Plastic Reality: Special Effects, Technology, and the Emergence of 1970s Blockbuster Aesthetics 9780231535274

Julie A. Turnock follows the evolution of special effects in filmmaking, which culminated in the groundbreaking achievem

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Plastic Reality: Special Effects, Technology, and the Emergence of 1970s Blockbuster Aesthetics

Table of contents :
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Part I: Before 1977
1. Optical Animation: Special Effects Compositing Up to 1977
2. Before Industrial Light and Magic: The Independent Hollywood Special Effects Business, 1968–1975
Part II: Circa 1977: Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind
3. The Expanded Blockbuster: The Auteurist Aesthetics of 1970s Special Effects–Driven Filmmaking
4. “The Buck Stops at Opticals”: Special Effects Technology on Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind
5. A More Plastic Reality: The Design and Conception of Star Wars and West Coast Experimental Filmmaking
6. “More Philosopical Grey Matter”: The Production and Aesthetic of Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Part III: The 1980s and Beyond
7. Optical Special Effects into the 1980s: A Well-Oiled Machine
8. “Not-too-Realistic” and Intensified Realistic Approaches in the 1980s: Traditional Stop Motion and Showscan
Conclusion: World-Building and the Legacy of 1970s Special Effects in Contemporary Cinema

Citation preview

Plastic Reality

F I L M A N D C U LT U R E John Belton, Editor

F I L M A N D C U LT U R E A series of Columbia University Press Edited by John Belton For the list of titles in this series, see page 363.

Special Effects, Technology, and the Emergence of 1970s Blockbuster Aesthetics



Columbia University Press Publishers Since 1893 New York Chichester, West Sussex Copyright © 2015 Columbia University Press cover photo: The Kobal Collection at Art Resource cover design: Milenda Nan Ok Lee All rights reserved Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Turnock, Julie A. Plastic reality : special effects, technology, and the emergence of 1970s blockbuster aesthetics / Julie A. Turnock. pages cm. — (Film and culture) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-231-16352-1 (cloth : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-231-16353-8 (pbk. : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-231-53527-4 (ebook) 1. Blockbusters (Motion pictures). 2. Cinematography—Special effects. I. Title. PN1995.9.B598T87 2014 791.43'75—dc23 2014026529

Columbia University Press books are printed on permanent and durable acid-free paper. This book is printed on paper with recycled content. Printed in the United States of America c 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 p 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 References to Internet Web sites (URLs) were accurate at the time of writing. Neither the author nor Columbia University Press is responsible for URLs that may have expired or changed since the manuscript was prepared.

To my parents, Ann and Jack Turnock


List of Illustrations ix Acknowledgments xi Introduction 1 PART I Before 1977



Optical Animation: Special Effects Compositing Up to 1977 21


Before Industrial Light and Magic: The Independent Hollywood Special Effects Business, 1968–1975 63

PART II Circa 1977: Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind



The Expanded Blockbuster: The Auteurist Aesthetics of 1970s Special Effects–Driven Filmmaking 105




“The Buck Stops at Opticals”: Special Effects Technology on Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind 129


A More Plastic Reality: The Design and Conception of Star Wars and West Coast Experimental Filmmaking 146


“More Philosopical Grey Matter”: The Production and Aesthetic of Close Encounters of the Third Kind 179

PART III The 1980s and Beyond



Optical Special Effects into the 1980s: A Well-Oiled Machine



“Not-too-Realistic” and Intensified Realistic Approaches in the 1980s: Traditional Stop Motion and Showscan 239

Conclusion: World-Building and the Legacy of 1970s Special Effects in Contemporary Cinema 263 Notes 275 Bibliography Index 345


List of Illustrations

1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 3.1 and 3.2 3.3

Georges Méliès, The One Man Band (L’Homme Orchestre) (1900) 32 The principles of traveling mattes 34 Rear-projection diagram 35 A single-head optical printer 41 A multiplane animation stand 46 Rotoscoping diagram 47 A motion-control rig setup 59 The New Hollywood style: Harold and Maude (Ashby, 1971) 66 Contact printing 73 Linwood Dunn’s climactic effects in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Kramer, 1963) 84 Robert Abel’s 7UP ad, “Bubbles” 91 Anti-illusionistic composite shot from Saugus Series (O’Neill, 1974) 98 Laser fight strobes in Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) 119 Faux point-of-view shots in The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980) 120



4.1 4.2 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9–5.14 6.1 6.2–6.7 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 8.1 8.2 C.1

An example of VistaVision “Lazy 8” film stock 138 How three-color separation works 141 O’Neill’s color-distortion work on Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Van Peeples, 1971) 156 Frame capture from Heavy Light (Beckett, 1973) 158 Larry Cuba’s Death Star simulation in Star Wars 161 Adam Beckett’s unused explosions for Star Wars 165 Frame capture from Allures (Belson, 1961) 166 The Martian terrain and spaceship in Forbidden Planet (Wilcox, 1956) 168 Interstitial space shots in Star Wars 168 Jump to light speed in Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) 168 Opening flyover sequence (Lucas, Star Wars) 174–75 Spaceship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind 187 The UFOs’ first flyover in Close Encounters 190–91 Zoopomorphic Imperial Walkers in The Empire Strikes Back 210 A faux helicopter shot on the stop-motion stage in The Empire Strikes Back 211 The flat cutout ships of Dune (Lynch, 1984) 222 Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise, 1979): Apogee’s opening sequence 225 Trumbull’s V’Ger sequence, Star Trek: The Motion Picture 226 High-contrast matte work for the “wolf-vision” in Wolfen (Wadleigh, 1981) 229 Electronic force fields in Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984) 236 Harryhausen’s stop-motion Kraken in Clash of the Titans (Davis, 1981) 248 Trumbull’s vision of heaven in Brainstorm (Trumbull, 1983) 258 Flying on Banshees in Avatar (Cameron, 2009) 273


Over the last decade, this book has benefited immeasurably from the input and advice from many others. At the University of Chicago, I must first of all thank Tom Gunning and Jim Lastra, who encouraged, critiqued, and pushed me through the multiple stages of this project. This project is also dedicated to the memory of Miriam Hansen, who read and commented on selections, and for her extremely insightful suggestions. Tom, Jim, and Miriam not only helped the book take form but also provided inspirational models in their own work. Many classmates and colleagues have proved to be invaluable in reading chapters and offering comments as this work progressed: Doron Galili, Andrew Johnston, Sarah Keller, Dan Morgan, Christina Peterson, and Theresa Scandiffio. I particularly want to thank Andrew and Christina for their technical assistance. Many other friends and colleagues have provided comments, research tips, and encouragement, and I especially want to thank Emily Carman, Ken Eisenstein, Allyson Field, Adam Hart, Matt Hauske, Laura Horak, Nathan Holmes, Katharina Loew, Scott Richmond, Ariel Rogers, Allison Whitney, and Josh Yumibe. Additionally, I want to thank the participants in the Mass Culture workshop, and the 2007–2008 Affiliated Fellows group



at the University of Chicago, notably Neil Verma and Neil Chudgar, for reading and discussing my project. Many other academics have also been generous with their time and suggestions, and I would like to express my gratitude to John Belton, Scott Bukatman, Don Crafton, Thomas Elsaesser, Scott Higgins, David James, Alison McMahan, James Naremore, Murray Pomerance, Eleftheria Thanouli, Kristen Whissel, Jennifer Wild, and Mark Williams. I am especially grateful to J. B. Capino, Sarah Projansky, Angharad Valdivia, C. L. Cole, and the Unit for Criticism at the University of Illinois, Urbana, for their support of this project. Also at Illinois, former and current graduate students, Alicia Kozma proved an invaluable research assistant, and thanks to Audrey Evrard for checking my French translations. Richard Rickitt has graciously allowed me to reproduce several very useful diagrams from his book. I have also been fortunate to work with Jennifer Crewe, Kathryn Schell, and Roy Thomas at Columbia University Press, who have patiently helped me through the manuscript’s various stages, and Cynthia Savage, who did the index. This book could not have been finished without the generous support of a number of sources. Most importantly, a Whiting Foundation Fellowship granted me time to write and to conduct research travel to Los Angeles. Additionally, I received short-term travel grants from the University of Chicago Humanities Division, Cinema and Media Studies travel funds, and the Nicholson Center for British Studies. Over the revising period, I am grateful for a Mellon/ACLS Early Career Fellowship carried out at the University of California, Davis, Institute for the Humanities, and thank Jennifer Langdon and Carolyn de la Peña for hosting me there. For help with matters both research-related and logistical in Los Angeles, many people and research institutions provided support, including Mark Toscano, May Haduong, and Brian Meacham at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Pickford Center, Ned Comstock at the USC Cinema Library, Coco Halverston at CalArts, and Mark Quigley at the UCLA Film and Television archive. Also, Barbara Hall and Jenny Romero at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library, and Stephanie Sapienza at the Iota Center. In the U.K., those at the Stanley Kubrick Archive at the University of the Arts and Special Collections in London were especially kind and helpful: Sara Mahurter, Jessica Womack, Richard Daniels, and Wendy Russell.



I was fortunate to be able to meet a good number of people involved with special effects in the 1970s and 1980s, and I am especially grateful to Gerry Harding, Sarah Kareem, David Larson, Steve Merel, Patty Rhodes, John Swallow, and Mark Toscano for putting me in touch with many of my interview subjects. Finally, on the research front, I want to express my enormous debt to those who served as interview subjects in Los Angeles and London: Betzy Bromberg, Joy Cuff, John Dykstra, Syd Dutton, Bill Gilman, Brian Johnson, Tim Johnson, Peter Kuran, Sandra Lee, Bryan Loftus, Pat O’Neill (particularly for suggesting the title), John Swallow, Bill Taylor, Richard Winn Taylor, and John Whitney Jr. On a more personal note, thanks to my sisters Jennifer Harding and Amy McMahon, who always supported me and made me laugh when I needed to throughout this long process, and to their families (Pat McMahon, Chris Harding, John, Zoe, Nora, and Nick). A word of thanks to Jonathan Knipp, because there is no one I would rather see Transformers 3 with, and all the Transformers yet to come. Most of all, I want to express my love and appreciation to my parents, Ann and Jack Turnock who have patiently and steadfastly encouraged me through my academic career.

Plastic Reality

I hope I never hear the term “special effects” again. — S T E V E N S P I E L B E R G (1977) 1


I was never into effects work [in other films]. — B E T Z Y B R O M B E R G , EXPERIMENTAL FILMMAKER AND SPECIAL EFFECTS ARTIST O N W O L F E N A N D T H E T ERMINATOR 3


The quotations above represent a sampling of statements by many of the most prominent participants in the special effects boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Why such a resistance to science fiction and special effects, even by those most closely associated with it? One might expect the notion of highly manipulated imagery masquerading as seamless realism was anathema to many 1960s and 1970s filmmakers steeped in filmmaking polemics favoring a stripped-down “authenticity.” Certainly many proponents of the so-called “New Hollywood” of the 1960s and 1970s share these misgivings, for whom films such as Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) spelled an end to what they articulate positively as the United States’ “Auteur Renaissance.”4 Another aim in citing these quotes is to point out the number of artists in the 1970s and 1980s from many different and unexpected backgrounds— in mainstream film, experimental filmmaking, traditional animation, and underground film—who were perhaps never “science fiction buffs” or “into effects,” but who nevertheless found in special effects work an exciting and fertile place for their imaginations and creative energies, and indeed helped reconsider given categories of cinematography such as diegesis, mise-enscène, and camera movement. Many contemporary critics’ and academics’



own resistance to the development of special effects–intensive cinema means we have largely lost the divergent and unexpected contexts out of which those films arose in the 1970s. Likewise, this study hopes to suggest there are a great deal of unexpected benefits to be gained from an attention to special effects as a topic that includes but goes beyond an interest in science fiction, fantasy, or even technology. Placing at the forefront the historical confluence of art, aesthetics, technology, and fantasy, Plastic Reality makes a case for the historical significance of special effects in cinema and media studies. More specifically, this book argues that 1970s special effects aesthetics developed for these science fiction blockbusters do not represent an opposition to this 1970s anti-Hollywood naturalistic style, but expressly an extension of it. Moreover, this book will argue that rather than moving away from “New Hollywood” auteurist filmmaking, the mid- to late 1970s science fiction and fantasy blockbusters exemplify an elaboration of that ethos by allowing the filmmakers to more fully express their own personal vision through the effects work. New Hollywood auteurs believed the effort that went into developing these complex techniques was a parallel strategy that helped shape the diegesis of the 1970s auteur’s “worldview” and demonstrated the power of the cinema not only to mold and bend reality but indeed to display alternative potential realities. While many regard auteurism a critical category of value, here I consider the auteur historically, as a filmmaker of the subsequent generation influenced by François Truffault and Andrew Sarris and exposed to the notion in film school and by their peers. Consequently, many filmmakers of the 1970s considered themselves auteurs and acted accordingly. In the 1970s, newly minted U.S. filmmakers had absorbed and taken to heart the auteurist ethos that they could and should make films that reflect their own personal vision within the Hollywood system. Echoing the activist culture of the day, they also believed they should make films “for the people” and that they should work to gain more economic and therefore artistic control over their films. A professed characteristic of auteurist filmmaking is displaying a recognizable style. The special effects technology and aesthetic developed for such late 1970s special effects–heavy films such as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind helped these two ideals to come together: to gain greater control over the image in order to better express the filmmaker’s “vision,” and also to present a highly personalized manifestation of that style.



Therefore, filmmakers needed special effects technology to accomplish more than it had in the past. Aided in part by the example of contemporary experimental filmmaking as well as refreshing older techniques, popular filmmakers learned new strategies for how to stage spatial relations and kineticism on the screen. The ability to manipulate the filmstrip frame by frame allowed the filmmaker more control over the image, to compose a more elaborately layered and polished composite mise-en-scène, mobilized and energized by the properties of graphic dynamics. Filmmakers believed that an imaginary environment that appeared to be captured directly by a single live-action camera would add not only to the impact of the narrative but also to the effectiveness of the overall experience and the penetration of the filmmakers’ worldview. Special effects aesthetics in the 1970s did not only mean more “real” images. The new style of blockbuster filmmaking that emerged at the end of that decade emphasized a sense of immersion and bodily engagement. Many filmmakers believed this corresponded to the need to take filmmaking into a realm more properly driven by sound and vision, and away from talky scripts and literary themes. In other words, filmmakers saw these visually energized, obviously fantastic environments as an alternative to participating in the politically suspect illusionism of “old Hollywood.” At the same time, the director/producer-driven approach incorporated by George Lucas at Lucasfilm Ltd. was succeeding well beyond the original plans. Lucas’s effects wing Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) as the industry leader was working to streamline and homogenize its style and working method in order to increase efficiency and consistency. As ILM-produced effects appeared in most of the highest-grossing films of the last several decades, their house style eventually pushed all others to the periphery. Not surprisingly, the story of special effects since the 1970s is largely the story of ILM and its economic domination, and its enormous success in setting the style for realism in the cinema—so much so that we tend to accept the contemporary realism of the special effects business, especially ILM’s, as natural. What is important to recognize is that the powerfully photorealistic style of contemporary effects is in no way objectively more “natural” or “realistic” than any previous style. Instead, it is a historically specific style comprised of component parts. This new style of the popular feature film as multimedia event also arose in a historical context of optimism for what the fast-changing fields of



technology and media might be able to provide society. Cinema was a popular forum for artists to be able to visualize both the hopes and anxieties associated with rapid social change, and also facilitated cultural discussion around these issues. Many filmmakers believed bringing people together in a movie theater and visualizing alternate or future worlds for them was perhaps the most powerful way movies could effect larger change. Unhappily, this utopian view of cinema did not last long, even with those who helped popularize it. Cinema as a communal event that would assuage viewers’ alienation and atomization in the modern world was quickly reabsorbed into the system it was initially built to resist.

Special Effects Studies

Until very recently, cinema and media studies have woefully neglected the topic of special effects in the cinema as a topic in itself. However, academics are beginning to produce a plurality of viewpoints on effects, one that recognizes that manipulation and compositing of the mise-en-scène is hardly unusual in the history of cinema. Also, attention to special effects points up what many have long believed, that “the index,” or the imprint of light through a lens onto a light-sensitive storage medium, has never been a very useful description for differentiating digital from optical, or moreover, on hinging an ontology of the cinema.5 An emerging view is that effects films drive Hollywood production (even in films where that is less obvious), and cannot be ignored or marginalized. As the technology and look of these films set the style for so many other kinds of images (including television, advertising, and even political ads), cinema studies and moving-image studies more broadly need to understand the technology and aesthetic of these films. Moreover, we need to understand who is actually producing the effects footage, and how. What aesthetic standards do these people and companies utilize to build “realism” from scratch? Where does our aesthetic of “realism” in special effects even come from? It has become clear through recent critical analyses deploying Tom Gunning’s well-known “cinema of attractions” argument that different kinds of filmmaking choices provide diverse appeals and pleasures, and furthermore, that much of the excitement and pleasure of filmmaking is carried through its style.6 Much valuable theoretical work referring to special



effects (Scott Bukatman, Vivian Sobchack, Thomas Elsaesser, Gunning, and more broadly speaking, Annette Michelson and Richard Dyer) has been especially suggestive in helping academe rethink cinema in terms of movement, animation, cinematic space,7 affect and spectacle, and to understand the spectator as an active and engaged viewer and even a participant in the cinematic experience.8 While I take these approaches as inspiration, I consider special effects work as more than just an important component of cinema’s attraction. Rather, I argue that special effects particularly have been instrumental in the historical emergence in the 1970s of more intensively manipulated styles of filmmaking that have led to the ability to create infinitely expandable diegetic environments.9 Therefore, although there has been important work around special effects, especially by Scott Bukatman, Vivian Sobchack, Kristen Whissel, Michele Pierson, and Dan North, that fascinatingly deploy effects as a topos to examine another topic, such as wonder, historicity, magic, fantasy, and sensation in the cinema, this book will put special effects, its history, technology and aesthetics, at the forefront. Moreover, unlike mid- to late 1990s work addressing the “digital anxiety” given rise by films such as Jurassic Park (1993) and Terminator 2 (1991), which led those such as Warren Buckland, Lev Manovich, Sean Cubitt, Yvonne Spielmann, and others to conjecture about the new “hyper-realness” of digitally generated effects’ impact on the viewer, this study is more concerned with the technical, aesthetic, and historical continuities across special effects practices, and the producer-side assumptions and contexts that shape notions of realism in effects. Stephen Prince’s recent book (2012) on effects takes the topic most directly, making a broad-based argument for “visual effects,” or digital effects that manipulate the mise-en-scène as part of cinema’s long tradition. While I agree with Prince that effects technology needs to move into the mainstream of our understanding of cinematic technologies, and should not be understood as more or less remarkable or frightening than, say, editing or sound design, I disagree with the many disparate technologies he collects into the catchall term “visual effects;” including feature-length animation, digital capture camera technology, digital intermediate, computerbased production design, motion capture, and 3D. While “visual effects” (as he formulates it) makes a convenient rhetorical heuristic, it flattens the many technologies, practices, and design traditions into a false unity of “the digital.” Certainly, the digital technologies of many sorts that Prince



describes all routinely appear side by side in the same film. However, their software, platforms, pipelines, and workflows are not easily compatible or collapsible. Nor are their personnel interchangeable. Certainly, the topic of special effects is particularly daunting because of the many different technologies, terminologies, and, especially, its confusing and somewhat unique position in the industrial production hierarchy. This book not only describes the technologies and personnel, but places them in a historical context and at the forefront of historical transformations.

Special Effects and Cinema History

More strongly, I cast the shift in the 1970s and through the 1980s toward a cinema more and more reliant on special effects technology as comparable to cinema’s shift to sound in the late 1920s, albeit a transition that took considerably longer. Historical accounts of the transition to sound by Donald Crafton, James Lastra, Robert Spadoni, and Rick Altman have convincingly argued that technology and its accompanying aesthetics have been the major driving force for change in the cinema on every level of production, marketing, and distribution. These changes in technology occurred hand in hand with all areas of aesthetics, including screenwriting, narrative patterning, acting styles, arrangement of the mise-en-scène, camera movement, etc. And while older forms remained active, they nevertheless became transformed in the new context.10 Similarly, the shift to a special effects–intensive cinema beginning in the 1970s and continuing through the digital era has been more difficult to name because its consequences appeared more gradually. What all studies of digital effects agree upon is that “analog” or “predigital” effects are important for understanding digital effects. However, this is usually asserted simply as an acknowledgment of past practices as precedent for more recent digital technologies.11 Exactly how these disparate methologies have shaped contemporary practice is rarely discussed. This is largely due to the unacknowledged complexity of special effects history, and the lack of primary source research on the topic before the 1990s. Which is why it is useful to propose a distinctive importance for special effects, as well as a revised timeline that does not rely upon an analog/ digital split for a historical dividing line.



Moving the transitional timeline from the early 1990s back to the mid1970s accomplishes a number of tasks. First of all, it helps us make sense of a period of cinema history that has been in dispute over its characterization and importance. Historians have long argued that the late 1960s and early 1970s in U.S. filmmaking represents a break from the previous studiobased Classical Hollywood cinema. This period has been approached from a number of different organizing factors—for example, Richard Maltby’s description of the “economic aesthetic” of the post-studio era, arguing that the economic imperatives of the blockbuster drive these films’ aesthetic.12 Also, the Classical to Post-Classical debates waged most prominently between David Bordwell and Thomas Elsaesser are organized primarily around narrative.13 Certainly, any study that seeks to periodize cinema history must engage with Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson’s canonical The Classical Hollywood Cinema. Rather than attempting to overturn this vital work, my study addresses that project’s main deficit: its functionalist treatment of aesthetics. In other words, in The Classical Hollywood Cinema, the discussion of aesthetics tends to be treated as a by-product of stronger forces (such as technical change or economics), and further reduced to a drive toward greater narrative clarity and comprehensibility. In terms of aesthetics, Bordwell and Thompson have since granted shifts in narrative, cinematography, continuity editing styles, and arrangement of the mise-en-scène by coining the term “intensified continuity.” While I believe that this is an important concept, it overemphasizes continuity (stressing shorter shot lengths), while underemphasizing the intensified compositing of the miseen-scène.14 I claim that this focus neglects or downplays a great deal of cinematic material and energy, not all of which is directly in support of the narrative, but nevertheless has commensurate importance to driving change and innovation in filmmaking practice. For many, greater emphasis on special effects is a small part of this historical shift. However, I want to demonstrate that special effects technology and aesthetics have been an important (although not exclusive) driver of these changes, rather than its symptom. Furthermore, I argue that the 1970s bring exactly the historical change in emphasis that proves this point, as auteurist filmmakers place style at the forefront of their concerns. In other words, a history of special effects practice in this era provides a concrete argument and thorough evidence describing precisely by what means “classical” filmmaking has



changed, and why a revised periodization, with a technological and aesthetic focus, is required. Terminology surrounding effects technology can also be historically inconsistent and confusing, not least of all around the term special effects itself. The term likely began in the 1920s less as a distinction from “regular” live-action filming than a designation recognizing the need for specialized labor for particular effects. Eventually in the 1950s and 1960s the term denoted more spectacular or fantastic material generated by the studio’s special effects department.15 However, since the late 1960s and early 1970s, movie credits for “special effects” have meant physical and mechanical effects, such as stunts, gunshot squibs, makeup prosthetics, or pyrotechnics. Largely for this reason, Stephen Prince has proposed dropping the term “special effects” in favor of “visual effects” as a more inclusive term that can absorb digital capture and cinematography, character animation, digital intermediate, 3D, and environment-building. In this way, he believes that the digital prevalence of effects means that there is nothing “special” anymore about special effects, and therefore the term is a relic of an earlier, more effects-wary era. While I see his point, altogether dropping the term special effects in favor of an expanded definition of visual effects both misrepresents the current state of the effects industry, and has unintended polemic consequences. While the term “visual effects” is fine (it is in the name of the Academy Award category as well as the effects industry’s quasi-guild, the Visual Effects Society), we should be precise about what techniques we include in its definition. It is a distortion to include all of Prince’s technologies because although all would agree that these expanded digital production areas overlap and inform one another, their technology is not interchangeable. Moreover, these jobs are typically performed by different companies or divisions with specialized personnel and labor.16 The effects artists who complete effects of “virtual cinematography” in fact have a separate job (and usually work at a different company) from those who work behind the camera on the set and place the lights in production, etc., in principal photography. And in postproduction, they are also different from those who post-convert a film to 3D, or complete color correction in the digital intermediate. For example, Lucasfilm’s 3D conversion of The Phantom Menace (2012) was not completed by ILM, but by an outside firm who specializes in post-conversion.17 Different independent companies



have proprietary “digital” technologies that do not usually mesh with other similar technologies. The “digital” that is used to capture live action is not the same “digital” that records motion capture. Therefore, although it is rhetorically convenient to merge all these digital technologies together, it is important to acknowledge effects as a distinct production category. Even if we do not take the industry sectors as our guide for designating terms, there is an important polemic reason for maintaining the “special” in special effects. Again, considering the term historically as a labor category, dropping “special” diminishes the labor and considerable specialization of effects work, and reinforces the media conglomerates’ very real devaluing of the largely independent (that is, not owned by conglomerate) special effects industry. Although highly dependent on the effects industry for hundreds or even thousands of effects shots per blockbuster, the production companies continually strategize to keep the effects houses financially weak and underpaid, effectively erasing their very visible contributions.18 For that reason, I will continue to refer to special visual effects. Finally, though digital manipulation permeates many levels of filmmaking, both visible and imperceptible, the marketing importance of a film’s elaborate effects as a lure is no less strong in the 2010s as it was in 1977. The enthusiastic audiences for the Transformers series can attest to the desire to see a film in the theater primarily for the special effects display. In any case, this book traces not only the terminology but also the historical transformations the effects industry has experienced, and the changing fortunes of the effects artist.

Special Effects and Realism

Because special effects material is generally designed to match or complement live-action footage (differentiating it from, say, traditional animation), a history of special effects aesthetics must also confront the thorny topic of realism. I argue that rather than “improving” previous styles of realism, the 1970s shift to special effects–intensive cinema brought with it instead a novel style of cinematic realism, as well as new audience expectations for what realism in such films should look like. Along with a carefully



contextualized history of special effects technology, this book presents the interrelation between the new or revived effects technologies and the aesthetics they were designed to achieve, as well as the resultant aesthetics that arose over time. I argue that filmmakers’ notions of special effects aesthetics follow highly stylized forms of realism related to dominant filmmaking aesthetics, replicating an accepted aesthetic photorealistically. This is in contrast to the commonsense ideas that special effects aim to either emulate a notion of perceptual realism (what the eye sees “in real life”) or is congruent with a transhistorical notion of humans’ mimetic kunstwollen.19 In the age of digital reproduction, including “photo” may seem counterintuitive. Many understand the term photorealism reductively, as “corresponding to camera reality,” aiming to create “perceptually convincing . . . representations.”20 However, the term refers to a series of approaches much more complex than a simple-sounding transfer of “perception” via lenses and light onto a photochemical medium. It is instructive to consider the term photorealism much as it was initially popularized in art history, which describes paintings (and prints) executed to mimic a photographic aesthetic. In art history, the term typically describes mid-twentieth-century painters and graphic artists such as Richard Estes, Chuck Close, Ralph Goings, and others who created paintings and prints that initiated an ontological play on the perceptual cues of photography, featuring purposefully banal and quotidian subject matter, such as a diner still life with a napkin holder and ketchup bottle, or a row of chrome telephone booths, along with irregularly cropped, haphazard-looking framing. While art historical photorealism depends upon the recognition of an intellectual play on medium specificity, cinematic photorealism usually depends upon the erasure of the technique by a seamless matching of the special effects material and the live-action footage to depict a coherent diegesis. What is important is that neither aesthetic, however, replicates what the eye “really” sees. Cinematic photorealism instead builds, often from scratch, a stylized conception of how the camera lens, film stock, light patterns, movement, and so on translates images into cinema. Artists do not necessarily take the literal “camera reality” (that is, what an actual camera is able to capture), but instead offer a stylized representation of the photographic aesthetic, much like art historical photorealism. Filmmakers of the 1970s and their effects teams endeavored to match the look of the dominant style of live-action cinematography in the 1970s, not the actual



physical plane of existence, and often took considerable liberties with socalled camera reality.21 Considering the term photorealism as a referential style is especially apt for the historical period beginning in about 1968 with the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey. At that time, instead of a composited photochemical miseen-scène (which had been common before 1968), filmmakers combined more kinds of “artificial” material, such as optical printing, animation, and rotoscoping, to match a particularly stylized notion of late 1960s and early 1970s cinematography. By this era, photography was recognized by effects artists not as a default aesthetic, but instead became a reference style to both imitate and schematize. Likewise, while the digital capture aesthetic is still in its formative stages, photography is still the primary aesthetic reference for feature mainstream filmmaking. Historicizing special effects realism addresses another important problem with a notion of perceptual realism. That is, even if we assume it is a style with aesthetic contours mimicking perception, it nevertheless assumes an impossibly transhistorical ideal. As many, including Kristin Thompson, have long argued, cinematic realism has never displayed transhistorically consistent traits, but instead emphasizes different aspects at different times.22 This claim is easy enough to accept when discussing The Bicycle Thieves (1948) and considering elements such as choice of actors, location shooting, and framing. However, it is harder to accept when discussing special effects, which are generally meant to appear congruent with a coherent live-action diegesis. Much like we can today see through the “realisms” of The Bicycle Thieves and name their component parts, previous effects styles are likewise more noticeable in hindsight. With this in mind, if we adhere to perceptual realism as a transhistorical aesthetic, we must understand all past special effects “realisms” as inadequate, dated, and fake. Instead, like previous “realist” styles associated with live-action filmmaking, such as French poetic realism, cinéma vérité, or Dogme 95, we can acknowledge their style as historical. And that should help us also recognize the historical contingency of realism styles even in films like Iron Man (2008) or The Avengers (2012), which seem “more real” than earlier periods.23 Instead, special effects realism attempts to fit, match, or enhance the dominant or desired cinematography styles, film stock limitations or specifications, color palettes, lens capabilities, or other technical specifications of their era. Through a careful consideration of historical cinematic aesthetics,



this book seeks to understand neither realism nor photorealism as an endpoint or goal, but a historical discourse and series of practices. Therefore, this book will detail how filmmakers and technicians of the 1970s confronted the problem of photorealism, which led to a transformation of notions of realism in the industry, and across media representation more broadly. To provisionally demonstrate historical photorealism, a few examples are in order. Traditionally, the commonly held special effects industrial ideal for photorealism is often stated as: If x existed in our world (an alien spacecraft, a Gollum, a fairy-tale castle) and was photographed, how would it look, and how would it move? This formula seems obvious. However, as Rudolf Arnheim has noted but we tend to forget, the key is, if it existed and if it were photographed.24 We have become so inured to cinematic conventions that we typically do not notice the transformation that ordinary objects undergo when placed on a set in front of a camera lens, professionally lit, recorded on film or a hard drive, developed or processed, copied onto a release print or data file, and finally projected at our local theater. In other words, the simple glass of juice in a movie that seems to look exactly like the glass of juice in front of us at breakfast has gone through a number of artificial processes, and appears at a particular point in history with certain industrial and aesthetic conventions in order for us as moviegoers to accept that it looks exactly like we expect that glass of juice to look. Likewise, histories of special effects tend to revolve around the assumption that they are always “improving” in the direction of “greater” realism. To demonstrate the various aesthetic contours of photorealism as new and different image capture (photographic or digital) techniques and technologies become standard or expected in filmmaking practice, we can imagine (considering for now only color films) the differences among that glass of juice in, say, Gone With the Wind (1939), All That Heaven Allows (1955), Nashville (1975), or in Miami Vice (2006).25 The specific contours of 1970s photorealism will be described in depth later on. In realism’s historically privileged relation to cinema’s ontology, the unanswered question is, what historical factors and strategies lead us to accept or reject that glass of juice as realistic? If we understand cinema’s ontology in terms of a history and an aesthetic, answers to these problems start to take shape.



Special Effects Practitioner Discourse

This notion of a historicized photographic realism also seems to fly in the face of much practitioner discourse one reads in technical, professional, and fan publications, who are always touting a new technique as “more real” than what came before, and also, who unabashedly assert their goal as “greater realism.” Certainly, along with archival material, this book draws heavily on practitioner discourse, including interviews conducted by the author, for much of its evidence. However, special effects artists’ discourse is often misleading when taken at face value. As James Lastra discusses in his book on the discourse around emerging sound technology and aesthetics in the 1920s and 1930s, technicians, although often thoughtful and reflective, are not always the most reliable at acknowledging the historical context of their statements.26 In other words, one must analyze practitioner discourse in order to present a historically situated composite “theory” of their statements. Historical contextualization is especially important when considering statements about special effects. If the stated goal of Linwood Dunn in 1941 at RKO was often to look “more real” (as was Richard Edlund’s in 1980, as is any ILM artist’s today), we must understand the meaning of “real” within the particular aesthetic requirements and technical limitations of the time. When special effects artists claim they did something because they wanted it to look “more real,” one must ask, what is the model of realism they are emulating? Or more real in relation to what previous model? What aspects or cues are emphasized to create that effect? Again, assuming there is no ultimate representation of the real, analysis of the historical discourse helps us to form a historically based practioner theory of realism. Because this book will concentrate on the special effects context of the 1970s as an important turning point in filmmaking more broadly, I will emphasize some techniques, especially compositing and other optical techniques, more heavily than others. Unhappily, effects makeup and other physical effects will not be thoroughly covered, but mostly because I do not believe they played as important a role circa 1977–1982 as they did later on in the 1980s. I hope to remedy that gap in future work focusing on other historical eras. Also, although sound effects were extremely important to effects of the 1970s, the topic’s complexity and aesthetic and historical specificities are well beyond the scope of this project, as well as my sonic sensitivities.



Plastic Reality I consider photographic visual effects one of the least appreciated art forms in the world. It takes tremendous understanding of design and illustration of color, lighting photography, action, movement and drama. — D O U G L A S T R U M B U LL 2 7

The topic of this book pivots around the year 1977, the year Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind were released. While it is a popular myth that individual films spur widespread industrial change, it is not an exaggeration to say that these two enormously successful special effects blockbusters were instrumental in putting into motion changes whose consequences we are still sorting through. While these films did not invent the blockbuster film, they did help shift a number of technological and aesthetic emphases in big-budget filmmaking.28 Specifically, in terms of special effects, what did change in the 1970s? The increased importance of special effects in the late 1970s affected nearly all areas of production, marketing, and distribution in other ways: filmmaking moved to a more intensively layered and sustained composite mise-en-scène, in which layers of live-action photography, stop-motion animation, traditional 2D animation, as well as both frame-rate manipulated and still artwork could coexist in the same frame to build the illusion of an integral mise-en-scène captured by one camera in live action. Certainly what was so exhilarating to many about these films was not simply the experience of a new kind of realism. Perhaps even more important was the intensified density of effects in films of the era, which many at the time understood as a thrillingly new and vividly somatic technologized experience. This book aims to recover the excitement that not just ticket-buyers but also many academics, critics, and journalists felt upon experiencing the special effects–heavy films of the 1970s, in particular Star Wars and Close Encounters, and further grant historical dimension and context to that experience. It may be surprising for many to realize that in the 1970s George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were considered among the most interesting, ambitious, and exciting filmmakers of the era, alongside more canonized American filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, and Martin Scorsese. What critics praised most often about Lucas and Spielberg as filmmakers was their grasp of specifically cinematic visual dynamics that lent their films both greater visceral



and sensual engagement and an extra layer of expressive and intellectual potential. While many critics have (often rightly) condemned the aggressive, pummeling blockbuster style that has arisen in the wake of the two successes of 1977, it is incumbent upon scholars to recover the creative process that made them so stimulating and exhilarating to the likes of Pauline Kael, Stanley Kauffmann, Roger Ebert, and other prominent critics of the era, as well as so popular with audiences. A renewed interest in special effects technology by influential auteurist filmmakers certainly made this historical development possible. However, even more strongly, auteurist filmmakers went to the considerable and painstaking effort to promote and develop complex special effects technology, precisely in order to realize aesthetic filmmaking goals they designed to rouse and provoke the sensorium. They called this approach variously “visual storytelling,” “visceral engagement,” or “graphic dynamics.” Moreover, so-called New Hollywood filmmakers in the 1970s reinterpreted the role of cinematic aesthetics to suggest a purposeful relation between sensual and intellectual impact. In other words, filmmakers sought to stimulate the senses. This was not to numb the viewer but to activate him or her—not unlike the notion of drug-induced mind expansion. Intensified color schemes, beams of light, fast-moving objects, and quick editing first penetrate the body and then engage the mind with the films’ ideas about technology, kineticism, power structures, liberty, etc. Specifically, in the 1970s, cinematic aesthetics in the “New Hollywood style” are usually understood as basing the films’ aesthetic in European New Wave movements and documentary cinéma vérité. Within a 1960s and 1970s idealist project, many of the New Hollywood filmmakers who worked with science fiction and fantasy subject matter were committed to reimagining the visible world in its manifold possibilities in a historically current impulse to reconceive counter-cinema for a popular audience. Many diverse filmmakers explored the possibilities in science fiction, including Nicolas Roeg, David Lynch, John Boorman, Stanley Kubrick, Donald Cammell, John Carpenter, Andrei Tarkovsky, Jean-Luc Godard, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Many, Lucas and Spielberg chief among them, along with others such as Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese, sought a design strategy that they believed would penetrate into the viewer’s consciousness, in a way that was seen as an improvement or expansion of narratively driven Hollywood classicism and its causal structures. Importantly, special effects technology



became for many the most effective tool that made feasible this desire to rework representation on a global level. While counter-cinema or political modernism on the part of moguls like Lucas and Spielberg seems unlikely, contemporary rhetoric suggests that they believed they were involved in this kind of political filmmaking and did not necessarily see the contradiction between popular forms and a politicized message.29 Finally, the points of view that filmmakers wanted to further through visual cinema explicitly did not derive primarily from a thematic reading, but rather how an arrangement of aesthetic features could deliberately strike the human sensorium, leading to less literal (or literary) revelations. This aesthetic priority for bodily impact led filmmakers to design cinematic environments that were experiences to feel and connect with, as well as new settings with polemic and alternative worldviews.30 In hindsight the success of such projects as political filmmaking can be seen as doubtful at best. But clearly at the time (based on their statements), both the filmmakers and many of the critical reactions suggest they were seeking new forms of filmmaking that would engage the viewer on an intellectual, sensual, and popular level simultaneously. What they claimed they sought was a new way of harnessing (a selection of) political modernist connotations using the techniques of European New Wave aesthetics (irregular editing patterns, rack focus, ambiguous characters, open-ended narratives, long takes), cinematic documentary realism (handheld cameras, imperfect frame correction, “natural” light, lens flares, gritty surfaces), and experimental film (optical printing techniques, illusionistic kineticism) in service of a wholly constructed, reconceived environment using compositing special effects techniques. Thereby, filmmakers rebuild cinematic photorealism from the inside out, without depending on traditional profilmic images. Placing these aesthetic concerns within a social and cultural context of 1970s image-making across several registers demonstrates how 1970s special effects artists appropriated or adopted aesthetic models from several trends in the contemporaneous art world, experimental filmmaking, and graphic art. These include West Coast art movements that combined films, music, and media technology into youth culture happenings, such as the Expanded Cinema movement influentially described by Gene Youngblood in his 1970 book of the same name. Feature filmmakers of the 1970s offered



a version of expanded counter-cinema that harnessed the communal spirit of cinema-going. As a way to visualize this goal, many of the art and film school–trained filmmakers and special effects artists looked to abstract experimental animation, again of the West Coast example, such as work by John and James Whitney, Jordan Belson, and Pat O’Neill. What is more, many of these experimental filmmakers worked in the special effects industry as optical effects artists, bringing their working methods to bear in a different production context. In addition to West Coast experimental cinema’s theories of intersubjective merging and cosmic unity though common experience, these filmmakers did more than provide an example of all-over design, creative use of optical printer composite techniques, technological innovation, and vibrant graphics. More importantly, in large part, I argue that experimental filmmaking taught mainstream filmmakers like Lucas and Spielberg how to build virtual environments out of movement, animation, and graphic dynamism. Feature filmmakers, often with the help of underground filmmakers, combined these experimental techniques with traditional optical special effects and animation techniques to increase the plasticity of previously “inflexible” live-action photography, an approach I call “optical animation.” These trends and others in art, filmmaking, design, and imagemaking more broadly were harnessed by Lucas, Spielberg, and later others to realize the goal of what I call the “expanded blockbuster”—a popular successful film that is equally stimulating to the mind and the senses. Plastic Reality reveals that insufficient knowledge of special effects history is a primary reason the field of cinema and media studies has faced a series of interlocking conceptual problems when confronting digital imaging. A solution is to reprioritize special effects and animation, cinema’s previous outliers, as a central concern. The following account of special effects production in the 1970s will offer a model for reconsidering historical timelines, representational strategies, aesthetic traditions, and a great deal of settled terminology. Shifting attention to the long marginalized topic of special effects opens up a number of unexpected pathways. By transferring problems we thought were ontological onto a historical and aesthetic register and allocating the topic of special effects the attention it deserves, I provide an opportunity to reconsider the ontological difficulties of recent film studies as illusory. Finally, Plastic Reality offers a taste of what moving beyond these imagined impediments might feel like.

Before 1977

Effects so special, you’ll miss ’em. — M O T T O I N T H E S E RV ICE BROCHURE FOR LINWOOD DUNN’S F ILM EFFECTS HO LLYWO O D (C. 1965)1

You have to be able to breathe the air on the [. . .] planet—to be able to smell it. That everything be credible and totally fantastic at the same time. — G E O R G E L U C A S ( 1 9 7 7) 2

Optical Animation Special Effects Compositing Up to 1977

These opening quotes by Linwood Dunn, a master of studio-era special effects, and George Lucas, arguably the architect of 1970s special effects, can serve as mottos for two different historical approaches to special effects. In the studio era, especially by the 1960s, the (somewhat disingenuous) cliché of effects work had been that the best results were those that the audience would never notice. Broadly speaking, special effects from the 1930s to the 1960s had mostly been concerned with supporting the more naturalistic “classical” style. The studio’s aesthetic ideal was unobtrusiveness: all elements appeared in proper perspective in the frame and blended seamlessly with the live-action cinematography and mise-en-scène.3 Perhaps most importantly, they were achieved as simply, economically, and efficiently as possible. In naturalistic films such as Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and A Place in the Sun (1951) (all of which featured extensive composite work), studio-era special effects ideally valued a brand of photorealism that hewed closely to live-action photographic conventions, prioritized the aesthetic of the principal photography (the portion of filming that included the main actors performing the plot), and subordinated special effects to the background. Of course, it is worth stating that



these were ideals, and were not always achieved. The dates of the quotes also testify to how quickly the role of special effects changed between the mid-1960s and 1977. By the 1970s, the industry recognized the prevalence of a more visible and spectacular form of special effects. Indeed, the most apparent difference between 1970s special effects and the preceding studio era is that they became so conspicuous. The acceleration of special effects production in the 1970s may seem at odds with prevailing filmmaking styles in an era usually touted more for gritty naturalism. In interviews, the variously termed “New Hollywood” or “American auteur” directors of the 1960s and early 1970s often expressed dissatisfaction with the artificial, set-bound look of large studio sound stages and frequently repeated the desire to strip away perceived Hollywood artifice.4 The “stripped-down” 1970s filmmaking aesthetic favors such techniques as lens flares, available light, handheld cameras, long takes, and rack focus; and “anti-glamour” actors (such as Bruce Dern, Warren Oates, Shelley Duvall). Easy Rider (1969), Cockfighter (1974), and Nashville (1975) typify these tendencies. For this reason, directors of this era constantly derided the studio’s rear-projection composite backgrounds, preferring the “authenticity” of shooting on location.5 These emblematic 1970s stylistic characteristics seem to exclude late 1970s fantasy extravaganzas like Star Wars and Close Encounters.6 Histories of 1970s filmmaking tend to divide the decade into two periods—the earlier, naturalistic “New Wave” period giving way to the later, spectacular “blockbuster” era.7 However, statements made by filmmakers like Lucas, Coppola, and Spielberg suggest they did not believe that they were contradicting or overturning their peers’ predilection for gritty photographic realism. Rather, they saw a turn toward intensified, visible special effects as enabling an alternative style of realism: a 1970s’ inflected photorealism that allowed filmmakers to build fantastic environments that would be, in Lucas’s words, “credible and totally fantastic at the same time.”8 Live-action filmmaking in the 1970s ushered in a new style and approach to realism, making previous forms associated with the studios seem outdated. Indeed, rather than turning their backs on the early 1970s naturalistic aesthetic, filmmakers used the same aesthetic that informs the style of photorealistic special effects practiced by “fantastic” filmmakers like Lucas and Spielberg. Effects teams on Star Wars and others reproduced such 1970s cinematographic marks as lens flares, handheld cameras, and rack focus in the



special effects footage explicitly so as not to disappear into the background but rather to serve the same purpose as in live-action cinematography— that is, to call attention to the act of filming. Ironically, stripping away studio-based rear projection allowed for the return to another, arguably more invasive form of special effects artifice: so-called “optical effects.” As opposed to the on-set rear-projection composite method completed during principal photography (see Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief [1955] or Marnie [1964] for particularly obvious examples), optical effects were completed after principal photography in postproduction, usually using optical printing techniques. Filmmakers of the 1970s cherry-picked techniques from traditional optical special effects, animation, and experimental film in order to realize their ideal of a photorealistic, multilayered cinematic environment, most influentially in the flamboyantly fantastic world of Star Wars. Indeed, the handmade integrity associated with experimental and traditional animation proved to be the key to realizing and unifying these varied 1970s aesthetics.9 In order to gain control over the frame, special effects artists, at the behest of ambitious directors, combined the technology and aesthetic of animation and experimental film with traditional optical techniques, resulting in what I am calling optical animation. By separating the photographic components from their original context, the practice of optical animation allowed filmmakers to treat live action as a designable animation element, and to recompose and recombine them in postproduction optical printing. The technological prominence of special effects in the 1970s eventually transformed nearly all areas of cinematic production. It is important to place this change within a historical outline and to introduce special effects terminology that will be fleshed out in later chapters, in order to understand more precisely what changed in 1970s special effects. With this in mind, we must constantly consider the shifting historical frameworks for photorealism within the context of the cinema. We must reject the notion that past special effects are by definition “dated,” and that effects are always improving toward a perfected aesthetic. Instead, realism in general and photorealism in particular are the constantly renegotiated areas of concern for special effects aesthetics. It should also be evident that photoreal does not mean the same thing in The Lost World (1925), or Vertigo (1958), or Star Wars (1977). As photographic technologies change, and different sets



of choices become more or less valid, what accounts for the forms, goals, or values that make up an aesthetic of photorealism at a given time? For filmmakers of the 1970s, the advantage of revisiting and repurposing techniques of an earlier generation meant a new way to obtain greater control of the composition of the frame, and therefore the illusion of an encompassing cinematic environment. By and large, they were not satisfied with the particular aesthetic associated with studio-era photorealism, mostly because it could not provide the materials to build the multi-planar, highly detailed impossible worlds or situations they imagined. In fact (well before the digital era), optical effects methods meant a move toward realizing the goal of the total control of all elements of the frame. Since at least the 1940s, total control of the frame had traditionally been associated with perfectionist auteurs (like Bazin’s description of Orson Welles’s and William Wyler’s deep-focus staging of the mise-en-scène).10 Traditional miseen-scène arranges the various actors, props, scenery, and so on in front of the camera, shoots them, and edits them together. Filmmakers of the 1970s such as Kubrick, Lucas, and Spielberg in films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind certainly had these classical-era precedents in mind. However, this kind of control adds a level of hands-on manipulation to the celluloid frame. Here, total control of the frame employs frame-by-frame control on the negative, as in animation. In other words, filmmakers of the 1970s worked toward a layered, composite mise-en-scène—or the composition of the celluloid frame (and, consequently, the world), assembled in postproduction, then projected on the screen. The composite mise-en-scène typically transforms each component (actor, prop, scenery) into separately filmed elements to be arranged and composed within the frame, frame by frame, in order to appear as if filmed together in live-action motion photography. Most importantly, special effects photorealism in the 1970s concerns the manipulation of the filmmaking process to make objects or environments look real or credible in the movies, not “in real life.” In other words, a composite mise-en-scène usually requires that its separately generated elements fit together in a traditional, three-dimensional cinematic picture plane, as if filmed by one camera in a single shot, and not necessarily how the naked eye would witness it. On a practical level, in order to construct a photoreal composite mise-en-scène from scratch, the special effects elements must be filmed to be consistent with the aesthetic of the live-action elements



(actors, constructed sets, etc.), and vice versa. Special effects photorealism thus relies on a visual consistency across production levels to build up a composite mise-en-scène. In the 1970s, as filmmakers sought a visual vocabulary for special effects–intensive filmmaking, notions of photorealism were far from stable. The professional rhetoric illustrates how practitioners were trying to characterize what they were doing as different from previous traditions. Practitioner rhetoric is therefore valuable in understanding aesthetic shifts within the industry. Matte painter Harrison Ellenshaw (Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back [1980] ) sums up well the technician’s rhetoric on the justifications for photorealism: All that matters is if the audience will believe it on the screen. The fact is that people who know nothing about how these things are done can still tell us whether the effect is good or bad. You don’t have to know what a 10k is to know whether you like or dislike a movie, and that’s something we tend to forget. We say, “What do they know?” But they know. They’ve used their eyes all their lives and they know when something doesn’t look exactly right. There isn’t a little sign that pops up in front of their faces and says, “matte line” or “jiggle” or “dupe.” It just says, “Oops!” It distracts them. It takes their minds off the story. . . . [And] that’s where your mind should be. Anything technical that jars you a little bit is going to distract you. So your effects have to flow and fit in neatly.11

It is exactly the commonsense appeal to “trust your eyes” that makes the claims so easy to accept. However, Ellenshaw’s words, though sincere, should be treated with caution. Ellenshaw and many others from the era appear to use words consistent with traditional forms of “perceptual realistic” special effects (especially, “eyes . . . know when something doesn’t look exactly right”). In fact, his statement can better be understood as promoting the newer photoreal aesthetic under development, as well as defining negatively the industry’s dissatisfaction with previous styles of photorealism. The new style will eliminate the noticeable matte lines of old, stabilize the composited image so it does not wobble, and improve image quality over duplication stages— precisely the aesthetic priorities of the Star Wars crew. Moreover, Ellenshaw also acknowledges how, at this point, special effects artists have to juggle an unprecedented number of elements to create a sense of photorealism.



