readers, subscribers and advertisers for making Cinefex possible these 40 years. We trust we’ve given you something valuable in exchange for your support!

Cinefex 169 is on newsstands now, and available to order at our online store. If you’re a subscriber, your copy will soon be landing in your mailbox. And don’t forget our iPad edition, featuring tons more photographs and exclusive video content.