The Illusionists — Eric Barba

by Graham Edwards

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 - Eric Barba

CINEFEX — Lots of people in visual effects talk about the impact Star Wars had on them at a young age. Are you one of those people?

ERIC BARBA – Absolutely. As a ten year-old, I had my mind blown when I saw the first trailer for Star Wars on television. It literally blew my mind. I’d never seen anything like it. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was also memorable, but Star Wars reallyopened my eyes up to a whole new world.

CINEFEX — Has that sense of wonder stayed with you through your career?

ERIC BARBA — It’s what drives me. I love working with artists and sharing the excitement they have in pushing the envelope to create some cool thing that looks amazing.

CINEFEX — You’ve worked consistently with some directors who also like to push the envelope — like David Fincher.

ERIC BARBA — Certainly. I worked on many commercials and a music video with David prior to doing Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

CINEFEX — What’s he like to work with?

ERIC BARBA — David is a non-compromising filmmaker. He has a vision of how he wants to tell a story, and it’s going to be told his way or he’s not going to do it. For Benjamin Button, he had gotten a bid from this other company and they’d told him to pick a dozen or so shots to focus on and do the rest over the shoulder, or with stand-ins. His response was, “No, that’s not how I want to shoot my movie.” He wanted to shoot little Benjamin the way he shot every other actor.

CINEFEX — Which meant going all-in with a digital character.

ERIC BARBA — It became the only way. David pushed Digital Domain to develop the techniques he needed to shoot it the way he wanted, and tell the story he wanted to tell. He was supportive and gave me and my team everything we needed to succeed. By sheer will, he made sure it happened.

CINEFEX — You’ve worked with David on many films since. How important is it to have that kind of ongoing relationship, creatively speaking?

ERIC BARBA — I think it’s crucial. There’s nothing in the world like having the trust of your director, the belief that you and your team can get something done. I’ve worked a lot with David, and also Joe Kosinski, and they’re both visionaries in their own ways. They work very differently, but they’re alike in that they trust the people they hire and give them the room to run. David only has to give me a look and I’m like, “Yeah, I know, I’m on it!”

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