What were the problems and limitations associated with studio-era special effects? Most importantly, for the preceding generation of special effects artists, the photographic elements of filmmaking (that is, the elements generated photochemically rather than via animation techniques, especially the principal photography) had been understood as more or less fixed and minimally flexible. Previously, although different studios had different priorities, effects departments usually emphasized physical effects and downplayed optical compositing. When using “opticals” (as they were called), the number of elements to be composited was typically kept to a minimum.12 In fact, after 1940, time-consuming postproduction composites were increasingly avoided in favor of on-set composite methods, such as rear projection. In the 1970s, however, the return to postproduction optical printing methods altered the status of photographed elements and how they were arranged within the film frame by approaching each component as a separate element of composition. Ideally, the film frame could be infinitely mutable and designable, while maintaining the look of live-action photography. Although there have been special effects of various kinds and complexities throughout cinema’s history, changes were afoot in the 1970s that transformed the role of special effects in film production more broadly overall. More strikingly, the willingness to spend additional time and money in postproduction and to stake the film on the success of the special effects is evidence of their increased importance. Through this shift in emphasis to postproduction, special effects became central to the much-remarked changes in cinema’s economics, aesthetics, and exhibition in the 1970s. As a consequence, 1970s Hollywood cinema converted more intensively and obviously to an industry based around the spectacle of big-budget special effects. Further, as evidence from fan publications suggests, a core faction of the audience began more explicitly to expect and even desire such manipulations of the photographic image.13 In today’s mainstream Hollywood, there is virtually no such thing as a film untouched by a significant amount of special effects work, which is not limited just to the Spiderman, Transformers, or Avatar franchises. For example, even nearly every film by Woody Allen (often perceived as the last analog holdout) since 2005’s Match Point has retained a sizable visual effects crew. How did the Hollywood film industry shift to a nearly fully “animatable,” all–special effects cinema? What particular aesthetic did these special effects exhibit? And what was seen, early on, as the benefit to all the extra trouble it took?



Answering these questions certainly means understanding the technological aesthetic history that informs specific special effects techniques. However, just as importantly, we must understand why certain techniques were more favored at certain times and why particular forms were adopted. David Bordwell has convincingly portrayed Hollywood’s technological aesthetic paradigm as one akin to Ernst Gombrich’s “problem/solution” model in art history.14 In other words, in Bordwell’s formulation filmmakers and their teams have certain overarching goals in mind, or problems they want to solve. Working to find technical solutions to that aim results in certain aesthetic aftereffects. Within Bordwell’s larger project to describe a consistent “classical” Hollywood studio system, his argument is largely persuasive. Special effects teams in the studio era were typically charged with solving a particular problem, such as, how do we make a twister appear to Dorothy in Kansas? Or how can we decrease the amount of grain in the back projection so it will more perfectly match the foreground? In other words, the effects departments were just a subset of the many similarly goal-oriented technical departments, including costume design, set construction, and sound. Directors and producers understood that technicians would apply professional standards in order to (somewhat magically) match the secondary unit with the principal photography.15 The limit to Bordwell’s formula is that it tends to assume that the technicians’ ultimate goal is fairly consistent and unitary. It also suggests that the aesthetic is the somewhat chance result of solving the technological problem.16 Popular, professional, and academic discourse about special effects tends to be equally consistent in characterizing special effects’ transhistorical technological goal as greater and greater realism. If one takes the discourse at face value, one can easily assume that the central problem 1970s special effects were trying to solve could be characterized (especially by the industry itself) rather roughly as “fakiness,” while the solution could be characterized as “realism.” Indeed, as the Ellenshaw quote implies, discursive evidence in industry and technical journals does suggest special effects artists in the 1970s felt previous paradigms of special effects were insufficiently photoreal to keep the audience’s attention on the diegetic world presented to them, and the old studio technology would not be sufficient to do so. However, visual evidence from many 1970s films suggests the aesthetics desired from special effects were far from streamlined and were often



wildly variable. Moreover, in the 1970s, evidence also shows that filmmakers like Lucas and Spielberg desired certain looks and effects for the screen (that were explicitly different from previous standards of realism), for which certain historical technological problems had to be overcome. In other words, as often as not, the “problem” driving technicians was based on demands for a particular aesthetic as much as for a technical solution. To emphasize, the photorealist priority of 1970s special effects was developed as an aesthetic to carry a certain filmmaking approach favoring fantastic and credible world-building, not as a natural progressive offshoot of any particular technology. Often citing the example of the “Star Gate” sequence in 2001, many filmmakers employing special effects of the 1970s and 1980s desired aesthetic qualities of stylization, graphic dynamism, immersion, or kineticism in order to accentuate the fantastic elements in their environments. Beyond the Star Wars jump to hyperspace or the climactic light show in Close Encounters, examples can be as diverse as the swirling effervescence of the transporter beams or Spock’s V’Ger walkabout in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), the Day-Glo style of Flash Gordon (1980), the postapocalyptic radiating landscapes of Damnation Alley (1977), the electrical force fields of the ghosts (and the weapons to contain them) in Ghostbusters (1984), or the color-distorted “wolf-vision” sequences of Wolfen (1981), just to name a few. In order to realize different kinds of looks and styles, feature filmmakers looking further afield than mainstream studio filmmaking often turned to 1960s and 1970s experimental films—in particular, West Coast experimental animation and its greater attention to the materiality of the filmstrip and the manipulation of the film frame on the negative. Feature filmmakers could begin to apply the painstaking handwork and control associated with experimental film and animation to the realm of live-action photography. Abstract animations and experimental films, such as those of Jordan Belson or Pat O’Neill, provided an example of abstracted movement not based in recording figural human-based movement. Instead, these films were more interested in de-centering the frame and creating a sense of immersion and kinesis. Furthermore, principal photography could become another compositional element in the frame, with comparable mutability as material from the effects unit.17 In a broader sense, gaining more control over the image-making process would allow the New Hollywood filmmakers



greater flexibility to realize their “vision,” be it spaceships and aliens (Star Wars), more dynamic action set pieces (1941 [1979] ), or even a sepia-toned color scheme (McCabe and Mrs. Miller [1971] ). Like experimental filmmakers, approaching 1970s optical effects as a form of animation allowed feature filmmakers to think about ways to “unfix” the photographic material, which could mobilize the different elements and place them in more dynamic relations with each other. In addition to the extensive aesthetic implications, this pursuit of a more flexible approach to photography had profound industrial consequences. The film industry began to move away from a model that focused on on-set live-action process technologies to one that stressed postproduction optical (and later digital) techniques.

Process Versus Opticals

The 1970s signaled a paradigmatic shift in special effects technology, ushering in an era of greater prominence for special effects that would only increase in later decades, as well as marking a distinctive change from the preceding generation of special effects technologies. A short history of the main Hollywood composite practices that preceded the 1970s clarifies precisely what altered in 1970s special effects practice. Because so much of the transformation occurred on the technical level, and because the aesthetics and technology are so closely intertwined, a lucid account of the field is required, with an eye to each technique’s broader significance. The history of special effects before 1977 is a complex area requiring its own booklength treatment, but will be treated in broad strokes here. Most of the optical photographic techniques aggressively explored in the 1970s, including miniature photography (photographing small-scale models to look full-sized), stop-motion photography (animating a 3D object frame by frame), matte painting (compositing a small-scale painting on canvas or glass with live action or, usually, as a background), rotoscoping (projecting live-action footage on a rostrum onto paper or cels as the basis for hand-animated effects), and optical printing (pointing a camera into a projector and recopying multiple image composites frame by frame), had been in continual use in some form for decades.18 However, between about 1935 and the late 1960s, one of many rear-projection



processes had taken precedent in studio research and development for composite technologies. More precisely, 1970s special effects techniques broke away from the immediately preceding major special effects approach, known broadly as process photography (composites completed on set with principal photography, usually using rear projection). Instead, they worked to renew composite techniques associated with an earlier historical period—optical photographic effects (composites completed in postproduction usually with an optical printing machine), known as optical photography, or “opticals.” A historically consistent definition for the terms optical and process can be elusive, as their use has changed historically and they are used inconsistently in industry and professional discourse.19 Although related of course through its historical connection to lenses and photographic equipment in general, the term opticals in the special effects industry means the cinematically specific use and manipulation of the many variables in moving-image capture and registration. Historically, it can mean any photographic (nonphysical) effect that takes advantage of the manipulation of the camera’s optical system (lens, shutter speed, etc.). However, most often in the industry, the term is used very specifically in relation to visual effects techniques that make use of postproduction optical printing. More recently in practitioner discourse, the term opticals tends to be used to designate any predigital camera effect. The term process photography and how it is applied is also historically variable. Confusingly, early on in the 1930s and early 1940s, the terms opticals and process work were often used interchangeably to designate any special effects technique, especially a composite technique, that manipulated the optical system of the camera. Over that approximately ten-year period, process work could therefore also mean traveling mattes and various kinds of optical printing. However, the terms largely split apart in the 1940s with the industry’s decisive movement toward projection techniques, to differentiate between techniques that would require postproduction from those that would not. In order to understand process and optical work in detail, it is necessary to take a step back. Since even the earliest cinema, compositing has been a primary concern of special effects work. In mainstream production, composite work usually means joining (at least) two separately filmed elements to give the impression that they are part of the same continuous, integrated space. Their use is driven primarily by considerations of novelty (presenting



faraway or nonexistent locales), cost (avoiding expensive location work), efficiency (avoiding environmental delays), and safety (avoiding injury, and therefore lawsuits and more cost). Before digital technology, three main approaches to composite work dominated: composites produced via the “in-camera” method, via opticals, and via process (projection) photography methods.20 Opticals appeared first to replace much riskier in-camera compositing. In-camera work was the earliest phase in composites, used by Georges Méliès, Segundo de Chomón, J. Stuart Blackton, Gaston Velle, and other early-twentieth-century “trick” filmmakers. As a typical early cinema practice, in-camera compositing means filming some action with a part of the frame blacked or “matted” out, leaving unexposed film in the black areas. Then the camera is cranked back and the opposite (exposed) area is covered, so that another action can be filmed on the previously unexposed area. For example, in The Man with the Rubber Head (L’Homme à la Tête en Caoutchouc [1901] ), Méliès makes his own “rubber head” seem to expand and explode by filming himself as a magician (next to a piece of black velvet, leaving an unexposed area). Keeping the camera perfectly still, he then rolls the film back, places himself on a dolly, and is pulled toward the camera, in careful relation to the velvet square and the timing of the first action, so that his head appears to expand. Similarly, Méliès plays all the instruments at the same time in The One Man Band (L’Homme Orchestre [1900] ) by filming himself against black velvet and playing one instrument. He then rolls the unexposed film back and captures himself again on another instrument, and so on (fig. 1.1).21 In addition to trick effects, transition effects such as fades, dissolves, or wipes, and effects used for narrative emphasis such as irises, were also completed in-camera by the camera operator until the more widespread use of optical printers in the late 1920s and early 1930s. After the 1920s, in-camera techniques were occasionally used, then well into the 1960s and 1970s (in 2001, for example) as a way to achieve convincing composites without a loss of image quality, especially with troublesome color film.22 Needless to say, in-camera effects are risky and require a great deal of skill and nerve on the part of the camera operator (one mistake will ruin the master camera negative, necessitating expensive reshoots). Around 1920, in order to minimize the financial risk of in-camera compositing while maintaining its benefits, the technique’s two main characteristics (on-set compositing and frame-by-frame control) were eventually



FIGURE 1.1 Georges Méliès, The One Man Band (L’Homme Orchestre) (1900).

divided into two mostly distinct special effects approaches: optical techniques and process photography. Though less risky, both had their own drawbacks, primarily with image quality. Hollywood studio cinematography has tended to favor the highest quality visual image possible, an image that is optimally crisp and finely grained. Historically, high image quality has been pursued through more sensitive film stocks, larger film formats (35mm, 70mm, VistaVision), and sharper, more finely ground lenses. In photochemical technology, directly recorded action in front of the camera is the developed filmstrip’s first generation. If the original filmstrip is duplicated and printed again, this is the image’s second generation. As with a photocopy, every film generation’s duplication and reprinting means visual information is lost, resulting in an increase in graininess and the thinning (or diminishing) of the desired aesthetic quality of the original first-generation image. The downside of both opticals and process work is that they use duplicated, pre-filmed material of at least second-generation quality to join with first-generation material. In other words, they both attempted to



cleanly composite material of differing grain and image characteristics. In an industry driven by professional standards of high image quality, improving on this major drawback drove much of the composite research and development for decades and would not find a largely stable aesthetic until digital technology eliminated this loss of quality over duplication generations in the 1990s. Optical compositing techniques, developed in the 1920s and 1930s alongside the improvement of more sensitive duplication stock, were the first wave of postproduction composite technology. These were usually traveling mattes, which were used to combine two separately filmed elements when the foreground element (e.g., a person) changes shape or position from frame to frame—necessitating a new matte for each frame (for example, in The Lost World [1925], the miniature stop-motion dinosaur loose in the full-sized London set).23 Simply put, traveling mattes punch black spaces in the background so that the foreground action can be printed into it—again, frame by frame. As you can see in figure 1.2, in the basic procedure, the main action is filmed against a neutral background, initially black velvet. Then, the pre-filmed background needs undeveloped black spaces punched in it in order to print in the foreground element. Using special high-contrast intermediary stock, the foreground element is first reprinted, generating a so-called “female” white-on-black matte. Then the reverse “male” black-on-white is printed from the female, creating a black, undeveloped hole for the foreground to be printed into. These black and white mattes would be used to cut the holes in the pre-filmed background for the foreground elements to be printed in, again, frame by frame, depending on the number of elements to be composited. Many duplicating steps could be necessary for even the simplest color traveling matte composite.24 Although tested in the 1910s and 1920s, technical improvements in rear-screen process photography in the 1930s and 1940s allowed it to become the leading composite technology for the next several decades.25 Process photography is most commonly understood to be comprised of projection-based technologies: rear projection (a pre-filmed moving image projected behind principal photography), transparencies (still-projected backgrounds), front projection (a modified rear-projection process that projected from the front, making use of a beam-splitting mirror and a highly reflective screen), and sometimes specialized matte painting and



FIGURE 1.2 The principles of traveling mattes. (Courtesy of Richard Rickett)

miniature work, such as miniature rear projection or when live action is projected onto the blank area of a matte painting. Process photography is most familiar in shots requiring dialogue sequences in moving vehicles, especially cars, as in To Catch a Thief (1955). “Looping” or dialogue replacement technology had been in use since the 1930s, but driving rigs (a moving car equipped with a motion-stabilized camera attachment) did



FIGURE 1.3 Rear-projection diagram. (Courtesy of Richard Rickett)

not come into wide practice until the 1970s.26 Therefore, in the studio era, dialogue sequences could not efficiently be shot on location with existing sound production limitations. Nor did it seem practical or desirable to do so until the 1950s and into the 1960s. In the usual rear-projection shot, the driver and passenger say their lines while in a cutaway car set in the studio, as in figure 1.3, with a pre-filmed background passing behind them through the windows. Most generally, in process photography, the principal foreground action (with the main actors and the most important narrative moments) is filmed on a studio set. Effects artists pre-film the still or live-action backgrounds (called “plates”) on location (or chosen from a stock film library of backgrounds).27 The plates are projected on a reflective screen behind the actors and filmed simultaneously with the foreground action. Thus, process photography used projection techniques to register foreground and background at the same time on the same negative, on the set during principal photography. Due to practical reasons, between the late 1930s and the early 1970s the research and development energies of most studio special effects work was directed toward inventing ways to continue to composite on set. This meant



improving ways to artificially extend the background through rear projection, while boosting the image quality of the pre-filmed background plates.28 In general, studios preferred process photography to optical photography for fairly straightforward reasons. Process photography (as the name implies) maintained the standard filming process—24 fps in real time—of principal photography. Therefore it avoided the need for expensive (and lengthy) postproduction. The integrity of the composites could be checked though a viewfinder on the set and confirmed within twenty-four hours in the dailies.29 Importantly, process composites also kept control of the image in traditional hands, those of the director and cinematographer. Optical photographic effects, by contrast, required a different production timeline. The various elements (not necessarily just foreground and background, but all elements that would later end up in the frame) are designed, constructed, and filmed independently on separate negatives. They are usually then combined with optical printing, in postproduction, to create the effect they all came from the same principal photography unit. Optical effects had been in use since the teens, but had their first heyday from the mid-1920s to the early 1930s.30 The 1930s saw a great deal of experimentation with composite techniques, including Willis O’Brien’s miniature work in King Kong, or the many graphic wipes in Flying Down to Rio (both 1933), along with various patents for proprietary traveling matte technologies.31 Most importantly, traveling matte work required the specialized skills of a highly experienced optical printer operator, and they were not common. A well-known studio example of an expert optical operator is Linwood Dunn, special effects technician at RKO until the 1950s. For his work as optical printer operator on Citizen Kane (1941), he estimated that at least 50 percent of the shots contained some optical printing work, though very little is obvious.32 Another example is Universal and, later, Paramount optical printer expert John Fulton, whose work on the Invisible Man (1933) and The Ten Commandments (1956) is still held up as benchmarks for effects creativity and skill. However, not every studio or every film had a Dunn or a Fulton to complete difficult and complex effects sequences, and without their specific skills, most productions would not attempt them.33 In most cases, studios would outsource complex opticals to independent title, effects, and optical companies, as described in later chapters. By contrast, by 1940 rear projection only required a well-trained camera team.



Equipment concerns also helped determine which technique would be favored. The convergence of technical specifications in film stocks, lighting, and camera-projector synchronization around 1930 allowed process photography to achieve an adequate consistency of image quality, to the studio’s satisfaction.34 Additionally, between 1938 and 1942, under the aegis of the Research Council of the Academy, studio process specialists pooled their patents in order to standardize the process with the manufacturers so that they could build consistent equipment.35 After that time, labor-intensive, postproduction traveling mattes seemed less worth the trouble and effort. Furthermore, before 1942, the optical printer had been a makeshift device, cobbled together from other photographic equipment and adapted for each individual use. Linwood Dunn and Cecil Love (both of RKO) developed the standardized Acme-Dunn optical printer for use by the U.S. Army.36 Ironically, just as optical printers became available “off the shelf ” and had more skilled technicians trained to work it, the studios had definitively turned their efforts toward process photography. Due in large part to these personnel, technical, and economic factors, opticals had fallen out of favor as a special effects technique between 1940 and 1970 and were instead mostly used for titles and scene transitions. However, optical printing methods had qualities that trumped efficiency (for a while) in the 1970s, and optical techniques would later reemerge transformed.

Process Photography

In mainstream practice before the 1970s, both process and optical techniques had their benefits and drawbacks. After a period of competition in the 1920s and 1930s, process eventually won out (at least until the 1970s). In rear-projection process photography (or just “process,” as it was called by most of the studio departments), second unit and effects department cameramen went out to film the background plates ahead of principal photography. During filming, the background elements were projected onto a screen with a reflectively coated surface. Most special effects technicians from the 1930s to the 1960s strove to achieve the highest quality image in rephotographing the background plates in process photography and to minimize the discrepancy in graininess between the foreground and background elements, which would be especially noticeable projected in



theaters on the big screen.37 Using very high-intensity lights and building larger and larger projection screens on set helped the background image to register as live action and to visually match the foreground spaces.38 When carefully accomplished, black-and-white process photography often created a very convincing illusion of integrated space, such as, for example, Farciot Edouart’s work in Sullivan’s Travels (1941), when Sullivan’s car and the camper van trailing him get into a high-speed chase, or Ray Binger’s work for Foreign Correspondent (1940), in which an airplane crash lands into water, or even the rear-screen work much later in Hud (1963). As it was generally assumed that attention stays on the foreground action, and that viewers ignore the background, this emphasis on unobtrusiveness of technique is one reason that process photography thrived in the style of the classical era. Technical adjustments of the image quality kept the studio workshops and people like Farciot Edouart (at Paramount, generally considered the industry leader in rear-projection technology) and Arnold “Buddy” Gillespie (at MGM) busy for decades.39 The main technical problem that put the status of process photography into crisis from the 1950s to the early 1970s was the emerging importance of color film. Unstable color emulsions meant that when color film was back-projected, it changed the values of the colors to an unacceptably marked degree (to contemporary standards of photorealism). Background images looked faded as grain increased. In fact, professional discourse suggests that studio workshops in the classical era were never able to reconcile the color foreground action with background plates to their satisfaction, in the way the best black-and-white process photography could often achieve almost seamlessly.40 Along with other color films such as All That Heaven Allows (1955), or Hitchcock’s 1950s films such as The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Vertigo (1958), or other less canonical films like Vincente Minnelli’s The Harvey Girls (1946), or Gidget (1959), Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind (1956) can serve as a somewhat exaggerated but nevertheless typical example, in the scene where Mitch (Rock Hudson) and Marylee (Dorothy Malone) drive back home after a confrontation with another one of Marylee’s pickups in seedy bar. While Marylee confesses her love for Mitch, graphically black oil derricks, industrial buildings, shacks, and other (slightly too big) vehicles speed behind them. The foreground actors, sitting in a glossy, bright red sports car, are in very sharp focus, modeled



with rather hard shiny lighting effects in richly textured Technicolor, especially noticeable in Marylee’s eye-popping hot-pink dress. The focus in the background plates, by contrast, is noticeably smudgy-looking. The picture quality of the plates is not only grainy, but it is also markedly more coolly blue-toned than the foreground. Also, there is a subtle difference in the way the eye perceives the speed of the car and the speed of the background. The combined effect of the contrast of foreground and background, common in such scenes, is like a shallow stereoscopic effect. In other words, the foreground makes one flat plane and the background another flat plane, rather than providing the fully convincing illusion of a whole. Importantly, the look of the rear-projection sequence cannot be attributed solely to Sirk’s intention because rear projection had particular technical specifications that could not be significantly altered for directorial manipulation.41 That is, the look of rear projection, first in black and white and then in color, is too consistently similar, creating much the same effect, across too many kinds of films (and across studios) to convincingly argue for directorial intentionality. In order to direct the actors and film dialogue scenes simultaneously in moving vehicles, all filmmakers, including Sirk, Hitchcock, and many other famously controlling auteurs, had to make do with the limitations of rear projection, since the much greater convenience and efficiency outweighed technicians’ aesthetic concerns. During the studio era, technicians did not give up their unceasing research and development to make color process shots more consistent with the foregrounds.42 While production, directors, and audiences appear to have been unbothered by the look of rear projection at the time, by the late 1960s and early 1970s the technique began to become an emblem of outdated studio filmmaking.43 What late 1960s and early 1970s filmmakers found problematic in color process photography had palpable consequences on American film production. American “New Hollywood” filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola, Hal Ashby, and Bob Rafelson often cited the “authenticity” of location photography as superior to set-bound photography.44 The trend for location work (initiated, in fact, by the studios in the mid-1950s) helped mask the potential problem with process photography in much color filmmaking in the 1960s. Arguably, “more realistic” location shooting in the 1960s with its resultant visual aesthetic facilitated the transition of overall industry production to color.45 When the majority of production shifted to color, and blue screen and other traveling matte techniques came back in



the 1970s, process photography fell into disfavor among filmmakers and technicians, as it began to emblematize the artificiality of studio production.46 It is worth emphasizing, however, that from about 1935 to the late 1960s, process projection techniques constituted the dominant composite technology for Hollywood studio production.


A number of practical reasons accounted for process photography’s industry dominance, despite what many technicians considered its fairly serious drawbacks in creating a wholly convincing foreground and background composite. For efficiency’s sake, and likely as a vestige of theatrical practices, process photography maintains the traditional cinematic 24 fps live-action motion. Conversely, composite optical photography flouts “real time” photography and instead exploits the potential gaps in cinema’s frame-by-frame advancement.47 Most simply, in optical effects, each element is filmed separately and then joined up frame by frame by an optical printer in postproduction. The general concept behind optical printing is roughly the same as printing a composite still photograph. Several already developed negative images are projected onto a light-sensitive surface, and then the resulting composites are developed together. Figure 1.4 shows the most basic setup, with a projection camera that beams the element onto raw stock, frame by frame with a precision frame advance mechanism. The simplest version of optical printing is similar to in-camera matte printing, with two main areas of the frame (for example, a foreground crowd and a background landscape) printed separately, divided in two by an (ideally) invisible matte line, such as when characters in the foreground point at a castle on a hill in the background. In more complex optical effects, the technique is repeated several times (called “passes”) for the same individual frame on the negative, and then with minute changes for each individual frame (called “step printing”) to generate motion. More elaborate optical printer models are able to print several elements at a time. One primary production drawback to optical printing before the 1970s was what was called the “locked-down” camera. The locked-down camera meant that if any optical composite technique was being used (for example, a traveling matte), the camera on set filming the live-action photography



FIGURE 1.4 A single-head optical printer: simple, single-head optical printers would be used for basic copying tasks and for adding basic fades and wipes. (Courtesy of Richard Rickett)

and the optical camera in post must remain perfectly stationary, in order that the individually filmed elements would later fit together in printing (back projection allowed subtle camera movement).48 Therefore, no profilmic camera panning, tilting, or traveling was allowed during filming of optical composite elements. Effects artists like Linwood Dunn in Citizen Kane (1941) or Flying Down to Rio (1933); and John Fulton in The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954) or Strategic Air Command (1955), could often achieve extremely dynamic locked-down optical sequences, usually through energetic editing techniques (by either faster edited sequences or cutting the locked-down footage together with a variety of many different kinds of shots), but the results were highly dependent on those individual creative special effects talents (as well as those in editorial). A related drawback to the locked-down effects sequences was noticeable in longer locked-down sequences, and principal photography would also have to limit elaborate camera movement in non-effects sequences. Otherwise, stilling the liveaction footage abruptly for the locked-down footage would cause a toonoticeable contrast with the mobile camera.49 Not surprisingly, another main drawback of opticals was the extreme difficulty of maintaining quality and consistency over the course of optically printing a shot. In fact, every single optical printing pass over every frame is technically impossible to complete with perfect registration, due to the inevitable shrinkage of film during development and the difficulty



in precisely lining up every element. So in every frame during every pass, the optical printer technician has to judge how to print the frame with the best, albeit imperfect, result. What this means in practical terms is summed up by two words—matte lines. Matte lines, where a hard (usually black) line surrounds the joined area, are the bane of optical printer operators. And although a skillful and patient optical printer operator can achieve an invisible result, it is very difficult to do consistently, especially in a shot with multiple elements. By literally showing the seams between composite elements, matte lines are generally believed to be distracting to the audience, “pulling them out” of the fictional diegesis. Traditionally, optical printing technicians would compensate for this problem with various ways to smudge or soften the line, distract the eye, or else they would have to decide where they could get away with harder lines. Needless to say, technicians operating the optical printers displayed variable and inconsistent skills, as we can see (or not) throughout the history of special effects films.50 Understanding the paradigmatic differences between process and optical photography allows us to recognize why such highly touted special effects films of the 1960s and early 1970s, including Fantastic Voyage (1966), the disaster series films such as Airport (1970) or The Towering Inferno (1974), and even Jaws (1975), should be considered part of the previous historical generation of special effects. Unlike later postproduction-centered techniques, these films’ special effects and special effects photography stressed the goal of completing the maximum amount of effects work on set, during principal photography. This means as many special effects as possible completed in the same physical space and live-action photography on the same master negative, limiting what could be manipulated in postproduction. For Fantastic Voyage, this meant relying heavily on large sets and back projection; for The Towering Inferno performing elaborate stunt work; and for Jaws building large (and unreliable) mechanical effects, such as the shark itself. Of course, all of these films employed optical work to some degree or another, but minimally, and without the energy devoted to other areas of special effects production.51 In the 1960s and 1970s, special effects artists on 2001, Star Wars, and Close Encounters brought back an updated version of the postproduction optical printing methods that had fallen out of favor, by tweaking the various problems with image quality, efficiency, and camera movement. They also showed how they could modify and expand these traditional



techniques for new purposes, most markedly to build better-detailed artificial environments. What these films vitally illustrated was that bringing back optical printing techniques (while working to eliminate or minimize the associated problems) made the film frame more flexible and mutable, and in fact, more like animation. Again, incorporating animation techniques meant the filmmaker could better control the total film frame and not be limited by stubborn photographic material.

Animation and Special Effects So it doesn’t matter if you do it one frame at a time, with one second exposure, with 24 frames per second or 100 frames per second, you have to slow time down in order to understand what’s happening. It’s all about slowing down. So if you’re talking about [traditional] animation, if you’re talking about stop motion it’s [. . .] a completely different thing in my book. But if you’re talking about animation as a sequential series of images, then it’s all animation. — J O H N D Y K S T R A , S TAR WARS SPECIAL EFFECTS SUPERVISOR 5 2

Following Lev Manovich, it has become something of a cliché to state that special effects cinema has revealed cinema to be “all animation.” However, this assertion has been more applicable to some historical periods over others. What does that mean in terms of technology and aesthetics? How have animation techniques impacted special effects techniques? When John Dykstra says the cinema is all animation, because “it’s all about slowing down,” he means breaking down the motion and stopping the film frame in order to manipulate it. He is making an assumption common among special effects artists about the potential control of the image, both within the individual celluloid frame and also successively frame by frame. Dykstra helped pioneer or reconfigure the use of several important technologies and techniques in the 1970s that more closely linked the worlds of animation and special effects, most notably the motion control camera (a programmable computer-controlled camera that could repeat the same movement over and over), and the multi-plane animation stand, which together allowed the “virtual camera” effect common in 1970s and 1980s cinema, as, for example, the ships flying through outer space environments in Star Wars and Blade Runner (1982). The distinction Dykstra draws between the broader cinema as “all animation” and specific animation techniques is instructive.



On another occasion when Dykstra states, “[Special effects are] more akin to animation than anything else,” he is making an obvious observation within the industry.53 Within the special effects industry itself, the long-standing technological connections between animation and special effects are so well understood that remarking on them borders on the banal. However, outside the industry in the popular conception, the relationship between animation and special effects is largely acknowledged mainly as an aspect of digital effects.54 As a result, the extremely strong links in the broader history between optical special effects and animation have rarely been fully appreciated. The industry recognizes that special effects animation is meant to fuse with live-action footage, such as the computer-generated Yoda or Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequels, while “regular” animation of the Toy Story sort need not consider live action or photography at all as a model (though it often does). In special effects then and now, much of the basic technology (multi-plane animation stands, rotoscoping, digital imaging) and working methods (optical printing, frame-by-frame manipulation) began in both traditional and experimental animation. Although this animation legacy was present during the classical era as well, traditional and experimental animation in the 1960s and 1970s took on an especially important role in special effects—not least for those who started in the industry in the 1970s, many of whom also trained in 2D and 3D animation. How exactly are animation and special effects related? The first connection is, most obviously, in the ways the medium generates cinematic motion. Single cels of 2D animation have always been photographed frame by frame in order to be animated on the same 24 fps (or at least, 16 fps) basis as live-action cinema. Early animators such as Émile Cohl and Winsor McCay quickly understood they could exploit animation’s primary difference from live-action photography: stopping the image frame by frame took advantage of the image’s potential for greater plasticity (see, for example, Cohl’s constantly metamorphosing lines and shapes). The same is true for (equally early) 3D object animation, also know as stop-motion animation. Stop motion or stop frame, used by Georges Méliès, J. Stuart Blackton, Segundo de Chomón, Edwin S. Porter, and others within cinema’s first decade, also takes advantage of frame-by-frame substitution to artificially generate motion. For example, stop motion allowed inanimate objects to appear to move without human agency, such as in Blackton’s famous



example of invisible hands cutting food on a dinner table in The Haunted Hotel (1907), or simple substitutions as with the dummy that is thrown from the top of the train in The Great Train Robbery (1903). What Dykstra and other effects artists in the 1970s realized is that they could apply technological and aesthetic models derived from both 2D and 3D animation techniques to live-action filmmaking in order to make animation look more like live action, and also make live action as flexible as animation. And they could do it on a more elaborate scale than had been attempted previously. In order to build up their cinematic world layer by layer, shot by shot, 1970s special effects merged and blurred live-action photography, optical photography, and animation. As well as being linked conceptually, special effects and animation have shared and cannibalized each other’s technology and processes. The vertically mounted camera stand used by Émile Cohl to photograph his drawings was eventually elaborated to layer moving characters on a more or less static background, thereby streamlining (and reducing the cost of) 2D animation.55 Around 1934, while developing the feature-length Snow White, Walt Disney wanted to simulate the photographic camera’s so-called “parallax” (or illusion of depth) effect and therefore have more flexibility in compositing the frame with camera-like perspective of the picture plane.56 The Disney team further elaborated the animation stand to be able to layer four or more individually designed, lit, and moving planes of action, known as multi-plane animation (fig. 1.5).57 The multi-plane animation stand worked by painting different planes of action (representing different distances from the “camera”) in glass panes and then layering them vertically, one on top of the other. An animation camera is positioned at the top, so that the transparent layers meld the different planes of action into the illusion of a single perspectival space. In addition to being able to layer background elements as needed, the camera could also appear to move into the background space by either physically moving the camera “down” toward the floor or changing focus, removing glass panes as needed. In 3D animation, Willis O’Brien also developed a horizontal multi-plane model system (where physical 3D puppet elements were layered with painted, back-projected, and composited images, and photographed frame by frame) when developing stop-motion and composite technology for King Kong a few years earlier.58 In the 1970s, the animation stand often became the basis for suggesting photographic depth of field though compositing



FIGURE 1.5 A multiplane animation stand. (Courtesy of Richard Rickett)

separately generated layers of painted artwork. Optical special effects artists, most notably Douglas Trumbull, use this technique to create “virtual” camera views through imaginary spaces, such as the opening pull into futuristic Los Angeles at the beginning of Blade Runner or Spock’s travel through V’Ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. An even earlier example of the combination of animation and optical photography was rotoscoping (fig. 1.6).59 Rotoscoping was patented by Max Fleischer in 1917 as an early kind of motion capture, in order to afford more natural and dynamic motion to characters such as Koko the Clown.60 However, rotoscoping’s benefit to special effects is that it also allowed the technician to cut an element out of one context, out of the picture plane of one strip of film, and transpose it into a different setting on another strip of film. In the basic traditional technique, live-action images are projected onto a flat surface (often a sheet of glass), then traced frame by frame onto paper as character templates. Famously, in the Fleischers’ Gulliver’s Travels (1939), the live-action actor playing Gulliver is transformed into an animated character by rotoscoping him into an animated setting. A later iteration of the technique also allowed Gene Kelly to dance with Jerry the mouse in Anchors Aweigh (1945).



FIGURE 1.6 Rotoscoping diagram. (Courtesy of Richard Rickett)

Although primarily associated with animation, live-action special effects have also long made use of rotoscoping. Before the 1970s, special effects rotoscoping was a labor-intensive subset of traveling mattes, where instead of generating mattes automatically with high-contrast film, technicians generate hand-drawn traveling mattes, frame by frame, by blacking out elements by hand. Hand-drawn traveling mattes allowed combining two separate moving images. For example, painstaking hand-matted rotoscoping was used prominently in Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963), in order to join separately filmed footage of flying and diving birds with ducking and



running children, or to create the famous “bird’s-eye” view of Bodega Bay. Besides being another prominent technique in special effects, rotoscoping was also used to add hand-drawn 2D animated elements such as lightning (e.g., the force fields in Forbidden Planet [1956] ), lasers, gun blasts, and shadows (where an effects element had been added to live-action photography, as in Close Encounters).61 For example, rotoscope animation overlays accomplished the glowing light saber effects in Star Wars.62

Experimental Film, Animation, and Special Effects

It should not be surprising that special effects would borrow techniques from mainstream animation. However, in the 1970s, special effects artists learned a great deal from a specific kind of animation: West Coast experimental animation. While a varied movement, West Coast experimental filmmaking is related to, but not the same as, what P. Adams Sitney has called the structuralist movement in experimental cinema of the 1960s and 1970s, in which filmmakers avoid or obscure “figural” photographic images, reorienting the visual priority toward effects of the cinematic apparatus, such as calling attention to the film frame as such, the flicker of the projector, or the space of the screening room, perhaps most prominently represented by artists such as Hollis Frampton, Stan Brakhage, and Peter Kubelka.63 While also concerned with the material bases of filmmaking, West Coast abstract filmmakers of the same time period, including John and James Whitney, Jordan Belson, Pat O’Neill, and many others, had different priorities—namely, they were on the whole more concerned with generating imagery that encouraged various kinds of impact upon the body and mind. Often inspired by eastern-inflected spirituality (especially yoga and tantra) and fueled by drug-induced visions, these filmmakers sought to create abstract shapes and patterns that simulated states of meditation or hypnosis. One example would include James Whitney’s Lapis (1966) and its emphasis on sensory engagement with mandala spirals, pulsating lights, and hypnotic rhythms. On the other hand, Pat O’Neill’s Saugus Series (c. 1974) favors cuing the intellect through the senses, with its color-altered landscapes, layered abstracted human forms, and animation, all of which flow smoothly from space to space (though often with a jarring soundtrack), coexisting with a fascination with plasticity, juxtaposition, and multiplicities.



As the radiant colors, pulsating lights, and rhythmic movement of 1970s special effects attest, 1970s feature filmmakers were not solely concerned about developing special effects within an updated aesthetic of photorealism. They also often layered animation elements on the composite miseen-scène that instead favored stylization, immersion, or kineticism. This tendency followed the historically specific 1970s trend for graphic dynamics. This is a film-specific approach to composition of the mise-en-scène popularized by Slavko Vorkapich, an experimental filmmaker most well known in his work as a “montagist” for such studio films as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and Meet John Doe (1941). Vorkapich’s influential notion of graphic dynamism circulated in the 1960s and 1970s among film and design students, thanks in part to his busy lecture schedule. Vorkapich was somewhat vague in defining the term, insisting that “the most cinematic moments on screen cannot be conveyed verbally” and relied on examples from his own work as well as the famous “diving sequence” from Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1938) or examples from Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (1960).64 Moreover, he credited Sergei Eisenstein’s “Methods of Montage” as the source of much of his ideas. Generally speaking, for Vorkapich, creating graphic dynamics includes the purposeful manipulation of movement, what he calls “visual beat on the cut” (constant visual variety and careful pacing), the visual tug of tension, and the elements organized by those appropriate to the thematic mood in the sequence.65 Most importantly, graphic dynamics not only enriched the visual plane but, Vorkapich believed (again following Eisenstein), that it also aroused the intellectual faculties through sensory stimulation. For many feature filmmakers, most explicitly Kubrick, Trumbull, and Lucas, more visual energy meant a stronger impact and penetration of the various ideas they wanted to express. Vorkapich’s theory of visual storytelling through the aesthetic of graphic dynamics helped add visceral impact that highlighted and energized the live-action and photorealistic effects. Graphic dynamics could be approached in a highly abstract way, or be used more subtly. In feature filmmaking, the extreme, abstracted end of this aesthetic appears in the nonfigurative “Star Gate” sequence in 2001 or in the end sequences of Star Trek: The Motion Picture or The Black Hole (both 1979). A more narratively motivated or understated approach might be animation added as a layer on top of live-action effects imagery, as in the luminous neon lights of Star Wars and Close Encounters. In either case, incorporating



graphic dynamism provided an important motivation for many feature filmmakers to gain greater design control over the frame. Deploying the concepts of graphic dynamism certainly motivated the look of many of the special effects aesthetics in 1970s feature filmmaking—for example, Star Wars’ light sabers and laser blasts closely resemble the vectorized lines and dots in Jordan Belson’s Allures (1961).66 However, even more significantly, mainstream feature filmmakers implemented this design approach through the specific working models provided by experimental animation. An important affinity between West Coast experimental filmmaking and the Hollywood effects industry in the 1960s and 1970s was the testing of film’s limits through the hands-on materiality of the filmstrip. Through this attention to the celluloid itself, West Coast experimental filmmakers also played a major role in helping special effects artists rethink many aspects of special effects work, including the technology, aesthetic, and overall “effect” in the finished film. Experimental filmmakers’ association with handcrafted filmmaking not only provided expanded, alternative examples for controlling the film frame but also lent the luster of hands-on integrity to 1970s special effects work. Historically, studio-era Hollywood famously incorporated many (mostly European) experimental filmmakers’ and technicians’ “expressive” techniques, which were turned to more conventional uses in both live action and animation. Famous examples included Vorkapich’s montage sequences but also Eugen Schufftan’s expressionistic effects work (used first in Europe by filmmakers like Abel Gance in Napoléon in 1927 and later in the United States, as in one of Renè Clair’s American films, It Happened Tomorrow [1944] ); Oskar Fischinger’s kaleidoscopic abstract animation (used by Disney in Fantasia [1940] ), and John Whitney’s collaboration with Saul Bass for Vertigo’s gyroscopic title sequence, just to name a few.67 As is well known, the traditional Hollywood studios worked on a guild system, but with strong labor unions, to regulate employment on film sets. Studio special effects departments operated in a similar fashion, with an apprenticeship system that trained workers in long-standing studio approaches. Not surprisingly, this system tended to encourage only conservative novelties in the imaging system of traditional, naturalistic special effects. In the 1970s, after the loosening of the studio system and the weakened power of the unions, the borders between professionals in the film industry and artist-filmmakers became more porous. Abstract experimental film on



the West Coast in the 1960s and early 1970s often had very close associations with the Hollywood film industry in general, and especially with the special effects industry, not least because the experimental filmmakers and special effects artists were often the same people. Many artist-filmmakers worked in Hollywood at various levels to pay the bills, or occasionally as favors to friends in the business. Special effects artists who did not receive an art school education (such as Douglas Trumbull) nonetheless borrowed or adapted techniques and aesthetics developed in experimental film. The 1970s special effects industry in particular recruited heavily out of Southern California art programs such as those in the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), California State University–Long Beach, and the University of California, Irvine. In fact, many workers on the optical printing line crew of Star Wars were CalArts students and recent graduates, most with an impressive roster of experimental film work.68 The translation of experimental filmmaking techniques into special effects can largely be attributed to several major trends in West Coast experimental filmmaking—technologically, the creative possibilities explored in optical printing and contact printing techniques, in addition to broader cultural trends in alternative film venues and events, such as light shows and “happenings.”

West Coast Experimental Abstract Animation

When arguing for experimental film’s relation to Hollywood in the 1960s and 1970s, it is important to stress that the primary relationship was with the West Coast experimental filmmakers such as Pat O’Neill, Jordan Belson, and John and James Whitney, over filmmakers that tend to be associated with the East Coast, such as Hollis Frampton and Jonas Mekas. Consequently, the two most widely read critics on experimental film of the era, East Coast–oriented P. Adams Sitney and Malcolm Le Grice, do not always provide the most appropriate critical framework for a study aiming to link special effects and experimental film. For example, though the spaceships in Close Encounters may have little to do with Frampton, they bear an important relationship to the work of Whitney and O’Neill, both of whom owned independent optical businesses and worked with Hollywood productions. We might characterize the approach of East Coast abstraction as promoting a broadly more rational intellectual interpretation, while the West



Coast version affords a kind of surrealist stepping-off point to a more diffuse sensual experience. A good way to illustrate this is through two different approaches to Los Angeles–based Pat O’Neill’s work. The first approach takes up P. Adams Sitney’s rather traditional political modernist approach, while the other, no less political, understands O’Neill in a way that aligns him to West Coast filmmakers of the Expanded Cinema movement. Writing on Pat O’Neill’s Saugus Series (c. 1974), a multipart work that alternates completely abstracted animation sequences with distorted figurative liveaction photography (which Sitney means to apply to O’Neill’s composite work in general), Sitney claims that By stressing the synthetic power of the optical printer, the filmmaker has undercut the option of seducing us into the landscape he has invented. […] [T]hey are problematic metonymies  .  .  . O’Neill, [.  .  .], seems to be telling us that a symbolic and psychologically personalized landscape loses its significance in a place like Los Angeles which is so overwhelmed by fragmented representations and gerrybuilt perspectives.69

Note the words “undercut” and “fragmented,” which cue a characteristic political modernist interpretation in which the aesthetics are delineated in support of a rationalist interpretation. Sitney’s stress on the “synthetic power of the optical printer” to create landscapes of “problematic metonymies” is certainly a brilliant reading, one that O’Neill does not dispute.70 For Sitney the power of the optical printer is that it allows a similar effect to photomontage, providing industrial critique through material fragmentation and juxtaposition. But in order to absorb O’Neill into the East Coast critical paradigm, he ignores important components of the work that link O’Neill’s films with other West Coast artists, forcing them into his rather narrow critical theory approach.71 Instead of understanding O’Neill’s films primarily as modernist critiques of Los Angeles (that is, Hollywood), other emphases forge a different context for optical printing’s relation to special effects. As already mentioned, O’Neill worked for decades in the mainstream film industry as an optical freelancer. In addition to the original Star Wars trilogy, he also worked for Melvin Van Peebles, more or less at cost, on the striking opticals for Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971). And rather than emphasizing fragmentation and disjuncture, O’Neill’s films frequently display more seductively



smooth and hypnotically flowing passages than Sitney describes. By both blending into one another and remaining in relief, the simultaneously smooth and jagged “fused” images show a more complex control of the synthetic power of the optical printer than Sitney allows.72 Indeed, the aspects of O’Neill’s films that align them to West Coast filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s are those that emphasize sensual engagement and are less amenable to a political modernist interpretation. West Coast critic Gene Youngblood’s description of O’Neill’s 7362 (1965– 66), a more radically abstracted film than the Saugus Series that Sitney discussed, suggests a more appropriate approach for experimental cinema’s relation to special effects in the 1970s. 7362 (which is the number of the highcontrast film stock) features layered images of oil derricks and nude female bodies, printed and reprinted with the abstracting high-contrast stock, colorfiltered and composited via contact printing, and smoothly fused to generate a kind of morphing effect. Youngblood provides a helpful model for the West Coast’s own critical reception of West Coast abstract filmmaking: At first we aren’t certain whether these shapes are human or not, but the nonrhythmic motions and asymmetrical lines soon betray the presence of life within a lifeless universe. Human and machine interact with serial beauty, one form passing into another with delicate precision in a heavenly spectrum of pastel colors.73

For Youngblood, in pointed opposition to Sitney’s modernist reading, the experience of an O’Neill film is not primarily cerebral and critical, but sensual and experiential. In 7362, manipulation of the filmstrip fully transforms the photographic material into a component of abstract animation. What is essential about O’Neill within Youngblood’s polemic is the “rhythmic seriality” of color and shape transformations, which facilitates a humanistic communion with “heavenly” forces. I want to emphasize that I do not believe Youngblood is more “correct” than Sitney in his assessment of O’Neill. Rather, his rhetoric helps shift the discussion away from East Coast–inflected structuralism and formalism, and instead emphasizes the aspects of 1960s and 1970s experimental filmmaking that make use of the materiality of composite techniques in order to stress more experiential and sensual effects. It is exactly this dimension that mainstream feature filmmaking would find so attractive and expressive.



Youngblood includes O’Neill in his influential book Expanded Cinema (1970), a manifesto for West Coast approaches to experimental cinema. Bringing together Marshall McLuhan’s and Buckminster Fuller’s media theories, popular “eastern” spirituality, and the West Coast avant-garde, Youngblood’s utopian vision for the cinema is an invaluable resource for pulling together the various strands of thought around technology, science, spirituality, psychology, aesthetics, and the media that informed so much of 1960s and 1970s filmmaking across many registers.74 For Youngblood, the cinema is not just a space of possible new experiences and resulting mental expansion: cinema is the site in contemporary society. In language familiar to Romanticism, Aestheticism, Dada, and many other less figurative art movements in the modern era, Youngblood calls for an art that is performance-based and nonobjective. It is an art that plays directly on the body and on the mind in a “pre-reflective” way. Expressly refuting the “East Coast” Greenbergian model derived for Abstract Expressionism (by art critic Clement Greenberg), Youngblood believed art should not be based in the materialism of paint, canvas, and clay. Rather, Expanded Cinema is a mixed-media, immaterial, impermanent performance. Film and music are part of the performance, but the art “happens” when it converges on the body of the beholder within a crowd likewise engaged. This performance creates a collective experience for those in attendance, but also stands in for a universalized, cosmic merging. Specifically, in the late 1960s and 1970s, this often meant film projected in live music venues, with the audience frequently ingesting hallucinogenic drugs, as for Belson’s Vortex concerts in the San Francisco planetarium, Single Wing Turquoise Bird’s happenings in Los Angeles, the traveling Rainbow Jam’s light shows in the West, and later taken up by “prog rock” bands such as Pink Floyd and Yes. While other contemporary art theories (such as Sitney’s and Le Grice’s) treat the drug-induced, Eastern-influenced yogic project of these film events as important to the artist but somehow secondary to the art, for Youngblood the mental expansion of and physical impact on the beholder is the point.75 The art/performance is specifically designed to promote the mind’s expansion as instigated through the senses. Sitney’s “laying bare” of the technology requires a critique, or even a demonization, of that technology. To Youngblood, on the other hand, technologized media are not opposed to nature. Rather, it is nature. Further, we should utilize the technology for an intensified intermedial experience of Expanded Cinema to



merge consciousnesses, from Freud and Jung’s oceanic (collective) consciousness, to expanded, cosmic consciousness, which unites us with our fellow humans and also with all of the earth and the cosmos. However we may judge its impassioned goals, Expanded Cinema (both the book itself and the popularization of its ideas) had a powerful impact on the aesthetics of special effects in the 1970s. Experimental film’s influence, especially in the form of abstract animation, spread into the industry through art world trends, traveling programs of experimental film, and courses in art and film schools. In addition, these ideas were often taught by the artists themselves.76 The experiential emphasis of West Coast experimental film is certainly one reason it made such an easy transition to the sensation-seeking Hollywood film industry. Youngblood’s take on O’Neill is closely aligned with what special effects production later took from O’Neill and his fellow artist-filmmakers. As is clear with examples from 2001, Close Encounters, and Star Wars, Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema is a key text for how these images and themes made their way into many of the science fiction films of the 1960s and early 1970s, even if they entered such films in a significantly modified, more “motivated” form, or what I call the expanded blockbuster.

Expanded Special Effects?

Youngblood’s notion of Expanded Cinema and youth-oriented music events provide an important cultural context for the aesthetics of special effects in the 1970s. Additionally, experimental film by West Coast artist filmmakers and in art programs offered an important technological model that influenced the way that optical printing was used in feature filmmaking. As Sitney claims, O’Neill and others certainly strongly exploited the “synthetic power of the optical printer,” as well as other technologies that facilitated abstracted composite imagery. Up to the 1960s and 1970s, optical printing techniques and the optical printer had been more firmly associated with Hollywood special effects and industrial optical work than with experimental filmmaking.77 In most traditional 2D animation, photographing the animation cels is the final process in the animation pipeline. That is, once all the drawings have been completed and arranged, they are photographed frame by frame, thereby becoming animated and ready for projection. In many cases of 1960s and 1970s experimental animation, the artist made



use of the single-frame photogram as a starting point for further manipulation and design by reprinting. Conversely, many used contact and optical printing to manipulate live-action photography into abstraction. Though quite different from one another in many ways, West Coast artists such as O’Neill, John and James Whitney, Jordan Belson, Adam Beckett, and others experimented with optical printing as a compositional device to more precisely control the design of their patterns and effects. Practically speaking, how did experimental cinema get into the film industry? Many of the filmmakers mentioned above taught at West Coast film schools (O’Neill, for example, taught at CalArts). By the mid- to late1960s, major film schools like the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) taught a grab bag of “alternative” filmmaking practices to supplement their more pragmatic, industry-driven subjects. In the late 1960s, USC, whose cinema teaching program had strong connections to the mainstream industry,78 offered two popular classes: Lester Novros’s “Filmic Expression” (described in the catalog as “Creative aspects of film production; analysis of audio and visual forces that make the film an expressive means of communication”), and Herb Kosower’s course on animation (“Application to entertainment, education, industrial, and the experimental film; introduction to action analysis, storyboard design, and kinestatic techniques”).79 These more experimental courses were offered along with those taught by such stalwart studio directors as Norman Taurog and King Vidor (1969’s artist in residence). As oral histories of USC’s program suggest, students (which in the late 1960s and early 1970s included, for example, Lucas and John Carpenter) were encouraged not to think of Hollywood and experimentation as being mutually exclusive.80 Furthermore, communicating expressively was not taught as a purely narrative enterprise. As already mentioned, CalArts, which in its early years as an agricultural school received a considerable financial boost from Disney, provides another strong example of students trained both as experimental filmmakers and with more mainstream skills (such as rotoscoping and optical printing) applicable to special effects work.81 Experimental methods as practiced by O’Neill, Belson, and others were concerned with investigating the creative combination of animation and photography techniques in order to precisely control and compose moving shapes and patterns on the picture plane. The composition of elements within the frame moved in a rhythmic fashion (often to specific music or



other sounds), in order to create a sustained kinetic effect on the viewer. Images often “strobed” on the screen, by inserting clear or colored frames. The composition, printing, editing, and other assorted handwork meant that these filmmakers had a (literal) hand in all aspects of filmic aesthetics, including the supposedly less flexible live-action photography. The fact that these trends in experimental filmmaking existed does not mean that feature filmmakers would necessarily adopt them. What purpose could these techniques serve in mainstream feature filmmaking? Learning from their West Coast colleagues’ example, mainstream filmmakers of the era took as a model experimental abstract film’s total control of the composition of the frame, based more in the synthetic motion of animation techniques than in photographic staging. The example of experimental animation often provided the creative framework for rethinking how photography and animation might be combined in creative ways for use in special effects, often by artists with professional and artistic experience on both sides. Experimental filmmaking not only helped filmmakers rethink the role of diegetic space in feature filmmaking, but actually provided a working technological model for teams employed by popular filmmakers like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Ridley Scott for organizing and mobilizing the elaborately designed composite mise-en-scène required by their science fiction films. As the influence of experimental animation and avant-garde movements demonstrates, the most prominent special effects artists in the 1970s were not simply honing the traditional tools of special effects in search of more perfect photorealism. In special effects for feature films, what did attention to something else beyond photorealism mean to accomplish? Certainly, expressive manipulation of the photographic negative allowed special effects to add a mysterious or otherwise flamboyant element to traditional optical effects work (such as in Star Wars’ light sabers or Close Encounters’ UFOs). But as palpably material experimental films by Belson and O’Neill demonstrate, collapsing the distinction between animation and photography also helps avoid politically suspect illusionism.82 In the science fiction, fantasy, and horror films so popular in that era, filmmakers learned that if they exploited the space between realism and stylization—as in films like Close Encounters, Apocalypse Now (1979), Altered States (1980) and even Eraserhead (1977)—then optical manipulation could help such films seem simultaneously more real while at the same time more fantastic. Composing the photographic material with graphic dynamics in mind, as well as



layering animation on top of the photographic image, draws attention to, not away from, the effects artists’ manipulation, both stressing its handmade qualities and also avoiding the taint of “invisible” manipulation. On a more commercial level, feature filmmaking, always looking to broaden its audience appeal to younger markets and supply new cinematic experiences in established theater spaces, borrowed associations of communality from Expanded Cinema. By making feature films with selected elements of Expanded Cinema in mind, 1970s filmmakers broadened the classical narratives of genre formulas into more up-to-date, mind-blowing realms.

Optical Animation—Reprise

Again, the term optical animation describes what is unique about this late 1970s era of special effects. Optical animation takes an animation approach to traditionally less flexible optical special effects, and further treats live action as an element to be composed, assembled, and animated. While a look of live-action 1970s cinematography is largely maintained, the special effect is produced by intensive frame-by-frame manipulation, in order to achieve total control of the resulting composite mise-en-scène. Optical animation indicates optical special effects’ historical basis in 1970s Hollywood photographic optical technology and aesthetics, while flaunting the increased creativity, flexibility, and plasticity of the composited image. Optical animation of the 1970s therefore thoroughly exploits the possibilities in both parts of the phrase “optical” and “animation.” The emphasis on what is special or unusual about 1970s special effects should not suggest that the decade stands completely apart from other eras. Hard historical lines cannot and should not be drawn between 1970s techniques and earlier or later periods. Rather, the shifts should be seen as a gradual change of emphasis rather than an absolute change in kind. However, the specific characteristics of 1970s special effects can shed light on both earlier and later periods. By fusing opticals and animation, the techniques used in Star Wars and Close Encounters form a bridge between more traditional optical special effects camera work and the historically important shift in special effects toward a more fully animated (nonphotographic) computer-generated object. More specifically, if special effects have always had a strong relationship to animation, already in the mid-seventies



(inspired by 2001 ), the materially photographic and elastically animated became more thoroughly hybridized in special effects production. Somewhat parenthetically, it is important to focus not only on optical animation as it manifests on the level of composition and construction of the image within the frame on the negative. What is often characterized as live-action movement also makes use of optical animation, through the animated movement of the computerized motion-control camera. We have seen how a major drawback to optical composite techniques had been the “locked-down” immobile camera, which limited camera movement in both special effects and live-action shots. In the 1970s, the special effects artists prioritized developing an “animating camera device” (as they called it) that would solve this problem. Technologically, this meant producing a sense of animation through the possible dual movement of the camera and the models combined with the frame-by-frame manipulation of optical (step) printing, or what would become known as motion control (fig. 1.7).83 In motion control, a camera on a track is attached to a computer that records

FIGURE 1.7 A motion-control rig setup. (Courtesy of Richard Rickett)



the exact motion of the camera movement so it can be recalled and repeated when recording the separate photographic elements. This procedure enables the separate elements to fit cleanly together when assembled on the optical printer. The dual movement of camera and the effects object being filmed (such as a model spaceship) allowed the high-energy kinetic movement so remarkable in films like Star Wars. In optical animation, it was not good enough that the photographic elements fit together just so frame by frame. The image also had to move. Motion control was initially developed so that small-scale models would retain the motion blur that the camera records in live action, as an aid to attaining a photoreal effect of the spaceship zooming through space. However, effects artists found more applications for the technique. They realized that the motion-control rig allows the image to maintain camera movements consistent with live-action photography, while at the same time that motion becomes a “detachable” element of composition. Animating the camera (using computer-controlled motion control) and the image (frameby-frame manipulation) facilitated a kind of cinematic motion that moved like live action and looked like integral continuous space, but was built up by a number of different shots filmed with the same computer-controlled movement, piece by piece in postproduction. Finally, with so much technical experimentation taking place, why keep so much faith with the photochemical optical processes, especially if optical animation could theoretically take any aesthetic form? Development of computer graphics was well under way by the late 1970s, and evidence suggests it is not a given that special effects techniques based in photochemical processes or the look of photography should have been used for films such as Star Wars and Close Encounters.84 Instead, a certain amount of choice was involved. Should the industry have been willing to invest the money and time (or should there have been someone sufficiently powerful enough to force it), computer graphics might have appeared much earlier as a workable special effects model.85 The idea for computer-generated imagery (CGI) was already in the air, though not yet successfully (that is, efficiently and profitably) in entertainment applications.86 Certainly, photochemical processes and a photographic look were maintained in large part because the industry technicians were trained in photography, and therefore were most comfortable with it, and knew best how to manipulate it for various project-specific aesthetic purposes.



Using an optical animation approach allowed the optical work to be flexible and detachable, but still based in the aesthetic of photography and, more specifically, the 1970s brand of vérité-style cinematography (which will be discussed more thoroughly later). This dual character gave the filmmakers what they saw as the best of both worlds. This approach allowed a tighter knit between principal photography and postproduction material, resulting in the desired (by major players such as Lucas, Spielberg, and Trumbull) more integral-looking fantastic cinematic diegesis.87 That is, the special effects object could maintain both the materially photographic base and look favored by auteurist filmmakers who wanted to ground their more fantastic subject matter in the 1970s naturalistic photoreal aesthetic, while at the same time becoming freer to picture a more plastic reality. The insistence on recognizing 1970s special effects technology’s photographic base is not another way of privileging or asserting a notion of photochemically inscribed indexicality over later CGI. Rather, understanding what comprises optical technology helps show where the optical ends and the digital begins, and further, how it is not often possible to draw such a strict line between them. Historically speaking, it is important that the aesthetic of the 1970s special effects object was emphatically a photographic element, and that its photochemical foundation was significant in its aesthetic construction. The aesthetic as well as technical importance of the photographic base of special effects in the mid-1970s tends to be either ignored or taken for granted, especially since that is what seems to link it most strongly to earlier special effects production practices. However, 1970s optical animation both manipulates and mimics photographic materiality as an aesthetic (and a specifically 1970s filmmaking aesthetic) and not just as its default technology. Although later digital special effects technology would not so strongly privilege the materially photographic (made with photochemical processes), it largely maintains the simulated photographic aesthetic (the look of photography) of 1970s photorealism as a building block of contemporary special effects aesthetics.88 When suddenly, with some effort, you can build any world you can imagine, what kind of world do you build? Filmmakers’ ambivalent choice of whether to emphasize photographic aesthetics or animation aesthetics was a dilemma played out in almost every film of the period (and continues today), both behind the scenes in the production, as well as thematically in the film. The most influential films of the era, Star Wars and



Close Encounters, used an optical animation approach to blur the lines between principal photography and postproduction, so the final product could more strangely and wonderfully negotiate between photography and animation, and therefore vacillate between the familiar and the novel, the real and the fantastic. The technological aesthetics of optical animation bring together a composite of the techniques and approaches that comprise the primary concerns of the filmmakers of the 1970s special effects–driven films. Later chapters will provide a thorough account of the aesthetics of Star Wars, Close Encounters, and other “optically animated” films of the era, as well as a discussion of the implications of the kinds of cinematic worlds they chose to display, and those films’ impact on later cinema.

The original ILMers themselves were perceived by many as an insurgent group, young (the average age was late twenties) and eager but unschooled in Hollywood ways— certainly not cast from the model of the old pros who had once created motion picture effects in the days of the studio film factories. Undaunted, the Star Wars effects team, which made up in enthusiasm and ingenuity what it lacked in calendar years and filmmaking experience, went to work. — I N D U S T R I A L L I G H T AND MAGIC: INTO THE DIGITAL REALM (1 9 9 6 ) 1

Before Industrial Light and Magic The Independent Hollywood Special Effects Business, 1968–1975

The enshrined story of special effects in the late sixties and through the seventies, repeated in reverential accounts of the founding of Lucasfilm’s special effects wing Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), and in later accounts of the rise of computer-generated imagery (CGI), has become hardened into received fact: the slow breakdown of the studio system following the Paramount Decrees (1938–1948) meant the eventual shuttering of animation and effects departments, and the forced retirement of the old studio effects hands, especially in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Thus, when George Lucas went looking to hire experienced effects experts for Star Wars around 1975, there essentially were not any. Instead, he hired young, untried, but enthusiastic up-and-comers. This band of rebels eventually developed and evolved into the special effects power Industrial Light & Magic, a company that came to dominate the special effects industry as we know it in the 2010s. This is not to say that the broad strokes of ILM’s corporate mythology are not generally true. However, it should be noted that a Lucasfilm in-house historian has written every major popular history of ILM.2 These accounts willfully ignore an enormous amount of special effects activity throughout



the 1960s and 1970s (and earlier) that ILM was not involved with, and further, greatly simplify the history of the development of the independent special effects industry. This notably leaves out those efforts completed by commercial effects, optical, and title houses, and freelance independents. Additionally, it affords a false unity to the “Star Wars effects team,” which was in fact made up of a core ILM group, supplemented by a great many temporary and freelance workers from many areas of the broader film service industry, especially at the production completion deadline. It is tempting to think that special effects simply come from “Hollywood” and therefore slavishly follow the requirements and dictates of the new studio conglomerates. However, the history is much more complicated. The special effects industry has, at least since the 1940s, developed in a parallel but separate line from studio production. Some have had closer ties to some studios than others, but for the most part the independent effects sector has never been entirely absorbed by the studio corporate structure. The special effects branch of the independent Hollywood service industry is a nearly wholly unstudied but vital part of the development of the special effects business as we know it today.3 The independent optical and effects business has existed parallel to Hollywood since at least the early 1920s when two traveling matte pioneers, Frank Williams and Carroll Dunning, individually founded the Williams Composite Laboratories and the Dunning Process Company, respectively, and worked as independent contractors with the studios. In the 1930s, Fred Jackman left his post as special effects head at Warner Bros. to go into business for himself, followed by Linwood Dunn, leaving RKO in the 1950s (along with many more examples), and independent special effects companies have worked on a number of different kinds of moving-image work from features to television commercials.4 Moreover, despite ILM historians’ accounts of untried up-andcomers, it was in fact the independents that provided the training ground for the future ILM core group on Star Wars and other special effects–heavy blockbusters of the late 1970s and through the 1980s. Additionally, these effects houses allowed many Los Angeles–based artist-filmmakers such as Pat O’Neill, James and John Whitney Sr. (and the Whitney family), Betzy Bromberg, and Adam Beckett to both make a living and avail themselves of the expensive optical equipment after hours for their own films. Popular histories of special effects (which typically focus on studio work on feature productions) tend to skip from the effects benchmark that was



2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 to Star Wars in 1977.5 In between, though largely ignored or forgotten in any account of the history of special effects, the range of activity in the independent special effects industry during these years was surprisingly varied and creative. In addition to studio and independent feature films, these effects houses worked on commercials, so-called motion graphics logos, and industrial or educational films. Often, they simply added opening titles and end credits to finished films. By paying proper attention to the industrial context of special effects in the late 1960s through the 1970s, a surprising history emerges that reveals the roots of the special effects aesthetic of the 2010s. Further, by understanding the era’s specific style of photorealism not as transhistorical but contextual, we can identify and analyze its various components. That being said, it is not an overstatement that our contemporary notion of photorealism has been extensively shaped and defined by Industrial Light & Magic. The ILM style has been so influential that many mistake their house style of photorealism (a style that uses aesthetic strategies to cue viewers that what they are seeing is photographic) as congruent with perceptual realism, or what the eye sees “in real life.” ILM has been the industry leader in special effects production since about 1980, and the history of independent effects companies has been a long string of companies starting up to rival ILM, competing with ILM for a while, and then shuttering.6 Due in large part to the financial stability allowed by the association with Lucasfilm, ILM has built a stable and consistent visual effects brand that has adapted to technological changes over the last several decades, and absorbed the styles of its rivals. Following the historical intensification of special effects and digital technology across the production spectrum, ILM’s special effects aesthetic has bled over into all areas of big-budget Hollywood visual design. As ILM has dominated the special effects industry, its house style has set the standard for what we accept as realism in the cinema and other visual media. Beginning with Star Wars in 1977, but even more consistently with The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, the ILM team understood special effects photorealism as congruent with the style of live-action 1970s photorealism. When John Dykstra, special effects supervisor on Star Wars, in 1977 commented that, “The aerial battle that takes up the last reel of [Star Wars] is going to be as exciting as the car chase in The French Connection,” he also revealed the importance of 1970s action pictures as a reference.7 Specifically, that means



FIGURE 2.1 The New Hollywood style: Harold and Maude (Ashby, 1971).

a muted color palette, lens flares, handheld cameras, and available light, which marked the more naturalistic “New Hollywood” filmmaking styles of, for example, Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, Terrence Malick, and Monte Hellman (fig. 2.1). As I have argued elsewhere, what is most remarkable is that a modified version of a 1970s aesthetic still holds sway as an industrywide model of photorealism in the age of CGI, as seen in recent examples of (mostly) ILM productions such as the three Transformers movies (2007, 2009, and 2011), Terminator Salvation (2009), the Iron Man films (2008 and 2010), and the 2009 J. J. Abrams Star Trek movie.8 Emphasizing the 1970s cinematographic aesthetic shows that the historically dominant ILM style of photorealism involves a much more complicated and multifaceted example of photorealism than is usually assumed, including a great deal of stylization and what might be called anti-realistic techniques. From Star Wars to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and from Jurassic Park (1993) to Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)—and all of those films’ sequels— ILM has dominated the special effects industry from the late 1970s until the present day, and therefore can write the history that erases its competitors and predecessors. Commonsense economics suggests that the explosion of effects-heavy features after the success of Star Wars would have caused



a proportionate profusion of special effects styles and approaches. Briefly, this was true: the early 1980s enjoyed special effects experimentation in live-action films with puppetry, animatronics, rotoscope animation, special effects makeup, different approaches to compositing, and even stop-motion animation, among others. For example, see The Muppet Movie (Frawley, 1979), Xanadu (Greenwald, 1980), Caveman (Gottlieb, 1981), Clash of the Titans (Davis, 1981), The Howling (Dante, 1981), Outland (Hyams, 1981), The Thing (Carpenter, 1982), and The Terminator (Cameron, 1984). Over the course of the 1980s, films with ILM-produced effects such as the Star Wars sequels and Raiders of the Lost Ark made enormous amounts of money. Therefore, by Hollywood logic, ILM’s effects work set the industry standard through the 1980s and beyond. Moreover, by the late 1970s, Lucas and the ILM team worked to streamline and refine the effects process to encourage greater consistency and efficiency. With this streamlining in mind, the success of Star Wars on one hand increased the volume of special effects business across the industry, but ironically eventually decreased the variety of aesthetics of effects. For better or worse, the economic dominance of the ILM model has limited the acceptable aesthetic for what comprises “good” or “realistic” special effects. Examining the independent effects industry in the decade before Star Wars demonstrates that through its personnel, ILM absorbed and synthesized the heterogeneous approaches of the pre–Star Wars effects industry into one that was able to rationalize new ideas in order to absorb and incorporate them. The purpose of this chapter is twofold—to fill the historical gap in special effects production that exists in the decade between the late 1960s and the late 1970s, and to denaturalize the ILM aesthetic, the contemporary special effects dominant style, by analyzing its components. With that goal in mind, this chapter describes the very active Hollywood service industry before Star Wars. The concurrent weakening of the studio workshop model and the rise in special effects production in the early 1970s meant that the role of the independent special effects sector broadened and diversified. Also, the talented young filmmakers just graduating from newly popular film schools needed convincing that special effects production was a viable professional avenue. The last section describes traditional studio artists’ efforts (specifically by Linwood Dunn) to attract young people into the field of special effects.



The ILM Aesthetic I always see images flash into my head, and I just have to make those scenes. I have an overwhelming drive to get that great shot of the two spaceships, one firing at the other as they drive through the space fortress. By God I want to see it. That image is in my head, and I won’t rest until I see it on the screen. — G E O R G E L U C A S ( 1 974) 9

Statements by Lucas suggest that the ILM aesthetic existed as an ideal (but not yet realized) form for Star Wars and has been in place over the last three decades. An extrapolated characterization of the ideal ILM aesthetic would start with a perfectly executed, seamless photorealism, where liveaction and effects material are composited together to look as if filmed at the same time by the same camera. ILM stresses anthropomorphic creature design, meaning that the character or creature should resemble or recall in form a familiar being and correspond with expected physics and smooth movement. Fast-paced, kinetic action leads the eye around the busy frame, jam-packed with moving elements and flashy, eye-catching graphic details (like neon lights). Finally, ILM takes great care to include environmental effects picked up by camera lenses and filters, including fog, mist, dust, and snow, as well as the effects artists’ best friend, darkness. Additionally, these visible and dazzling effects would periodically and strategically seek to refresh the “wow” factor of cinematic spectacle, rather than pass by unnoticed as perfect illusion—for example, the Star Wars opening flyover, or the introduction of the Enterprise in the 2009 Star Trek. It is a testament to the power and supremacy of the ILM aesthetic that these qualities seem so obvious and appear to provide a definition of special effects aesthetics generally. It was not always so. Admitting exceptions, it can be helpful to sketch out the contrast between the general principles of effects practice “before Star Wars” and “after Star Wars.” Most notably, before the 1970s, producers preferred the on-set convenience of rear-projection compositing, and applied optical printing composite work very sparingly. When optical printing was used, the high skill level and precision required meant there were rarely more than two elements composited in the frame at a time. In addition to the greater number of elements to be composited in the same frame, Star Wars brought a more intense kineticism by allowing the camera to move during



effects sequences: namely, until the Star Wars team developed a workable system for computer-assisted motion control, cameras on the set had to be completely still (or “locked down”) so that the composite elements shot on the effects units, also with a locked-down camera, would be able to fit together in the composite image.10 While much composite work was achieved invisibly (and therefore was not noticed), in much science fiction before Star Wars, and even through the 1980s, a certain amount of “seeing the seams” or recognizing the effect as an effect, as in King Kong (1933) or Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), was generally expected and tolerated—even enjoyed—in effects work.11 After Star Wars, composited creatures and vehicles were expected to melt into the mise-en-scène as a whole, and when they did not (as in Dune [1984] or Clash of the Titans [1981] ), they were deemed to have failed.12 Creatures’ characterizations (with obvious important exceptions such as Ray Harryhausen’s creatures or those in King Kong) were usually one-dimensional “man in a suit” killing machines, rather than the acting characters with a human dimension we tend to expect today, as with the Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films or the Na’vi of Avatar (2009). Effects sequences, for example in the early 1970s disaster films like Earthquake (1974) or The Hindenburg (1975), tended to appear in discreet sequences at climactic moments. In Star Wars the effects sequences appeared interspersed throughout the film, working to build a sense of an unbounded cinematic environment for a more fully realized fantasy diegesis. It is worth emphasizing that nearly all the components of the ILM style were difficult but not impossible before Star Wars. Star Wars invented almost no entirely new technologies or techniques. Since difficult techniques meant expensive techniques, most productions did not attempt the more elaborate ones, much less try to pile them all on in the same film as Lucas did. The special effects films of the 1970s are often characterized as applying slick new technology to old narrative formulas.13 In terms of the technology, the opposite is also often true: the three directors whose names are most associated with the special effects boom, Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg, all initially looked to older, originally studio-based techniques (such as optical printing), personnel, and even film formats (such as 1950s VistaVision) when they went to rework special effects techniques.



2001: A Space Odyssey

Contemporary blockbusters are so dependent on special effects technology, it is hard to remember a time when most films had very few shots that could be called “special” or when special effects were at best a marginal part of the filmmaking process. Although it is indeed true, as the ILM histories claim, that many studios had closed down their effects departments by the end of the 1960s, several studios still had active in-house facilities, including Universal and Disney.14 Also, as Stanley Kubrick discovered for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), facilities in the U.K. (for international coproductions, Hollywood films, and local output such as the James Bond films) were also very active and had the advantage of a highly trained and experienced workforce, equally innovative methods, and in many cases alternate effects technologies.15 2001, Kubrick’s technologically dazzling film would seem to immediately give the lie to ILM’s claims of innovation and uniqueness, and to a certain degree that is true. 2001 did indeed exert a huge influence over the ILM aesthetic, and Lucas adapted a selection of techniques from the working method of 2001 for Star Wars and ILM. Comments from Lucas, Spielberg (whose own science fiction films were inevitably compared to 2001), and others suggest that Kubrick’s ambitious spectacle made the science fiction film respectable to the auteurist generation of filmmakers as an appropriate vehicle for intellectual cinematic “ideas.”16 Although (like Star Wars) 2001 did not invent a great deal of new technology, its team did rethink and repurpose many existing or outdated methods, especially in optical printing, camera movement, front projection, and miniature making. More specifically, 2001 looked back to technology before rear projection, favoring pre-1930s techniques associated with optical printing and animation. Moreover, in creating a speculative science look for the effects work, Kubrick’s film set a photoreal aesthetic style that all who followed felt they had to measure themselves against, and explicitly did.17 Finally, 2001’s spectacular sequences proved so popular among the coveted youth audience that it established that an audience would show up primarily just to experience the special effects.18 The 2001 team also rethought the overall purpose and use of special effects in films, by integrating them into an overall programmatic aesthetic approach, interspersing and blending the effects throughout with the live action. The particular photoreal aesthetic developed for 2001 was meant



to support Kubrick’s intention to present it as a “science speculation” film, not as science fiction.19 This meant it was not enough to roughly suggest spaceships flying through the air in inserts, as in Paramount’s 1955 bigbudget Conquest of Space (Haskin). The spaceships, inside and out, needed to look like workable spaceships, based in current scientific research, and they would have to be able to hold up to long sequences of scrutiny as, for example, they docked with the space station in the famous “Blue Danube” waltz sequence. Further, the Kubrick effects team did not only limit themselves to the credibility of how photoreal spaceships might look and move. They also adopted a more visible, spectacular, and “graphic” use, as in the “Star Gate” sequence, which went far beyond unobtrusively supporting or straightforwardly visualizing the narrative. Kubrick often spoke of the need for a modern cinematic expression to narrate and present ideas visually.20 However, the special effects also had their own impact and reverberation that expanded beyond the conventional bounds of motivated cinematic narration. As Annette Michelson has pointed out, the special effects in 2001 serve the overall (what Michelson calls modernist) intellectual program of the film. By mobilizing the spectator’s relation to on-screen space, Michelson suggested that 2001 throws into question the “given” concepts of cinematic space and the concept of “space” more broadly speaking.21 Scott Bukatman expands this notion by positing that the mobilization of the spectator via the special effects program of the film exploits cinema’s potential to provide a non-narrating kinetic and intellectual experience that frees the imagination to consider not only another kind of cinema but another kind of nonrational experience.22 Michelson and Bukatman examine the spectator effects of the sort of visual experience 2001 held for many of its viewers. Their excellent theses are rounded out first of all by closer attention to the technical means that achieved these effects. More importantly, we must understand 2001 within a historical context that does not isolate it from other filmmaking practices. To do that, we must also, conversely, grasp exactly in what ways it is historically exceptional and why. 2001 indeed remains an extreme case of this intensely graphic use of special effects for intellectual and physical effects on the spectator. Later special effects–heavy films of the 1970s would also use the methodology of visible and spectacular special effects in order to fuse (quasi-)intellectual and kinetic purposes. Nevertheless, a question remains: if 2001 is so important



in reconceptualizing special effects, why did it take nearly a decade to capitalize on 2001’s techniques and the interest and enthusiasm the special effects garnered? One reason for the nine-year delay is that 2001’s techniques were not meant to carry over for later effects work. As evidence from Kubrick’s voluminous record keeping suggests, at the time of its making, the workshop created for 2001 was considered a one-off, formed for this one very specific project.23 2001 seemed to test, and prove, a commonly held belief among effects artists: with unlimited time and money, special effects could accomplish anything. The 2001 shoot took nearly three years. The unprecedentedly huge effects unit spent years testing and retesting effects, then reshooting and reprinting sequences until they met Kubrick’s strict aesthetic standards. The time and money spent on the production meant that Kubrick’s effects were not easy for later productions to emulate. 2001 nevertheless served as a kind of testing lab that would be instructive for later productions such as Star Wars. More importantly, Kubrick and his team tackled many “credibility” problems that had been the bane of special effects work for decades. The first of these was image quality. Kubrick’s compositing procedure achieved unparalleled rich image quality and seamlessness of composite shots. However, the method was also cumbersome and impractical for general production. As discussed in the previous chapter, all conventional composite work necessitates duplication, and thus an accumulated loss of “first generation” image quality over film generations. When conceiving of the special effects for the film, Kubrick’s first priority became what American Cinematographer editor (and visitor to the set) Herb Lightman sums up as Kubrick’s photoreal aesthetic, calling it a “single generation look” where “complex effects scenes have an unusually sharp, crisp and grain-free appearance.”24 To achieve this elusive single-generation look, Kubrick ruled out rear-projection shots, traditional traveling matte shots, blue screen, and most of the more conventional methods of optical printing.25 Instead of developing new technology, Kubrick in fact decided upon what was a more elaborate version of a riskier, largely outmoded method: contact printing.26 The dominant practice in optical compositing since the 1920s had meant shooting the individual elements and developing them, then reprinting the developed elements together over several intermediary printing stages. Like rephotocopying an image many times, this reprinting



FIGURE 2.2 Contact printing. (Courtesy of Richard Rickett)

inevitably caused a loss of image quality and visual information. In order to avoid this problem, Kubrick required several takes of each element, sometimes taken months apart.27 Then, when the time came, the elements were developed and combined using contact printing (fig. 2.2).28 In a simple definition of contact printing, the strips of developed film are sandwiched together, the emulsion of the first strip of film in direct contact with the emulsion of the second, and then run frame by frame in front of a light source. The resulting composite is printed together and then developed with minimal loss of image quality. Technicians tended to avoid contact printing due to the obvious difficulty in maintaining lineup seamlessly over the many frames of a shot. Technicians rarely attempted to composite more than two or three (at the most) separate elements at once. Kubrick, by



contrast, built up shots in which a ship, a pod, an astronaut, a planet, and a star field were all separate elements contact-printed together. It usually took the technicians on 2001 several attempts to satisfy Kubrick’s perfectionism. Kubrick was just as demanding about other areas of effects work. He spent months having his carefully detailed models and miniatures (some not so miniature: the Orion was 38 feet across) built and perfected in the round so they could be photographed from any angle. Then he had his technicians develop an “animating camera device” (much like the later motion control, but manually, not computer, operated), which would make camera moves, such as the leisurely “spaceship ballets,” repeatable.29 No detail, including star fields, logos, and furniture design, was too small to spend months on.30 All of these time-consuming steps were fascinating for someone like Lightman, impressed not only that that a filmmaker would take such pains but also that he would be allowed by the studio (MGM) to spend so much time and money to do it. Interestingly, for Lightman (and presumably for his American Cinematographer readers), the big story was clearly less the optical work in 2001, since most of the techniques used were ingenious applications of existing technology. In fact, what was most notable to him was the process projection work. For example, in the “Dawn of Man” section at the beginning of the film, Kubrick decided to employ a little-used process technology: front projection.31 Lightman called this use of front projection “Perhaps the most significant single technique utilized [in 2001].”32 Like rear projection, front projection used pre-filmed background plates projected at the same time as the live action. However, in the case of the “Dawn of Man” sequence, the projection plates were large-scale transparency stills. Kubrick’s demands resulted in front-projection composites that produced an extraordinary photorealist effect. Although front projection went through a vogue period during the 1970s, especially in the U.K. (on films such as Moonraker [1979] ), Lightman was backing the wrong horse. It was the optical technology that would serve as the impetus for most subsequent productions for the next two decades. However, what is clear is that, overall, Kubrick’s painstaking, time-consuming model was not immediately economically transferable to later filmmaking, nor was it meant to be. It would stand to reason that the personnel of 2001 would have taken what they learned on the Kubrick film and formed the basis for a new guard of U.S, special effects technicians. Surprisingly, this only happened



to a fairly limited degree. Two of the main credited visual effects supervisors on the film, Douglas Trumbull and Con Pederson, did indeed exert an important influence over later U.S. productions and the development of the effects industry.33 However, they were the only two American-based technicians on the 2001 production. The rest of the crew were U.K.-based and largely remained U.K.-based. 2001 was filmed in England at MGM’s Borehamwood Studios with a largely British special effects crew, including such stalwarts as Wally Veevers and Tom Howard (both special effects artists on the Thief of Baghdad [1940] ), Hammer Films veteran Les Bowie, and many others. Many U.S. productions after 2001 filmed on British soundstages and used technicians from the U.K. effects industry, including Star Wars and later Alien (1979). But as was the case with Star Wars, the producers tended to prefer the core of the optical effects teams to remain stateside, since that is where the bulk of postproduction would happen. After 2001, Con Pederson helped found what would become one of the biggest production houses for TV commercials, Robert Abel and Associates, which would be instrumental in the development of computerassisted and computer-generated filmmaking through the 1980s. Trumbull tried with limited success to move away from effects into directing.34 He also had even more ambitious plans to remake the cinema as we know it by developing so-called ride films and more immersive, interactive cinema experiences, most notably his high-frame-rate image capture and exhibition process called Showscan through the 1980s and 1990s, an idea that is only now starting to catch on.35 In forming the independent effects company Future General in 1974, he also provided a prototype for the onestop shopping, independent special effects house designed to do complex feature work that would be the prevalent post–Star Wars business model. Trumbull, a hugely inventive and resourceful special effects supervisor on landmark effects films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner, is usually portrayed as a man ahead of his time.36 His many varied interests encourage the image of a quixotic figure, struggling against much of the business side of 1970s and 1980s special effects. He did not, however, click with George Lucas, causing something of a split in approaches and methodologies in the late 1970s special effects industry that played out through the 1980s. As we shall see, although history shows that Lucas won that battle, many of Trumbull’s innovations have strongly impacted the industry as well.



Therefore, although 2001 was an important factor in sparking ideas and setting off interest in creative special effects production, Lucas did not have Kubrick’s extravagant budget or seemingly unlimited timeline. Being based in the U.K., 2001 was not able to provide a huge influx of personnel for the “special effects boom” of the 1970s. Although many of the later effects technicians cite 2001 as their inspiration for wanting to get into the effects business, it would take nearly a decade to train them to professional standards.37 Trumbull himself trained a great number of special effects supervisors prominent today by hiring them on their first jobs in features.38 That personnel investment began to pay off in the 1980s, when they started their own effects houses. If anything, 2001 proved so labor- and time-intensive that it effectively demonstrated how unfeasible a large-scale special effects production was for the mainstream industry. Instead, it fell to the independents like Lucas to take up the challenge. What 2001 did accomplish for the larger special effects community was to provide a think tank for techniques that would eventually streamline and refine the process. The testing ground provided on 2001 yielded some specific results over time. The image quality of the single-generation look appeared to be an achievable goal for special effects work, where it had not been before. The manual “camera animating device” described by Lightman was eventually attached to a computer control and became the Dykstraflex motion-control rig used in the first Star Wars to free the locked-off camera. Finally, Kubrick and his team helped the industry see new potential in an old technological paradigm, opticals, that would become the basis for later work. The Studios Special effects fell into disuse in the 60s for several reasons. Skyrocketing production costs, the trend toward location shooting and the audience dislike of artificiality all had their effect. Runaway productions helped make the old studio simulations of exotic locales seem passé. Cost-cutting productions allowed a shoddiness in special effects which gave a bad name to the entire field. The trend was toward shooting in the streets with hand-held cameras, and the elaborately crafted miniatures, backdrops, process shots and matte work of the old days had no place in the “new Hollywood.” — D A I LY VA R I E T Y ( 1 9 74) 3 9



The striking innovation exhibited in 2001 made the traditional studio techniques of the disaster cycle and films like Fantastic Voyage (Fleischer, 1966) seem outdated indeed. But were the studio workshops as moribund as suggested by Variety and the Lucas hagiographers? What was the state of the studio workshops in the early to mid-1970s? The most important difference between studio working methods and the 1970s independent houses is that studio work was typically project-oriented, meaning that all the effects were purpose and custom built for each project. Later effects houses reworked many studio techniques, systematizing and routinizing them into a more cost-effective and repeatable industrial working method. Variety’s judgment on 1960s special effects is more about perception than reality, but it adequately sums up why studios were reluctant to spend a lot of money on special effects in the early 1970s. Despite a reputation for stodginess, the studios’ traditional techniques, designed to match the live-action footage, proved an important model to subsequent effects practice. Although later 1970s independent special effects work did tend to avoid rear-projection “process shots,” they did cherry-pick other traditional studio techniques, especially “elaborately crafted miniatures,” matte work, and other optical techniques and formats. It is broadly true that by 1970 the studios had shuttered animation and effects departments. Paramount’s workshop largely shut down in 1967 when rear-projection innovator Farciot Edouart was forcibly retired.40 L. B. Abbott retired in protest at Fox in 1970, when most of his staff was let go.41 A similar situation existed at MGM for Arnold “Buddy” Gillespie, who was forcibly retired in 1967, after working there for forty years.42 MGM nevertheless already outsourced much of its effects work to the U.K.43 However, a good deal of effects work was proceeding at the studios in the early 1970s, on big-budget studio pictures. Universal’s effects team, led by Albert Whitlock, operated until his retirement in 1984.44 Disney is the only studio that continuously retained its in-house effects capability right up to and through the digital age.45 Nevertheless, after a period in the 1960s favoring location work and naturalism, special effects were already making a limited comeback well before Star Wars, initially in the form of the early 1970s disaster films. Ironically, given the 1970s audience’s supposed preference for “authenticity,” the huge popularity of highly artificial disaster films caused a resurgence in traditional



studio effects work and the studio effects craftsmen’s return to prominence. The mostly optical effects in the first major disaster film, Airport (1970), had been outsourced to Linwood Dunn’s Film Effects Hollywood. But as disaster films became more elaborate and expensive, the studios wanted more oversight of the effects aspect of production. The disaster film put the studios in an awkward position. After Airport and the 1972 success of The Poseidon Adventure, the studios realized they had been a bit hasty in losing track of now valuable effects experts, especially those experienced in creating the miniatures and mattes that crumbling buildings and disaster landscapes would require. Many former studio effects department heads such as Gillespie at MGM and Abbott from Fox, as well as former MGM miniature head Glen Robinson, and MGM effects cameraman Clifford Stine, were lured back to work. Robinson’s coworker expressed the irony: “You know something funny, MGM canned him a little while ago because he was too old. Then they had to keep hiring him back because he was the only one who knew what he was doing. Now he works all the time.”46 By rehiring old personnel and using traditional techniques, the studios could maintain their traditional control over production, at least for the disaster cycle. Disaster films play an important role in the broader ramping up of Hollywood productions toward blockbuster scale, a tendency that would be solidified by Jaws in 1975. The pictures increased the production weight of elaborate and complex special effects sequences, where the entire movie relied upon their success. Not surprisingly, given all this traditional studio talent at work (and compressed production timelines), disaster films are definitively more based in previous traditional approaches than the Star Wars model of later 1970s special effects. This cycle understandably resorted to long-held experience, using the same time-proven traditional composite techniques, on-set stunts and mechanical effects, and the old-hand technicians to execute them. The films are a triumph of old-style studio methods and make fantastic use of studio resources. Studio-style effects tended to maximize what could be shot on the set in first-unit principal photography, and to minimize postproduction. Simply put, disaster films can be thought of more as the historical apex of on-set physical effects (such as stunts) and mechanical effects (such as fires and explosions) than as an extension and elaboration of postproduction photographic effects begun with 2001. For example, a film like Earthquake (1974) used photographic composites with miniatures and matte paintings, but relied primarily on stunts (actors



swaying and falling) and physical effects (construction materials crashing down, rooms buckling, explosions, fires, etc.) and highly touted sound effects (e.g., Sensurround) for its effects work.47 The primary photographic innovation was to use camera-mounted agitators to get a “quake” effect by shaking the camera instead of the set.48 Likewise, The Towering Inferno (1974) combined miniature work with San Francisco location shooting. In an unprecedented move emphasizing the scale of physical effects, it split its production into three parts, with John Guillerman handling the actors, (powerful producer) Irwin Allen directing the action and stunt sequences, and longtime Fox effects head L. B. Abbott in charge of the photographic effects.49 Abbott’s work consisted of miniatures and mattes, with blue screen and a limited amount of rear-projection photography. In both cases, the Earthquake and Towering Inferno productions tried to accomplish the majority of effects work on-set and in-camera with stunts and mechanical effects, with as little postproduction as possible. In promotional material, both productions tout the sheer number of stunt performers involved (Earthquake’s promotion claimed it was a record), and the scale of their “action units,” but tended to downplay the optical effects work.50 Later post–Star Wars effects houses and personalities, though subordinate to the directors and often the art directors, would have a greater role in the overall production, especially in the planning stages. They would also have more of a financial interest in developing proprietary technology and new, visible, and spectacular looks for their effects. Most distinctly, post–Star Wars movies were put into production on the basis of the visibility (rather than invisibility) of their special effects. Importantly, however, disaster films brought the older optical techniques that were being lost to disuse back to the attention of the “movie brats,” and put old-hand studio personnel in touch with the newer generation. Abbott, for example, consulted on Spielberg’s miniature-heavy 1941 (1979).

Special Effects in the Hollywood Service Industry

Beginning in at least the 1920s, studios outsourced a significant amount of their effects work, especially opticals. As they had been doing for decades, the independent effects, optical, and title companies of the 1960s and 1970s completed a good deal of that outsourced optical work on feature



films (such as opening titles and end credits and simple composite work), executed the commercials commissioned by ad agencies, and generated a huge amount of what was called “motion graphics,” including television station identifications, logos, and other various short animations. They were also economically motivated to develop proprietary technology and niche markets. Some companies were large commercial enterprises that handled simple but large optical title orders, such as Pacific Title and Art. Others, such as Cascade Pictures, specialized in niche areas such as stopmotion animation, mostly for television commercials. Also, some such as John Whitney Sr.’s Motion Graphics Inc., and Pat O’Neill’s Lookout Mountain Films, were run by experimental filmmakers who made their living from commercial and industry work, primarily to finance their influential experimental films.51 What is most interesting about the possibilities emerging from the effects films is precisely that it was an open network through which, unlike the guild-like studios, artists traveled much more freely. This section explores the various ways these many strands of assorted but related activities were eventually brought together in service of feature filmmaking and, further, how the different approaches shaped the heterogeneous and not always unified aesthetic that was seen in Star Wars and beyond.

Independent Effects, Title and Optical Houses

In the years between the mid-sixties and early seventies, an estimated twenty-two optical, title, and effects houses of varying specialties operated in the Hollywood area alone.52 These houses (some of which had been in business since the silent era), including Film Effects Hollywood, Westheimer, Ray Mercer, Cascade Pictures, Robert Abel and Associates, Van Der Veer Photo Effects, and Graphic Films, usually received what was considered the more unglamorous effects work, such as titles, transitions, and simple composite work. Nevertheless, they also often boasted very active research and development departments and flexible technological capabilities and provided entry into the industry for significant figures of the later effects boom, such as Douglas Trumbull (Graphic Films), ILM’s Richard Edlund (Westheimer and Abel), ILM’s Dennis Muren (Cascade), and later Visual Effects Society president Bill Taylor (Mercer).



It is an often-told story that many untried directors of the era, such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Peter Bogdanovich, famously made their first features for Roger Corman’s production companies AIP (American International Pictures), and later New World Pictures. For effects workers, optical houses served a similar purpose. They trained many of the more recent film, design, and art school students in practical, commercial special effects optical work, teaching them how to run machinery such as optical printers, or how to photograph miniatures to look full-scale.53 As they attest over and over in personal accounts, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey made special effects “cool” to artisticminded young people looking to get into film.54 This and special effects legend Linwood Dunn’s public lectures on traditional special effects provided a solid career model for young people whose professional imagination and interest had been sparked by 2001 (as will be discussed later).55 These technicians would parlay that experience not only into ILM but also into the other major effects houses of the late seventies and early eighties, including Apogee, Dream Quest, and Boss Films. Furthermore, many of these same people, including John Dykstra (Spiderman I and II [2002, 2004], X-Men: First Class [2011] ), Dennis Muren (War of the Worlds [2005], Super 8 [2011] ), Richard Edlund (Charlie Wilson’s War [2007] ) Ken Ralston (Forrest Gump [1994], Alice in Wonderland [2012] ), and Mark Stetson (Superman Returns [2006], Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part II [2012] ), remained prominent special effects supervisors and consultants well into the digital era and are active in the Motion Picture Academy’s Science and Technology committees as well as serving on the board of the Visual Effects Society. The independents had been performing the bulk of optical work for decades, while the studios tended to concentrate on rear-projection work in-house. Subcontracting was usually fairly small-scale, a few shots per film. These houses also did a great deal of TV advertising work, which served both as testing grounds for new looks and technologies as well as conduits for the broader art influences yet to come in cinema. The history of the independent effects houses is one of the major untold stories of 1970s filmmaking and in the historical development of special effects. Though there were dozens of such houses in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, this book focuses mainly on those houses that were especially influential or otherwise innovative.



Independents were frequently offshoots of the studio system, founded by people who had been trained in the studio era of the 1930s and 1940s, and who therefore had close links with the studios. As mentioned above, the studio outsourced the effects for the first disaster film smash, 1970’s Airport, to Linwood Dunn’s Film Effects Hollywood. Because a great deal of the independents’ work came from the studios, it was in their interest to follow classical studio technical and aesthetic expectations for unobtrusive photorealism.56 Linwood Dunn, for example, worked both at RKO and for his own independent company from 1946 to 1956 when RKO closed down, and therefore inherited most of RKO’s equipment and business contacts. Van der Veer Photo Effects acquired most of Twentieth Century Fox’s optical work because Frank Van der Veer started his career there and hired Fox’s effects head L. B. Abbott as a consultant. In other words, the connections between studios and more traditional independents were often tight, and that certainly influenced the kind of effects work they did in other areas of production such as TV commercials.

Traditional Houses [Linwood Dunn’s] was the Tiffany of the effects optical houses, and known as a really really high-quality place that could tackle the toughest jobs. — B I L L TAY L O R , A S C 5 7

The destroyed cities, crashing airplanes, and overturned ships in the disaster movie trend of the early 1970s required a good deal of traditional optical effects. These films exposed something of a production gap for special effects: rear projection and other process techniques would not suit the effects needed for these films. They also required more optical shots than the typical studio was able to produce with its scaled-down opticals staff. In such cases, they often turned to Linwood Dunn’s Film Effects Hollywood. Dunn’s house, in business from 1946 to 1981, was one of the only independent houses that could handle more elaborate effects jobs such as the kind needed on Airport and other disaster films.58 Dunn’s influence over the history of special effects is hard to exaggerate. Dunn developed technology and techniques, especially in optical printing, that remained in practice for decades. With his assistant Cecil Love, Dunn had been instrumental in developing a standardized, off-the-shelf optical



printer for the Acme Corporation while at RKO for use by the U.S. Army during World War II.59 By making optical printing equipment more readily available, Dunn played an important role in the emergence of the independent optical, title, and effects sector. While at RKO in the 1930s, Dunn developed several creative uses for optical printing beyond simple composite work. He executed optical printing shots for many of RKO’s most elaborate, high-style productions, including Cimarron (1931), Flying Down to Rio (1933), and King Kong (1933), as well as the Astaire-Rogers musicals, and, most unheralded but important, the majority of the extensive optical printing on Citizen Kane (1941).60 From 1928 to 1956 he worked as cinematographer at RKO and eventually as head of its optical photographic department.61 After leaving the studio to become full-time president of Film Effects Hollywood, Dunn worked as an international motion picture consultant, both for films made in Hollywood and international coproductions of the 1960s, with screen credits on West Side Story (1961), The Great Race (1965), The Bible (1966), Hawaii (1966), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and the original Star Trek TV series.62 Film Effects Hollywood was exceptionally well-positioned and equipped among the independent houses of the 1960s and 1970s. Dunn’s firm was attractive not only due to his professional stature, extensive experience, and the most advanced equipment but also because it had a great deal of flexibility. Dunn’s was the only effects house to use film with a larger negative area in duplication stages, such as 65/70mm, and therefore could boast the highest picture quality in their effects sequences, a technique that ILM, Trumbull, and others would make standard later on.63 The company could handle rear-projection work but focused on opticals. Dunn’s team could also build or develop equipment and techniques on a film-by-film basis. Unlike much of his flashier and creative graphics in the 1930s for RKO (such as the enormous variety of transitional wipes used in Flying Down to Rio), the Film Effects aesthetic of the 1960s and 1970s was based more on the imperceptible ideal.64 Dunn’s expressed ideal in the 1960s was composite and model work that strove to be as indistinguishable from principal photography as possible and not to call attention to itself in any way as a special effect. In its service brochure from about 1965, Film Effects touted “magic, and the most wonderful kind, because you can’t tell it’s happening,” and “even trained observers . . . were unable to distinguish between the real and the reel.”65



FIGURE 2.3 Linwood Dunn’s climactic effects in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Kramer, 1963).

As the brochure emphasizes, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World served as Dunn’s calling card in the 1960s.66 The final reel sequence at the hotel (ironically, a homage to Harold Lloyd’s largely effects-free Safety Last! [1923] ) shows off the Film Effects aesthetic. Dunn’s team was not only able to produce seamless convincing effects (the miniature hotel, the matte painting backgrounds, and the composited crowds all make a photoreal whole), but also stage them in an extremely dynamic cinematically creative way, appropriate to the project (fig. 2.3). A combination of principal photography with the name actors, stunt footage, miniatures, matte paintings, stop-frame animation, and blue-screen traveling mattes all blend together seamlessly in a frantically paced finale. Most importantly, the result does not read as a showy effects sequence, but as a series of conventionally filmed live-action shots. Dunn’s firm, as the most prominent of the optical houses, charged a premium for that high degree of naturalistic photorealism and technical filmmaking skill. Unlike Dunn’s Film Effects Hollywood, most of the independent houses were much smaller and had more specialized business. In the 1970s there were many independent houses that had been in business since the silent era, including Ray Mercer, Pacific Title and Art, and Howard Anderson.



Bill Taylor, ASC, whose first job in effects was for Mercer, described Mercer’s activity: Mercer’s had a very profitable business. Their main business at the time was doing titles and opticals for the ABC TV network, [. . .] and it was Mercer’s job and many others to produce those hundreds and hundreds of on-air promos. So it was a great time for me. I started as a driver, and they worked me in to optical lineup, which is preparing film to be shot on an optical printer, and then they moved me into the optical printer, which I enjoyed hugely, and Mercer got me into the cameraman union.67

These houses’ diversification meant they did a little bit of everything, from simple titles to brief but showy effects sequences on TV shows like Star Trek. Taylor’s experience in optical houses and the “learn as you earn” apprenticeship method is fairly typical for effects artists at the time, and he had “hundreds and hundreds” of chances to perfect his skills. Most of the more traditionally based houses tended to recognize and follow trends rather than lead them. Howard Anderson Jr., son of the company’s founder, described the independent house’s “reactive” stance in 1978: “There’s no such thing as a secret in the special effects business. Anything visual in the world comes to our attention. We all stay abreast of what the other guy is doing, since everyone is looking for maximum exploitation. Everybody knows when a new visual look is coming out.”68 The independent houses were financially motivated to keep pace with transformations in the business, which accounts in part for the way styles and trends spread quickly through the industry. Many effects houses begun in the 1950s and 1960s were also founded (and staffed) as a direct result of studio redundancy. When the studios sold off their optical printers, they were bought up by the independents. They then made studio-outsourced optical work their stock-in-trade as well. There were a number of these houses, but some were especially prominent and active in the area of studio outsourcing and providing effects for independent producers. Frank Van der Veer, who founded Van der Veer Photo Effects with partner Bill Dorney in 1963, had apprenticed with L.B. Abbott at Twentieth Century Fox from 1950 to 1957.69 When Fox folded its optical department, Van der Veer took over most of the Fox opticals. (For example



Van der Veer received most of the outsourced, less complex opticals on The Towering Inferno.) Van der Veer and company did much of their work on TV, along with a great deal of feature work.70 The example of Van der Veer, as well as Anderson, Westheimer, or Mercer, provides an excellent baseline for early 1970s effects houses: competent, reliable, and responsive to the marketplace.71 And they all ideally strove to be more or less interchangeable. For example, Mercer, Van der Veer, Westheimer, and others all completed effects shots for Star Trek in the late 1960s. However, they also exemplify the kind of firms whose success and reputation was based on their economy rather than their creativity or innovation. They were unquestionably hurt by the shift away from imperceptible effects to more flamboyant styles.72 These houses exhibit the historical expectations for effects aesthetics circa 1975. In the early to mid-1970s, Van der Veer, Howard Anderson, and Ray Mercer were well suited to simple, unflashy composite effects in limited numbers. However, they struggled to adapt to the changing industrial model of the large-scale, visible style of effects that would be the standard later in the 1970s and into the 1980s. When Lucas and others proclaimed dissatisfaction with the previous look of special effects, often dismissed with words like “fine for what they were after,” or “good enough,” he might have been thinking of these traditional independent houses’ aesthetic. Although somewhat disdained for later 1970s and 1980s work on films like Orca (1977) or the de Laurentiis King Kong (1976), their highly professional work had been deemed satisfactory by the industry for decades. Late 1970s dissatisfaction with these houses’ work can be seen as a mark of changing photorealistic standards and expectations. As an example, in Van der Veer’s work on a movie like 1976’s King Kong, the optical effects are composited cleanly without visible matte lines, but the discrepancy between the image quality of sharp principal photography and the more muddy duplication stages of the effects work is clearly visible. That meant that differences in grain in foreground and background are especially evident. Miniatures were not filmed at a faster frame rate, making them look doll-sized (for a particularly egregious example, see the opening of Logan’s Run [1976] ).73 Makeup effects were often overlit, as with Kong himself (Rick Baker in an ape costume, along with large-scale puppetry), since Van der Veer did not use adequate obscuring techniques (in lighting and editing) to hide the fact that Kong’s fur was synthetic



and the movements were clearly those of a man in an ape costume. An ahistorical judgment might say that if 2001 showed what was possible with nearly unlimited money and time, the 1976 Kong showed what one was stuck with when attempting to achieve complex and numerous effects “quick and dirty.” More accurately, King Kong demonstrates the historical expectations for sufficient effects work circa 1975.74 The economics of the special effects industry also show ILM’s enviable advantage over its competition. As a wing of Lucasfilm, Lucas could plow the money made on the Star Wars films back into the company’s research and development, and he did. For the other independent houses, profit margins were razor thin. They typically underbid to get projects and ended up making very little profit when all the costs were in. In other words, the ideal “single-generation look” and convincing depiction of integrated space were not a major priority, nor economically feasible, for these houses.75 Instead, for the traditional house, the main priority, as it had been for decades, was that all the elements were in the proper perspective and in the right position in the frame. This aesthetic had indeed been “good enough” for most of the projects of the era.

Niche Houses

In the midst of these more diversified houses were scores of niche houses. The two that most bear mentioning, due to the later prominence of key personnel to feature film effects production, are Graphic Films and Cascade Pictures, which specialized in outer space simulations and stop-motion animation, respectively. Graphic Films is known for training Douglas Trumbull, whose technological know-how and effects aesthetic would have an importance second only to Lucas and ILM on later effects. Trumbull is well known for his art and skill in building cinematic environments in films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), and Blade Runner (1982).76 Trumbull and colleague Con Pederson were hired for 2001 on the strength of their work at a small independent optical company, Graphic Films (est. 1941), run by former Disney animator and USC animation teacher Lester Novros. Graphic Films had expertise in animation, models, and miniatures and made educational, instructional, and (often) space-related subjects for World Fairs.77 According to Trumbull,



their primary production came from “non-theatrical pictures for aerospace clients such as NASA and the Jet Propulsion Labs.”78 Kubrick had seen their film To the Moon and Beyond, produced for the 1964 World’s Fair, and hired Trumbull and Pederson to the U.K. to work on 2001.79 Trumbull and Pederson (who would go on to be a founding member of Robert Abel and Associates) learned miniatures (specifically space environments) from Graphic Films, but the so-called slit-scan technology used for the abstract environment of the “Star Gate” sequence originated as commercial work done by another specialty house associated with Graphic Films, experimental filmmaker John Whitney Sr.’s independent optical company Motion Graphics, Inc. Trumbull has long acknowledged that he adapted this technology developed by Whitney Sr. for the “Star Gate” sequence.80 Whitney and Novros also had a professional relationship, and according to Whitney’s son, John Whitney Jr., who also worked at Motion Graphics at the time, Whitney Sr. was brought in to a meeting with Kubrick in the early development stages to explore how the more abstract imagery might be made. Whitney demonstrated some of the streak-animation techniques he had experimented with—but had not yet exploited in his own work for Kubrick, Novros, and the Graphics Films staff, including Douglas Trumbull and Con Pederson.81 From Whitney, Trumbull had a hands-on demonstration of a kind of slit-scan machine and process that he then adapted in the U.K. for use on 2001, much, apparently, to Whitney’s chagrin.82 While on one level anecdotally spicy, Trumbull’s connection with Whitney, Novros, and Kubrick also illustrates the connection and movement among experimental, commercial, and big-budget feature filmmaking channels.83 Another niche house that requires attention is Cascade Pictures of Santa Monica, a small-scale specialist in stop-motion animation. The ex post facto importance of Cascade can largely be attributed to Dennis Muren, later special effects supervisor at ILM and six-time winner of the Academy Award for Visual Effects (and many more nominations) on films such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Terminator 2 (1991), and Jurassic Park (1993). Muren’s staffing, the technology of effects he championed, and what aesthetic he followed shaped the later development of special effects at ILM, and therefore the industry as a whole. Cascade’s commitment to stop-motion animation is one of the domains where character animation



had a foothold in the special effects of this era, which was typically more concerned at this point with optical composite techniques. Cascade was something of a nostalgic throwback, favoring techniques that had largely fallen out of the mainstream. By the 1970s, these old-style techniques, especially stop motion and “trick” perspective (such as their work on the Jolly Green Giant TV ads), could be recycled for their novelty value. Cascade had a big “trick” department, as well as a sizable optical department.84 Cascade worked mostly in ads and titles and did very little major feature effects work. What they were known for, however, was the Pillsbury Doughboy. The Doughboy had existed as a character for decades previously. Cult stop-motion animator Jim Danforth (When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, 1970) first animated the Pillsbury Doughboy for Cascade.85 By the 1960s and 1970s, a sizable cult of enthusiasts had grown around stop-motion animation.86 Because of Danforth and his stature, the Doughboy campaign attracted a great deal of stop-motion animation talent over the years, including David Allen (Caveman, 1981), Jim Aupperle (Ghostbusters, 1984), and four people who would become part of the core of the newly formed ILM: Phil Tippett, Jon Berg, Ken Ralston, and, of course, Dennis Muren. Cascade differentiated itself from other houses in the effects market by focusing on character animation, which at the time also included puppet work and nascent animatronics. To generalize, Cascade’s stop-motion aesthetic emphasized stylized caricature. Inspired above all by collective idols Willis O’Brien (animator of the 1933 King Kong) and Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts, 1963), Cascade animators strove for movement that is somewhat anthropomorphic and suits the physicality of the character, while adding an aspect of whimsy and humor.87 For example, with his puffy girth, the Doughboy moves like a child in a snowsuit. Cascade provided training in stop motion’s precise characterization through frame-byframe, 3D expressive movement, at a time when special effects animation generally was not well supported by the feature industry. The story goes that Dennis Muren brought a script of Star Wars in to the office at Cascade and started recruiting people to work on it.88 Tippett, Berg, Ralston, Muren, and other Cascade animators play important roles on the central team at ILM from its inception though its growth in the 1980s and 1990s.89 ILM is best known for its development of “more perfect” photoreal



special effects techniques. However, what these stop-motion specialists bring to effects work is an emphasis on stylized character animation and creature effects, an area ILM also helped transform. The high number of stop-motion animators on staff meant that a stopmotion ethos also bled over into what has historically been considered Star Wars’ main special effects breakthrough: motion control (see fig. 1.7). Again, motion control is a computer-controlled camera developed for Star Wars that had the benefit of being able to perfectly repeat the same movement time after time. Instead of having to “lock down” the camera to make composite shots, a camera movement could be created virtually by building up the elements through identically matching movement. The technique’s computerized perfection was also seen as something of a shortcoming, since it gave the camera’s movement such mechanical perfection, as if shot by a robot.90 The effects team felt the computerized movement needed flaws added in (so as to read as more handheld). Richard Edlund, special visual effects co-supervisor for The Empire Strikes Back. provides an example: a stop-motion tauntaun creature shot as a simulated “helicopter” shot.91 Edlund, Muren, and their stop-motion–trained team used a joystick function to add a “camera jiggle” to the motion-control program, so it would look less smooth, as if shot by a human camera operator.92 Commonsense notions of computer-generated realism tend to assume that more advanced technology means more perfect realism. What might be characterized as a stop-motion approach to photoreal special effects, an approach that courts imperfection and the simulation of chance, gives lie to that assumption. It also demonstrates how the accepted aesthetic of photorealism does not necessarily dutifully replicate what the camera sees but instead involves a strong basis in stylization and caricature. As will be discussed in chapter 7, a central ethos in stop motion is that being more technologically perfect does not necessarily mean a more desirable, or even more “real,” end result. In other words, when applied to computer-assisted motion control, the frame-by-frame handwork of stop motion introduces a necessary imperfection in both the creature’s, and in this case also the camera’s, movement. Even more important, stop motion lends greater believability to the concept that visual evidence of human manipulation (however subtle) adds visual interest. This counterintuitive approach (or what might be called “not too realistic”) forms an important cornerstone of the overall ILM aesthetic as it exists today.



Flashy Graphics: The Candy Apple Neon Style

If anonymous professionalism was the hallmark for many houses, and filling niche markets the goal for others, a few also specialized in trendsetting, high-style techniques. A vital aspect of the 1970s effects scene incorporates an aesthetic based more in 2D animation and graphic art than photorealism. Robert Abel and Associates, an independent with a reputation for creativity, was started in 1971. Abel came out of an extensive 1960s art background, working with James and John Whitney Sr., collaborating with Pat O’Neill on the experimental short film By the Sea (1962), and had degrees in design from the Bauhaus in Ulm and cinema at UCLA.93 2001 alum Con Pederson was brought in early on to be in charge of the nuts-and-bolts technical end, as well as later computer graphics pioneer Richard Winn Taylor (Tron, 1982). Abel’s production mostly concentrated on eye-catching and expensive TV commercials that combined live action and/or animation with special effects that were created with the aid of computer-controlled camera systems.94 In fact, Abel’s famous “Bubbles” commercial for 7UP (fig. 2.4) employed a simple

FIGURE 2.4 Robert Abel’s 7UP ad, “Bubbles,” in the “candy apple neon” style.



version of computerized motion-control cameras in 1973–74 before Dykstra in Star Wars.95 In this landmark TV ad (available on YouTube), female figures frolic in Busby Berkeley formation, backlit to a solarized glow, then transforming into a multicolored shimmering butterfly woman, interspersed with 7UP logos traveling into depth plane or surging toward the viewer, finally climaxing in a neon-lit riot of rainbows, hotdogs, and a 7UP six-pack. As spot art director (and later visual effects supervisor for Tron) Richard Winn Taylor has described, motion control allowed the filmmakers to move the backlit animation and the camera at the same time, greatly accelerating the sense of movement toward and away from the imaginary viewer.96 Abel provides a strong example of the optical and effects house as a conduit for techniques developed in the art world, then crossing over for more commercial application, and how they were transformed in the process, as well as how “countercultural” styles become reimagined for commercial purposes. Abel’s style, early on called “psychedelia gone straight,” exploited his training in experimental film and abstract animation theory and technique, as well as his young staff ’s experience in youth culture events such as music and image light shows.97 He sought to create “a style that borrowed the fantasy of Disney but took the reality you find re-created in [documentary] films.”98 Drawing from high art and graphic art European trends that would eventually be adapted by what became known in Europe as the cinéma du look, Abel’s house popularized the hugely prevalent style (in film, design, fashion, etc.) that came to be known in the late 1970s and into the 1980s in Los Angeles as the “candy apple neon look.” Richard Edlund, later of ILM, who worked for Abel, described the candy apple neon look as “animated graphics with light flashes and a chromed look.”99 In other words, enticing, dazzling, futuristic, high tech—and a bit mechanistic. Abel’s ads bombarded the senses with vibrating color and movement. Disappearing into the deep distance, photographed human figures were traced in a neon glow, trailing stardust, or transformed into pulsating, sparkling, butterfly figures via rotoscope animation techniques. Further, Abel and Associate’s style favored an approach that juxtaposed fantasy and reality rather than fusing them into a photoreal whole. In Abel’s ads, the animation punches up and intensifies the photographic, but does not aspire to be understood as photorealistic.



Like many independent effects and optical houses in the late 1970s, Abel tried to move into feature films. He was hired to do the special effects on Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), but was fired before many shots were completed. Abel’s poor record with managing money (his commercials routinely ran late and over budget, and he had earned a troubled reputation among ad agencies for underbidding and overspending) meant that Abel and Associates mishandled their bid to get into the feature business.100 Star Trek’s production delays and budget overruns suggest Abel did not have the experience to work on such a large scale. This led Paramount to fire Abel and hire Trumbull’s Future General (which subcontracted some work to Dykstra’s Apogee) to complete the film. Trumbull diplomatically judged Abel’s plans as interesting and innovative, but far too time-consuming to fit the postproduction schedule of a big-budget feature.101 After the Star Trek debacle, Abel bounced back by re-concentrating on stylish TV ads. Technologically, Abel was on the cutting edge, which made his house especially attractive to the recent graduates of California’s various art and design programs. Later, he was among the first to use computer graphics for commercial and entertainment purposes. Demonstrating the aggressive research and development of many optical and effects houses, major effects software was developed at Abel, including Maya (a forerunner to Alias), as well as Wavefront.102 In the 1980s, Abel and Associates aggressively pursued computer graphics applications. The firm worked on selected sequences in Tron (1982) and developed the famous 1983 “Sexy Robot” ad (for the Canned Food Information Council, also available on YouTube), often credited as the first “synthespian.”103 Along with Edlund, many effects artists worked in Abel’s shop in the 1970s, several of whom would work on Star Wars, including Rod McCall, Jeff Carpenter, and Robert Blalack, and others who would become more prominent in the digital era, including Richard Winn Taylor (Information International, Inc. and Magi), Robert Legato (Digital Domain), and John Hughes (Rhythm and Hues).104 Abel’s influence, in technology and aesthetics, was vast through the 1970s and 1980s. His shop trained a huge number of people in animation and slick graphics, encouraging them not just to use new technologies from other sectors of the economy but also to develop their own.105 Many other houses formed to capitalize on this look, such as R/Greenberg Associates (based in New York City), as can be seen in their neon-inspired effects work for Xanadu (Greenwald, 1980) and the titles for Flash Gordon (1980).



The independent effects and optical houses pursued various and often competing aesthetics in order to maintain a place in the competitive marketplace.106 By training a new generation of effects artists, they inevitably had an impact on how later effects would look. Importantly, much of this activity took place outside of feature work. The various aesthetics, including seamless photorealism, dynamic graphics, avant-garde borrowings, and “archaic” nostalgic techniques, add up to a surprisingly wide and deep picture of special effects work in the 1970s and form the core of the technology and aesthetics of digital effects today.

Professionalization of the 1970s Generation There’s no [great optical printer people] that I know of today. But there’s just as much brains among the younger people, if they’re given the opportunity. — A R N O L D “ B U D D Y ” GILLESPIE, FORMER MGM SPECIAL EFFECTS D E PA RT M E N T H E A D (1974) 1 0 7

The 1960s and 1970s are typically called the era of the “movie brat”: the young film students who grew up steeped in classic Hollywood movies (often on TV) and European art cinema. These idealistic cinephiles dreamt of reflecting their worldview in cinema and making the kind of “important” movies taught in their film classes. In the idealism of the day, they sincerely believed in cinema’s ability to make a difference by picturing the world in a new or different way. But not all of them got to the director’s chair. The stereotype of the attitude toward big-budget studio films, and the special effects they used, as Variety put it, were considered the antithesis of the supposedly “authentic” films young people wanted to make, or that audiences wanted to see. However, from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, many young recent graduates of cinema, art, and design programs, in addition to enthusiastic amateurs, had begun training at the independent effects houses described above, and some even worked in the remaining studio departments. If the field was as moribund in the late 1960s and early 1970s as is usually described, what made special effects an attractive field for these young cinephiles? How did they get interested in effects work to begin with? In her study of special effects, Michele Pierson’s answer to that question is based in the boom of (mostly science fiction) film fan magazines of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Photon and Cinefantastique.108 Pierson ascribes



“fan cults” around stop-motion animators Ray Harryhausen, Jim Danforth, and David Allen as the place where sci-fi fans nursed their hopes and dreams for a future career in special effects. Evidence certainly suggests that the cult-like devotion of stop-motion animation fans is an important source for both later personnel and the aesthetics of special effects that would develop. It also seems clear that general movie fandom is also an entryway into the business for many technically oriented artists of many stripes. However, it does not sufficiently explain how, with so few movie examples to draw from, so many people went from being fans to “doers,” nor how or why those with no particular interest in stop motion entered the business. Although the reasons are many, often there was a more direct influence at hand. The disaster movie boom of the early 1970s certainly exposed the studios’ shorthandedness in handling big effects films. By the mid-1960s, the established special effects artists as well had recognized a lack of young people coming into the business, and the danger of the losing traditional special effects techniques.109 Industry consensus agreed that special effects needed more young people to carry on the trade. Effects legend Linwood Dunn decided to do something about it. Starting in 1965, Linwood Dunn embarked upon a series of very popular lectures on the history and technique of traditional special effects. These presentations were given largely at (for example) film schools (USC cinema), art schools (Los Angeles Center College of Design), film festivals (Chicago; Athens, OH), film and photographic societies (American Film Institute; the Photographic Society of America), motion picture technical conferences (SMPTE), industry training programs (the Rand Corporation; Kodak), film studios (Toho in Japan), museums (Boston Museum of Fine Arts), and for the general public.110 Ironically, one of the main reasons special effects as a trade did not occur to young people was due to the studio system’s insistence that special effects generally be as invisible and unobtrusive as possible. Dunn’s talks were thus designed as teaching tools, by disassembling the special visual effect sequences at hand. Dunn chose clips that would serve the purpose of illustrating the various mechanisms, methods, and techniques used, as well as their particular application. These special effects scenes were preserved as guides for their proper application as important tools for overcoming economic infeasibility and/or physical impracticality in the creation, with skill and fidelity, of the illusion of reality and/or fantasy.111



In other words, Dunn’s lectures were not only designed to amaze and impress his audience, but to show them that they could, and should, do it too. In a basic two-hour program, Dunn often started with a clip from Androcles and the Lion (1952), showing black holes that optical compositing would fill in later, to illustrate the complete breakdown of imperceptible effects scenes utilizing matte paintings, optical printing, and miniature background projection. As his various show reels in the Linwood Dunn Collection at the Academy’s Pickford Center attest, Dunn demonstrated optical printing tricks in clips from films both well known, such as King Kong (1933), Bringing Up Baby (1938), and Citizen Kane (1941), as well as those lesser known but with typical or impressive effects sequences, including She (1935), The Bamboo Blonde (1946), and Where Danger Lives (1950). Although Dunn demonstrated rear-screen projection techniques (mostly in regard to matte paintings), his presentation was heavy on his specialty: optical printing. This covered “experimental” uses, as in West Side Story (1961), including the famous overture sequence where he demonstrated Vorkapich-like graphic dynamics, timing the visual accompaniment to the music.112 He then took apart the several types of photographic effects, including miniatures, animation, matte paintings, background projection, and optical printing in the more recent It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). He also showed “abstract effects” (for example, the overture for Hawaii [1966] ), and some newer techniques, such as multipanel splitscreen printing. In every case, Dunn explained both how and why a particular technique was employed.113 Between the years 1965 and 1976, Dunn performed his presentations more than one hundred times, all over the country (and abroad), though concentrating on the West Coast.114 Dunn’s lecture schedule picked up considerably after 1968 and the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey. He took full advantage of the widespread interest in the more spectacular brand of special effects that 2001 had piqued in young people.115 His appearances were usually promoted on the basis of his work on King Kong and Citizen Kane, which attracted both film cultists and film school cinephiles. His longer (up to four-hour) program often included a more diverse range of examples, including material not his own, such as stop-motion animation by Ray Harryhausen and Jim Danforth. He often recruited other studio-era luminaries, like Arnold Gillespie, L.B. Abbott, and Farciot Edouart, as well as independents like Howard Anderson and Joseph Westheimer to appear



with him.116 He also spoke in more diverse settings—for example, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where he appeared on a program with Chuck Jones, John Whitney Sr., Robert Breer, and Pat O’Neill.117 Dunn’s unrelenting campaign to recruit the next generation of special effects artists seems to have had an impact. Newspaper and magazine accounts of Dunn’s appearances invariably cited a “young audience.”118 Anecdotal evidence suggests that these lectures galvanized many of those in attendance to go into special effects as a career.119 Further, many filmmakers who would later become directors, such as Francis Ford Coppola, saw greater creative possibilities in the use of special effects. Dunn combined the experience and freedom of both a studio insider and an independent. This dual professional outlook made his lectures both practically oriented and accessible to young people. This group wanted to produce big-budget pictures (and needed big budgets for the effects work), but did not want to repeat the same old studio pictures. Dunn made mainstream film look like a place where someone could work creatively and experimentally. Even more, Dunn exhibited the graphic capacity of optical printing and other traditional techniques through an approach that revealed the frame’s potential for creating a composite mise-en-scène. By analyzing such sequences, Dunn deconstructed mainstream studio films by their component parts, in “break it down” language familiar to art and cinema students of the day. Interestingly, Dunn’s influence also cut into the experimental film world. Among the many future effects artists who saw Dunn’s demonstrations was experimental filmmaker Pat O’Neill, who claims to have seen Dunn’s presentation multiple times and explicitly affirms its influence on his own work.120 O’Neill’s own work in the early to mid-1970s demonstrates this interest in the ambiguous spaces produced when using traveling matte techniques to punch holes in the image, as in Saugus Series (c. 1974) and Sidewinder’s Delta (1976) (fig. 2.5). But rather than creating a sense of a seamless composite mise-en-scène in these and other of his experimental films, O’Neill either leaves the holes as negative space or uses the traveling matte technique to place objects in estranged contexts. Dunn’s timing proved fortuitous. Gillespie, Edouart, and other revered effects masters such as Les Bowie, Geoffrey Unsworth, John Fulton, and Ray Kellog all died within a year of each other in 1977–78. This meant the studios could not return to the old hands in the late seventies to cash in



FIGURE 2.5 Anti-illusionistic composite shot from Saugus Series (O’Neill, 1974).

on the Star Wars / Close Encounters boom. It also forced a changing of the guard and left room for new-styled effects houses to get a foothold. Furthermore, Dunn’s mass mentorship paved the way so that there was not a revolutionary “chuck it all” attitude among the new guard. Dunn fostered cooperation and consultation across the generation gap and helped instill respect for traditional effects techniques, many of which were carried on and modified in the optical experimentation of the 1970s. It is also important that although Dunn demonstrated a great range of techniques, he was primarily a proponent of methods based in optical printing, over process techniques. He demonstrated the approaches that would become the basis for much of the experimentation in the mid-1970s, such as color separation printing and graphic use of the frame. Dunn is one of the major reasons that optical printing became the mainstream of special effects work in the late 1970s, and that the optical printing (postproduction) aesthetic carried on into the digital age.




When George Lucas was preparing Star Wars in the early 1970s, he faced a number of logistical problems. He would be on-set shooting principal photography in the U.K. and Tunisia. However, the effects unit would be working on its own during principal photography, and then completing postproduction in the United States. How was he to keep the effects unit on track when he was not there to supervise? How Lucas went about first recruiting the effects teams for Star Wars, and his attempts to organize them, indicate the length and breadth of the already existing effects industry in the mid-1970s and its wide diversity of skills. The multiheaded beast that was the effects industry circa 1975 posed an aesthetic problem: how was Lucas to homogenize the many available approaches to work on one modestly budgeted film? In truth, for Star Wars the various effects approaches and aesthetics were not fully homogenized under Lucas’s idealized ILM aesthetic. The multiplicity of visual styles in Star Wars was due in part to the practical considerations of the variety regarding production practices that were attempting to be merged on a fairly limited budget and compressed timescale. However, for a public primed on the busy, drug-induced piebald aesthetic of psychedelia, which by the mid-1970s meant concert light shows, discotheques, a counterculture version of experimental abstract animation, and even advertisements on TV, contemporary reception suggests Star Wars felt vivid and disorienting in a good way. Reviews and commentary suggest that rather than suffering the heterogeneity of special effects techniques and approaches as confusing and incoherent, they were instead experienced as constantly changing, textured and varied, and pleasantly exhilarating.121 Lucas’s oft-stated dissatisfaction with the effects on Star Wars, as well as his later homogenization and streamlining of the ILM aesthetic, suggests that this irregular result was not exactly on purpose.122 In fact, history shows Lucas felt Star Wars’ heterogeneity was clearly a mistake he would work to correct on future projects. In Star Wars (and also on The Empire Strikes Back), Lucas subcontracted opticals to many different effects houses. As Adam Beckett, experimental animator and rotoscope artist on Star Wars, put it, “just about every optical house in town worked on Star Wars.”123 However, by the time of Return of the Jedi in 1983, most of ILM’s



effects were produced in-house.124 By maintaining ILM as an in-house unit for the Star Wars sequels and beyond, Lucas could keep top-down control over its activity. He would also not have to repeat the mishmash of problems he faced on Star Wars in outsourcing his opticals to independent effects houses. Star Wars would be instrumental in providing both a positive and negative model for large-scale special effects on features that would be copied or modified, not least by Lucas himself. This post–Star Wars era in effects production was characterized by the eruption of new purpose-built special effects houses, equipped with all the latest technology to take advantage of the profusion of big-budget special effects pictures. Instead of taking Lucas’s story of the establishment of ILM at face value, recognizing the often surprising components of what has become the dominant ILM aesthetic shows the actual diversity of possible approaches, some of which have more or less disappeared, and some of which have been redirected in modified form toward feature film work. ILM, as can be seen in more recent films such as Star Trek (2009), Terminator Salvation (2009), and Transformers I, II and III (2007, 2009, 2011), has indeed revised its special effects aesthetic in light of changes in technology and other production concerns. However, despite (or perhaps, because of) the industry-wide digital changeover initiated largely in the 1990s, the roots and assumptions that underlie the ILM aesthetic have remained surprisingly consistent, and consistently based in the aesthetic of 1970s photorealism. Digital tools typically bend to the ILM aesthetic rather than the other way around. The roots of the ILM special effects aesthetic remains an amalgam of disparate sources, including traditional special effects, experimental film, and 2D and 3D animation, reflecting the wide-ranging backgrounds of its early personnel, many of whom still hold top leadership and/ or consulting positions. Through this continuity of personnel, and not least of all the continued day-to-day involvement of Lucas himself (at least up until his retirement in late 2012), the ILM aesthetic evolved into a wellhoned, consistent, but also surprisingly flexible and adaptable formula. In the 1970s, rather than emerging fully formed in the Star Wars workshop, the new crop of effects workers came to ILM (and eventually other special effects houses) having honed both their traditional and more experimental skills in the independent effects, title, and optical houses, waiting for the chance to work on features as spectacular and intellectually



ambitious as 2001. Special effects work then and now is as much a craft as a creative art or a mechanical skill, and proficiency requires long training. Working in the independent optical and effects houses (often several of them), usually after art, design, or film school, exposed aspiring effects artists to various sides of special effects as an art and as a trade. Independent optical houses were quick to adopt new styles but were responsible as well for maintaining the more traditional techniques and studio tricks, which the newer hires learned through old-fashioned apprenticeships. Although the new effects artists had fresh eyes on how to use the more traditional techniques and were able to build upon them, they were not forced to reinvent the wheel. Lucas, however, may have created another kind of monster. The increasing importance of effects work led to a power struggle between effects supervisors and the director, cinematographer, and art director, the “creative triangle” traditionally long in control of the image. Many of the 1970s effects pioneers pushed too hard for greater control and have come out on the financial losing end of that struggle, such as Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra. This struggle over “authorship” of the image continues in digital form today, in confusion over who should get credit when nearly every aspect of filmmaking can be manipulated digitally in postproduction.125 The mainstream press in 1977 reflects the general sense that Star Wars and its spectacular effects popped up in a void.126 However, the trade press had been touting the return to special effects since at least 1968, and through the early 1970s.127 Disaster films both opened up studio executives to more numerous and more complex special effects sequences in films and also returned the old studio effects technicians and techniques to the spotlight. This ramping up of special effects production across the industry in fact helped make Star Wars possible, rather than vice versa. In the intervening years, the filmmakers involved with Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind made use of the techniques, technology, and personnel who had spent the early part of the decade preparing for their close-up. Well before digital technology became dominant, these various factors converged to form the technological aesthetic that would shape special effects for the next several decades, and continues to shape them and the Hollywood cinema that so powerfully employs them.

Circa 1977 Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind

I’m a visual filmmaker. I do films that are kinetic, and I tend to focus on character as it is created through editing and light, not stories. . . . I was always coming from pure cinema—I was using the grammar of film to create content. I think graphically, not linearly. —GEORGE LUCAS1

[Steven Spielberg] may have different aims from the aims of people we call artists, but he has integrity: it centers on his means. His expressive drive is to tell a story in shots that are live and hopping, and his grasp of graphic dynamics may be as strong as that of anyone working in movies now. The spatial relationships inside the frame here owe little to the stage, or even to painting; Spielberg succeeds in making the compositions so startlingly immediate that they give off an electric charge. — PA U L I N E K A E L ( 1 9 77) 2

The Expanded Blockbuster The Auteurist Aesthetics of 1970s Special Effects–Driven Filmmaking

It is easy to think we understand what George Lucas is claiming when he says he is a “visual filmmaker,” not interested in “stories,” and furthermore, to quickly dismiss the rest of his statement about “pure cinema.” Both Lucas and Steven Spielberg have their contemporary champions. However, for their many doubters, it is just as tempting to view them primarily as CEOs of profit-making entertainment machines. Regardless of how one feels about them as filmmakers now, in the context of 1977 both directors’ public images and professional reputations were quite different from what they became in the ensuing decades. The stated investment in visual filmmaking and graphic dynamics places Lucas and Spielberg alongside the critically embraced auteurs of the New Hollywood generation like Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Terrence Malick, and Francis Ford Coppola. Auteurism, an approach specific to mid-century filmmaking initiated by French critics and filmmakers such as André Bazin and Alexandre Astruc, François Truffault and Jean-Luc Godard (but quickly spread around the world), and which valorized personal expression in resistance to the industrial machine, came to the U.S. mainstream comparatively late. Certainly, auteurism has been subject to many kinds of critiques over the last several



decades, not least of which centers around the implausibility of one person controlling all aspects of the most collaborative art.3 I am not interested in reviving auteurism as an interpretive schema, but instead prefer to stress its historical importance to filmmakers of the film school generation, who were certainly suffused with the auteurist ethos from their art and film school teachers and American critics. Furthermore, while most critics perceive the special effects–driven blockbuster as the opposite of the auteuristdriven “personal” film, instead I see these films, especially Star Wars and Close Encounters, as extensions of this ethos, not rejections of it. As the Kael quote suggests (and other examples will show), most critics in 1977 did take both directors seriously as auteurist filmmakers, and as interesting and exciting ones seeking to establish a signature aesthetic style. This critical approbation did not last long, as many of the same critics, concerned with the effect blockbuster filmmaking was having on all production, would shortly begin to turn against Lucas and Spielberg. What were the factors that made Lucas’s and Spielberg’s 1977 films, Star Wars and Close Encounters, feel so original and innovative, both to critics and audiences? What social and cultural context helped spur their immense popularity? And which of those same factors later caused critics to view the kind of “visual filmmaking” they exemplified as the start of a dangerous trend that turned its back on the ideals of the 1970s out of which they emerged? Placing both films within their social and cultural historical context of 1977 illustrates how these films started to aesthetically transform popular filmmaking. It has become commonplace for critics and bloggers to claim that Star Wars changed everything in Hollywood, for better and for worse.4 While typically overblown, this rhetoric is not just empty exaggeration. These films represent a shift away from the unobtrusive Classical Hollywood cinema diegesis designed to be the optimal vehicle for narration transmission. Star Wars and Close Encounters transformed the parameters of a cinematic diegesis along a number of fronts. Rather than portraying a fictional setting that simply stages a fantasy narrative, these films drew attention to the intricately realized fantasy environment. Instead of the classical narrative economy of only presenting the viewer with the most salient narrative elements, the spectator is encouraged to imagine and explore the subsidiary storylines and locations. While this kind of fantasy engagement was available before to the particularly imaginative viewer, Star Wars and Close Encounters turned these explorations into a necessary part of the mediated



experience. The films were only the jumping-off point of an expanded media experience. Perhaps above all, narrative’s role shifted to become another area of potential attraction, instead of the primary organizing factor of the diegesis. Rather than a consequence of spectacle-driven filmmaking, filmmaker rhetoric suggests this shift was strategic and purposeful. This would be in contrast to what we consider the Classical Hollywood cinema, perceived by many New Hollywood filmmakers as an overly novelistic, story-driven style. When asked by an interviewer in 1977 if he was reconciled with classical narrative, Lucas replied: No, I come from experimental cinema; it’s my specialty. . . . My friendship and my association with Coppola compelled me to write. His specialty is “literature,” traditional writing. He studied theater, text; he’s a lot more oriented towards “play writing” than I am: mise-en-scène scene, editing the structured film.5

Although Star Wars and Close Encounters maintain the expectations of mainstream narrative conventions, the kind of “experimental cinema” Lucas is talking about uses narrative as a structure for ordering audiovisual sensations and effects. Indeed, reviews and accounts suggest that spectators experienced these films as “a leap forward in realism,” and a visual absorption in the mise-en-scène was designed by idealistic filmmakers and special effects supervisors to stimulate what they conceived as a new, more “cinematic,” or visually based intelligence.6 This kind of visual communication, over traditional forms of “literature” or “text,” was more up-to-date and more in tune with what was perceived as the rapidly changing, technologically driven society. Nevertheless, in large part because of the omnipresence Star Wars still enjoys in the culture, there is a general sense that both it and Close Encounters have been academically combed over for decades. However, though nearly all would agree on the films’ historical importance, there has been in fact very little close academic scrutiny paid to either film in great detail, outside of attention to their economic importance.7 Despite these films’ evident significance to the development of contemporary popular filmmaking, their enduring popularity (especially Star Wars) means that they have been effectively hiding in plain sight. A precise account of



how these films attained such a pivotal place in cinema history deserves a detailed study. There is little doubt, based on press coverage, fan magazines, and reviews, that Star Wars and Close Encounters succeeded with audiences in large part due to their spectacular, highly visible, and convincing special effects.8 How did it come to pass that special effects became the focus of these films’ production energy, and so central to their overall aesthetic program? Special effects have long been expensive, time-consuming, and risky. What did special effects provide that other methods could not? Why did these filmmakers believe that it was worth putting so much money and effort in special effects rather than to other areas of filmmaking? In addition to the influential aesthetic design of these two films, the production history behind their elaborate special effects demonstrates how feature filmmakers were able to convert the innovations made by Kubrick’s 2001 production into a viable working model for the rest of the industry. Certainly, the success of Star Wars and Close Encounters initiated a shift in priority toward more special effects–driven filmmaking and had economic ramifications well beyond the effects business. As David Cook and others have pointed out, one of the major ways these films, along with earlier films such as The Godfather (1972) and Jaws (1975), changed much of the economics of Hollywood filmmaking was by convincing the conglomerates which had recently acquired movie studios that films could earn the same kind of serious money as other sectors of manufacturing.9 Focusing production energy toward more big-budget films and expensive stars to drive them has led to widespread economic changes in the industry—in production, exhibition, and ancillary markets as well as around dealmaking, marketing and budgeting, and corporate “synergy.”10 Too often, an economic focus means discussions of Star Wars and Close Encounters become entangled and muddied by evaluative approaches. When academics and critics claim that Star Wars changed everything, it is often implied or stated outright that Star Wars changed Hollywood filmmaking, and specifically the aesthetics of filmmaking, for the worse. Star Wars very often stands as the prototype for the noisy, overproduced, expensive, juvenile Hollywood blockbuster that pushed out the more “mature” and “sophisticated” films by American auteurs such as Hal Ashby, Robert Altman, and Sidney Lumet, leaving the cinematic field to fourteen-year-olds and toy manufacturers.11 Regardless of one’s preferred style of filmmaking,



it is more important to understand precisely how these films instigated a historical shift with implications and changes that mirror many aspects of the industry-wide shift to sound in the late 1920s and early 1930s—in aesthetics, technology, economics, and exhibition—and further, to understand that these films exhibit a recognizable and historically specific style that cannot be reduced to economic functionality. In other words, although making a lot of money is an important driving factor, filmmakers have other motivations and strategies in mind while designing the films. The focus on economics and narrative in most examinations of special effects–driven films means that the look of these big-budget films, including today’s CGI-animated blockbuster, also tends to written off as “noisy,” “over-stuffed,” “frenetic,” and many other words associated with bad taste, and therefore not deserving of our attention. More neutrally, we may describe the characteristics of the special effects–driven blockbuster’s aesthetic as overflowing with kinetic action, taking place within a minutely detailed, intricately composed mise-en-scène, comprising an all-encompassing, expandable environment. Richard Maltby has influentially referred to a commercial aesthetic (with emphasis on the commercial), which might be stated more colloquially as “All the money is up there on the screen.” In a persuasive approach that explicitly “privileges economic relations rather than product styling,” Maltby’s commercial aesthetic understands the (loosely described) aesthetic as by-product of the commercial.12 In other words, blockbuster films look the way they do because they are designed with market forces in mind and because more money can mean more elaborate, expensive special effects, and therefore more production value. This aesthetic as Maltby describes it can be seen in many popular films of the last few decades—from Blade Runner to The Lord of the Rings films to The Matrix trilogy—in the way they foreground the marketable aspects of the movie’s style, and can be extrapolated into ancillary merchandise (“tie-ins”) bearing a recognizable logo associated with the style of the film. Putting more consideration on the aesthetic side of the coin, Justin Wyatt characterizes Maltby’s commercial aesthetic in terms of high concept.13 He argues that blockbuster filmmaking, focusing primarily on 1980s filmmaking in the wake of the highly profitable 1970s blockbusters, reduces the film to a “pitch,” defined as a striking, easily reducible narrative, which offers a high degree of marketability.14 Importantly, the emphasis on salability



does not end with the narrative. Using E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Flashdance (1983), and Top Gun (1986) as exemplars, Wyatt also identifies a high-concept visual aesthetic, greatly indebted to advertising and practiced particularly by filmmakers who began as directors of TV commercials, notably Ridley Scott and Adrian Lyne. The high-concept aesthetic as Wyatt characterizes it permeates the film’s production, starting with a striking logo that sets the tone for all levels of the film’s visual style, driving the visual “look” of the production.15 Wyatt’s arguments certainly describe accurately the role of marketing in films of the 1980s. However, one begins to suspect that Wyatt is actually providing an answer to the implicit question, “Why are so many 1980s films so bad ?” It is precisely when he extends the notion of high concept in order to account for the aesthetic of the individual films that his argument becomes problematic and value-laden, effectively reducing “high-concept” films to advertisements for the more important ancillary products.16 While the altered relationship between the film and its ancillaries is an important factor, it need not be characterized as a devaluation of film art. Films have always been part of a web of entertainment economics. Therefore, rather than understanding the influence of advertising and ancillary commercialization as cheapening cinema as an art form, it is more useful to analyze and describe their aesthetics as parallel phenomena. What clearly is suspect to Wyatt and others about the high-concept aesthetic is its emphasis on style. Although Wyatt’s study is undeniably provocative and well argued, it is weakened by a few common but unsustainable assumptions, the first being that foregrounded (“excessive” or “unmotivated”) style necessarily serves to weaken the all-important narrative. Second is the related worry that privileging style and aesthetics over narrative diminishes the film’s artistic significance.17 Unlike what we might call the “unity argument” in favor of Classical Hollywood’s unobtrusive (narratively motivated) style, or New Hollywood’s loosely narrated anti-style (as a rejection of Classical Hollywood storytelling), the flashy high-concept style is clearly to Wyatt and many others an indicator of the intellectual and political barrenness of individual films and the 1980s film industry as a whole. Although this demonizing of aestheticization and spectacle is beginning to dissipate as a leading critical stance in academe, it continues to hamper much of the meaningful discourse about the style of contemporary popular filmmaking.18 This approach devalues or ignores the fact that



filmmakers were actively and consciously developing style-heavy aesthetics as part of an auteurist ethos. Certainly, the widespread influence of Tom Gunning’s well-known “cinema of attractions” argument, while problematic to apply directly to postearly cinema, has served as an inspiration in recognizing how different kinds of films carry diverse pleasures. Furthermore, Gunning has provided a model for understanding the excitement and pleasure of filmmaking via its aesthetic effects.19 Moreover, it must be pointed out that a high-concept approach alone is not sufficient to carry a film. Regardless of how the film is marketed and conceived, and however it fits into a larger synergistic network, (variously talented) filmmakers and highly professional teams must still make a film that they believe is more than the sum of its marketing. Focusing on aesthetics and the various pressures and influences over the many levels of production that make up a film’s (not always consistent) aesthetic program helps illuminate the contemporary critical enthusiasm for these films. A close look at the moment between the assumed heyday of the New Hollywood of the late 1960s and early 1970s and the commonly held “high-concept” nadir represented by the 1980s is instructive. It has been tempting to view the appearance of Star Wars and Close Encounters as the beginning of an end. However, it is clear from reviews and critical commentary that both films were received enthusiastically as a fresh and exciting development in auteur-driven popular filmmaking. On the whole, Star Wars and Close Encounters were better reviewed than 2001, even by the more prominent critics.20 Moreover, many critics such as Pauline Kael, Vincent Canby, and Stanley Kauffmann focused their enthusiasm on the films’ visual aesthetics.21 Moreover, it is not only that these mid-1970s style-driven films and their 1980s descendants look different though “cinema of attraction” eyes. The filmmakers behind Star Wars and Close Encounters were developing and modeling a then-fashionable notion of visual cinema. As Kubrick put it in relation to 2001, movies present the opportunity to convey complex concepts and abstractions without the usual reliance on words. I think that 2001 [.  .  . succeeds] in short-circuiting the rigid surface cultural blocks that shackle our consciousness to narrowly limited areas of experience and is able to cut directly through to areas of emotional comprehension.22



Or, as he puts it more succinctly, people should be less word-oriented and more picture-oriented.23 Therefore, rather than dismissing films and filmmakers of this era for putting style before substance, it is more productive to recognize the substance of the style. One might ask at this point, did Lucas, Spielberg, and Coppola, as well as the other young filmmakers of this era, consider themselves auteurs in Andrew Sarris’s meaning? On one hand, yes: they discussed in interviews their inspiration by the studio-era auteurs championed by Sarris and the Cahiers du Cinéma critics in the 1950s and 1960s, directors such as Howard Hawks, John Ford, and Orson Welles.24 Lucas, Coppola, and Spielberg explicitly considered themselves an extension of this auteurist tradition. This meant, first of all, they believed that the director should be in control of all elements of the film, and that the film itself would be a reflection of his or her own worldview. While at times this assumed control certainly broke down, Lucas and Spielberg believed themselves to be the ultimate arbitrators of all elements of the film. The filmmaking team and the press coverage assumed this as well. Finally, this perceived need to control, and the struggle over control (more on the part of Lucas than Spielberg), led largely to the shape of the special effects business as it has today become. As filmmakers of this generation were taught over and over again in film school, and witnessed through the examples of their peers, one of the most marked aspects of an auteur was a recognizable style. In other words, filmmakers of the era had great personal stakes in developing and being recognized for an individual style, and for a while they were critically rewarded for it. However, they also considered themselves a new kind of auteur, more in keeping with social changes and technological innovations. Developing a personal style through developing special effects techniques was a strategic move away from Astruc’s “textual” caméra-stylo (or “camera-pen”) approach of previous models of authorship (where the filmmaker presents his or her view of the world in visual but essayistic form). Instead, the newstyle auteur would seek to present his or her worldview “graphically,” rather than textually or literarily. Moreover, special effects offered directors the ability to control additional elements of visual design, to stamp the diegesis with their own imprimatur. Ironically, as then-critic (now film director) Olivier Assayas pointed out in a series of articles for Cahiers du Cinéma in 1980, the kind of highly technical, special effects–heavy films that Lucas and Spielberg were famous for undercut the “auteur genius” role they were



cultivating.25 Because such films required an enormous amount of collaboration across a huge number of departments, how was one to keep them all in line with the auteur’s vision? And when the special effects on a film like Close Encounters were so remarkable and so publicly the product of a well-known effects artist like Douglas Trumbull, is Spielberg still the auteur? These questions, prominent in the public rhetoric, demonstrate the importance in defining the role of the auteur in a newly unstable production hierarchy. The special effects–driven aesthetic developing in the late 1970s sought inspiration from many kinds of visual sources, both old and new. While casting an eye toward contemporary filmmaking and its precedents in the 1970s, Star Wars and Close Encounters, we must understand them as embedded within a matrix of filmmaking aesthetic traditions, from Hollywood’s “Golden Age” (as it was conceived at the time) to experimental practices, advertising, and animation, but also as attempts to inaugurate a new kind of popular Hollywood film. As noted in chapter 1 (with a nod to Gene Youngblood’s influential 1970 experimental film manifesto), I call this imagined popular/experimental hybrid the expanded blockbuster. For Lucas, Spielberg, and others, the expanded blockbuster would not just aim to make money and entertain the masses. They envisioned a popular style of filmmaking that would also be informed by the world auteurist movements of the 1960s and the U.S. avant-garde, especially the West Coast experimental scene championed by Youngblood. Instead of conveying ideas through didactic scripts and novelistic “themes,” the expanded blockbuster would take its cue from Kubrick’s 2001: it would be pictureoriented, or express its ideas and narration visually, on a more visceral and sensual level. And their most impassioned dream was that these films would remain in the creative hands of auteurist filmmakers, not corrupted by the corporate studio hierarchy. In other words, the ideal of 1970s filmmakers was to be like Jean-Luc Godard, John Ford, and Louis B. Mayer all rolled into one: someone who could strike a balance between “meaningful” and “personal” films, but also devise them to be popular and profitable enough to maintain independence and control the means of production. Although history has dubbed them the “Movie Brats,” their projects were conceived within post-hippie idealism, and with perhaps a conservative or naïve yearning for other kinds of worlds, for galaxies “far, far away” and not wracked by the problems of 1970s America.



However one interprets either film’s politics, it is important to remember that the Star Wars and Close Encounters of 1977 were a different beasts than the blockbuster progenitors most people consider them today. Its detractors often characterize Star Wars as mostly a cynical bid by Lucas to make a lot of money.26 What many nonenthusiasts tend to forget is that before its 1977 release, Star Wars was financed and produced more like a Roger Corman independent exploitation film than a big studio blockbuster in the way we think of the term today. It was explicitly budgeted, marketed, and expected to be a modest moneymaker for the science fiction and juvenile audience.27 Today, it is typically only widely known among Lucas’s fans that in the 1970s, based largely on THX-1138 and his student films that had made the festival rounds, George Lucas had the reputation as one of the artier and more esoteric of the young film school graduates. Contemporary reviews of Star Wars received it with the same kind of winking knowingness at past adventure genres they believed Lucas had meant it to be. They assumed Lucas was merely having ironic fun with an old-fashioned genre picture, but also making a kind of “statement” by choosing such a selfconsciously retro project.28 Close Encounters, on the other hand, was conceived and produced as a bona fide studio project. As the new film from the director of Jaws, it had a much bigger budget and greater expectations. When asked to compare Close Encounters to Jaws, Spielberg responded: Close Encounters has been more of a personal movie-making experience than Jaws. Jaws was a great physical challenge, but in a way it was a lot easier. A film like Jaws comes more naturally to my movie sensibilities than a film like Close Encounters, which is more experimental and daring in concept. Jaws is really a “one swallow” story, while Close Encounters contains a little more philosophical grey matter.29

Although Spielberg, then and now, resists intellectualizing his films, it is striking that after the enormous popcorn film success of Jaws, he claimed he was also looking to inject philosophical ideas and meaning, or as he put it, “grey matter,” into popular filmmaking, in terms expected from ambitious filmmakers of the era. Comparing these two films, we can see how the many possible approaches to special effects production in the 1960s and 1970s were brought together



on two of the biggest hits of the era, two films that (along with Jaws) define blockbuster film. Specifically, they established the model for the special effects–driven blockbuster still with us today. The two films had very similar technological programs and special effects problems they felt they needed to solve. However, they pursued surprisingly divergent aesthetic programs. Again, Kubrick approached 2001 as an expensive one-time-only experiment, without an eye toward future special effects productions. The way the Star Wars and Close Encounters productions were able to employ much of the same technology for very different aesthetic results in part shows the flexibility of the new imaging systems the productions developed that helped spawn a whole new industry for feature film special effects production. In order to achieve the aesthetic goals they set for themselves, both film productions had enormous technical tasks at hand. And certainly, the technology used determined to some degree the resulting aesthetic. Also, in both cases, Star Wars and Close Encounters set out to flaunt their technology, precisely by displaying its aesthetic potential. Star Wars begins with the famous Imperial cruiser flyover. It is a 30-second, all-effects shot: planets, model ships, a star field, and so on are composed and composited to make a completely imaginary mise-en-scène. Everyone involved was fully aware that the film would succeed or not by how convincing they made those thirty seconds. Conversely, Close Encounters spends its first half hour or so establishing Roy Neary’s (Richard Dreyfus) mundane, average existence as a telephone repairman in suburban middle America with a nagging wife and bratty kids. The first full UFO sighting is delayed for about thirty minutes, in part to build suspense and anticipation, and in part to heighten the contrast between the dazzling and awe-inspiring UFOs and the ordinary setting. By shifting a good deal of energy and money toward postproduction, the special effects in Star Wars and Close Encounters exemplify the newly restructured hierarchy of conventional support skills. Traditionally, the studio effects department, like the costume or construction departments, was only one of the many artisanal divisions taking orders from production heads. Each department was important to the film in its way, but not typically involved with creative input in the planning stages. In the 1970s, as productions began to rely so heavily on the success of their effects, the director and/or producer (often the same person) had to rein in the effects sector of production. As the division between the main unit and the effects



unit began to blur, relations between the director and the effects supervisors became more important. They also could, and did, as was the case with Star Wars, become tense. How could producers control the huge number of elements needed to create these multilayered composites, and how were they to corral the approaches of the huge number of diversely trained artist-technicians needed to mold such a huge project into their personal visions? Star Wars’ and Close Encounters’ sheer density of effects, both in an individual shot (or frame) and in the film overall necessitated the careful planning of principal photography for the effects to be added later. In other words, the auteur theory to which so many young filmmakers like Lucas and Spielberg subscribed ran into the problem of sheer unwieldy size, undreamt of by their studio-era heroes or scrappy independents. Put simply, how do you get your personal vision on the screen when you have so many people to contend with?

1970s Filmmmaking Aesthetics: Thinking Graphically I’m interested in pure experience rather than linear plot. . . . I saw [Close Encounters’] major end-sequence as an experience that almost transcends plot. — D O U G L A S T R U M B U LL 3 0

Trumbull’s quote suggests a question: if the sort of optical animation being developed through special effects production is meant to harness the kinetic and sensual qualities “beyond plot” of expanded cinema, how does that translate to a narrative feature film, from which spectators expect character-based narrative coherence? This also leads to the question, what was it about Star Wars and Close Encounters that looked so fresh to so many critics and filmgoers? The contemporary trend for “graphic dyanmics” and “thinking graphically” were particularly urgent topics in the 1970s for filmmakers. These filmmakers looked to the many experimental filmmakers such as John Whitney Sr., Jordan Belson, and Pat O’Neill, who were also concerned with the graphic potential of abstract (or abstracted) imagery to produce various kinds of effects and/or experiences in the viewer. Although differing from filmmaker to filmmaker, and from film to film, a few consistent preoccupations included a sense of



forward momentum, rapid variation, hypnotic absorption, soothing pattern recognition, pulsating energies, and, sometimes, jarring discontinuities in the viewer. It was these shared concerns, along with more practical matters of the economics of filmmaking, that brought these two groups together in the late 1970s. Although experimental animators were among the first to take up and develop the notion of graphic dynamics, the concept was not only conceived of in terms of deliberately paced graphics and carefully framed compositions. Editing played an important role as well. Many film schools taught well-known examples of avant-garde editing techniques, such as Soviet montage, in particular Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929), which were also studied obsessively by film students and filmmakers on the art film circuit.31 For example, as many of Lucas’s 1970s interviewers attest, Lucas kept a poster of Eisenstein in his editing room, an emblem of his USC film school education.32 However, it is important to note that what is at stake is not a replication or modification of Eisenstein’s or Vertov’s specific theories and techniques. On occasions in 1960s and 1970s filmmaking discourse where Eisenstein’s name is mentioned, he more often appears as a byword for creative or “artistic” editing, someone who diverged from traditional Hollywood continuity editing.33 Rather than Eisenstein’s better known “intellectual montage” (which created mental associations through conflict), the kind of editing that caught on in the film schools was more often his ideas emphasizing the musical analogy of visual rhythm. Filtered through Vorkapich, this became graphic dynamism. Vorkapich helped pioneer the “montage sequence” as it is popularly understood today: the compression of time or space represented by a series of overlapping, graphically arranged images, usually set to music (the rousing training montage in Rocky [Avildsen, 1976] or the opening of Woody Allen’s Manhattan [1979], set to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” can serve as familiar examples). Like Kubrick, many 1970s filmmakers and theorists were looking for what was considered the visual power of cinema to carry ideas and to create sensations that were specifically cinematically induced, such as Kubrick’s “disembodied” virtual camera movement through space in 2001, or startling visual juxtapositions such as the film’s famous bone/ spaceship match cut. Gene Youngblood also bolstered awareness of Vorkapich’s ideas in Expanded Cinema.34



Montage sequences generally, and Vorkapich’s in particular, help to illustrate one crucial way this 1970s sense of “thinking graphically” hinged on the design and execution of the special effects. Montage techniques as they had been applied in the past allowed a limited number of elements that could be composed at any given time (due to the difficulty of compositing many elements at once). In montage sequences, the film frame is usually split up into discreet “windows,” either strictly contained or expressionistically superimposed. Through habit, the viewer knows he or she is not meant to take these images as an illusionistic, integrated photoreal composite. As in Vertov’s split screens, Eisenstein’s superimpositions, Vorkapich’s transitional techniques, or Linwood Dunn’s elaborate wipes made with traveling mattes, we can recognize an in-frame montage technique that is often meant to carry visual energy and dynamism over to the next sequence, with varying degrees of narrative motivation. Graphic dynamics in the 1970s modifies this tendency by removing the connotation of time/space compression and also by blurring or breaking down the montage sequence’s imposed boundaries. Instead, the illusionistic composite mise-en-scène retains some of the associated energy of a montage sequence—in its rapidly changing pace and dynamic and thought-provoking juxtapositions of images which, naturalistically, shouldn’t be in the same space. Most importantly, 1970s dynamic graphics ramp up the amount of elements to be composed and often make them appear to be part of the same coherent diegetic space. In other words, 1970s graphic dynamics combine the impact of graphic design with the integrated spaces of traditional special effects composite techniques. Both Star Wars’ and Close Encounters’ productions wanted to design the effects to have a more graphic look and dynamic impact than just the traditional ship flying horizontally across the frame, filmed by a static, locked-off camera. Vorkapich believed that “since the nature of the cinema is movement, filmmakers should best exploit cinematic technique for maximum dynamism and kinesis.” According to Vorkapich, graphic dynamism offered a cinema-specific, “vivid kinesthetic experience” that reached the artistic level and complexity of poetry or symphonic music.35 When Lucas promotes “thinking graphically” over thinking linearly, he is suggesting that composing the frame so that the juxtaposition of composed elements, how they move, and the effect of that movement, is as important as the the way the order of the story is presented. A simple example might be the graphic wipes in Star Wars, or the way the aerial laser fights are edited to string



FIGURES 3.1 AND 3.2 Laser fight strobes in Star Wars (Lucas, 1977).

together the animated streaking laser beams, followed by a brightly colored filtered explosion, with sparks, and a color strobe of the screen in quick succession, repeated many times over the course of the fight (figs. 3.1 and 3.2). A more elaborate example might be the attack of the Imperial Walkers on the ice planet Hoth, in The Empire Strikes Back, with the distinctively elephantine movements of the Walkers contrasted with the zippy fighter planes and the faux point-of-view shots that capture them (fig. 3.3).



FIGURE 3.3 Faux point-of-view shots of Imperial Walkers in The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980).

Needless to say, Star Wars and Close Encounters also feature a familiar classical sense of narrative forward momentum. It is no doubt an important aspect of their popularity that the films manage to supply conventional narrative drive and a fresh staging of visual storytelling at the same time. In fact, one of the ways these films were distinguishable from (and, in the opinion of both directors and many contemporary critics, improved upon) the legacy of 2001: A Space Odyssey was by picking up the pace of the storytelling and situating the graphic visuals within a compelling narrative populated with charismatic actors and vivid characterizations. That said, both films, though superficially conforming to classical narrative standards, nevertheless upset the priorities of the classical narrative drive in important ways. They maintain coherent characters and plots, but at the same time shift attention away from them and toward the more loosely organized excitement generated in the action sequences. This is the very excitement that Luke Skywalker craves at his aunt and uncle’s ranch, and that Roy Neary finds lacking in his role as suburban father. Further, these films provide influential models for narrative patterning for later special effects–driven blockbusters. Despite many critics’ complaints to the contrary, contemporary blockbusters certainly maintain screenplay patterns and structures as traditional as any classical screenplay, as Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell have argued.36 However, although one could



analyze films like Titanic (1997) or Transformers (2007) and find they have a perfectly classical narrative structure, it is safe to say that the attraction of those films, and the reason people go to the cinema to see them, must be described as that of sensation, kineticism, and spectacle. Even more far-reaching than narrative shifts, 1970s special effects work altered the sense of a cinematic diegesis toward one concerned with establishing a fully realized fantasy environment to imagine and explore, rather than just a fictional setting for the story. In terms of the special effects, the diegesis shifted from being largely a matter of compositing the foreground and background (as it had been in the classical era where the latter is clearly subordinate to the former) in the most unobtrusive way possible, to the freeing up of the picture plane to be as plastic and mutable as animation.37 The ability to completely design and mobilize the mise-en-scène, as in the opening shot of Star Wars, to manipulate its photographic elements and present a more densely packed and composed composite, is optical animation in a nutshell. The technology developed for Star Wars provides compositional control of the image within the frame rather than in the editing between frames. A major impact of Star Wars was not only that many elements were composited together photorealistically but also that their sounds and movements were equally designed and choreographed for graphic effect. In the case of Trumbull’s effects for Close Encounters, the “pure experience” over plot (as Trumbull puts it in the opening quote to this section), is meant as a mobilization of a different order of intelligence, one that understands visually and, more precisely, cinematically rather than novelistically. The sheer number of elements used to produce this kind of graphic dynamic impact was enormous. In the original 1977 Star Wars, it is still remarkable to notice not just the densely packed frame38 but also the often irregular, heterogeneous visual material.39 Some effects shots used liveaction, miniatures, projection, animation, rotoscoping, and still photography in the same sequence—for example, when Luke swoops in and out of the canyons in the destruction of the Death Star. How did all this heterogeneity manage to cohere into a fictional diegesis? On a visual level, I have argued they did not, whether purposefully or not. As already suggested, the Star Wars team was required to blend a great deal of diverse special effects practices and filmmaking and design styles, which, following the musical analogy, tended to result in visual cacophony. However, for the late 1970s,



psychedelia-accustomed viewer, instead of experiencing the heterogeneity of special effects techniques and approaches as confusing and incoherent, viewers found them arranged and composed in such a way as to be constantly changing, textured, and varied.40 We can also relate the overstuffed frame to live-action examples of New Hollywood filmmakers like Robert Altman (especially Nashville [1975]), who piled characters, soundtracks, and narrative incident into the same frame.41 Often, the filmmakers framed their rhetoric about density in terms of increased visual sophistication demanded by viewers in the information age. As Douglas Trumbull said, “I think that people’s ability to assimilate information is tremendously high, and the reason most movies are unsuccessful is because they don’t have any impact.” What Trumbull means is that most movies are statically staged and visually staid.42 For both Trumbull and Lucas, “impact” meant a kind of visual density combined with kinetic movement. For both films, in fact, the intense concentration of visual information was considered highly (and, often, pleasantly) disorienting at the time of their release.43 The visual dynamics lit up the conventional narratives and infused them with the kind of “impact” Trumbull was looking for. However, the expanded blockbuster is not just a barrage of colored lights or succession of kinesis-inducing shapes and patterns. Filmmakers believed it had to work conventionally as well, and that meant using special effects more traditionally to build a coherent environment for the narrative. Vitally, what made these films so striking as mainstream films and so influential to later films is their complex combination of photography, animation, and graphic design—not to fool viewers to mistaking that what they see is “real” but, more accurately, presenting a new style of photorealism that struck viewers as both fantastic and strikingly realistic.44 Star Wars’ aim was to make a fantasy world seem both plausible and fully realized. Conversely, Close Encounters brings fantastic elements into a mundane, familiar context. As discussed in the last chapter, the very active and diverse independent service companies—specifically, the title, optical, and effects houses of the 1960s and 1970s—provided a training ground in the practical, hands-on optical techniques for effects teams that would contribute so crucially to Star Wars and Close Encounters. The various skills and qualifications of such “on the job” training contributed directly not only to the look of Star Wars and Close Encounters but also affected how we have arrived today at the nearly fully animated Hollywood special effects–driven blockbuster.



Credible and Fantastic at the Same Time: Special Effects Aesthetics Circa 1975 I remember [going to George Lucas’s house], and I saw he had some Flash Gordon Comic strips, drawn by Alex Raymond, on his desk, and a picture of Eisenstein on his wall, and the combination of those two were really the basis for George’s aesthetic in Star Wars. — J AY C O C K S 45

We had to be down on earth with totally believable illusions. Putting a UFO on screen is like photographing God. So the general look we went for was one of motion, velocity, luminosity and brilliance. — D O U G L A S T R U M B U LL (1977) 4 6

Although Jay Cocks’s statement should be taken with caution, a “combination of Flash Gordon and Sergei Eisenstein” is an apt summation of the wide-ranging interests and influences of the so-called New Hollywood directors, of whom Lucas and Spielberg were certainly a part.47 As Thomas Elsaesser put it, U.S. filmmaking in the 1970s is marked by “the unlikely blend . . . of avant-garde and exploitation.”48 This was partly because many of the filmmakers in question (e.g., Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Monte Hellman, James Cameron) famously made their first films as professionals for Roger Corman’s “quick and dirty” production companies, AIP (American International Pictures) or New World Pictures. As is well known, at Corman’s, as long as the picture came in on time and on budget and contained enough exploitation elements (some violence, mild nudity) to play at a drive-in, the filmmakers were free to do whatever they wanted. Lucas and Spielberg did not work for Corman (although Lucas’s Star Wars producing partner Gary Kurtz did), but they were among the same peer group of directors who directed their first features for him. Although journalists have well documented Lucas’s and Spielberg’s careers over the years, it is worth briefly rehearsing their stories for the uninitiated. Of course, the two directors have always been closely associated with the turn to blockbuster filmmaking, as well as with each other. Their business association extends back to the time of Star Wars and Close Encounters, when they gave each other profit-sharing “points” for one another’s films, and has continued for decades.49 However, by the mid-1970s the two men had quite different reputations and were at different points in their careers.



Spielberg’s previous film, Jaws (1975), had opened huge (becoming the then-highest-grossing movie of all time), and for Close Encounters he had the full resources of the studio system behind him. Lucas had had a surprise hit with American Graffiti (1973), but bad blood with the studios persisted from editing battles over that film and his previous film, THX-1138. Lucas was considered doubly problematic by the studios, for being both esoteric and willful. Lucas attended USC film school, where he was known for semiabstract and surprisingly polished prize-winning student films. His professional career started with Coppola’s American Zoetrope, an independent production company that had distribution deals with the studios, specifically Warner Bros. Lucas’s problems with the studios began with the commercial failure of the feature version of his bleak and edgy student film THX-1138, which caused the studio to withdraw Zoetrope’s funding. He followed THX with the huge surprise success of American Graffiti, a mix of pre-hippie nostalgia (“Where were you in ’62?”) and neon-lit, minimally narrative musical sequences.50 Both films, however, had been subject to what Lucas considered arbitrary studio interference and cuts. This experience of loss of control over his films appears to have bruised his auteurist ego, and it seems he has spent the rest of his career, and used his considerable wealth, consolidating his power over his productions and companies. In 1977, in attempting to launch his own production company with Star Wars, Lucas knew he first had to amass a great deal of money if he wanted the artistic freedom to make his “visual films.” Star Wars was conceived as a film that would test his idea of a popular film mixed with elements of “pure cinema.”51 Spielberg’s self-taught career trajectory is equally well-told.52 He started making narrative short films as a boy in his parents’ backyard (with his little friends as World War II soldiers), and then showed them in the basement to neighbors. He studied filmmaking at Long Beach State (not the more prestigious Southern California film schools USC or UCLA), and at twenty-one finagled a job on the Universal lot. His first professional jobs were shooting TV episodes for Universal series such as Night Gallery (starring Joan Crawford), Marcus Welby, MD (with Robert Young), and Columbo (with Peter Falk). After receiving positive critical recognition for Duel (1971), a suspenseful TV movie that played in some European film festivals, and making a well-regarded splashy feature debut with The Sugarland Express (1974), Spielberg directed his monster hit Jaws. Though lauded



for his obvious filmmaking talent and his commercial instincts, Spielberg was at that point not taken as seriously as an auteur as Lucas53 After Star Wars, Lucas learned a lesson from the financial failure of American Zoetrope, Coppola’s attempt to create a more director-friendly studio outside of Hollywood. Instead of creating a European-style filmmaking collective, Lucas took his Star Wars profits and reproduced the top-down, producer-based control of the studio system in miniature with Lucasfilm, but far away from Hollywood in Northern California’s Marin County. Lucasfilm would, first of all, produce films with recognizable popular appeal.54 In order to elevate his status within his peer group, Spielberg had to figure out how to add “depth” and “grey matter” to the popcorn films that came so easily to him. Always known as more collaborative and open to others’ opinions than Lucas, Spielberg publicly resisted the auteur label. Starting production on their 1977 films with the self-imposed goals of making both a popular and a significant film, they looked to popular and avant-garde precedents to realize that aim. Again, the significance of these films would ride in large part on their fresh approach to visual aesthetics. Like 2001 before them, what made Star Wars and Close Encounters so remarkable at the time was that not only were the effects convincing but they also had a specific, designed look that carried through to all levels of production. Unlike the imperceptible studioera ideal, what was surprising and impressive about Star Wars and Close Encounters was that the filmmakers designed their effects to be seen and admired. The effects were to be experienced as both entirely in keeping with the diegesis and as a technological attraction in themselves. The emphasis on verisimilitude is prevalent in their discussions of special effects; the filmmakers’ goal of greater realism seems indisputable. What gets lost in focusing on the desire for credibility is the second half of the formula: it must be credible and fantastic—a believable illusion. What should be stressed is less the fantastic in favor of the credible (or vice versa) than their historically specific relationship, and the way the two films negotiated this relationship in different ways. Ironically, despite the wide-ranging expertise of the personnel available within the independent effects industry, neither Lucas nor Spielberg initially looked to the broader service and supply industry to staff their productions. Rather, they canvassed the only other people who had experience in such large-scale effects projects—the remaining old-hand studio



technicians.55 Unhappily, when hiring for Star Wars and Close Encounters began, many effects-heavy projects were already under way by the studios (including the disaster films, the de Laurentiis King Kong remake, etc.), which tied up many of the (rehired) traditional studio technicians and mainline independent houses, such as Dunn’s Film Effects Hollywood.56 Lucas and Spielberg were forced to look farther afield to less established outside sources, for their supervisors and crews. In both cases, they first considered Douglas Trumbull. Trumbull and Lucas apparently did not see eye to eye, and Trumbull passed on Star Wars. As Lucas put it (well after the fact): If you hire Trumbull to do your special effects, he does your special effects. I was very nervous about that. I wanted to be able to say, “It must look like this, not that.” I don’t want to be handed an effect at the end of five months and be told, “Here’s your special effect, sir.” I want to be able to have more say about what’s going on. It’s really become binary—either you do it yourself, or you don’t get a say.57

Lucas’s statement offers more evidence of the kind of producer-centered control he was building in independent form at Lucasfilm. However, in a study of the aesthetics of special effects, it also brings up a thorny issue: who’s aesthetic is it? Lucas acknowledges the reality that the visual effects supervisor can have a disproportionate influence over the final look of the film, so that it matters who is in charge. As Scott Bukatman has convincingly argued, as special effects became more visible and spectacular in the 1970s, the industry saw the rise of what he calls the “special effects auteur.” However, he seems to argue that Trumbull is the only one who consistently fulfills such a role.58 As we shall see, there are historical reasons that the special effects auteur failed to endure beyond the 1980s. Certainly, Trumbull was instrumental in developing a more prominent role for the special effects supervisor and putting his personal stamp on a recognizable aesthetic. However, it is important to place Trumbull in a broader historical context, instead of overemphasizing his uniqueness. As a heuristic, it is tempting to starkly contrast the different cases of Star Wars and Close Encounters. Nevertheless, one should not fall into the trap of setting up too sharp a divide in the Lucas/ILM versus Trumbull/ Future General binary, especially one that favors one side over the other. In



1975 they had as many points in common as they did points of divergence. The two men rose from similar training backgrounds, shared many of the same technological goals, and hired many of the same personnel in their organizations. Both wanted to work independently of the studios while at the same time still needing them for wide distribution. Both were looking to revitalize the very idea of popular entertainment and reshape what audiences wanted. They sought to update exhibition technologies and practices. And they both believed that making special effects more credible and more fantastic at the same time was the key to revitalizing the popular blockbuster formula. The challenge will be to carefully map out the terrain they both occupied, and where they diverged. Many special effects artists got into the business initially because of 2001 and the prominent and creative role the effects had in the overall film. After Star Wars demonstrated the increased importance of postproduction, all ambitious effects supervisors began to understand their position as keepers of a highly specialized and desirable skill set. Instead of being considered mere hired hands, Dykstra, Trumbull, Rob Blalack, and other prominent effects supervisors of the era began agitating in the press for more recognition of their considerable efforts, and more influence over productions. Dykstra even foresaw a day when special effects artists might receive the same recognition as actors: “Special effects people are not technicians, they are artists, and deserving of the same kind of deference that is given to the people in ‘star’ roles.”59 Not surprisingly, directors and producers, and even production designers (i.e., those in the traditional positions of power), did what they could to undermine that impulse, and many power struggles played out over special effects for the ensuing decades. The specific case between Lucas and his own Star Wars effects supervisor, John Dykstra, along with the problems faced by the burgeoning independent feature effects industry, will be discussed in more detail later. In large part, the economic dominance of Star Wars and its two sequels in the early 1980s generated a style and technique of special effects that would become characterized as the Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) house style. As already discussed, the ILM style has become the dominant model for how all special effects are described and judged. More specifically, I previously characterized the ideal ILM aesthetic as perfectly executed, seamless photorealism, with an emphasis on character-based anthropomorphism, and kinetic movement having a flashy graphic quality within



a busy, zippy frame. Additionally, these visible and dazzling effects would continually seek to refresh the “wow” factor of cinematic spectacle, rather than pass by unnoticed as perfect illusion. However, this characterization does not exhaust the many facets of ILM’s effects production. More importantly, we should remember that, however natural ILM’s effects might seem to us today, the ILM aesthetic is a style, and a historically determined one.

“The Buck Stops at Opticals” Special Effects Technology on Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind

For the filmmaking teams on Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the fantastic design of both films, whether aiming for “documentary fantasy” or “down on earth illusions,” nevertheless insisted on being grounded (a term both used) in the filmmakers’ notion of photorealistic effects. That meant that Lucas’s and Spielberg’s previsualization ideas and concepts had to be combined not only with narrative motivation but also the harsh contemporary reality of the state of special effects technology. As Lucas put it, “the buck stops at opticals,” meaning the role of traditional techniques in creating photoreal special effects was considered crucial to the success of the movie as a whole.1 In earlier approaches, special effects were conceived to be photorealistic and imperceptible (as in the majority of cases), meaning the effects footage was designed to match the principal photography. Or, more rarely, designed to be animated and fantastic (as in science fiction and fantasy subject matter). Filmmakers’ priority in 1970s special effects production, by contrast, was making ever more incredible imaginary animations appear as if photographed at the same time as the principal photography. Following Kubrick, filmmakers believed that more convincingly “photographic” photorealism had an important consequence. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) had taught ambitious filmmakers that if the



films were experienced as scrupulously photoreal, the audience is more apt to recognize and accept the ideas that they conveyed. A photorealist aesthetic in Star Wars and Close Encounters on one hand meant at its most basic what it always had: the principal photography and postproduction units had to match as if photographed at the same time, homogenized to the historically dominant look of the film. In other words, every element should be in the proper perspective and in the right position in the frame, the compositing seams should not be visible, and all motion should look “natural” to the eye. Importantly, however, the photorealism of the 1970s special effects aesthetic also meant a style that matched the prevalent 1970s live-action style of cinematography: textured surfaces, a muted color palette, lens flares, handheld cameras, and the look of available light. While it is typical to tout this historical shift toward a new approach to photorealism as a “step forward” in special effects over previous styles, these marks of 1970s naturalism are stylized strategies and cues that have become associated with realism through repeated exposure. There is nothing more photographically stylized and less perceptually real than a lens flare, for example, which has been an aesthetic trick since at least 2001 to both prompt the suggestion of direct live-action image capture through a lens, and at the same time distract the viewer from being able to scrutinize the miniature too carefully. Therefore, rather than evolving to a more perfect realism, 1970s photorealism is made up of historically specific aesthetic strategies, techniques, and choices, involving the artistic manipulation of lenses, film stocks, cameras, and more. Both Star Wars and Close Encounters produced an unusually large number of effects sequences that needed, after the example of 2001, to exceed the status of “good enough.” Lucas needed about 365 special effects shots (2001 had about 205) accomplished for his low-budget space fantasy, on a huge scale and compressed time line.2 Close Encounters would have over 200.3 Both productions recognized the same technical issues in special effects compositing that had long been considered problems and drawbacks in special effects–heavy films. Perhaps the greatest concern was freeing the “locked-down camera” by controlling and simulating camera movement. Also importantly, they confronted how to print and reprint the film stocks, adding layers upon layers of cinematic material, while maintaining a “single-generation” look. Additionally, more rigorous quality control would minimize matte lines, erasing the compositing seams. And finally,

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the workflow across and through many effects departments, also known as the pipeline, of composite material “line up,” had to be organized and systematized to meld into a final multi-composite image. In order better to control the results, as much of the special effects as possible for Star Wars and Close Encounters had to be purpose-built for the productions. However, learning from 2001’s slow and painstaking methodology, both ILM and Trumbull’s Future General were building with an eye to replicable efficiency, or a system that could be reused for later projects. Lucas hired John Dykstra, a former assistant to Trumbull who had also worked as optical cameraman and special effects designer on Trumbull’s Silent Running (1972), to be head of miniature and optical effects, and as team leader.4 While the “ILM story” has been rather breathlessly told many times in popular publications, ILM was in 1975 only a nickname (reportedly coined by Dykstra) for the Star Wars effects team, not its own incorporated entity.5 ILM as a corporate entity was not formalized until after the success of Star Wars, when Lucas plowed his huge profits back into the business and moved production to northern California to make The Empire Strikes Back (1980). On Star Wars, while Lucas shot principal photography in the U.K. and North Africa, Dykstra assembled a team in Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley. They developed an elaborate in-house system, including miniature design and construction, design and fabrication of a motion-control system, electronics and mechanical effects rig, and what they hoped would be a complete optical house and animation department.6 Also like Star Wars, Trumbull set up his own very elaborate production facilities, adjacent to but independent from his Future General facility in Marina del Rey.7 According to Trumbull, Future General would subcontract Close Encounters’ entire photographic effects job and set up a special facility that would include “workshops, photographic areas, optical printing facilities, animation stand, matte stand, hi-contrast film development and all related film handling and additional facilities.”8

Motion Control

Motion control has rightly been touted as one of the historical breakthroughs of special effects technology, and was used extensively for the first time in both Star Wars and Close Encounters. By freeing the locked-down



camera that had been necessary for composite work in the past, both films’ effects were able to provide the sense of acceleration and kineticism, especially important since both films feature many spaceships in motion. Another very important aspect about motion control is that by detaching the camera motion from live action, it furthered the notion of what we call now “virtual” camera movement and virtual mise-en-scène. While 2001 largely made elaborate use of the animation stand for its spaceships twirling through virtual environments, motion control opened up the possibility for a greater variety of shots in special effects sequences. Like the composite mise-en-scène, the composite camera movement of motion control allowed more image composition control by allowing the effects sequences to have more of the same unlimited camera movement as the live-action photography. Although not virtual (that is, digitally generated) in the way we think of it today, computer-assisted motion control in the 1970s popularized the idea of an impossible camera movement, such as the bird’s-eye flyovers into small spaces so common in contemporary films, such as the opening of Fight Club (Fincher, 1999), where the “camera” appears to pull out of Edward Norton’s body.9 Star Wars had the historical advantage of being released a few months earlier than Close Encounters and is usually credited as being the first to use a computer-assisted system to control the camera motion on a feature film. Because Trumbull touts his own improvements on former protégé Dykstra’s system for his work on Close Encounters, it does appear Dykstra and his team deserve the recognition. Although the elaborated Dykstraflex computer-controlled camera was indeed new, as explained previously, the idea for a motion-controlled camera that could repeat the movement of the camera in separate shots to create a virtual moving camera composite was not. Earlier nonautomated motion-control systems required the manual manipulation of finelyjointed stepping motors, so-called “worm gear,” that would make the movement easier to control.10 Therefore, manual motion control only allowed two separate pieces of “moving camera” film to be composited at any given time. Both Star Wars and Close Encounters composited many more elements with the same motion-control camera movement, and therefore needed the precision and certainty of a computerized, repeatable system. Dykstra received experience on the basic technique with Trumbull, who had worked with a noncomputerized version for 2001 to create the slit-scan “Star Gate” sequence. Moreover, Dykstra likely would have been aware of

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Con Pederson (a colleague of Trumbull’s on 2001 before shifting to commercial work) and Richard Winn Taylor’s work on the 7UP ad at Robert Abel and Associates, as discussed previously. Interestingly, American Cinematographer editor Herb Lightman, when he visited the set of 2001, described the system he witnessed on set as an “animating camera device.”11 Trumbull explains the origins of what he calls the “jokingly named” Dykstraflex thusly: The Dykstraflex was named to combat the formidable Trumbullflex, which was an old Eyemo [a small 35mm camera designed to withstand extreme conditions] in a new box. The name inspiration for me came originally from the famous Freddieflex, a camera consisting of a coke bottle lens on a beer can, invented by Fred Yates of Gordon Enterprises.12

Trumbull’s description demonstrates the bricolage method of special effects technological development on the two films, and indeed traditional special effects technology, where the technician took what already existed and tweaks it in light of new technology and the requirements of the project. Further, the automated aspect of a special effects “camera animating device” both connects it to the moving camera in live-action principal photography and also reinforces a connection to traditional multiplane animation stand work. Like multiplane animation (though horizontal, not vertical), the motion-control camera builds up its mobile mise-en-scène by abstracting the motion into its constituent parts, and then animating them layer by layer, frame by frame, in optical printing. Through the combination of elements in optical printing and a careful calibration of frame rate, the shot retains the look of a real-time photographic camera movement. Lucas later described the primary special effects issue confronting Star Wars as one of getting the spaceships to move, and move fast.13 Unlike 2001, Lucas was not interested in the audience’s slow contemplation of the possibilities and consequences of human technological endeavor.14 Dykstra described his mandate and how it would differ from earlier films’ approaches: In June of 1975, [ . . . ] George [Lucas] and Gary [Kurtz, the producer] outlined effects scenes that involved spacecraft engaged in acrobatics that any stunt pilot would be proud of: three or four ships performing rolls



or loops while firing lasers at each other in the classic “dog fight” tradition. All this was to occur while being viewed from a camera platform that itself needed the fluidity and freedom of motion of a camera plane. The visual concept was a far cry from the locked-off camera approach to space craft miniature photography seen in the space classics of the past. This was a challenge to say the least.15

In other words, the first priority for the effects was that they needed to evoke speed, generate excitement, and immerse the spectator in a kinetic experience. In part, the fast pace would also be a strategic cover for some of the technological imperfections. Unlike 2001 where the miniatures had to withstand the audience’s scrutiny over long takes of slow-moving spaceships, Star Wars’ density of high-speed models and fast-paced action would help disguise any technical and economic shortcuts. Importantly as well, the computer memory of the Dysktraflex system was a brief thirty seconds, necessitating shorter shots. Executing this effort would require many traditional elements of effects work: miniatures of the spaceships, still matte painting artwork for the planet backgrounds, hand-drawn mattes for the star field backgrounds, and composite optical printing to bring it all together. Additionally, the desired “dogfight in space” effect required the development of a new camera imaging system and process, which became the famous aforementioned Dykstraflex motion-controlled camera system. Dykstra himself explained it at length for American Cinematographer in 1977: [Motion control] is a system using stepping motors for control of any motion in the camera/subject positional relationship. These motors drive a track boom system with seven axes of motion and very precise tolerances. By using the camera frame rate and count as a time base, we can record camera/subject positional changes at 24 frames per second. The positional change is viewed through the taking lens and is controlled by a joy stick for multi-axes moves or by an individual potentiometer for single-axis moves. If one axis, or more, of the move requires modification, we then go back and rerecord that individual axis, while still playing back all the axes that are good. Once we have described the camera move, including follow focus, and viewed it in real time, we can then change the operational

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time base from frames-per-second to seconds-per-frame, and repeat the move precisely at the much slower rate used for actual photography. This allows complex matched-move, multi-element matte shots by shooting the foreground against the blue screen and then taking that program of motions to a twin camera system. A separate background element can then be photographed with matching motions. When the two elements are combined, the appearance is that of real-time photography, allowing pans, tilts rolls and accelerations on shots having a multitude of elements which were shot at different times on different cameras.16

There is a good deal of very specific technical information in Dykstra’s quote. However, in sum, the motion control acts as both a conventional camera giving “the appearance of real-time photography” and as a kind of virtual camera able to theoretically combine infinite numbers of separately shot elements, unified by the programmed movement. As a conventional camera, the motion-control rig records the precise motion of the camera, moving and shooting what is in front of it. With a computer-assisted virtual camera, the exact photographic movement, including limited panning and tilting, is recorded and stored, able to be repeated over and over again for as many composite elements as needed. If the frame rate needs to be manipulated, as is necessary to suggest the correct speed and scale of miniature photography, frame rates can be extrapolated from the “master” motioncontrol movement. Motion control, by combining traditional photographic techniques and aesthetics and the animated frame-by-frame manipulation of the picture plane, is one of the primary sites for understanding how the aesthetics of moviemaking changed in the 1970s, by beginning to abstract the camera’s movement from the live-action frame. Further, motion control helps make clear the logic of optical animation as a new approach to special effects in the 1970s. Among the ways the filmmakers used motion control to re-create the appearance of “real-time photography” was by replicating the norms of camera movement and techniques. This could mean, for example, imitating the look of a handheld shot, or a tracking shot. Additionally, by programming the coordinates of the camera movement, motion control retained the frame-by-frame control of animation in the printing process. By mimicking live-action camera operation, the look of the effects material is better able to approach that of principal photography. Likewise, by layering the principal photography with animated laser beams, force-fields,



and sparks, it approaches the effects unit material, aesthetically tying them more closely together. Through motion-control technology, the filmmakers are beginning to be able to make special effects material conform to any filmmaking style they want (documentary fantasy in the case of Star Wars, for example), and be less aesthetically constrained by the technical limitations imposed by special effects techniques of the past. In Close Encounters, Trumbull refined the existing Dykstraflex system developed for Star Wars, but added a cassette tape data storage that would hold longer takes—up to two minutes instead of the Dykstraflex’s thirty seconds of memory storage. Trumbull renamed his modified system the motion tracking system, or MTS. With modifications to the camera and head, MTS had more movement options than the Dykstraflex. It “could handle 8 channels of data which could include pan, tilt, dolly track motion, focus, camera sync, plus other motions as might be used to control the movement of a UFO.”17 Further, Trumbull and his team worked to increase the smoothness and steadiness of the camera movement, which would make more precise compositing possible. As in 2001, Trumbull was generally interested in slower-paced explorations of an environment and enjoyed the virtuosity required to produce the “long look” at the effects object. In other words, Trumbull adapted motion control in a way more appropriate to his aesthetic. In the specific case of Close Encounters, the narrative required long sequences of earthlings gawping in amazement at UFOs, and therefore longer motion-control shots of UFOs moving through the scene. Though the Star Wars high-speed pacing is the most remarked-upon use of motion control in this era, by comparing the two films’ aesthetic approaches we can see how the technology of motion control can be used to execute any number of kinds of effects, according to different needs or aesthetics.

Image Quality: The Single-Generation Look

Composite effects technicians before the 1970s typically did not layer more than a few elements at a time, because it was too difficult to maintain image quality over film generations. As in 2001, one solution to the problem of image quality would be through recourse to film formats with large image areas, either 70mm or VistaVision. Before the mid-1970s,

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Linwood Dunn’s effects house Film Effects Hollywood had purpose-built the only optical printer with large-format 65mm capabilities in the business, which he loaned to the 2001 production.18 In both Star Wars and Close Encounters, the effects sequences would be shot in the larger size and then printed down in 35mm in the duplicating stages. By starting with a richer original exposure, the image could afford to lose some definition as it was reprinted. Therefore, the effects unit material could be composited and edited together with the live-action footage and enjoy equivalent high image quality—characterized as the lack of graininess, with crisp colors and edges, bright whites, and the deep, inky black shades associated with large-format film. Trumbull preferred developing effects with 70mm as he had with 2001. Lucas and ILM chose VistaVision. Although the choice of 70mm or VistaVision would seem a bit arbitrary or a question of taste, it came to be something of a divisive polemic issue for Trumbull and those who did not follow the ILM way. Larger formats like 70mm and later IMAX (also a 70mm format but like VistaVision filmed “on its side” at 15-perf), which were to be projected onto larger and larger screens, were believed by Trumbull to be integral to developing the advanced technology feature filmmaking would need to stay relevant. For Trumbull, though it was more expensive than 35mm, it was imperative to exploit 70mm and encourage its research and development in any technical area. For him, VistaVision was the past, associated with the 1950s, not appropriate to the state-of-the-art and even futuristic images he was cultivating. In any case, both formats had their advantages and drawbacks. VistaVision was Paramount’s answer to Twentieth Century Fox’s CinemaScope widescreen technology of the mid-1950s. VistaVision is a 35mm format with a larger image field than standard 35mm. Sometimes called the “Lazy 8,” VistaVision gains extra image area via an 8-perf film system that runs the film strip horizontally through the camera (fig. 4.1). Twice the width of the standard 4-perf 35mm image with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, VistaVision’s picture image was able to contain twice the visual information. Lucas and team certainly chose to revive VistaVision in part because several of his favorite films such as John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) were filmed in VistaVision. However, Lucas claims this choice was as much a pragmatic financial decision as an aesthetic one.19 Star Wars’ budget was slim, and 70mm was too expensive. VistaVision cameras were available



FIGURE 4.1 A single-frame example of VistaVision “Lazy 8” film stock. (Courtesy of Richard Rickett)

to rent or buy cheaply, and ran standard 35mm film, albeit sideways. For Lucas’s team, VistaVision allowed them to hearken back to a golden age of widescreen Fordian grandeur and solve a major technical problem at the same time. VistaVision’s downside was that it was an almost dead technology by the mid-1970s. The cameras that existed were old (dating from the 1950s), no longer being manufactured, and had to be extensively retrofitted for modern use.20 However, VistaVision’s picture quality advantage proved more lasting as a special effects technology than a widescreen one: ILM, as well as many ILM-trained effects artists, have maintained the use of VistaVision in many recent productions such as for the special effects sequences in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy, and the Christopher Nolan Batman films (at least, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight).21 Trumbull, on the other hand, preferred using 70mm. 70mm was a format that had enjoyed its greatest popularity in the 1960s (though invented earlier) within the trend for developing technology for bigger, wider cinematic images with which television could not compete. The use of the format had fallen off by the 1970s, in large part because of its expense and exhibition limitations (not all theater projection systems could accommodate 70mm).

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Along with a polemic interest in large-format film, Trumbull also had a very strong financial interest in using 70mm. For Trumbull, the advantage of 70mm was its increased amount of “information storage” that would translate to higher-quality images. Higher-quality images would in turn mean more impact upon the viewer and “improved realism.”22 Trumbull’s effects company Future General was dedicated to using 70mm in feature film work, as well as finding new uses for it and using 70mm as the basis for other formats and techniques that offer even bigger and better image quality. Like Stanley Kubrick (and later, Lucas as well), Trumbull was concerned about the state of cinematic exhibition technology. And like Kubrick, he felt that poor exhibition was a disservice to the filmmakers.23 For Kubrick, this meant shooting as often as possible in 70mm, so that once it was poorly projected in small theaters with insufficient projector bulbs and poor sound, it would still maintain much of its intended impact. Again, having absorbed the advantages of 70mm from Kubrick, Trumbull translated this concept to his effects work by shooting in the richer 70mm format and then printing down to 35mm. On the downside, by the 1970s, 70mm film stock was not manufactured in large amounts and was therefore scarce. It was also markedly more expensive to buy and process than 35mm. But Trumbull also had grander ambitions for the 70mm technology and a philosophical approach to the potential of the technology to turn the cinema into something more. Trumbull’s “something more,” was what he called Showscan, his high-frame-rate capture and projection technology. With Showscan, Trumbull imagined beyond special effects and indeed conventional cinema, which will be discussed in a later chapter.

Three-Color Separation

Choosing the film format is the first step in maintaining image quality over duplication stages necessary in photoreal special effects optical printing. During filming, and then during the final composite printing, additional steps need to be taken to maintain the desired single-generation look. A related problem with image quality is the “thinning” of the image—the softening of colors and edges—in multiple printing passes. Instead of all the elements in the frame appearing to have the same grain density, thereby looking as if they were filmed at the same time, some composited elements



exhibited a more visible grain pattern. In addition, colors, especially blacks and whites, lost saturation. A more visible grain in some elements would make the composited spaceships, for example, look like faintly transparent, paper-thin cutouts on the picture plane. The blacks and whites go gray, and the colors in between appear muddy. This problem is very evident on many Dino de Laurentiis–produced films such as Flash Gordon (1980) and especially Dune (1984), where the ambitious and lavishly designed production is often undermined by cost-cutting at the optical printing level. In order to counteract the thinning of the composited elements, both productions would use the three-color separation technique. Again, learning from Kubrick and 2001, Star Wars and Close Encounters were largely able to maintain the density of image and saturation of colors over many printing passes.24 This was especially important on Close Encounters, in which the effects sequences take place entirely at night. Use of three-color separation in the printing process explains why some heavily composited films of the era have more consistent coloration and image thickness, and therefore the special effects and principal photography footage look more integrated than others. In the three-color separation process, the master negative is divided into three separate strips that each contain different color information (fig. 4.2). Three-color separation, also called YCM (yellow, cyan, and magenta), exploits the camera operator’s ability to divide color film’s major ranges of blue, red, and green into their complementary colors.25 In this process, the three colors are spilt up with color filters—for example, a cyan filter will let blue and green light pass but absorb red light, and likewise magenta (which absorbs green) and yellow (which absorbs blue). Film technicians would have been familiar with this from the three-strip Technicolor process introduced in 1932, which achieved its saturated color palette from separating the blue, green, and red colors out in filming, and then printing them together to attain thick color density.26 The special effects use of this process has a number of benefits, even though it effectively triples the printing time for every element. What this means is that much of the special effects photography created its own black and white record in addition to the color records. When all the strips joined up in printing, the three separated strips of color film were reprinted together, to restore it to color footage and also thicken the fullness of image to be closer to its original, first-generation look. The time and expense of

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FIGURE 4.2 How three-color separation works. (Courtesy of Richard Rickett)

triple printing is one of the reasons many post-1977 productions decided to prioritize this technique. Though seemingly an esoteric area of effects detail, three-color separation is important not only because of the better image quality it restores after the dupe stages of the negative but also because it is the optical principle on which the blue-screen process is based. Three-color separation relies upon what the camera and the film “sees” in light’s refraction. Blue screen, as the name suggests, films the principal photography against a blue screen, which, through color separation, enables clean edges and thinner matte lines when joining the principal photography with backgrounds in postproduction. Like three-strip Technicolor, the concept behind blue screen had long been known. The principle behind blue-screen composite processes have been in use in some form since the late 1910s (see, especially, the Williams Process, used in The Lost World [Hoyt, 1925], as well as Sunrise [Murnau, 1927].27 However, repurposing the technique in the



1970s pushed research toward new and expanded uses of blue screen. In traditional effects, blue screen had been used mostly as a background element in traveling mattes, where only two elements (foreground and background) needed to be printed together. Through the late 1970s up until today, blue screen is used as the primary way separate elements are isolated in order to later be reassembled either in the optical printer or in the computer. Therefore, blue screen has helped make it possible to pack the frame more densely with more composite elements. Furthermore, like camera movement and animation elements, all live-action aspects of filmmaking, including the main actors in principal photography, potentially serve as detachable compositional elements to be combined or recombined as needed.

Elimination of Matte Lines

Again, matte lines result when the composite elements do not line up precisely when joined in optical printing, leaving a thick, usually black line around the foreground element. Today, matte lines are easily erased digitally. However, in optical effects, matte lines were considered a major stumbling block in the development of seamless photorealism in special effects work. It was generally held by Lucas and others on the ILM team that seeing matte lines would make the viewer cognizant of the artificiality of the environment and pop the viewer out of the diegesis.28 Oftentimes, matte lines are the fault of less skilled or meticulous printer operators. However, due to unavoidable film shrinkage in the developing process, a certain amount of visible matte lines are inevitable, even for the most skilled operators.29 A good optical printer operator devises strategies and techniques to hide or minimize matte lines. Typically, the decision for where to place the matte is made by where the viewer’s attention is going to be, and how to distract the eye away from it. Dennis Muren explains: “The [matte] is usually repositioned so that it does fit in the area where your eye looks. That’s consciously done by the printer operators for each shot.”30 Matte lines are also visual residue of the most prominent way that animation techniques dovetail with special effects techniques. After all the separate elements are filmed, the technique that brings them all together and homogenizes them into a movie is entirely reliant on the principles of

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animation. The composited, composed, and layered film frame minutely changes frame by frame over (usually) 24 fps. In order to make the Star Wars spaceships move, for example, the effects team had to composite as many as twenty-eight separately generated pieces (photographic, animated, and painted) in the final composite.31 Photorealism meant bringing them together as seamlessly as possible, and when a seam could be detected, it was usually a matte line. And there were many chances along the printing process to ruin a photorealistic effect by unwanted matte lines. In Star Wars, some matte lines did get through to the final version (such as when the Millennium Falcon flies over the spaceport at Mos Eisley). However, the optical compositors generally avoided them with a new fluorescent blue-screen system, which used continuous-tone film as matting stock instead of high-contrast film, allowing for softer edges.32 More importantly, by filming the models and miniatures at highly accelerated frame rates, they also generated a motion blur, which had the added benefit of softening of the matte lines, as well as making them hard to scrutinize.33 In the case of Close Encounters, night photography and the glow of the UFOs meant the effects team had to take special care with mattes and model construction. Unlike the hard edge required of Star Wars mattes, Trumbull had a different approach based in a need for a different aesthetic: We could not tolerate the hard edges and associated matching problems, so we worked out a way of painting out all non-matte areas with a superblack glossy paint, often softly feathering the edges of the painting and then exposing the entire board onto the negative without any matte or mask. This allowed us to “tickle” the edges, add highlights, etc, as needed until no “matte lines” were evident.34

All of the UFO appearances were to take place at night, which meant the necessity of maintaining the blackness of the dark areas while combining multiple elements onto a single negative without “contaminating” or washing out the blacks.35 In order to maintain rich blacks over multiple exposures, the team had to layer cover mattes of various densities, which also worked to soften matte edges. On top of that, composite work had to deal with the mobile glow and flare of the UFOs’ lighting systems.36 By “feathering” the matte edges, Trumbull took advantage of the UFOs’ glow to hide the matte lines. Additionally, the UFO miniatures were designed



with thousands of self-illuminating point lights and protrusions that could suggest a shape without having to show it clearly. The glowing mattes created a fuzzy space between the UFOs and the live action, both joining them and providing a subtle contrast between the two spaces.37

Film Stocks

Finally, there was another historically specific issue relating to compositing that the main unit photography had to account for: an industry-wide transition to a new film stock. In 1973 Kodak introduced a new negative color film stock, the 5247, which was meant as an improvement (both in image quality and shortened development time) to the then-standard 5254.38 Vilmos Zsigmond, Director of Photography for Close Encounters, has said that he found the 1973 version of 5247 unacceptable in terms of inflexibility of color range, especially with black tonalities. Only in 1975–76, when Kodak released an improved version of the stock with an increased tonal range and greater “pushing” flexibility, did it win Zsigmond’s endorsement.39 The new stock did not, however, immediately win Spielberg’s approval: I don’t like it at all. It’s flat and it doesn’t have any depth, and there’s no texture to it. It’s almost too clear. It doesn’t feel like 5254 used to. The 5254 negative had a real tactile quality and 5247 is as slick as a chocolate brown Bentley. You have to use coral filters to warm the damned stuff up. But I guess I’ll get used to it.40

This was especially important to a film like Close Encounters’ special effects night shots. This stock only existed in 35mm, however, not 70mm for effects shooting. And though films in the 1980s and beyond were often shot on different stocks for different purposes, this practice was not so common in the 1970s. This discrepancy of stocks was cause for concern. Indeed, there is a marked contrast in the film between daytime and nighttime sequences, which is glossed over somewhat by the thematic difference between the mundane everyday daytime world and the more fantastic nighttime world.41 The new stocks presented similar compositing problems for many special effects projects faced over the next decade.

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Even if Spielberg did not immediately take to the new stock, he is often charged with instigating or at least popularizing the sleek and polished look of 1980s films (along with Ridley Scott and Robert Zemeckis). The previous 5254 stock supported the 1970s aesthetic that favored softer volumes, warmer tonalities, a deeper field of vision, and rich textured surfaces. The technical specifications of the new 5247 favored a sharper focus and a shallower picture plane. Colors could be more vibrant and even, but also less subtle or molded. 5247 also favored colors on the cool side of the spectrum. Much like a video or TV image, all elements tended to look like they were on the same flat plane, making the figures appear in thin relief against backgrounds. See, for example, Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981) or The Howling (Dante, 1981) to ascertain the shallower look of 5247. However, the general planar look of 5247 suited the more highly composited miseen-scène of the special effects films that followed after 1977. Moreover, it is probably not a coincidence that 5247 had a look that set off the slick, saturated “candy apple neon” look made familiar in Abel’s 7UP “Bubbles” and other ads of the 1970s, Further, 5247 would also suit the computer-inspired (and later, computer-generated) futuristic graphics of the next decade, in films such as Tron (Lisberger, 1982) and those that would follow. The Star Wars and Close Encounters teams both had similar ideals in mind for how to match the special effects aesthetic to the 1970s live-action cinematography. They also had similar sensibilities based in a particular aesthetic of 1960s and 1970s cinematic realism: that the special effects needed to adhere as closely as possible to notions of contemporary cinematography in order to be credible as a movie with intellectual ambitions. In other words, for them, a photographically believable diegesis makes credible cinematic art. The different ways the two projects approached the same problems, however, foretell one of the reasons their approaches stuck: the systems they set up were very flexible and could be adapted for a number of different aesthetics and approaches.

I visualized an extremely bizarre, Gregg Toland–like surreal look with strange overexposed colors, a lot of shadows, a lot of hot areas. I wanted the seeming contradiction of strange graphics of fantasy combined with the feel of a documentary. — G E O R G E L U C A S ( 1 977) 1

A More Plastic Reality The Design and Conception of Star Wars and West Coast Experimental Filmmaking

In the 1970s, the ILM aesthetic may well have existed in ideal form in George Lucas’s mind’s eye. Nevertheless, however dominant ILM’s special effects aesthetic model would later become, Lucas and his team were still in the process of developing this aesthetic on Star Wars, within the bounds of what would be technically and economically possible.2 As already discussed, ILM, overseen by Lucas, designed its 1970s photorealistic special effects to match the 1970s live-action aesthetic of cinematic realism: cinema verité location shooting; a muted color palette; flaring lenses; handheld cameras; flatly lit, unmade up faces; and the look of available lighting. Indeed, Star Wars has long been lauded as an achievement in strikingly effective photorealism. However, despite the filmmaking team’s rhetorical emphasis, “more real” photorealism was not always the only priority. Other aesthetic goals often competed with photorealism: kineticism, graphic dynamism, and flaunting the spectacle of the special effects sequence. Oftentimes the goal of the special effects sequence, as exemplified in the Millennium Falcon’s jump to hyperspace, was to convey sensual impact, such as velocity, excitement, or disorientation, all equally as important as approaching photorealism. In order to achieve these abstract-sounding



goals, the filmmaking teams borrowed significantly from experimental abstract animation. Importantly, along with graphic impact, the effects artists also borrowed a conception of screen space that shifted away from an immobile series of perspectival planes to one that conceived of its space globally, unbound by the edges of the screen. The mid-1970s industry discourse suggests that the ideal photographic realism was rarely considered a feasible prospect in light of budgets and time, as Lucas himself stated in interviews.3 Perhaps for this reason, in 1970s special effects, the credible and fantastic both were constantly in negotiation—for example, as Lucas suggests, combining Gregg Toland’s deep-focus classical realism with bizarre fantasy. More specifically, the photorealistic look of Star Wars’ model and miniature work often grounded the fantastic animation overlays of the brightly colored lightsabers and laserbeams. On Close Encounters, the dazzling, luminescent UFOs washed out the mundane earthbound reality of the human characters.

Documentary Fantasy: Star Wars’ Aesthetic Technically, you always compare things against 2001. If you took one of our shots and ran it on the light box and set it next to one of Kubrick’s shots, you would say, “Well, his are better.” But there is no way, given the time and money we’ve had that Kubrick could do any better. He was striving for perfection and had a shot ratio thirty times what we have. When you spend that kind of time and money you can get things perfect. We went into this trying to make a cheap, children’s movie for $8 million. We didn’t go in and say that we were going to make the perfect science fiction film, but we’re going to make the most spectacular thing you’ve ever seen. — G E O R G E L U C A S ( 1 9 7 7) 4

Despite Lucas’s somewhat disingenuous claims, he had very demanding ideas in mind for the aesthetic of Star Wars. Technicians’ accounts certainly suggest that, however unrealistic it seemed on the budget available, he did expect technological perfection to be carried out on all levels of production.5 However, in the case of Star Wars at least, Lucas did not entirely get his way. Accounts of Star Wars’ genesis most typically mention narrative inspirations, most influentially the mythological archetypes of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.6 In interviews in the lead up to Star Wars describing his overall visual concept, Lucas tended to cite a pulpier heritage.



Most often, he spoke of fantastic literary and graphic precedents—Flash Gordon, the Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars series, and Jules Verne. Or, more simply, he called it “a space opera in the tradition of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.”7 When invoking cinema precedent, he described Star Wars as “a classic sort of genre picture, sci fi plus action adventure.”8 More specifically, he called it “2001 and James Bond combined—super fantasy, capes and swords and laser guns and spaceships shooting each other, all that sort of stuff. But it’s not camp. It’s meant to be an exciting actionadventure film.”9 The distinction is important. Star Wars would not be a Barbarella-style campy romp (per Vadim, 1968) with the associated cheaplooking effects. It would evoke the childlike innocence, excitement, and pace of those precedents, but transform them into the ambitious, artistic “visual filmmaking” of 2001. Or, as Lucas seems to be strongly implying by emphasizing its fast-paced action, he wanted Star Wars to be like 2001, but less boring. In any case, as Lucas’s own descriptions suggest, character and narrative were to be reduced to easily graspable tropes, with movement, color, and excitement much more at the forefront.10 In fact, narrative on the level of scriptwriting (which Lucas repeatedly claims to hate) was clearly designed as a means to string together certain images on the screen: “I always see images flash into my head, and I just have to make those scenes. I have an overwhelming drive to get that great shot of the two spaceships, one firing at the other as they drive through the space fortress. By God I want to see it. That image is in my head, and I won’t rest until I see it on the screen.”11 Lucas’s desire to get the images out of his head and onto the screen, along with his controlling tendencies, seems to be an important motivation for going to all the enormous technical labor Star Wars would entail. Star Wars ended up as a test case to be retooled for future effects work rather than a practical and efficient working model. In fact, the resulting look of the 1977 release of Star Wars is as much due to Lucas’s failure to achieve perfect control as an example of it.12 No doubt he intended a certain degree of visual variety, but perhaps not to the extent that one sees in the finished version. Lucas’s perceived inadequacy of Star Wars’ photorealism and an attempt to improve it is perhaps the reason that the Star Wars sequels (The Empire Strikes Back [1980] and Return of the Jedi [1983] ) placed greater and greater production energy on the “credible” side of “totally fantastic and credible at the same time.” The later aesthetic of ILM in general would



privilege developing a house-style photorealistic aesthetic over more stylized graphic dynamism. Lucas described how he envisioned Star Wars’ look, and how science fiction should be updated and combined with a “grittier” live-action 1970s aesthetic: The trouble with the future in most futurist movies is that it always looks new and clean and shiny [ . . . when] what is required for true credibility is a used future. . . . We were trying to get a cohesive reality. But since the film is a fairy tale, I still wanted it to have an ethereal quality, yet be well composed and, also, have an alien look.13

In visual cinematic terms, Lucas wanted to blend a notion of “authentic” documentary realism with the “candy apple neon” color and graphic punch of comic books, the “extremely bizarre . . . graphics of fantasy combined with the feel of a documentary” (per this chapter’s opening quote).14 While “extremely bizarre” was not the result, the look of Star Wars was unusually heterogeneous, especially in the way that the filmmakers borrowed nonfigurative imagery from experimental filmmakers. These graphics were toned down to suit a credible fictional diegesis. Nevertheless, the combination of bright and dynamic graphics and carefully selected techniques and imagery of cinema verité (the look of a handheld camera, rack focus, “exotic” alien worlds) helped comprise this “documentary fantasy,” and it was through this aesthetic that Star Wars combined the various strands of commercial, experimental, and feature filmmaking. In order to make them work together, the principal photography, typically the most “realistic” and “credible,” needed to look a bit fantastic, and the special effects, usually the representation of the fantastic,” needed to look like live-action photography. Star Wars’ world-building novelty resulted in large part from the interpenetration of those previously separate spheres.

Star Wars and Experimental Filmmaking

If Star Wars’ narrative tropes were purposefully conventional (the quest, the princess in distress, the race to the rescue), the special effects’ aesthetics were less so. Many writers discussing Lucas’s influences have referenced



postwar American experimental filmmakers, especially Jordan Belson, Scott Bartlett, and Norman McLaren, and it is a topic Lucas himself has liked to raise over the years in interviews.15 However, the specific relation Star Wars’ production had with these filmmakers and their techniques is less well understood. Beyond a general kind of influence and historical contemporaneity, how did experimental filmmaking, especially West Coast abstract animation, influence Star Wars? What were the roles of the many experimental filmmakers that served as labor on the film? While exploring the close connection between the Hollywood special effects industry and experimental filmmaking in the 1970s, the aim is not to rehabilitate these often disparaged blockbuster films as worthy objects for study on the basis of a connection to experimental filmmaking, but rather to help us understand how the tools of experimental filmmaking were repurposed in popular cinema with consequences that resonate today. The experimental influence goes well beyond simple visual resemblances. Most importantly, in crucial ways and through specific technical means, experimental filmmaking taught mainstream filmmakers like Lucas, Spielberg, and others how to build virtual environments out of movement, animation, and graphic dynamism. As the auteurist filmmaker behind Star Wars, Lucas had a personal interest in experimental film that should briefly be put under scrutiny. Today, Lucas’s repeated insistence that he only ever wanted to make experimental film sounds patently absurd. However, when his work as a film student is considered, one can place Lucas’s statements in a logical historical context. Additionally, those films provide a fascinating, little-considered angle on the aesthetics of Star Wars and the development of special effects more generally. As an example, in 1967 Lucas won the opportunity, along with three other recent graduates of the USC and UCLA film programs, to observe and make a short film on the set of MacKenna’s Gold (Thompson, 1969). While his peers created a sensitive portrait of the stunt rider, or shot out the window of a car, or followed around the director, Lucas made a highly abstracted “tone poem” (as he called it) much like a desert Koyaanisqatsi (Reggio, 1982).16 Lucas’s film, entitled “6/18/67,” employed time-lapse photography and rhythmically repeating motifs of the Arizona landscape (cacti, rock formations), set to the pace of eerie soundtrack music.17 The rest of Lucas’s student oeuvre, with a strong emphasis on abstracted imagery, irregular editing, and dissonant sound design, also generally supports



his claims to be interested in visual over “linear” filmmaking as he conceived it, and within experimental filmmaking trends of the late 1960s.18 The filmmakers’ names that most often come up in Lucas’s lists of his early inspirations were Jordan Belson and Scott Bartlett as well as the abstract animation films made by the Canadian Film Board, specifically Norman McLaren’s. These influences help make more sense of Lucas’s oft-repeated reference to himself as primarily interested in “pure” cinema or as an experimental filmmaker—the kinds of movies he would go back to once “finished” with Star Wars.19 In light of his penchant for layering images, techniques, and sounds for expressive purposes in both his juvenilia and his feature work, it should not be surprising that Lucas narratively motivated uses for many techniques he both admired and practiced in abstract experimental cinema in Star Wars.20 Additionally, as we shall see, not only were these experimental ideas in Lucas’s head, they were also in the skill set of many contemporary filmmakers freelancing at different levels of the effects business, which likely impacted what filmmakers he hired to realize that vision. These interests in experimental film place Lucas in a historical constellation with the artist-filmmakers who worked in all levels of the film industry to pay the bills in the 1970s, mixing their art school backgrounds into both creative and purely technical jobs, such as Star Wars.

Star Wars’ Artist-Technicians

While it is easy to establish Lucas’s interest in experimental filmmaking, it is much more difficult to establish what he did with that interest, and how much influence experimental filmmaking actually had on the production. Special effects production in Hollywood has well-established links with experimental and avant-garde practices. Since the classical studio era, many (mostly European) filmmakers and technicians brought “expressive” techniques to Hollywood that were turned to more conventional usage, in both live action and animation, including Eugen Schüfftan, Slavko Vorkapich, Oskar Fischinger, Salvador Dalí, and Americans such as John Whitney and Pat O’Neill, just to name a few. It would be easy to characterize the involvement of experimental filmmakers in the special effects business as one of exploitation: the greedy film business, always looking for ways to freshen up the look of filmmaking, appropriates both the labor and the



innovations of the powerless experimental filmmaker. Evidence suggests, however, that it was not a simple one-way street: experimental filmmakers frequently cite their experience in the effects business as vital to honing skills and sparking ideas they applied to their own filmmaking.21 In the case of Star Wars, what these references do provide is a surprising perspective on the film that is generally held to have originated the “tentpole” special effects–driven blockbuster that now is at the center of the Hollywood movie industry. Experimental filmmakers were an important part of realizing Lucas’s imagination of graphic dynamism and marrying it to the science fiction action-adventure film.22 West Coast experimental filmmakers’ participation in the special effects boom of the late 1970s is a little-known and much misunderstood phenomenon. The impact of West Coast experimental filmmaking went far beyond lending these science fiction films transitory psychedelic visuals representing alien worlds. More specifically, I argue that in the 1970s, experimental filmmakers, both directly as labor and indirectly as inspiration, taught popular filmmakers like George Lucas, but also Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott and their teams, strategies for organizing and mobilizing the elaborately designed composite mise-en-scène. Or, in other words, they provided the technological, aesthetic, and conceptual scaffolding for creating the layered and expandable worlds desired for these science fiction films. In the 1970s and through the 1980s, many filmmakers both closely and loosely associated with West Coast experimental film put their talents to work in various aspects of the special effects industry. These include such well-known aforementioned artists as Pat O’Neill, John and James Whitney, and Jordan Belson, but also Adam Beckett, Robert Blalack, Betzy Bromberg, Chris Casady, Larry Cuba, Roberta Friedman, Peter Kuran, Richard Winn Taylor, Diana and David Wilson, and many others. Many of them founded or freelanced for independent optical, title, and effects houses as well as on feature film projects and ads. In fact, many workers of the optical line on Star Wars taught at or were recent attendees of CalArts, where artists such as O’Neill and Beckett trained them in cutting-edge experimental optical printing techniques.23 This kind of effects workforce on a feature film is a change from decades past when studio effects personnel followed an apprenticeship system under strict union rules. So-called “closed shop” regulations would have kept most of these artists out of any level of the studio industry, except in rare cases.24 A famous exception included



Hitchcock’s specially commissioned title sequence for Vertigo (1958), completed by John Whitney. However, in addition to his experimental work, Whitney and his brother James also founded an independent optical company, called Motion Graphics, which produced a great deal of commercial work for films and television. More experimental filmmakers in the special effects business meant a change in approach to effects as well as a change in aesthetics. As previously discussed, effects hewed to what might be called the studio functionalist aesthetic, where all elements are in the right perspective and are as unobtrusive as possible, forming a seamless backdrop for the all-important actors in the foreground. However, effects artists of the 1970s brought their less conventional training to bear for a new kind of special effects production. Also, feature filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and John Carpenter were well aware of trends in experimental filmmaking, thanks to courses and workshops at USC and UCLA, and participation in the L.A. scene.25 Whether the aesthetic goal was meditative transcendence in the case of Belson and James Whitney, or intellectualized room for play like John Whitney, technologically mediated abstract imagery had arrived as a broad imaging trend. Certainly, it was a trend that was attractive to feature filmmakers who wanted to deploy the kinesthetic illusion of movement, as well as possibilities of representing illusionistic, impossible worlds.26 Of course, at the same time, narrative feature filmmakers like Lucas and Spielberg streamlined or eliminated the notion of chance and unpredictability the experimentalists courted, presenting their imagery in a popular, accessible form, and also narratively motivating them in the diegesis. For example, pulsating colored fragments of light become laser beams, and Larry Cuba’s pioneering computer art becomes electronic blueprints of the Death Star. For many critics, this streamlining and recontextualizing impulse is exactly the source of their harsh assessment of the effectsdriven films.27 However, it is worth acknowledging that the appropriation of experimental techniques and imagery by films like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in part has helped this experimental movement endure beyond Los Angeles and has made it more readily accessible for the revived interest of later generations. Further, despite a misconception that feature filmmaking in general (and Lucas in particular) “gutted” the Los Angeles experimental scene by distracting the filmmakers with day jobs, experimental filmmakers on the



whole viewed the situation differently. As interviews with artists testify, experimental artists’ relationship with the industry cannot be characterized simply as one of exploitation and appropriation. Rather, over and over, many artists claim their day job not only provided them with a steady paycheck but also offered inspiration for their own work.28 With this relationship in mind, I am not arguing that experimental filmmakers in the special effects business, through their infiltration, subverted or transformed in any straightforward manner the film industry that was co-opting them and their work. Rather, the situation is much more complicated. The large influx of experimental filmmakers in the business at this time was primarily because special effects teams needed large numbers of trained optical printer operators in the mid- to late 1970s. The multiple elements meant much more complex and labor-intensive special effects optical printing in the 1970s than had been the case previously. What these productions especially needed were a great number of creative and skilled artists to build imagined environments through layers of photographic and animated elements, usually on the optical printer bed. Star Wars and Close Encounters required huge crews of optical printing and animation-stand experts, not to mention model makers, matte painters, etc. Those with long-standing expertise in the studio era were largely retired or recently deceased, or reemployed by the studios for the declining disaster film cycle. Therefore, the science fiction films of the late 1970s had to recruit special effects team members from a number of sources, nearly all of which employed experimental filmmakers at some level. Star Wars, for example, had two tiers of employees working directly for ILM at the Van Nuys facility. First were the department heads, and second were those department heads hired as members of their own teams. These effects artists worked as ILM’s core team. When it became clear that more workers would be needed, the Star Wars production hired scores of freelancers and independent optical companies during the late crunch time of the production. More specifically, department heads were hired first of all out of the independent optical business (described in chapter 2) for their supervisors—Douglas Trumbull for Close Encounters, and his protégé John Dykstra for Star Wars from Trumbull’s independent optical house, as well as department heads like Dennis Muren from Graphic Films and Richard Edlund from Westheimer. They then hired recent graduates of film programs that placed a strong emphasis on optical printing, which in the Los Angeles area was primarily CalArts.29



Reportedly, freelancers and independent optical shops were hired largely based on personal relationships with department heads.30 In specific terms, how did this crossover between the experimental and the industrial sectors happen? It is an economic fact of life that most artists must maintain a day job or, as the case may be, a night job. It is not entirely coincidental that many of the newly minted graduates of the recently formed CalArts made a good living in the also hot area of special effects in the late 1970s and early 1980s. First of all, many big effects projects were “staffing up” at that time, and as an independent production, Star Wars needed a great deal of independent, outsourced labor.31 One of the most influential teachers at CalArts was Pat O’Neill, whose specialty was the kind of optical printing and duplication work that was becoming valuable to the film industry at this time. Furthermore, as founder of the independent optical company Lookout Mountain Films, he provided a prominent example to his students of an artist who freelanced in the optical, title, and effects business. Although, by his own account, O’Neill mostly completed simple, fairly mechanical composites to order, he occasionally was able to work on projects with more creativity involved. For example, O’Neill cites the striking opticals for Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song of 1971 (in particular the vibrant, distorted-color sequences of van Peebles as Sweetback running through Los Angeles’s industrial backdrops; see fig. 5.1) as a rare example of O’Neill being called upon for what might be called “expressive” effects.32 O’Neill also claims to have been strongly influenced in his own work by Classical Hollywood–era special effects master Linwood Dunn’s previously mentioned popular series of lectures in art and film schools starting in the 1960s and through the 1970s, which many gave many young art and design school students the idea that special effects might be a viable and creative career path.33 According to many of his CalArts students, O’Neill’s quiet authority influenced a great many of his students and loosened the hold on some of the purist rhetoric that demonized work in the movie industry as “selling out,” which infused CalArts in its early days and is a prejudice that still often appears.34 Pat O’Neill, Adam Beckett, Betzy Bromberg, and Larry Cuba all cite their experience of working on feature films such as the original Star Wars trilogy (1977–1983), Wolfen (Wadleigh, 1981), and The Terminator (Cameron, 1984) as influencing their own practices and opening up ideas and meanings that looped back upon the feature films. O’Neill, and many other



FIGURE 5.1 Pat O’Neill’s color-distortion work on Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Van Peeples, 1971).

experimental artists such as Bromberg and Robert Blalack have insisted that their professional skills developed and improved through work-forhire in the industry and did not act as a detriment to their avant-garde work. On the contrary, they often cite their stint in the industry as enhancing their skill set, technological expertise, and problem-solving skills.35 As Bromberg has said, Honestly, the benefit is probably greater aesthetically and creatively for the experimental filmmaker, and what they can end up with, for the person who has the stamina to do both. [ . . . ] Honestly, I feel like what was tapped out of me was a lot of time, energy, skill, but every drop of skill that the industry got out of me, I got twice as much for my own films. I can look at the caliber of my filmmaking. [ . . . ] That’s what is so fabulous about it, that it’s this huge realm of knowledge, and you’re learning more and more and more over time. To me to watch a Pat O’Neill film, his aesthetic has developed with his skills, and why shouldn’t it?36



In fact, it should be no surprise that experimental artists in the special effects trade used their animation and aesthetic skills and sensibilities in their day jobs, and that the problem-solving and repetition would lead to a more refined and sophisticated skill set they put to work on their own films. What did these artists learn on Star Wars and other effects projects that they were able to bring back to their own work? It is tempting to take ILM history at its word that the optical printing crew on Star Wars was mostly all young recent graduates who needed jobs quickly. However, the picture is more varied. The artist-filmmakers who worked on these films crossed generations. Pat O’Neill, for example, represented the slightly older, more established experimental filmmaker with his own independent effects company who freelanced for Lucasfilm and others.37 As O’Neill put it, his main motivation to get into the independent opticals business was primarily over access to the expensive optical printing equipment: “You could never pay for it as an independent filmmaker unless you had a fortune put aside.”38 The younger generation of recent graduates, such as Larry Cuba, Adam Beckett, and Betzy Bromberg (who did not work on Star Wars, but entered the effects business around 1980 via Star Wars alumnus and fellow CalArts graduate Robert Blalack), were not strictly grunt workers in the effects business, but also not in high-level creative positions either. As Adam Beckett, experimental filmmaker and also animation and rotoscope designer on Star Wars wistfully put it: Some of my work, Heavy Light (1973) [fig. 5.2], for example, is kind of in the vein, so they tell me, of the 2001 “Star Gate” sequence. Typical visuals [of mine] included flying down an incandescent tornado and glowing, heaving plasma formations. When I went to work on Star Wars, I thought there might be a call for [ . . . ] a lot of really interesting animation to do. It wasn’t until six months into the picture, however, that it became apparent that there wouldn’t be much special animation required. [ . . . and] it wasn’t until the last two months or so that some really interesting stuff came up.39

Nevertheless, their experience and skills at the creative end of optical printing made a recognizable mark on the production. Betzy Bromberg describes the role of the experimental artist as special effects worker thusly: “the industry did tap the creative powers, obviously Star Wars did, obviously



FIGURE 5.2 Frame capture from Heavy Light (Beckett, 1973).

Wolfen did, Tron did. There is a certain tapping of creative powers. But it’s not aesthetic. The aesthetic probably creeps in there because how is it not going to? It’s really the skills, the creative skills. There’s a tap that way. Honestly, the benefit is probably greater aesthetically and creatively for the experimental filmmaker.”40 The feature film productions also made use of experimental filmmakers’ creativity in more specific ways. While the contracted effects workers did not have the prerogative to independently change or develop the look of the film, many of the artist-filmmakers had a surprisingly broad leeway for how to complete the assignments they were given. This is the sort of creative problem-solving that so many artist-filmmakers cite as valuable about their work in the effects business. For example, the effects artist is often charged with an end result to achieve, such as Kubrick’s well-known comment to Trumbull insisting that that the camera during the “Star Gate” sequence should “go through



something.”41 The effects artist is then expected to develop the method to accomplish it. Subsequently, the test is approved or not by the supervisor on the larger production (sometimes the director, producer, or overall effects supervisor). In a somewhat lengthy but invaluable account, O’Neill characterizes his independent optical house’s experience with ILM and his place as a third-tier subcontractor in the hierarchy as fairly typical: Mostly you’d go to a meeting and talk about what you could do and how fast you could do it. We’d work with an editor, and they’d say, here’s some of these shots, and this is what they need. A lot of them were simple kind of removing things from shots, like wire removal, blow ups and speed changes and things. The heaviest piece of work came on Jedi, there’s a big fight between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker inside of a ship and they’re up on ladders and such and doing light sword sort of things, [ . . . ]. But there were many shots, something like a hundred or more. [Another animator] couldn’t get them done fast enough, doing the drawing style, and imitating what this guy was doing. And so we [Lookout Mountain Films] were making these shots. We were mostly just superimposing line drawings to live action with a lot of different kinds of diffusion, with the light spread. Using multiple layers of mattes so some things could be sharp and other things could be soft. And it was a great period. It was like a two-month period where I don’t think the light ever went out. They were like grinding out these shots, the guy would come in on the plane, he’d drive over get the shots, fly back up north and within an hour he’d be on the phone talking about these things. And so we did a whole bunch of shots. And there’s this long sequence in there, it seems just abominably long, it’s all fighting, and Luke getting sort of chewed up. But that was our last big hurrah, [ . . . ] they had enough equipment. Their shop was totally going and they didn’t need to farm out any more work, so that was the last I saw of them.42

O’Neill described his work for Lucasfilm and ILM as both creative and tedious, concerned with how to achieve a certain effect while doing wire removal and churning out rotoscope animation designed by someone else. More specifically, for example, as O’Neill explains, the instructions were along the lines of



“Obi Wan should be glowing with a blue light,” We did a lot of shots that, well, making Obi Wan Kenobi transparent, when he walks around the jungle, Alec Guinness in his gown, walking around. They needed to do something with him, so we came up with the shimmer [  .  .  . ] that’s around him, the edge was me going down to the Santa Monica pier with a Bolex and shooting some sun reflections on the water, and superimposing that a few times and then, we rotoscoped the figure, that was a lot of drawing, and that was thousands and thousands of frames, because we had half a dozen animators working under an animation camera drawing.43

In other words, while the production had the final say, they entrusted O’Neill with a great deal of self-starting creativity to get the work done. Adam Beckett and Larry Cuba were young CalArts graduates when they started on Star Wars. Beckett, who tragically died in a fire in 1979, did a great deal of rotoscope animation for Star Wars. For example, he handanimated the sequence when the Jawas “zap” and disable R2-D2 with an electrical force field. A quivering blue electrical field encircles R2, jolting him until he falls over twitching. Beckett was given a fair amount of latitude to develop this effect, and cites this animation as one of the few places he was able to use his creativity: [The Jawas shots], that was my own hand animation. By the way, it was somewhat inspired by Josh Meador’s animation of the Id monster in Forbidden Planet. That was a kind of impressionistic rendering that worked. I always look forward to seeing that piece when I see Forbidden Planet. In doing the R2-D2 shot, I used the Id monster as my standard of quality.44

Nevertheless, Beckett’s creativity is not closely related to his experimental work, much to his disappointment, but he instead fits into the Lucas aesthetic by taking his inspiration from 1950s science fiction. While Beckett worked on more traditional hand-drawn rotoscope animation, his CalArts classmate Larry Cuba developed the Death Star simulation, among other things, creating an early computer-assisted animation (fig. 5.3).45 It is not surprising that artist-filmmakers would bring their aesthetic to commercial work. But what did they get back from Star Wars and other



FIGURE 5.3 Larry Cuba’s Death Star simulation in Star Wars.

special effects work on features for their own work? What skills and techniques specifically cross over? Even before the late 1970s, O’Neill cites specifically seeing Linwood Dunn’s special effects demonstrations of Hollywood features with giving him ideas for his own work. And seeing [Dunn’s demonstrations], it was instructive because it showed what I was interested in was not the final product so much as the evidence of the process going on. For instance he’d show you scenes with the matte painting background and no foreground. The isolated figure that suddenly gets a background behind it. And there’s something about the work in progress that seemed interesting to me.46

This description of seeing the raw footage of the special effects process, the profilmic image with matted out elements, or cut “holes” in the screen, informs much of O’Neill’s play with composite imagery in his own films. Dunn’s influence is evident in O’Neill’s films such as the Saugus Series (1974), in the way he exploits the uncertainty of what visual material is profilmic and what is composited. In this seven-part film, the piece most related to O’Neill’s commercial work is the third section, in which boots on a beach look at first to be simple profilmic footage. Then the boots become “cutouts” and create a visible matte line, change color with different filters,



and are overlaid with changing textures. One could say in Saugus that O’Neill uses all the tricks and materials of special effects, but inverts their meaning. Instead of using composites to create illusion, the illusion at the beginning is modified in so many successive ways it suggests the extent of possible modifications, and therefore the impossibility of a “pure” filmic image, even something as simple as boots on a beach. Instead of composing the frame as in traditional special effects in proper cinematic perspective with the elements in proper illusionistic relation, the elements are arranged to throw the space, and our relation to it, into doubt. Rather than the motion and action conforming to narrative causality and logical stage direction, they are abstracted into patterns, repetition, and loops. As critic Mitch Tuchman put it in Film Comment, by adding to or rearranging found footage or banal photographic material that O’Neill filmed himself, the photographic is revealed as plastic.47 By showing what he can do with the same techniques and raw elements, traditional special effects and filmmaking more generally becomes infinitely manipulable, stylized, and artificial. From this point of view, Hollywood special effects are lent an expressivity beyond their often banal uses. O’Neill’s later films, such as Sidewinder’s Delta (1976), Water and Power (1989), and Decay of Fiction (2002) play with cutouts and superimpositions, clearly manipulating the figures’ placement in ambiguous settings. What Sitney recognized as O’Neill’s project of exploring and criticizing “gerrybuilt perspectives” is certainly a partial result of O’Neill’s activities in the special effects business.48 In both direct and indirect ways, the on-the-job creative problem-solving in special effects work sparked ideas for experimental filmmakers in many areas of their filmmaking. In some cases, most especially O’Neill’s, experimental filmmakers inverted or altered special effects techniques and materials such as traveling mattes, high-contrast duplication stock, and color filters to comment upon cinema’s illusionistic spaces. In the case of Star Wars, these filmmakers were expected to bring an aesthetic eye to what had traditionally been fairly routine effects. Employing experimental filmmakers on many levels of production meant that the Star Wars’ aesthetic did not always fully cohere into a blandly homogeneous mise-en-scène. However, like a Wes Wilson concert poster or a film projected at a light show, the multilayered compositions constantly engaged and mobilized the eye. It can be easy to draw strict dividing lines between the experimental artists and the industry. However, as David James has argued, and filmmakers



corroborate, in Los Angeles the lines have always been quite porous.49 The various events of experimental film, kinetic art installations, and happenings in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s meant that most creative types in the area enjoyed similar reference points, and the “movie brats” of the 1970s were as much a part of this countercultural scene as the CalArts students. Traveling shows featuring experimental film compilations presented by the distribution companies Genesis and Pyramid introduced the work of experimental filmmakers outside of the film schools, and happenings like Single Wing Turquoise Bird, and other light show musical performances were a big part of the Los Angeles popular scene.50 Gene Youngblood’s grand pronouncements in Expanded Cinema positioned experimental filmmaking and its adjacent happenings as the future of media, and even the new true nature of technologized and mediated human experience. This kind of rhetoric was as important to the future directors being trained at USC and UCLA, like Lucas, Bob Abel, John Carpenter, and others, as those coming onto the effects workforce from CalArts.

Experimental Special Effects?

Perhaps most importantly, experimental filmmaking has had an influence on popular filmmaking that goes well beyond a historical account of labor in the film industry. Again, in the 1970s, West Coast experimental filmmakers taught popular filmmakers strategies to rethink the representation of impossible worlds, the illusion of movement, plays with immersion, and the desired gasp of “I’ve never seen that before” amazement. Mainstream filmmakers like Lucas adapted these techniques for the expanded blockbuster, refreshing the tired and bloated Hollywood roadshow productions of the Star! (Wise, 1968) and Doctor Doolittle (Fleischer, 1969) variety. The hugely influential 1970s Star Wars model of diegetic world-building, in part pioneered and modeled by abstract experimental West Coast filmmaking, has persisted to dominate contemporary, digital CGI filmmaking, not to mention other areas of visual culture like video gaming and installation and video art. These claims are keeping in mind, however, that it is also well known within the special effects and experimental communities that these experimentally trained filmmakers rarely got a chance to let go and really use their



most creative work in their day job. Therefore, although I maintain that experimental filmmaking taught mainstream film these new approaches to special effects that would eventually spread throughout the industry and become even more prominent in CGI filmmaking, on the practical level it was very much a case of uneven development, foggy influences, and often a willful misunderstanding of the experimental impulses for unintended purposes. Feature directors and producers like Lucas wanted the creativity of these CalArts graduates, but within limits. Furthermore, the experimental filmmakers had to adapt their skill set to fit feature filmmaking, and find narratively appropriate motivation for their imagery.51 Adam Beckett, for example, became quite frustrated with how the production was uninterested in his more personal style.52 As stills of his unused explosions (fig. 5.4) demonstrate, Beckett produced many creative and dynamic effects. Apparently, producers consistently rejected the colorful, energetic explosions as too much in Beckett’s own “psychedelic” style, and not in keeping with the overall desired look of the film.53 It is especially hard to gauge the direct impact of these mostly secondand third-tier workers because both sides strenuously downplay their influence. Reinforcing Beckett’s comments, experimentalists insist that Lucas was “a square” and he consistently rejected the more “out there” material.54 Lucas still exerts his clout over the experimentalists to keep them in line with his vision, in large part by leaving out those important technicians in the official ILM histories.55 However, we can compare preceding special effects traditions (and also see the work in the strange, visually hybrid creature that is Star Wars itself) and nevertheless discern a radically different approach to staging and integrating special effects sequences in a mainstream narrative film. A significant portion of the impact of films like Star Wars, but also Close Encounters and later Blade Runner (Scott, 1982), derives from a combination of technological, aesthetic, and spectator effects prevalent in 1970s West Coast (and elsewhere) experimental filmmaking.56 Both experimental filmmaking and special effects work shared techniques stemming from nearly identical technologies, including multiplane animation, computer-assisted camera technologies, high-contrast mattes, rotoscoping, and optical reprinting.57 Also in both cases, these techniques were exploited for the aesthetic effects of kineticism, “all-over” design, ray tracing, afterimages, rhythmic patterning, and vortex effects, among others.

FIGURE 5.4 Adam Beckett’s unused explosions for Star Wars.



FIGURE 5.5 Frame capture from Allures (Belson, 1961).

Generally, in the perspective of the spectator, the combined effects result in, for example, mild visual disorientation, a sensation of transcending your body, absorption in the diegesis, and, to a certain degree, intellectual engagement in the process formed by unusual juxtapositions. Of course, these effects are typically more sustained in time and more structurally integral in experimental films than in feature films. The trick of feature filmmakers is that they were able to harness these wildly varied techniques and purposefully diffuse effects into a (mostly) narratively coherent, photorealistically realized fictional diegesis—in other words, a traditionally recognizable feature film format enhanced and renewed with an approach to absorption and fascination. Like Belson’s Allures of 1961 (fig. 5.5) and many other abstract animation of the era (such as Whitney’s), the opening starship flyover of Star Wars can demonstrate how experimental filmmaking modeled the ability to design and control all elements of the film frame in a composite miseen-scène. In a basic way, Star Wars’ multiple composite elements (starship,



planet, star field) simply suggest the location of fantasy outer space. In a more abstract sense, Star Wars is also using animation—the moving shapes in graphic relation to other shapes and colors—to generate the illusionistic sense of kinetic forward momentum. Most strikingly, the opening of Star Wars and the jump to hyperspace, as well as many of the space battles, use the perspectival illusion of movement into deep space in a similar way as Allures to dynamize the space on the screen and make the viewer feel he or she is moving through and into space. This sort of illusionistic kinesis was not part of the typical job description of most traditional independent effects houses, which specialized in foreground and background composite work. It was, however, exactly what experimental filmmakers had been taught and experimenting with for the last decade. Many of the effects sequences in both Star Wars and Belson’s eight-minute Allures generate a feeling of moving through outer space and provide a sense of infinite space through animation. Allures presents thin flashing lines of neon-like vibrating color. These lines streak across a black background at varying speeds, receding to the deep middle “infinity” distance. It is easy to see the aesthetic affinity with Star War’s more figurative hyperspace, stars, lasers, ships, and graphic scrolling text. In both cases, the sense of frame limits is blurred, with objects appearing from the edge of the frame and moving toward the center. The movement, color, and strobing create a play of planes and abstract patterning that leave aftereffects on the retina. As opposed to Star Wars’ isolated and momentary bursts of “affect,” Allures stages a sustained aesthetic experience with a strong sense of movement though diegetic space.58 Star Wars’ effects sequences (especially the spaceship “dogfights”) aim for a narrativized version of this sustained movement and generate that sense through like means, with ambiguous screen limits and an emphasis on the extreme depth of the screen space. Looking at a Belson film like Allures or a John Whitney film like Permutations (1968), one cannot help but notice the visual similarities between the neon-like streaks and points of light and the kind of rotoscoped effects in Star Wars’ light sabers and jumps to light speed. However, the influence goes far beyond sharing a similar roughly contemporaneous look—namely, how the illusion of movement is initiated and how on-screen and offscreen space are conceptualized into (borrowing a term from abstract expressionism) an “all-over” effect. Previously in science fiction features, as in Conquest of Space (Haskin, 1955), or Forbidden Planet (Wilcox, 1956) (fig. 5.6),



the special effects focus had been squarely on moving miniature spaceships convincingly, typically slowly and horizontally, through a star field, usually in brief establishing shots. Instead, in Star Wars’ famous opening flyover, the destruction of Alderaan, the Millennium Falcon being pulled into the Death Star, and the Millennium Falcon’s approach to the forested rebel base, as well as in the numerous brief interstitial shots of spaceships (fig. 5.7), Star Wars’ special effects technicians created a wholly artificial space, combining techniques (photographed motion-control spaceship movements, rotoscoped laser blasts, multiplane animation elements, etc.) in part derived from traditional special effects and animation techniques, but known to them “refreshed” through experimental filmmaking. The effects artists staged the fast-moving spaceships in depth and inserted into the screen space at a diagonal canted axis, creating a novel (for feature filmmaking) sense of artificial kinetic dynamism, with the graphic punch of hand-animated elements layered on top. Also in Star Wars, as in the famous jump to hyperspace, the animation’s overall composition within the frame heightens the kineticism and dynamizes the picture plane by both multiplying the overall number of moving points, and then streaking them into an illusionistic vanishing point (fig. 5.8). In both cases, the strobing of the frame and the vibrating streaking mobilizes the eye, adding a layer on top of the “documentary” look of the photography and the “used future” of the production design that Lucas was aiming for in the principal photography.59 By this approach, the viewer feels simultaneously bounced around with jolts of light and color and pulled bodily into the swift current of hyperspace. But rather than feeling unpleasantly jostled and disoriented, the viewer is meant to experience the glee of bodily stimulation and then the exhilaration of bodily transcendence, together with the rest of the audience and the characters. Again, this tactic was a change from previous special effects work, which the production regarded as supplementary to principal photography. Instead, 1970s filmmakers like Lucas approached special effects as integral

FIGURE 5.6 The Martian terrain and spaceship in Forbidden Planet (Wilcox, 1956). FIGURE 5.7 Interstitial space shots in Star Wars. FIGURE 5.8 Jump to light speed in Star Wars (Lucas, 1977).



to the total design of the film’s principal photography and editing. They were concerned with the design and movement of the effects work within individual shots or sequences, in order to generate certain kinds of emotional and kinetic effects. What mainstream feature filmmaking learned from West Coast experimental film was to level the hierarchy and, to a degree, blur the distinction between principal and postproduction material. With more and more contemporary feature films being built primarily in postproduction, this eventually proved to be a shift with enormous consequences to the production’s timeline. Perhaps most important for later mainstream filmmaking, the example of West Coast experimental filmmaking also significantly transformed the way filmmakers conceived of and built spatial relations within the frame. Previously, special effects compositing, and especially science fiction spaces, understood their space as consisting of an immobile perspectival series of planes. These could be viewed statically, either as a matte painting with a series of planar black holes to fill in, or as miniatures filmed to look as though they were moving horizontally across star fields.60 The lockeddown camera on the set allowed the optical printer to fit the few composite parts together in postproduction. However, experimental filmmakers and special effects artists of the 1970s understood the screen space as global and spherical rather than planar. The combination of multiplane animation techniques and motion-control, computerized camera techniques (both, to a great degree, pioneered and elaborated by experimental filmmakers like the Whitneys) created a possibility for more kinds of movements across different axes. Special effects artists, with the example of experimental animation, moved action through the space (as in McLaren-style multiplane animation, or Whitney-style computer-assisted movement), and staged action along an extended socalled “z axis.” A famous example of this is the opening flyover of futuristic Los Angeles in Blade Runner, where a mixture of miniature model work, 2D flat artwork, and multiplane animation glides the viewer into the action of the diegesis. This effect and others like it created the illusion of movement toward a distant vanishing point to establish a sense of forward momentum, all of which generate an immediate and usually fast-paced sense of immersion into a fantasy diegesis. Not surprisingly, it is most often seen in opening sequences of films (see also Star Trek: The Motion Picture [Wise, 1979]), to quickly acclimatize the viewer to the artificial world presented.



Filmmakers eventually motivated all of this technical and aesthetic energy toward incorporating special effects into an increasing percentage of feature films’ total shots, crafting the kind of all-encompassing diegetic environments of contemporary blockbuster cinema. In the case of Blade Runner, Star Wars, and many others, this meant prioritizing expandable environments for the viewer to experience, as much as stories to be staged and narrated. It was attractive to filmmakers such as Lucas and Spielberg, since appealing to the “expanded” senses (as Lucas is suggesting in his visual filmmaking statements) was one way that the auteurist filmmaker in the mainstream saw to break free of the strictly causal narrative formulas of Classical Hollywood. The willingness of studios to play with the classical formula also opened up possibilities for the expanded blockbuster, replenishing the “wow” factor of popular filmmaking, thereby providing a middle road for everyone.61 In sum, certainly experimental filmmakers’ direct, hands-on influence over the final look of the film in the special effects business was fairly limited, and artists on the job were considerably circumscribed in what they were allowed to innovate, except in rare cases. However, the aesthetic and technological models presented by experimental filmmaking impacted mainstream filmmaking much more profoundly than is acknowledged. Certainly, the mainstream industry exploited the talents of experimental filmmakers, but experimental filmmakers received something in return by making use of the industry’s equipment, gaining important technical finesse, and taking their money. Experimental filmmakers to a large degree get the final word, and maybe share an inside joke, from seeing their techniques on screen as ghostbusting, starfighting, and alien visitation. Perhaps this is not exactly what they had in mind for lasting career impact, but maybe it is not that far off either.

Star Wars in Action

How are these experimental elements transformed and wedded to photorealistic techniques? How specifically is the strategy of the expanded blockbuster deployed in Star Wars? In the case of Star Wars, what was accomplished technically presupposes some aesthetic choices and implications. Lucas imagined a photorealistic “documentary fantasy” world of



graphic excitement, technical virtuosity, and fast-edited action which composited photographic, animated, and painted elements to a credible “singlegeneration” whole. Up to now, we have been discussing what Star Wars wanted to achieve with certain looks in mind combined with what was possible using the available technology. But what was the result? Can we test the aesthetic goals against the results on film? Did Lucas get the images out of his head and onto the screen? In other words, how can we describe the imbrication of technology and aesthetics as viewed on the screen? Again, I argue that the result achieves the spirit of what Lucas wanted, but with a rougher and bumpier technical imperfection than desired. Instead, however, visual kineticism, pace, and rhythm take precedence. By focusing on the ways Star Wars introduces its large-scale effects, the specific results of Star Wars’ special effects aesthetics program, and their impact on the viewer, can be tested against the rhetorical claims made for them. These goals are various and sometimes seemingly in conflict. For example, in introducing the effects for the first time, the conflict arises when the object is meant to impress the viewer—that is, to make the viewer realize that he/she is looking at an effect as an effect. At the same time, the credible photorealism of the effects must acclimatize him/her to the diegesis as a plausible story world. Similarly, the film needs to provide a good look at the special effects object, create anticipation for more elaborate effects to come, but also obstruct or obscure the view so that the seams do not show. The first thirty seconds of Star Wars demonstrates the way the special effects fit into the filmmakers’ overall aesthetic program. In Star Wars, the famous opening “flyover sequence” begins on an empty star field, with the camera tilting down to partial view of a planet in the lower quarter of the frame.62 A small ship moves quickly from the top right in the frame, into deep perspective, shooting brightly colored laserbeams into offscreen space, which also cause the screen to strobe. Then from the upper frame, an imperial cruiser looms into view, filling the overhead portion of the screen with its heft for an inordinate amount of time (about twenty-five seconds) as it moves into deep space after the small ship. It is firing laserbeams forward, which also strobe the screen. A narrative and thematic analysis of the visual storytelling could easily interpret the sequence as establishing the main conflict of the film: the rebel numbers are small but feisty, fighting a much larger, looming, more technologically advanced enemy with greater



fire power. Even if the visual cues are not strong enough, we have just been told this verbally through the textual crawl that preceded the sequence (figs. 5.9–5.14). However, if we look at these thirty seconds in another way, they also enact and dramatize optical animation itself. A certain aesthetic program emerges, which is not in conflict with the narrative and thematic reading, but has another agenda. Preceding the effects opening, the fully one and a half minutes (three separate “shots”) consist of what might seem to be an atypically copious amount of graphic text (“A long time ago . . . ,” the Star Wars logo, and the expositional crawl) and fanfare music. The text establishes what the effects sequences then repeat, a complex graphic play that both orients and disorients the spectator in succession. All this text is not typical for the rest of the film, but it plays an important role in adjusting the viewer to the diegesis and is vital to our reception of the special effects sequence. The next thirty seconds of the effects sequence is fully animated: a mix of model work, matte paintings, animation, and explosion effects, with no principal photography. The first shot of text (“A long time ago  .  .  .”), as well as tonally setting expectations for the rest of the film, exploits the horizontality of the VistaVision format, which is mirrored in the effects shots by the compositional dominance of the surface of the planet in the lower fourth of the frame. The second and third shots of text reinforce its dynamically diagonal movement from extreme foreground to background vanishing point. The text, rising from the bottom of the screen and receding in pyramidal perspective, also initiates a play of framing (even as it recalls the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s), as the models, appearing unexpectedly from the upper right corner, will do in the effects sequence. The second and third text sections also contrast in speed, with the Star Wars logo speeding away into the deep center distance, while the crawl slowly sets its exposition. The two spacecrafts in the effects sequence follow the same fast/slow contrasting pacing, associating the logo graphics with the rebels and the long, plodding exposition with the Empire. There is also a contrast in textures, with the smooth fonts with sharp outlines set against the rough star background, similarly divergent textures of the models, and the planets. In the case of the shots of text, animated elements dominate, whereas in the effects sequence, photographic elements are layered with the animated.

FIGURES 5.9–5.14 Opening flyover sequence (Lucas, Star Wars).



The flyover sequence provides what has come to be known as a rather emblematic “spectacle of special effects technology” moment.63 Certainly, one of the most striking aspects of the effects sequence is the appearance of the Imperial cruiser “over the head” of the viewer, which provides a sustained cinematic “wow” that shows what is going to be possible in this film. The cruiser slides through the frame and gradually fills it, lasting a full eleven seconds.64 If the extended look at the model brings to mind 2001, the fast pace of the ships, the strobing of the screen in time with explosions, and the dynamic diagonals of the animated laser fire tell us exactly how Star Wars is not going to be like 2001. Unlike Kubrick’s desire to make the spectator contemplate humanity’s relationship to (plausible) technology and the unknown, the long hold on the cruiser encourages the spectator to contemplate instead the movieness—the technical virtuosity—of the special effects work, through the emphasis on its detailed materiality. It also realizes the goals of optical animation, compositing the many discrete components with photorealistic camera movement and seamless compositing. Framing plays an important part in establishing the diegesis of Star Wars as a fictional environment as much as a setting. In the opening flyover sequence, as well as in shots of the Death Star, the object is usually only shown partially, but dominates the screen. Compositional cues, graphic dynamism, and a high level of detail mobilize the spectator’s eye around the frame. Similarly, the fast pace, constantly moving camera, multiple textures, and strobing mean that the eye is somewhat disoriented and cannot rest on any one place for long. In such cases, the overall effect is to keep the eye busy but too slow to catch up, and therefore give the impression there is too much to see (and evoke the desire to see more) in the awe-inspiring, complex, and fully formed world presented on screen.65 By evoking a comprehensive world beyond the carefully composed frame, Star Wars becomes a narrative universe that promises an infinite number of fully formed vignettes to be presented to the viewer. It should be clear that the aesthetic program in Star Wars is not fully absorbable into either narrative or spectacle, nor is it fully independent of them. Instead, the narrative and spectacle interpenetrate one another. Much in the way Vorkapich described his ideal of graphic dynamics, in the first two minutes the spectator experiences a repeated series of strongly graphic aesthetic experiences, each with clashing speeds, textures, sounds, and movement. The collisions happen from shot to shot, and also within



the same shot—an effect created by compositing techniques. Through this aesthetics of clashing contrasts and soothing familiarity, the spectator is both oriented and disoriented in the cinematic space. By the time principal photography footage appears, the aesthetic component has done a good deal of the work of plunging the spectators into the particular cinematic world of the film, after which the “proper” narrative can begin.66 Based on the attention and appreciation it has received through the years, Star Wars’ opening flyover sequence can be seen as a successful transfer of an idea from Lucas’s head to the screen. Other aspects, including the Millennium Falcon’s jump to hyperspace, and the caverns of the Death Star, could also serve as examples. However, despite all this effort, perhaps the special effects were not “perfect” enough after all. Lucas reportedly passed over Dykstra and his team when handing out profit points and fractions of points on Star Wars to various members of the team. Dykstra’s anger over this slight reportedly led to his leaving the fledgling ILM and taking many key personnel with him, then reuniting with Trumbull and eventually founding his own special effects house.67 Based on what Lucas prioritized in the effects for The Empire Strikes Back and also what he later changed digitally in the 1997 Star Wars: Special Edition, one can surmise what made Lucas as auteur dissatisfied with Star Wars’ original special effects. Certainly, he was displeased that too many matte lines slipped through. He also clearly wanted the composite mise-enscène to be more densely packed and fast-moving than was possible under the possible time constraints. Also, later Star Wars sequels suggest that a smoother overall visual texture would be desirable, or at least a proportion of more smoothness to less roughness as seen in Star Wars. Perhaps it was decided that too much unabsorbed visual texture undermined the overall credibility. Additionally, Lucas wanted ILM to have full in-house capabilities so he would not have to outsource so many effects shots. Perhaps, most importantly, he left the directing of the live action to someone else so he could be on site to supervise postproduction in a producer capacity. However, in the case of Star Wars, the constant unevenness could also be understood as a pleasurably rough and tumble introduction to the effectsdriven world. Interestingly by contrast however, The Empire Strikes Back has a significantly more homogenized special effects look. In fact, Empire’s visual effects are more indicative of what would become the ILM house style than the original Star Wars.




Star Wars helped introduce the “post-classical” world-building that has become so dominant in contemporary, digital CGI filmmaking, not to mention other areas of visual culture. The experimental aesthetics of expanded cinema move the spectator into the diegetic space and then enclose him or her into an infinite, impossible world, using fast-moving colors and flashes to catch the viewer’s attention. The Star Wars team, while more conventional in their application of this expanded impulse, nevertheless borrowed many strategies of how to represent impossible worlds and how to play with a sense of immersion from West Coast experimental filmmaking. One of the tasks of the Star Wars team was to stage their special effects in a particularly visual and aestheticized way. By borrowing techniques from graphic dynamics and experimental cinema and fusing them to the Hollywood feature film structure, the expanded blockbuster was meant to appeal more directly to the senses. More sensory appeal combined with photorealism provided the “vivid kinesthetic experience” that would take the spectator beyond the spectacle and narrative of conventional Hollywood features. Although the self-consciousness of the expanded blockbuster has long transformed into more conventional applications, traces remain in the CGI special effects extravaganzas we are so used to today. The emphasis on building an environment over a functionalist clockwork narrative, accelerated cutting, impossible camera movements and views, all commonly held marks of the post-classical or intensified continuity, have their roots in the kind of movie Star Wars and also Close Encounters aspired to be. The transformation of this model into one more friendly to the movie business will be discussed later on. However, the production of Close Encounters, a bona fide studio project, had similar aesthetic goals, which will be placed with the broader cultural context of 1970s optimistic futurism.

Ever since Duel I’ve been looking for a visual narrative—a motion picture story—that could be told nearly exclusively through visual metaphors and non-pretentious symbolism. — S T E V E N S P I E L B E R G (1988) 1

It’s important to visualize the future for people. — D O U G L A S T R U M B U LL (1971) 2

“More Philosophical Grey Matter” The Production and Aesthetic of Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Star Wars was produced, promoted, and exhibited (initially, at least) as a low-budget independent genre film. Close Encounters, on the other hand, was conceived and produced as a mainstream studio project. Its starting budget was twice that of Star Wars’ and had greater expectations as the new film from the director of Jaws. When asked to compare Close Encounters to Jaws, Spielberg responds: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS has been more of a personal movie-making experience than JAWS. JAWS was a great physical challenge, but in a way it was a lot easier. A film like JAWS comes more naturally to my movie sensibilities than a film like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, which is more experimental and daring in concept. JAWS is really a “one swallow” story, while CLOSE ENCOUNTERS contains a little more philosophical grey matter.3

After the popcorn film success of Jaws, Spielberg claimed he was also looking to inject philosophical ideas and deeper meaning, or as he put it, “grey matter,” into popular filmmaking. Spielberg is speaking in terms familiar to ambitious filmmakers of the era, who were expected to put their auteurist stamp on popular filmmaking forms.



While having a great deal of technology in common, Star Wars and Close Encounters pursued surprisingly divergent aesthetic programs. The way the productions were able to employ much of the same technology for very different aesthetic results in part shows the flexibility of the new imaging systems which had helped spawn a largely new industry for feature film special effects production. Unlike Star Wars, which immediately plunges the viewer into a “long time ago in a galaxy far far away” fantasy world, Close Encounters conversely spends the first part of the film establishing Roy Neary’s (Richard Dreyfus) mundane, average existence as a telephone lineman in suburban Middle America, with a nagging wife and bratty kids. Rather than building a fantasy world from scratch like Star Wars, Close Encounters literally cast its earthbound setting in a new light. The first UFO sighting is delayed for about thirty minutes, in part to build suspense and anticipation, and in part to heighten the contrast between the dazzling and awe-inspiring UFOs and the ordinary setting. By placing the UFOs in our world and our proximity, the viewer is forced to think not only about alternate worlds “out there” but also what an encounter with benign extraterrestrials might mean for life on Earth. The filmmakers’ desire to visualize alternate possibilities for humankind aligned with many who wanted to believe optimistically, but also rationally, about the possibilities for a new connectivity that technology and media might afford us in the near future. By the end of the film, viewers are treated to a dense multitude of alien spacecraft. Filmmakers framed the rhetoric about visual density in terms of increased visual sophistication demanded by viewers in the information age. Echoing best sellers like Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, Douglas Trumbull said, “I think that people’s ability to assimilate information is tremendously high, and the reason most movies are unsuccessful is because they don’t have any impact.” Again, Trumbull is criticizing most films’ lack of both visual dynamism and inventiveness.4 For Trumbull, Spielberg, and Lucas, “impact” meant a kind of visual density combined with kinetic movement. For both films, in fact, the intense concentration of visual information was considered highly (often pleasantly) disorienting at the time of their release. The visual dynamics were designed to light up the conventional narratives and infuse them with the kind of “impact” Trumbull was looking for. At the time of Close Encounters, special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull’s career was in a transitional phase. As already discussed, after 2001 Trumbull attempted to parlay that renown into a directing career and promote ambitious (and expensive) ideas for how to update both principal

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photography and effects production, as well as retool the exhibition experience as a whole. In 1973, Trumbull had founded the independent effects company Future General.5 Trumbull’s ambitions for Future General went beyond the traditional approach of hiring an independent special effects house just for a few effects sequences here and there. Future General was founded “for the purposes of research and development of innovative entertainment concepts.”6 Trumbull was more interested in developing entertainment environments and alternative exhibition formats such as Showscan and his amusement park “ride films” (to be discussed later on).7 For Trumbull, these projects required constructing and/or acquiring very expensive 70mm equipment and materials. However, in the mid1970s, Trumbull found his business in a cash-flow crisis. Reportedly, Lucas approached him about supervising the effects on Star Wars, but their personalities clashed over issues of control.8 Trumbull did, however, suggest a former assistant of his for the job, John Dykstra.9 Spielberg, weary of the effects problems that had plagued the Jaws shoot, also approached Trumbull for Close Encounters, promising him more or less full control of the effects unit and significant creative input.10 Trumbull saw the opportunity for someone else to pay him to develop and build the 70mm equipment he needed. At the same time, he would maintain creative control of his realm and provide a high-profile showcase for his abilities.11 In fact, the position of the special effects supervisor vis-à-vis the director is one of the major differences between Star Wars and Close Encounters. Trumbull claimed he would only take the job with the understanding he would have a strong collaborative role, rather than working as a hired hand.12 On Close Encounters, Trumbull was on the set with principal photography: “I was on the picture in pre-production and supervised the photography all the way through live action. I have to, because if they photograph it wrong, it’s the worst thing in the world to try to save it later.”13 He claims he provided interactive lighting ideas, and even suggestions to fix plot holes.14 In Star Wars, on the other hand, Dykstra and the ILM team were in Van Nuys, California, far away from the U.K.-based principal photography. Lucas came back from overseas infuriated to find that the ILM crew had undertaken extensive testing, but had almost no completed effects shots.15 Trumbull’s position would seem a harbinger of things to come for special effects supervisors as collaborators in authoring the image as composite mise-en-scène. Instead, due chiefly to Lucas and his frustration with the Star Wars effects crew, this kind of enlarged creative role of



the special effects supervisor would be rarer and rarer after the 1970s and will be discussed later on. In contrast to the ILM example, the industry model for special effects practice from the 1980s to the 2000s, Trumbull’s all-encompassing environments as seen in Close Encounters and Blade Runner proved to be a fairly short-lived phenomenon in feature filmmaking, but nevertheless had an important impact on later films. Certainly, the impulse to immersive environment-making is as strong as ever. However, the way Trumbull meant the spectator to experience the environment in lengthy sequences, at a slow pace, and with awe-struck amazement survives in the present only in greatly modified form. Trumbull’s approach is more historically rooted in ideas of synesthesia aesthetics, of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and perhaps found a more appropriate popular forum in the amusement park ride film environments, IMAX films (for which Trumbull served as president from 1994 to 1997), and the largely unrealized high-frame-rate Showscan technology that Trumbull envisioned.16 Star Wars bears important traces of these same ideas of building an enveloping cinematic environment, but placing the action within recognizable fictional worlds—instead of Trumbull’s abstracted, often nonfigurative ones—proved a more flexible system for different kinds of films and different types of stories. While ILM’s house style became dominant over time, the idea of what special effects should look like, or even what would be considered “realistic” or credible, was very much in flux in the seventies, and in the industry more broadly.

Design and Conception of Close Encounters The effects for Star Wars were hard-edged, clear objects against a black background, all rigid objects, all constructible. In Close Encounters, the effects have a soft, nebulous quality. — D O U G L A S T R U M B U LL (1978) 1 7

We had to be down on earth with totally believable illusions. Putting a UFO on screen is like photographing God. So the general look we went for was one of motion, velocity, luminosity and brilliance. — D O U G L A S T R U M B U LL (1977) 1 8

Star Wars and Close Encounters went into production in 1975 with two strong-minded directors and two equally strong-minded visual effects

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supervisors. The way these relationships played out provides a picture of the changing importance and prominence of postproduction special effects work to the overall production. Moreover, the director’s, effects supervisor’s, cinematographer’s, and art director’s roles had to accommodate (and often fight against) the increasing prominence of the effects unit. Close Encounters’ team, like Star Wars’, identified many of the same midseventies special effects concerns. Along with the layers of composites, as well as freeing the locked-down camera with motion control, organizing the work flow, minimizing matte lines, and maintaining a consistent look between the principal photography and the effects unit, Close Encounters uniquely had to address the problem of shooting dazzling UFO light effects at night. While it is well known that Lucas and Spielberg are longtime collaborators and profess a long friendship, in the mid-1970s the two men had quite different reputations and were at different points in their careers. Spielberg’s huge success with Jaws meant that although lauded for his obvious filmmaking talent and his commercial instincts, Spielberg was not taken as seriously as an auteur as Lucas. As Pauline Kael pointed out about Spielberg, he already had the reputation for a fresh approach to visual aesthetics, and Close Encounters provided a chance to demonstrate a more cerebral approach. Like Star Wars, Close Encounters’ effects were not only intended to be convincing and “realistic,” but were also designed not to be missed. Therefore, like Star Wars, the filmmakers designed the effects to be experienced as both entirely in keeping with the diegesis and as a technological attraction in and of themselves. In addition, their strong graphic and kinetic properties were meant to add value—both in production value and thematic value—to the overall impact of the film, not just invisibly supplement it.

Trumbull’s Special Effects Close Encounters is most stunning when it is dealing in visual and aural sensations that might be described as being in the seventies Disco Style. The unidentified flying objects that both terrorize and enchant the citizens of Muncie, Indiana, early in the film, when the night sky is suddenly filled with blinking lights and several brilliantly colored shapes, each of which looks like a Portuguese man-of-war, make up an extraordinary psychedelic light show. — V I N C E N T C A N B Y, N EW YORK TIMES (1977) 1 9



It is finally possible to see, and with the full fidelity in rendering and realization that the big screen allows today, that terrestrial humanity has a goal and that its History, as delirious as she is, makes sense. [ . . . ] . . . thanks to the grandeur of means and beauty of Trumbull’s models the spectacle [is] particularly convincing. — J E A N - C L A U D E B I E T TE, CAHIERS DU CINÉMA (1978)


Biette, evoking 2001, proclaims grandly for the possibilities in Close Encounters’ “particularly convincing models.” Perhaps it is too much to hope for that the effects in Close Encounters make capital “H” History visible. Rather, the film’s effects aesthetic is designed to more fully exploit the formal and conceptual potential of special effects work in order to present visual ideas within a cinematic art form. In Close Encounters, Biette’s notion that the effects carry ideas to a more programmatic and coherent degree holds with the filmmakers’ plans. However, perhaps rather than Kubrick’s eons-spanning “History,” the UFOs suggest the wonder and futuristic potential of alternate human and cinematic possibilities. Unlike Star Wars’ stimulating hodgepodge where the team struggled to make a huge number of independent houses and their personnel cohere into one project, the Close Encounters production had a much tighter ship. Trumbull ran his own Future General crew and staffed it with artists he had worked with previously. He also enjoyed a stature in the business gained from 2001 and directing his own films. Trumbull certainly displayed a great deal more authority on Close Encounters than most special effects supervisors previously or since. However, he was not in charge of all the special effects’ design. Spielberg brought very specific ideas about how he thought the effects should look, and had illustrations and storyboards already drawn up when he met with Trumbull for the first time.21 Along with Spielberg, production designer Joe Alves designed much of the look of the spaceship models as they appear in the final film. Trumbull, however, did not only build the models and execute the designs. He worked out how to present them in the mise-en-scène, how they should be lit, and how light should emanate from them. Further, Trumbull’s special effects realize the rather generalized thematic motif of light as enlightenment and insight in the script (e.g., light that beams down on Roy Neary’s face, burning him, or light that silhouettes the boy against the open door, or the multicolored lights emanating from the UFOs), which lends the light materialized substance and significance in the overall film. Trumbull’s “Star Gate” work on 2001 had already given him the professional reputation for a specific aesthetic and recognizable techniques:

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immersion, luminosity, distortion, and nonfigurative animation. Spielberg, like Lucas, certainly knew that hiring Trumbull meant getting a Trumbull effect. Spielberg clearly did not have Lucas’s apprehensiveness about being told “here’s your special effect, sir.” In fact, after the technical headaches of Jaws and its problems shooting on water with a mechanical shark, that seems to be just exactly what Spielberg wanted—someone else to have the technical headaches.22 Trumbull’s aesthetic concerns often overlapped with areas that were more traditionally the realm of the director of photography, such as lighting consistency between the main unit and the special effects unit, and film stocks and formats. Like Star Wars, Close Encounters required elaborate model and miniature work.23 However, if Lucas’s driving production factor for the aesthetics was kinesis—making the spacecraft move—in Close Encounters it was the illumination of the UFOs. The UFOs had to look like believable objects that were credibly composited with nighttime principal photography. But at the same time, their light was to make them appear otherworldly and awe-inspiring. Trumbull’s team, which included Dennis Muren, filmed the backlit models in a smoky atmosphere, lending the lights more material substance and presence (a trick Spielberg would use again and again over the years). Through the lighting scheme in the effects unit, the spaceships were to have a strange status: to appear that they occupied the same photographic space as the actors but also as if they were in their own atmosphere. The effect of cumulative layers of light, realized through layers of composited effects elements, suggests the UFOs’ otherworldliness. Instead of Star Wars’ “all over” graphic scheme as realized by an animation overlay, Close Encounters’ animation was more a part of building a fully realized subenvironment for the UFOs within the diegesis. Close Encounters’ special effects also have a different spectatorial status from either 2001 or Star Wars, where special effects sequences position the spectator in the same fictional (but often impossible) space as the characters on the screen. The effects in Star Wars frame a vast integral world and mobilize the spectator within it. Close Encounters suggests a separate, self-contained fantastic space within the diegetic world, which the spectator statically wonders at but cannot reach. In other words, the spectators are aligned with the familiar world of the characters but are equally excluded from the space of the UFOs. The narrative and the effects then activate a fantasy of touching, feeling, and penetrating that out-of-reach world.24



In Close Encounters, the spectator in the diegesis and the spectator of the film are always outside looking at the fantastic. Bukatman characterizes the Trumbull special effects object (in a special effects auteurist sense) as seeking to overwhelm the spectator and collapse the separation between onscreen and theater space.25 In the case of Close Encounters, at least, this does not seem to be exactly the goal. Although the UFOs beckon the audience with their benevolent lights and sounds, they do not collapse the space between viewer and screen but, rather, accentuate it. The end of the film, when Roy walks into the light and joins the aliens on the mothership, equally suggests the possibility of penetrating and entering the special effects (a fantasy exploited by Trumbull’s ride films), but the special effects object activates the desire more than it attempts to satisfy it by directly depicting and narrativizing it.26 While Star Wars’ special effects tend to be based in kinetic qualities of speed, movement, and bodily impact or of being acted upon, in Close Encounters the aesthetic program has a gentler and more sensuous bodily impact that “washes over” the viewer. In terms of the narrative, the aesthetic of the UFOs is portrayed as amazing and intimidating, but ultimately not so scary. While Star Wars’ animation zaps and electrifies and explodes, the radiant, sensual softness of Close Encounters’ UFOs invites touch and contact. How do Trumbull and his team use the aesthetics of special effects to convey impressions and ideas about the UFOs and extraterrestrial life in general? We can start with how the UFOs look, or rather, how they don’t look. Although composited expertly into the diegesis, the UFOs exploit their apartness from it and appear to come from another atmosphere altogether. The long tradition of movie UFOs and spaceships—from Méliès’ Trip to the Moon (1902) to such classic 1950s UFO films as The Day the Earth Stood Still (Wise, 1951) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (Sears, 1956), and the strictly pared down 2001 monolith—depicts otherworldly and futuristic technology as hard, sleek, and at least somewhat ominous. In Close Encounters, the UFOs are made up of almost transparent patterns and layers of colored lights.27 Special effects are usually about establishing the object as solid, heavy, and as unified with the diegesis as possible. The Close Encounters object is fuzzy, transparent, elusive, unsubstantial, with overlapping light patterns, and barely held together by neon bars (fig. 6.1). We rarely get a good sense of the “hardware” of the spaceships. Even at the end of the film, when presented with a more sustained look at the

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FIGURE 6.1 Partial view of lower portion of one of the spaceships at the climax of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977).

mothership and other smaller craft, the overall dominant impression is still of loosely assembled lights and colors. Aware of the way most special effects are staged to hide their artificiality, Close Encounters plays on showing/not showing—for both obscuring the “modelness” of the special effects while also leaving mysterious visual gaps. Canby’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek description of the special effects as a “psychedelic light show” in a “seventies Disco Style” also opens up interesting contexts for Close Encounters’ special effects aesthetics. We can understand these critical reactions as tacitly acknowledging the way that experimental Expanded Cinema branched into the expanded blockbuster, in a similar way that psychedelia transmuted into disco. Both discos and light shows, especially when combined with music (which Canby makes note of), evoke a utopian, transcendent, and collective experience that is often adjacent to, but has rarely been congruent with, a cinema experience.28 The expanded blockbuster gestures toward the bigger ideas and impulses of expanded cinema without entirely reaching or embracing them. Similar to the Biette quote, there is the sense that the images show us delirious possibilities (for cinema and humankind)—but over the horizon. Close Encounters’ special effects are especially reflexive of cinematic special effects techniques. Trumbull has rather cleverly conceived of the



special effect as an abstracted and exaggerated special effects concept—an elaborate trick of the light made up of layers and embedded microenvironments signifying the awe, power, and possibility of a “magical” spectacular technology. It is a technological spectacle of lights doubly removed from us, another world we can see and sense but can only fantasize about entering.

Close Encounters in Action

Close Encounters’ first look at the UFOs in the film (rather than their shadow) appears in a one-minute subsequence at about twenty-eight minutes into the film. In the narrative, electrical linesman Roy Neary has just had a series of strange experiences with mysterious lights in his malfunctioning truck while out on a service call. Jillian Guiler’s (Melinda Dillon) child Barry (Cary Guffey) has run off after a similar eerily lit encounter in the family home, and she’s chasing after him. They eventually converge on a roadside ridge, where a rural family—a man, woman, and two kids—are already stationed, looking expectant. After Barry runs out into the road again, the group starts to hear otherworldly noises. Suddenly, four UFOs pass directly among and past them, following the curving road, as police cars pursue them in a high-speed chase (figs. 6.2–6.7). If one were to do a Bellourian-style analysis of the film as narrative-based discourse, this sequence would be read somewhat straightforwardly.29 The sequence is constructed around looking, where Roy serves as the primary point of action, with some attention given to the experience’s impact on Jillian and Barry and, to an even smaller degree, to the rural couple and kids in the truck. In the seventeen shots, the first six are dedicated to heightening the suspense of something big about to happen—cued through sound and marked looking—then for eight shots “it” happens, marked by onscreen characters looking out of frame to follow the motion of the UFOs with eye and body movement; then, for the last three shots, we see the aftermath of what happened, marked by close-ups as the camera moves in to reveal facial reactions. The sequence also serves as an exemplar of the way many describe special effects sequences, especially in the post-classical era, where the narrative “stops” in order for the characters (as audience standins) and the spectators to gape at the special effects object.30 However, the spectator position is somewhat different than classic “looking” sequences,

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such as Bellour describes in psychoanalytic and apparatus theory terms for Marnie (Hitchcock, 1964), or as Nick Browne notably describes for Stagecoach (Ford, 1939) as building spectator identification and empathy.31 If the classical “looking” sequence works to build the spectator into the diegetic space through vectors of eyelines, in Close Encounters the special effects objects are adamantly portrayed as separate and Other to both the characters and the spectator. In the ridge flyover described above, we see four UFOs. The UFOs act as if they are part of the live-action diegesis by strobing out the screen and flaring the lens, as well as maintaining careful lighting consistency on the faces of the actors in the first-unit photography. The soft, feathered mattes mean that the edges bleed seamlessly into the night photography as planned. However, the self-contained intensity of the lighting and colors, emphasized by the comparatively weak earthly lights (such as the police cars’ headlights), separate them from the “main” diegetic area of principal photography. The overall emphasis in the composition within the frame is on the arrangement of lighting, and its overall brightness. Again, it is not a hard or harsh brightness, but a glowing, pulsating, diffused illumination, concentrated to other-worldly intensity. The smoky atmosphere in which the UFO models were photographed physicalizes their glow and lighting effects. By printing them into the principal photography mise-en-scène with no smoke effects, the UFOs appear to be special, moving microenvironments within a “normal” earthly atmosphere. The colors of the lights are tonal and seeping, so that they harmonize and vibrate. The UFOs are designed to be not only eye-catching but also quite alluring. They appear as if 1960s light artist Dan Flavin decided go a step further and use neon instead of fluorescent tubes to make a color field painting. Similar to Flavin’s making undepictable concepts both material and elusive, the UFOs of Close Encounters also make the most of their inability to be catagorized— installation or sculpture? Present or transcendent? Otherworldly radiance or banal technology?32 Through the light patterns extending over the spectators in the diegesis and in the auditorium, the UFOs suggest the possibility of being in the objects as much as beholding them. Both the spectators of the film and the characters are gaping as much at the UFOs as beautiful aesthetic objects as at the effects technology as alien technology. The staging of the special effects objects for the diegetic viewers and audience exploits their nebulous structurelessness. This sequence takes up

FIGURES 6.2–6.7 The UFOs’ first flyover in Close Encounters.



one minute of screen time, and the UFO effects are on screen for nineteen seconds, so the quick look is meant to be fugitive and elusive, with the expectation we will see more later—which of course we do. The UFOs are staged so that they mostly fly from background to extreme foreground, curving diagonally across the screen. However, even in freeze frame they are only fractionally more “solid”-looking in the extreme foreground. As one of the UFOs twists to turn out of frame, there is a brief image of it as a solid spacecraft. In cinematic “real time,” of course, the split second of coming into focus suggests they just might be more solid than they look. The forward motion also means that the scale of the UFOs is difficult to ascertain; at some points they look quite large, at other points tiny like Tinkerbell. Instead of suggesting an alternate world by constructing a totality (as in Star Wars), in Close Encounters the alternate world is concentrated into the discrete forms of the UFOs.

Optimistic Futurism Visually, [Close Encounters of the Third Kind] is nearly perfect. [ . . . ] One of the chief attractions of the film form for the Film Generation is, I think, that an art dependent on technology seems the most fitting means of expression for an age dominated by technology. [ . . . ] During [the film’s final] forty minutes our technology made us masters of unimaginable cosmic mystery. [ . . . ] I know that I can go back to that film again and get the feeling again, through technology. — S TA N L E Y K A U F F M A NN IN THE NEW REPUBLIC (1977) 3 3

Close Encounters’ enigmatic UFOs lure both the characters on the screen and the viewer toward an upbeat encounter not only with aliens but also alien technology. Certainly, the Star Wars and Close Encounters productions experienced similar special effects challenges and developed similar technologies to confront them. Likewise, both filmmakers and their teams were concerned with developing a graphically dynamic visual narrative style for presenting their filmic worlds and environments, instead of relying on wordy scripts or obvious literary metaphors and symbols. Often, the highly technologized mise-en-scène presented in these films is treated as arbitrary spectacle somewhat incidental to the popularity of the films. Rather, as the Kauffmann review points up, I argue that the filmmakers’ presentation of technology (both the special effects spectacle and the alien

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technology of the diegesis) and the alternative universes it makes visible provide vital points of entry in helping us to understand: Why space movies, and why science fiction in the mid-1970s? These cutting-edge, special effects–driven films do not only present fantastic worlds and alien technologies, but strive to present them within a storytelling and aesthetic context that is appropriate to a rapidly changing American culture that desperately wants to believe in the future and in a future-oriented society. In other words, late 1970s moviegoers eagerly wanted something to visualize the future for them. The 1970s abounds with techno-optimistic experimental filmmaking manifestos such as Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema and John Whitney’s Digital Harmony as well as popular philosophy books such as Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1970) and Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, and periodicals like Future magazine and Horizon.34 With what I am calling “optimistic futurism” in mind, this trend in space and alien films becomes more than simple fantasies of escape from the economic hardships and cultural ambiguities of the 1970s, or proto-Reaganite retreats to conservative politics and Hollywood economic reentrenchment.35 While certainly available for conservative readings, these films also tapped into a brief liberal (or perhaps liberatory is a better word) trend that championed the intellectual viability of optimism, especially a brand of optimism that put technology and imagination in powerful proximity with cultural ethics. The expanded blockbuster proved especially attractive to a “futureshocked” society becoming accustomed to a fast-paced moving-image culture and its accompanying technologies. To Gene Youngblood, this approach was at the core of Expanded Cinema: When we say Expanded Cinema, we actually mean expanded consciousness. Expanded Cinema does not mean computer film, video phosphors, atomic light or spherical projections. Expanded Cinema isn’t a movie at all: like life, it’s a process of becoming, man’s ongoing historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his mind, in front of his eyes. . . . [the] intermedia network of cinema and television, which now functions as nothing less than the nervous system of mankind.36

Although Star Wars and Close Encounters certainly would have been too narratively driven for Youngblood’s taste, Lucas and Spielberg were very



successful in marrying these experimental or theoretical modes to popular entertainment. However, the overwhelming success of the films is rarely attributed to their aesthetic or style. One common explanation for the late 1970s success of Star Wars and Close Encounters is that audiences had become tired of the “doom and gloom” of late 1960s and early 1970s cinema emphasizing a mistrust of authority, aimless antiheroes, and a fatalistic view of the future. Instead, these new films provided hope and optimism for troubled times (or, less charitably, rose-colored glasses for those whose head was in the sand).37 What is little remembered about this trend toward optimistic futurism is that it positioned itself as political, critical, and countercultural. Optimistic futurism was not naively or guilelessly conceived. An important aspect came in brainstorming alternatives to the corrupt and disheartening present that we as a global society could help make happen in the future. Lucas especially, and Spielberg to a degree, saw themselves as participating in an accessible version of countercultural cinema, which they reimagined all the more powerfully as a vision of popular, not experimental, cinema.38 Indeed, unlike their pessimistic peers, Lucas and Spielberg embraced the contemporary current of optimistic futurism. More specifically, presenting a vision of alternative, more hopeful worlds was an important part of their ethical position as well as a strong motivation for developing special effects techniques and systems to realize this vision. Certainly the amorphous (and polemically problematic) notions of “hope” and “optimism” have long been co-opted for various political purposes.39 However, for a while in the 1970s, as evidence from aesthetic manifestos, popular nonfiction, and topical new magazines, as well as speculative fiction and cinema showed, many clearly viewed optimistic futurism as a viable countercultural and intellectual position.40 Importantly, technology was at the forefront of this hopeful view of media forecasting. Optimistic futurism projected a world organized and expanded via networking—a technological field that would combat the postindustrial revolution’s problems of alienation and atomization. As many have pointed out, 1970s America was wracked by conflicts due to a long-lasting recession, morally dubious military involvement abroad, mistrust of leadership, and lingering regional and generational clashes over gender, race, and sexual preference. Many were certainly not looking forward to the future if it held more of the same. However, it was also a time of great popularity for science fiction not only in the cinema but also in

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literature (Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. LeGuin, Phillip K. Dick), music (David Bowie, Sun Ra), and television (Buck Rogers and the 25th Century, Battlestar Galactica). Identifying with an alien point of view and marking oneself as an “alien” being that was more evolved beyond Earth’s petty concerns was a way to bypass what seemed to be the unresolvable quagmires of race, gender, class, and sexual preference by transcending them. Of course, since these acts and films originated on this planet and at a particular time, escaping problematic representation and structures was not wholly possible, as both Star Wars and Close Encounters make clear. However, it remained an expressed ideal.41 While many understood the perceived acceleration of new technology with ambivalence at best and as terrifying at worst, optimistic futurism forecast these trends in a more positive light, welcoming the freedom from the limitations of individual consciousness. A powerful fantasy inherent in trends in psychedelia, “Eastern” spiritualism, including yoga and meditation, was freeing some from the limitations of the physical body and making it possible, via technological mediation, to merge with others through shared sensations instigated by shared aesthetic experiences. In marked contrast to the 1980s’ highly pessimistic view of technology in the popular imagination (as in Blade Runner [1982] Robocop [1987]. etc.), optimistic futurism was strongly based in forecasting an idealistic view of new technology. As many commentators such as Toffler pointed out, the new technology, with its emphasis on networks and synthesis, would have the potential to avoid the alienating, atomizing, mass-produced, and monetizing technology of the industrial revolution.42 Instead, it would provide a connection with people on a more profound level, which would be essential in coping with the forecasted problems of overpopulation and energy and other resource shortages. For some, like Toffler, technology would achieve this on a fairly familiar, prosaic level. Improved and more extensive communication technology would hopefully lead to better interpersonal communication. For others, like Youngblood, technology would work together with psychotropic drugs and “Eastern” meditative states to help expand our senses and our minds to almost literally merge with other people’s senses, minds, and consciousness. A late 1970s’ reimagined notion of technologized psychedelia plays an important role as well. Far from just “finding your bliss” through individualistic mind expansion, psychotropic drugs, along with sounds and images, would stimulate a kind of technologically



mediated telepathy. While by the late 1970s this liberalized view of psychotropic drug use was already quite outdated, the mind-expansion potential of technology held on in the popular imagination. In an interview for his upcoming directorial debut Silent Running (1972), Trumbull contributed his own version of optimistic futurism: “[Silent Running is] also about man’s relationship to machinery and technology. [  .  .  . ] I have a point of view that doesn’t look at them in any fear. [ . . . ] They’re always treated as malevolent factors in movies, but we get into very pleasant man-machine relationships.” And even more pointedly, “I’m future-oriented [ . . . ] I like the ideas of Toffler’s ‘Future Shock.’ ” Trumbull’s technological futurism was more primarily concerned with the brain’s capacity to process information. “The audience today can consume novelty at a fantastic rate and can receive change and be involved in it faster than motion pictures can keep up with them—at least their present state.”43 Whether or not this is true, Trumbull dreamed of an entertainment technology that would take advantage of theories of the brain’s ability to absorb high amounts of visual information. The emergence of special effects–intensive cinema at the same time as a trend in optimistic futurism is no coincidence. Technophilia and positive associations with technological “progress” fueled much of the belief, following experimental filmmakers like O’Neill and Belson, and artistic manifestos of writers like Youngblood and Whitney. They believed that the fusion of art and technology would lead to a new plane of sensual experience, and that experience should be collective. Special effects developed in the direction of more straightforward photorealism thorough the 1980s. However, the late 1970s effects tend to emulate 2001’s model of expressive sensuality, encouraging what Scott Bukatman calls “kaleidoscopic perception,” or the perceptual unmooring of the body through aesthetic manipulation.44 Annette Michelson has influentially understood 2001 in terms of modernist aesthetics thematizing cinematic space.45 However, in regard to Star Wars and Close Encounters, I argue, “modernist” is not the most appropriate descriptor. The term modernist implies a rational engagement via an intellectualization, rather than an emphasis on the sensations of the experience. It was the sensational and experiential aspect that filmmakers exploited in popular special effects filmmaking, and what encouraged imitators. This fusion of psycho-pharmacology, yogic states, and imaging technology as a way past our current problems is of course a fantasy, but a

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powerful cultural one in the 1970s and into the early 1980s (see, for example, Trumbull’s Brainstorm [1983] and Ken Russell’s Altered States [1980] ). When George Lucas says things like, “corny as it sounds, the power of positive thinking goes a long way,” and “I discovered making a positive film is exhilarating,”46 it is important to note that it is not a simple kind of naïve optimism that he’s expressing, but a cultural trend that links science fiction narratives, fantastic imagery, special effects, and imaging technologies with an ethical position that is committed to finding alternative ways of viewing the world. And in the case of both Lucas and Spielberg in the 1970s, conceiving and developing the special effects technology fit into this ethos. World-building in this case did not only mean art direction and building sets for actors to present a narrative. It meant imagining whole new worlds and ways of being in those worlds, and life forms that made us see our own world differently. This has long been the raison d’être of science fiction, but filmmakers of the 1970s believed that this message would hit home more powerfully if people could visualize and experience it realistically. Filmmakers took the considerable trouble to develop complex special effects technologies and foreground them in these films, in large part to realize a worldview and an environment for audiences to imagine walking around in. Of course, it must also be pointed out that this impulse was not wholly altruistic or naively conceived. The kind of special effects–heavy, worldbuilding filmmaking that Star Wars and Close Encounters instigated thrived because it also fit snugly into the changing Hollywood economics that loved “sequelization,” ancillary products, and accessible eye-popping spectacle. However, these films were not initially understood as easily monetized commodities by Hollywood, and it took the success of these films to become so.47 Though counterintuitive as a “blockbuster” at the time, the moneymaking aspect of the expanded blockbuster was an important aspect of its formula. The filmmakers knew Hollywood economics demanded they make a great deal of money to realize their personal filmmaking freedom.48 The expanded blockbuster drew on existing positive, hopeful, and optimistic associations with space and alien life in order to connect with those aspects of expanded cinema and optimistic futurism that would elicit the response Stanley Kauffman noted at his screening of Close Encounters, quoting a fellow moviegoer who walked out of the screening proclaiming, “I feel good, man.”49



Rather than making audiences feel good primarily because the hero vanquishes his enemies and/or the hero and heroine end up together in a passionate clinch (the traditional Hollywood “feel good” endings), the films I’m discussing here, Close Encounters in particular, made use of the sensory triggers associated with drug use and sensory expansion to promote a sense of potential alternative universes and communion with them through the “universal language” of sounds and vision.50 Certainly the narrative outcomes are rosy there as well. Luke Skywalker and his rebel team win a tentative victory over the Empire, and Roy Neary leaves his Earthbound problems for a journey of wonder and discovery. But Close Encounters’ musical light show, punctuated by luminescent neon spaceships “in the seventies Disco Style,” as Canby put it, takes thirty or so minutes to end the film with an unmistakable hopefulness and feeling of well-being, with its lively melodic tones, radiant soft lights washing over the auditorium, and wondrous shining spaceships pulsating in time to the music.51 More conventionally, Star Wars’ protracted “feel good” ending is also a technological spectacle. Narratively, Luke and his fighter pilot brethren must make an especially precise hit on the Death Star to exploit a weakness and destroy it. Although patterned after a World War II dogfight, the sequence’s reliance on special effects and editing is surprisingly abstracted. Shots that alternate from Luke’s face, to his point of view down the narrow canyons, to ships zipping by and sideswiping him, punctuated by the flashing of laser blasts and colorful explosions, all generate a fast-paced kineticism that translates to suspense and visual excitement.


If, thematically, Star Wars is about Luke Skywalker’s worldview being shaken up and even destroyed in order to see his own role in the potential for a better tomorrow, then Close Encounters is about the ordinary person’s assimilation of otherworldly information. Star Wars rockets the viewer into a fully realized diegesis, a universe that may expand into infinity if Lucas chooses to show it to us. Close Encounters juxtaposes the mundane everyday of traditional principal photography in the same frame as the spectacular with otherworldly effects objects. The effects objects are often wider than the borders of the frame, encouraging the viewer to take a step

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toward these mysteriously attractive foreign objects. In both cases, the special effects programs force the viewer to think about how he or she interacts with the world and forces beyond his or her control. The 1977 special effects stage not only the enjoyment and exploration of the loss of control, but also they exploit the fantasy of entering a special effect. Optimism in relation to the cinema of this era has become strongly associated with Reagan-era triumphalism and blind American patriotism. Certainly, a retrospective look at Star Wars and Close Encounters must occur through the historical lens of 1980s conservative politics. The fact that these films were largely the impetus for the ascendancy of the special effects–heavy Hollywood blockbuster that is so often politically allied with the business-friendly Reaganite 1980s has not helped their critical reputation. And perhaps they should not be entirely absolved of their availability for conservative embrace. However, it is also worth remembering that the 1980s’ conservative rhetoric of “optimistic futurism” was quite different than the earlier trend that was co-opted.52 The Reaganite technological imagination is one that is in awe of technology, but it emphasizes a wonderment of its destructive possibilities rather than its liberatory or connective potential. In other words, a Reaganite view of the world would have us fear technology, and further fear the political realities that produced these potentially destructive devices (the Reagan-era “Star Wars” weapons system serves as a primary example). It invites Cold War American exceptionalism and nostalgia for golden age American individualism, rather than focusing on the more liberal version’s technologies which aid intersubjective and immersive communication. It is primarily through the distorting lens of 1980s politics and related criticism that Star Wars and Close Encounters are so easy to misconstrue today. However, optimistic futurism within the context of the expanded blockbuster provides these and other late 1970s films with a more nuanced framework for analysis.

The 1980s and Beyond

You have to remember that when someone goes to a [movie] theater, what they are really are buying is a shared experience. — R I C H A R D E D L U N D , S PECIAL EFFECTS SUPERVISOR (C. 1988) 1

Optical Special Effects into the 1980s A Well-Oiled Machine

Through the 1980s, cinema audiences attended the special effects Hollywood blockbusters in droves. Nevertheless, despite filmmakers’ stated intentions, lagging exhibition practices seemed determined to undermine any sense of the “expanded” ideal of the communal audience experience. Mall-based multiplexes led to undersized screens in small auditoriums. It became common for directors like Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, and others to complain about the theaters’ scratched prints, dim projector lamps, and poor sound systems.2 Although more people seemed to be going more often to technologically sophisticated and expensive movies, theaters in the local multiplex were hardly showing these films to their best advantage. In the 1980s and 1990s, industry professionals became increasingly concerned with the audience’s experience and the role of cinema in the overall entertainment landscape, as well as the kinds of experiences the movie industry was expected to provide. How, then, have the ideals of the late 1970s expanded blockbuster persisted and transmuted since the 1980s? Not surprisingly, the popularity of these films suggested to Hollywood a demand for more special effects films. Certainly the success of Star Wars and Close Encounters in the late 1970s encouraged a raft of imitators. Likewise,



the independent effects sector thrived as a number of newly formed special effects houses with their own backgrounds and design ethos emerged to emulate the special effects of ILM and Future General. At the same time, the creative directors of industry leader ILM worked to streamline production to a more consistent working model as well as consolidate their control over the look of special effects production. Whatever the economic motivations of filmmakers like Lucas, Spielberg, and others, these 1970s auteurs did seem to believe idealistically in the power of films and popular filmmaking to touch both emotions and minds as well as make money. The rise of a technologized mode of filmmaking, led by the aggressive development of special effects technology inaugurated with Star Wars and Close Encounters in the late 1970s, was an essential feature of those ambitious filmmakers’ artistic goals. Moreover, for many, the increased use of special effects and the ability to touch more filmgoers in new, aesthetically innovative ways went hand in hand. As effects per film grew, so did the number of new-style independent effects companies founded to provide them. With the growing demand for films whose success depended on an increasingly high number of special effects shots, one might have expected that studios would have acted to bring special effects production under their direct control. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, the studios’ activity had been largely whittled down to distribution, and the studios were in no position to acquire and maintain elaborate effects facilities. They left the specialized work and economic risk of special effects work to the independents. The small scale of the traditional independent optical, title, and effects companies described in chapter 2 meant that although these houses would never become large companies, they could reliably expect a predictable amount of work at a predictable (small) profit. Although they typically could complete a small number of outsourced effects shots for a feature film, along with other freelance work, most were not equipped to provide the large-scale effects of a film like Star Wars, with the exception of Trumbull’s Future General and Dunn’s Film Effects Hollywood. Certainly, one of the major goals at ILM after Star Wars was to avoid outsourcing to other independent companies and to become a complete one-stop shop for all of a feature film’s optical effects (beyond the needs of the Star Wars sequels). Ideally, this meant that a feature production would have the ability to hire an independent company like ILM, which would then provide a visual effects



supervisor to organize all the effects in the film, an in-house concept and design team, a machine shop to build or adapt the necessary equipment, models, and mechanical effects, and a flexible optical rig to accommodate the style or type of optical effects needed.3 Likewise, a number of other companies started by ILM and Trumbull alumni, including Apogee, Praxis, Dream Quest, and Boss Films, aspired to a similar business, with varying success. Nevertheless, in the short term, as effects films became more and more complex and densely packed, the one-stop effects shop remained something of an ideal rather than an actuality, even for ILM. How did this new approach to special effects production develop into a template for both style and technology? The transformation of the film industry in the wake of this technology-heavy mode of filmmaking marks a shift in cinematic aesthetics toward greater reliance on postproduction and a composite mise-en-scène. In production, this aesthetic transformation took a number of forms. Briefly, the success of Star Wars and Close Encounters encouraged a short-lived proliferation of diverse special effects styles. First, new and old effects companies scrambled to equip themselves with the latest technologies, especially motion control. Surprisingly, unlike the pre-1977 effects houses described in chapter 2 with distinct niche specialites (for example, Cascade and Graphic Films), many of the post-1977 houses touted the same all-around technological capabilities as ILM. An important result of the popular sensation of films featuring ILM’s photorealistic aesthetic is that it forced all others to try to keep pace with their look. The consequence of ILM’s economic ascendancy in special effects filmmaking has been that special effects technology and aesthetics generally became more homogenized after 1977, with a smaller number of acceptable styles available to filmmakers and effects houses. However, briefly in the immediate post–Star Wars landscape, a small but important flurry of exploratory styles and approaches occurred. The homogenization of the ILM aesthetic, starting primarily with The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, toned down much of the flashy “candy apple neon” look of the late 1970s, which Lucas believed would distract the viewer from being absorbed into the diegesis. At the same time, ILM took on challenges from new independent effects houses, and all effects companies confronted the conflicting priorities faced by producers who wanted to take part in the burgeoning trend toward science fiction and fantasy blockbusters, but were naïve about its time and costs.



The New One-Stop Shops Beyond Star Wars: The Evolving ILM Aesthetic

Although the heterogeneous and disorienting character of Star Wars’ special effects was (and remains), to many, one of its enduring pleasures, Lucas was reportedly dissatisfied with the film’s piecemeal look and production methods. Evidence shows that Lucas would endeavor, over the course of the first two Star Wars sequels, to streamline and homogenize production methods with the assumption it would not only make economic sense but also facilitate the creation of the seamless, fully credible diegetic world he desired. This meant tackling head on what Lucas often complained was the weakness of the first film—its “inadequate” photorealism, which had been (strategically) sacrificed in favor of graphic dynamism.4 The first Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, was put into production almost immediately upon the former’s success. Building on what they had learned from the first film, the returning special effects crew funneled more time and energy toward perfecting photorealistic optical shots that more fully mimicked and matched the aesthetic of the live-action photography. What was lost, of course, was the spirit of the “try anything” experimentation of the first film. Out of this process, Lucas and his team worked to develop the technology to realize the well-oiled machine that characterizes the ILM aesthetic.5 The ILM photorealist aesthetic (even through the digital era) combines elements that are composited cleanly and seamlessly, and with consistent image quality, within motion-controlled camera movement that looks handheld or human controlled, and on effects objects whose illusion of motion mimics the blurring effect of live-action photography. Animated objects move in an anthro- or zoomorphically logical manner, in keeping with their weight and size, but with the expressivity associated with human craft. Finally and most innovatively, the ILM photorealist aesthetic retains the ability to film effects objects and sequences with the same aesthetic flexibility of lighting, color, focus, and camera movement as principal photography. Empire was able to refine this style while subduing the showy “graphic dynamics” introduced in the first film, smoothing out the visual plane as a whole. Due to these factors, the Star Wars sequels The Empire Strikes Back and the later Return of the Jedi (1983) reflect the solidifying ILM house aesthetic to a stronger degree than Star Wars itself.



Even with a more homogeneous style in mind, the ILM team pursued its photorealist aesthetic via unexpected paths. Astonishingly, as Lucas put it in relation to The Empire Strikes Back, “If [Star Wars] was a technological challenge to get ships to fly in space with a lot of that movement, the second one was to do a stop-motion movie.”6 Even with such lauded examples as 1933’s King Kong (Cooper and Schoedsack) or Mighty Joe Young (Schoedsack, 1949) in mind, stop motion, with its jerky movement and stylized characterizations, is certainly a counterintuitive model for photorealism. Furthermore, as we shall see later on, within special effects production, stop motion as an effects technique was considered a dying animation form and was being phased out as a niche animation technique.7 However, the decision to focus on stop-motion animation makes more sense if we think of it in terms of photorealistic character animation. Based on his experience in the Star Wars cantina sequence, full of puppets and costumed “aliens” of varying consistency, Lucas clearly saw character animation as a major stumbling block to the style of photorealistic fantasy he was developing. Nevertheless, on the first Star Wars a stop-motion approach had already paid off in an unexpected area: the movement of the motion-control camera. As recounted earlier, many of the core effects team on Star Wars who had made the move up north to Marin County to form the ILM team for Empire trained professionally in the stop-motion animation workshop at Cascade Pictures. Although there was little traditional stop-motion footage in Star Wars (the brief chess game, animated by Jon Berg and Phil Tippett), Cascade alums Dennis Muren and Ken Ralston were in charge of programming the motion-control camera movement patterns for Star Wars and Empire, and they explicitly animated the camera moves based on their understanding of stop-motion animation and staging. Empire’s visual effects supervisor, Richard Edlund, articulates ILM’s rationale for adapting the spirit of stop-motion techniques for the motion-control sequences: [Our approach to motion control] allows the human being to program the move. When the mathematician programs the move, it comes out in a perfectly mathematical parabola. The shot is so perfect that it is not interesting. The trajectories are all perfect—and predictable. On the other hand, if you enter the human element into it—which is what you’d really prefer if you wanted the material you are photographing to have something of the look of a guy out there with a hand-held Arriflex shooting



it—then you want a certain suspense. It would be very peripheral; you wouldn’t really understand it; you wouldn’t know why it was there—but you would know that the shot had not been done by a machine. Therefore, your material would have an effect that is altogether different from that of material that as been programmed mathematically. Not that there aren’t certain cases in which you would want to use mathematically based material.  .  .  . But in our operations we tend to lean towards the human operator interface.8

Edlund’s statement could be seen as typical rhetoric to humanize a seemingly overmechanized approach in special effects–heavy filmmaking. However, this emphasis on human-generated, handcrafted, high technology is remarkably consistent across ILM departments and over time, and became an unofficial ILM mission statement. Muren, interestingly, rather than touting motion control as simply a technological advance, emphasizes the human element, characterizing motion control as “practically a new art form in itself.”9 Muren also characterizes Ralston’s and his work in specific terms of the 2D animator’s skill in generating specific kinds of motion for particular effects, in particular “life”-like movement: “Cameraman Ken Ralston, for example, is also an artist and an admirer of the old Warner Bros. cartoons by Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. In Empire his maneuvering of the Imperial TIE ships and the Millennium Falcon show his great understanding of the need for timing, motion and life within the shot.”10 Muren and Ralston, along with Phil Tippett and Jon Berg, joined their very particular skills in expressive stop-motion character animation and motion-control experience to impressive effect in Star Wars and its sequels. The ILM team overlapped animation and optical techniques to form a tighter bond between them, forming ILM’s basis for a style of photorealistic special effects as one strongly reliant on marks of human manipulation and craft. Certainly on Empire, a more traditional notion of character animation was also a salient issue. The film was to introduce Yoda, a two-foot talking and acting character that could not be worked by a human in a suit, and various beasts (Tauntauns that Luke and Han would ride like upright horses) and vehicles (Imperial Walkers) that would interact with the actors. The problem of Yoda was solved practically, but also within the ethos of discernable human craft: puppeteer Frank Oz would “act” as Yoda, through



a live-action puppet. The other moving but nonacting objects would be animated through what they called Go-Motion, an updated photorealistic “improvement” of stop motion. Despite his later comments to the contrary, Lucas was not at all convinced he wanted to do a stop-motion movie. According to Denis Muren, Lucas was not among the stop-motion fanatics enchanted by the magical movement of O’Brien’s or Harryhausen’s beasts.11 Quite the contrary, he felt the “strobing” staccato movement of stop motion would distract the spectator, thereby undermining all the hard work to establish a consistent photorealist look. For Lucas, traditional stop motion as character animation interfered with his goal of a more integral movie fantasy in which the viewer accepted the effects as part of the reality of the world depicted. Inspired in part by George Pal’s Puppetoons, Muren, Ralston, Berg, and Tippett were interested in developing a new kind of movement for stop motion that used jointed, poseable puppets like traditional stop motion, but rigged with smooth motors to control the movement.12 Instead of a perfectly mechanical motion, what Muren, Tippett, and the others wanted to create was a hybrid technique of mechanical control and human dexterity. They wanted stop motion with a more convincing photorealistic movement, combined with the subtle nuances and irregularity of traditional stop motion’s attention to character. The Go-Motion technique they developed used motorized movement to advance the puppet while the shutter was open, producing motion blur—mimicking not what the eye sees but the photorealistic effect of the subtle blur that appears on film when it registers motion. This technique would most importantly eliminate the staccato-like “strobing” movement associated with stop motion.13 Understanding Go-Motion’s technique is somewhat counterintuitive. The motor-controlled puppets are not moved in real time like a child’s remote-controlled robot toy. Instead, the animators plot the movements of the puppets in advance, frame by frame, by hand, like stop motion. The motorized movement exploits the movement between the frames, tricking the camera to imitate a photoreal blurring of the puppets’ motion. This frame-by-frame (instead of real-time) procedure is necessary because if the puppets are operated like a remote-control toy in live-action photography, they would not carry the expressive anthro- or zoomorphic characterization so prized in stop-motion animation. Go-Motion combined the “hands-on” animation artistry of stop motion with the photorealistic effect



FIGURE 7.1 Zoopomorphic Imperial Walkers in The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

of live-action photography. Therefore, when shot frame by frame and combined with a higher frame rate (to provide the appropriate visual gravity), the puppets would produce an effect that replicated the look of profilmic movement and maintained character expressivity and weight. The Imperial Walkers that attack the rebel base on the Ice Planet Hoth toward the beginning of Empire exhibit a particularly striking example of the Go-Motion technique and aesthetic. The Walkers are large, raised, mechanical “tanks” with a massive square mid-section supported by four long, jointed “legs,” led by a swiveling firing mechanism resembling a head with a neck in the front (fig. 7.1). In the sequence, three large Imperial Walkers appear at the snowy horizon, advancing on the rebel camp. The rebels mount a defense of their position with aircraft and antiaircrafttype guns. As Muren acknowledged, the Walkers’ mechanical movements made them perfect for testing the Go-Motion technique.14 Nevertheless, the animators conceived of the Walkers’ movements in fairly traditional stop-motion terms. They consulted Muybridge’s Animals in Motion photographic motion studies, described by Tippett as the stop-motion animator’s bible, as a guide for the Walkers’ gaits.15 They especially concentrated on elephants as models for the Walkers’ movements, studying real elephants’ movements at a zoo in San Francisco.16 The Walkers rather gingerly but



FIGURE 7.2 A faux helicopter shot on the stop-motion stage in The Empire Strikes Back.

deliberately and lumberingly advance closer and closer to the rebel camp. They turn their “heads” in an intentional fashion as they lock on targets and fire their weapons. When damaged by the rebel forces, their “knees” buckle and their whole top-heavy form sways as if they are trying to maintain their balance before lurching forward. In other words, the animators are successful in imparting a sense of zoomorphic life to what should be impersonal machinery, which renders them all the more menacing. Another effective illustration combining Go-Motion with motion control is the effects sequence in which Luke Skywalker rides a Tauntaun in the snow, this time with a puppet meant to imitate an organic creature, not a machine. In this sequence, the effects team reconceived a traditional miniature stop-motion segment and treats it as a faux helicopter shot (fig. 7.2). In what traditionally would have been shot straight on and horizontally (like a diorama come to life), the motion-control camera rig adds irregular motion on the “z-axis,” or diagonally across the x-y axis into the horizon. ILM artists enhanced this energetic effect by adding a camera wobble into the mechanized motion-control program path that swoops down from an “aerial” shot to the stop-motion figures, making the shot look as if captured by a handheld camera from an unstable helicopter, like a shot from Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979). This sequence meets the ILM goal of generating



a special effects shot with all the qualities of a live-action shot—in this case, a subjective camera shot with enough excitement and immediacy to suggest that “you are there on the Ice planet Hoth.”17 Interestingly, the Go-Motion blurring of the puppet’s motion in between frames does not, as one would expect, especially accentuate or modulate a sense of character expressivity, only its sense of photorealistic integrity. The characterization is built up through the animators’ traditional knowledge and experience with stop-motion techniques. The Go-Motion allows the crew another way to stylize components of the photographic technology, in this case the blur that the camera “sees” in 24 fps live-action photography. This is another striking demonstration of the extent to which photorealism is a style, accrued component by component by artists manipulating the photographic medium. Apart from stop-motion concerns, the effects footage was also designed to perform with an aesthetic flexibility similar to live action. The team also manipulated the photographic effects footage on Hoth to correspond with the look of the live-action location shooting, shot on a glacier in Norway. As Muren describes it, starting with the sharpest, highest-quality image possible, they then had to degrade it: [We had to . . . ] get rid of the blacks; you’ve got to try to knock the whites down and sort of mush everything together, and there is a real resistance to that at first, because you don’t want to destroy the image too much and everyone’s going for the sharpness and all of that sort of thing. But once a composite comes out with that done to it, the realism is strikingly apparent and you say: “Wow! That’s the right thing.” [ . . . ] We’ve done everything possible to tie all of these elements together so that the results will look real.18

Muren’s “eyeball test,” that is, proving the effect’s realism because it looks right, is a commonly reoccurring assertion in special effects practitioner rhetoric. However, it should be noted that rather than adding more data or resolution as one would expect, the team obscures and degrades the image as a part of the process in making it look “real.” In addition, the effects team diffused the image in optical printing to simulate (on a 15-foot square stage) the focus effect of distant atmospheric haze characteristic of a liveaction extreme long shot. Muren’s description demonstrates the willingness



to degrade the much sought after high-quality VistaVision image in the name of a stylized photorealism that favors closer meshing between the location shooting and the effects material. For ILM on Empire, intensifying the photorealist effect transcended simply improving image quality, optical printing precision, and positioning objects in perspective within the frame. However, the Empire production also had more time and money to fix the matte line problems that infuriated Lucas and caused much of the tension with Dykstra on Star Wars. Many of Dykstra’s comments after Star Wars implied that Lucas did not appreciate the high level of effort over a short period of time that Star Wars took.19 It is clear that Lucas instilled in his crew that “good effort” was not going to be good enough on Empire, as both filmmakers’ and also audience expectations had changed. Dennis Muren’s statement is typical of many made by Empire effects artists, and likely expressed Lucas’s goals as well: “because it doesn’t matter what it took to get it or what went on behind the camera. It just matters what’s left on the screen. [ . . . ] It doesn’t matter what the excuses are. They may be understandable to us, but to the public they aren’t understandable.”20 Most of the photographic techniques, from motion-control cameras to matte work and model work, were tweaked from Star Wars. However, the Empire effects artists take great pride in enumerating their improvements on Empire, and describing how they developed and modified technology to enhance the photorealist effect. To sharpen the image quality over printing stages, the team purpose-built new cameras, mainly adaptations of VistaVision cameras in order to film all kinds of effects footage on the larger format film.21 They fitted the optical printers with more finely engineered lenses that permitted the loss of some sharp focus in duplication.22 They bragged that these lenses were almost too good, since they sharpened effects footage beyond that of principal photography and had to be adjusted to cut together with main unit shooting. The ILM team on Empire adjusted the problems with the matte lines primarily by a change in film-duplicating stock. Traditionally with traveling mattes, the technician generates high-contrast, black-and-white (“clear” negative and positive) elements in order to cut “holes” in the background to fill in with a particular element. This high-contrast black-and-white stock is also known by its Kodak stock number: 5369. Instead, the Empire crew took advantage of the recent proliferation of new stocks issued by Kodak



and Fuji. For mattes, they used 5302, a softer contrast stock usually used as black-and-white release print stock, and 5235, a likewise stock with less contrast and used in color separation for matte generation.23 As on Star Wars, these stocks were specially made by Kodak on a more stable Estar (not acetate) base to prevent shrinkage and distortion in the development process, and therefore allowed the elements to fit together more precisely. Estar eventually became the standard base for filmstocks.24 As Bruce Nicholson put it, the choice of stock for matte work was also an aesthetic choice that enhanced dynamism as well as improving photorealism: “With a fast-moving subject, like the spaceships we were dealing with on Empire, the lower contrast stocks seemed to solve many of our edge problems without sacrificing the blurred motion we needed to maintain the dynamic of the shot.”25 This description of the look of the model reveals that the crew sought to gain sharp focus only to be able to degrade it to an appropriate degree. Again, it is not the sharpness and clarity that generates photorealism, but the ability to make the effects object appear to change focus as needed, as in live-action photography. Dynamism and photorealism go hand in hand by suggesting motion by blurring and obscuring a pristine, high-quality effects shot, with the expected aesthetic options available to principal photography. ILM’s photorealism approach first courted technical perfection, but then deliberately dirtied it up with human imperfection. With the new equipment and personnel changes on the Empire shoot, ILM’s model for photorealism was more or less in place for the next several decades, even through ILM’s full-scale entry into digital imaging. At the same time, ILM risked becoming a victim of its own success. New special effects houses were popping up to challenge ILM and suggest alternative approaches.

The First Wave of Rival Effects Companies to ILM Special effects people are not technicians, they are artists, and deserving of the same kind of deference that is given to the people in ‘star’ roles. I’m just talking about some respect and fair treatment. — J O H N D Y K S T R A 26

If ILM set the era’s professional standard for a special effects house, it also reflected the attitude that such organizational integration was necessary to build the complete cinematic worlds that had come into demand. It was



not good enough anymore to simply add effects to principal photography; special effects would need to be more conscientiously incorporated into the film at the planning stages. After 1977, studios and independent producers were certainly eager to make more effects-heavy science fiction films. Also, by the late 1970s, the personal project of Linwood Dunn, as described in chapter 2, had helped encourage a whole new generation to train to be special effects artists for the movie business. Not only were skilled young people working in unprecedented numbers in special effects on feature films, many of them now dreamed of forming their own effects companies, modeled on the example of ILM and Future General, as well as achieving the “above the line” artistic recognition like Dykstra and Trumbull were agitating for. Additionally, a number of established independent companies, such as Robert Abel and Associates and Van der Veer, were also shifting their practice to enter what they hoped would be the lucrative large-scale effects business. A new complex system of professional and aesthetic relationships began to form. Previously, the business of effects houses had been based on small-scale outsourcing from the studios and ad agencies. Now, new houses were setting themselves up to be more complete partners in the filmmaking system, a one-stop shop for all the production’s effects needs. Further, rather than differentiating themselves from each other, they instead marked their divergence from the traditional optical, title, and effects houses described in chapter 2. How did these new houses seek to be different from earlier optical effects houses? First of all, ILM, Apogee, and the houses in the late 1970s that were founded shortly after had the intention to produce special effects for feature films (rather than advertising) more or less exclusively. Second, the new houses would be more technologically flexible and innovative than traditional optical houses. According to John Dykstra, at traditional optical houses, “Technology was production driven. Meaning that when you came up with specific things you had to build the technology to do it. There wasn’t much interest in building a versatile rig.”27 Young effects supervisors like Dykstra imagined that these new-style houses would be full service, with equipment configured for use on a variety of projects. They would promote generalized research and development as well as utilization of new technology originating in nonfilm industries, such as in lasers and computers. Many would have their own art departments. Finally, and most importantly, instead of being afterthought hires long after the production



had begun, they were to be contracted early on in the feature’s development and would play a central role in preproduction.28 Some of these bold goals came to pass, but the precarious economics of the special effects business meant that many remained only ideals. Special effects technology is expensive, and according to Universal special effects producer John Swallow, who started his career at Apogee in the late 1970s, “Nobody goes into the business thinking they’re going to get rich. Nobody who’s smart at least.”29 While perhaps not thinking they were going to get rich, leaders in both the new and old effects houses believed that focusing on features would increase their professional prestige and eventually lead to economic clout and profitability. Despite these ambitious goals, all of the new houses found they eventually had to diversify their production into more traditional optical realms such as advertising and promos, as well as the newer fields of video games and amusement park rides.

Meanwhile, Back in Van Nuys . . . : John Dykstra and Apogee

The immediate post–Star Wars era produced two “new-style” effects houses, and John Dykstra was there at the beginning of both of them. After ILM incorporated and moved up to northern California in 1978, the core personnel from the original Star Wars generally broke into the two camps that became Lucas’s ILM and Dykstra’s Apogee.30 Dykstra based Apogee in ILM’s old home in Van Nuys, remaining near Hollywood. Dykstra’s professional divorce with Lucas was not especially amicable. Lucas’s public displeasure with the effects on Star Wars and what Dykstra felt was Lucas’s lack of appreciation for his accomplishments strained relations between the houses.31 In any case, Lucasfilm owned all the equipment developed for Star Wars, and Lucas took the Dykstraflex camera up north with him. Dykstra’s vision of a new-style effects house was no less ambitious than Lucas’s. Unhappily, unlike Lucas, he did not have the profits from Star Wars (nor the anticipated profits from Empire) to plow back into his effects company. Apogee’s experience makes a good case for both the way the new special effects films were able to influence overall production, and how much they were not. Apogee was for a time more successful than most, but its story is typical in many ways of the new wave of effects houses after 1977: its grand plans were frustrated by competition with ILM, technological



and aesthetic experimentation, and economic instability. Apogee specifically had the advantage of Dykstra’s considerable reputation, but it still had to cope with narrow profit margins and the financiers’ conflicted desire to produce special effects–heavy films while continuing to resist paying for high-quality effects. For Dykstra, the ability to do it all was the key to marketing Apogee as a new-style effects house very different from traditional optical houses. Like his mentor Douglas Trumbull, Dykstra took the controversial stance that the special effects artist should be as important to the production as the cinematographer or production designer, and brought into the project as early as they were.32 This position was controversial because it upset longentrenched production hierarchies that ranked special effects fairly low. The so-called “creative triangle” (director, cinematographer, art director) did not see much advantage in becoming a square. By having the ability to shoot all the components necessary in-house, Apogee could force the production to bring him and his team in earlier. In order to serve as a one-stop shop for the large-scale effects beginning to be expected on feature films, Apogee had to create a company “that was production-line capable,” like the one set up by ILM for Empire.33 Apogee’s facility was built to be multipurpose, “as opposed to having a tool box from which to create individual components. So you don’t have to build a new camera for each operation.”34 Thus, instead of different units for the individual films handling different kinds of shots that would be given later to the effects unit to work with, Apogee, like most of the new-style effects houses, had its own unit for shooting background plates on location. It could also shoot the composite elements to combine with those plates. Apogee’s crews had the in-house capability to generate additional elements, like animation, that they could then assemble in the same location. This meant a more efficient and cost-effective operation, as well as better quality control of the picture across duplication generations. Apogee also had an in-house art department of storyboard artists who were able to better pitch their ideas in the bidding process. Dykstra believed that the more complete the capability of the effects house, the more input and control they could exert over the overall production, and therefore the bigger status they could claim in the industry.35 Another way Apogee (and ILM and later houses) promoted itself as being on the cutting edge and different from traditional optical houses was to look outside domains conventionally associated with the movie



industry to use technology from other areas. Many effects artists, Dykstra included, had had previous experience in other industrial fields such as the military, aviation, and medicine. New technologies in those areas were also explored.36 They mined these techniques for greater efficiency, and also for arresting aesthetic effects.37 For Dykstra, research and development was key: “It was much more about process” than hard and fast results.38 One would assume that one of the marketing challenges faced by a new effects house like Apogee was how to differentiate itself not only from the previous model of effects houses but also from other new houses like ILM, and later Praxis, Boss, and Dream Quest. However, the public rhetoric stressed the up-to-date sameness of facilities. When asked what made someone hire Apogee, later vice president of production John Swallow quipped, “When ILM was busy.”39 Instead of differentiating themselves in the market, the new houses all had to play catch-up with ILM, but with fewer financial resources. With the exception of ILM, the economic situation facing the new effects houses was that profits were small, competition was fierce, and there were not enough feature films to go around. As Bill Taylor put it, Apogee, in spite of being the number two house between about 1978 and 1988, got about one project for every ten of ILM’s, and not the most high-profile jobs as ILM.40 Furthermore, Apogee’s high start-up production costs meant that they often bid too high on projects and priced themselves out of the market, as purportedly happened with Altered States (Russell, 1980) and the de Laurentiis–produced Dune (Lynch,1984).41 When pressed about what made Apogee different from other new houses, both Swallow and Dykstra insisted that, technologically, there was not much difference. As Swallow said, “all the facilities were the same, so it was just a matter of personalities.”42 While this is clearly a somewhat glib stance, it suggests how big the pressure was to keep up with ILM, even at the expense of a more differentiated market identity. It also demonstrates the extent to which ILM quickly and continually dominated the market and the expectations for effects. Another reason for this insistence on parity with ILM is that Dykstra wanted the reputation for being able to do any kind of style. Dykstra did not want to be pigeonholed as only specializing in Star Wars–style kinetic effects. He still insists (justifiably) that he can manifest anything the script tells him to do.43 Regardless of how Dykstra feels about being typecast, Apogee was primarily hired for certain kinds of projects. Having made his



name on the motion-control fighter sequences in Star Wars, those types of sequences based in speed and sleekness became something of Apogee’s niche, such as in the ships in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise, 1979) and the original Battlestar Galactica (1978–79) for TV, and the sleek airplanes in Firefox (Eastwood, 1982).44 Apogee’s aesthetic was hard-edged, emphasized speed and kineticism, and also made very creative use of materials and technology. Dykstra’s experience with motion control taught him how to make things move, but he was not as much of a photorealist perfectionist as Lucas. Evidence in the final image (for example, on Firefox or his shots on Star Trek: The Motion Picture) shows that he clearly was less disturbed by subtle matte lines (a point of contention on Star Wars). As Dykstra put it, he was willing to sacrifice the “diaphanous edge” for a ship that “still looks pretty good, and has a lot of energy to it.”45 However, for the time, as counter-examples will show, Dykstra’s photorealist expectations were still considered more demanding than the industry average.

The Competition for Feature Work

By the late 1970s, most of the old-line optical houses, such as Pacific Title, Westheimer, Mercer, and others, did not significantly change their business model and kept to the bread-and-butter optical techniques they had been executing professionally and competently for decades: simple twoelement composites, titles, and promos.46 Dunn’s Film Effects Hollywood, the previous gold standard for large-scale independent effects work, had slowed down production and, when Dunn retired, was eventually sold to Coppola’s American Zoetrope for work on One from the Heart (Coppola) in 1982.47 However, a few other established independents saw the chance to expand their business into high-profile feature work. Barry Nolan, the head of Van der Veer Photo Effects after the death of founder Frank Van der Veer in 1982, made a strong move to position Van der Veer at the forefront of feature effects work. Van der Veer provided a good deal of blue-screen traveling matte optical work on low-budget independent films for producers such as Roger Corman and Dino de Laurentiis. Van der Veer also received some outsourced opticals on Star Wars (as Adam Beckett pointed out in the previous chapter, they rotoscoped most of the lightsaber effects). Though uncredited for that work, over the next



decade the company certainly promoted itself on the basis of Star Wars and its 25-year-long history (and the controversial 1976 Oscar for John Guillermin’s King Kong). In the early 1980s, Van der Veer had some initial success in winning high-profile jobs.48 It was either the main or at least most prominent effects house on Flash Gordon (Hodges, 1980), Conan the Barbarian (Milius, 1982), and, most disastrously, Dune (Lynch, 1984). Dune is a prime example of a historical dividing line for marking expectations of photorealistic special effects. Dune is also an especially useful counter example to specify an argument for cinematic world-building based on a technological aesthetic, and the crucial role special effects play in that project. In other words, what we might call the George Lucas theory on the diegetic benefit of photorealist special effects—that is, the more seamlessly photoreal the effects, the more the audience accepts the diegetic world as visually convincing and therefore narratively and intellectually convincing—was not operative in Dune. It is a prime example of film that fell victim to new post-1977 expanded blockbuster expectations, and the film’s effects demonstrate clearly what made it fail (critically and financially) by those standards.49 Dune’s visual design production personnel were among the top in the business, with Tony Masters as production designer, Freddie Francis as cinematographer, and of course David Lynch as director. Although a nostalgic cultish admiration has built up for the film over the years, it is hard not to concede that its unconvincing effects leave a distinctly risible impression, which let down its striking design. In the case of a (purposefully) campy film such as Flash Gordon, cheesy effects may not be such a detriment. Instead, the flashy effects fit in to the overall exaggerated visual design. However, it proved ruinous in a film like Dune, not meant as camp but a fairly serious exploration of science fiction world-building. By Dune’s 1984 release, the success of Lucas’s Star Wars trilogy had set the standard for the much more seamless style of photorealism practiced by ILM and Trumbull. In 1977 the Star Wars effects team cannily could be seen to have played up its mishmash aesthetic as a way to generate visual energy. However, they also disguised much of its distracting flaws by fast cutting and rapid movement in the frame.50 Other filmmakers with even less resources had different strategies. In Alien (Scott, 1979), for example, the production team highlighted their best aspects (and downplayed others) by



reducing most of the effects to physical and mechanical techniques. They stressed their striking Giger-designed production for visual interest, but hid the low budget with old-style effects-obscuring tricks, shooting most of the action on dark and foggy stage sets that harmonized well with the gloomy production design.51 The main problem with the Dune production, however, was that it seems they did not develop strategies to minimize flaws and downplay technical limitations. Exacerbated by lengthy production delays, they also appeared to have miscalculated what 1984 audiences would accept as “good enough” special effects. Roger Ebert praised Dune’s production design, but noted that The movie’s special effects don’t stand up to scrutiny. The heads of the sand worms begin to look more and more as if they came out of the same factory that produced Kermit the Frog (they have the same mouths). An evil baron floats through the air on trajectories all too obviously controlled by wires. The spaceships in the movie are so shabby, so lacking in detail or dimension, that they look almost like those student films where plastic models are shot against a tablecloth.52

The film was certainly shot to showcase the admittedly dazzling production design, full of highly detailed sets and intricate costumes. Like Alien, the production seems to have made the decision to shoot in a muted color palette. However, many of the shots do not take Alien’s lead by filming in obscure, suggestive, low lighting. Most shots are instead exceedingly overlit, cloaking nothing. Moreover, the effectiveness of the special effects was not helped by the decision to stage shots that resembled the mise-en-scène of a 1950s MGM musical: much of the complex action sequences (especially the densely composited shots with flying ships and matte painting landscapes) are shot in long takes, and of model spaceships in slow-moving, panoramic wide shots (fig. 7.3). This aesthetic decision had the unfortunate consequence of showcasing the shortcomings of the special effects technology. In other words, Dune’s longer takes made the mistake of letting the audience scrutinize the effects too closely for too long. Through these many factors, audiences practiced the reality testing taught to them by ILM on the Star Wars sequels and found Dune wanting.



FIGURE 7.3 The flat cutout ships of Dune (Lynch, 1984).

The Dune production demonstrates the quickly changing standards for special effects photorealism in the early 1980s. Dune’s effects are comparable to, say, 1976’s King Kong or Logan’s Run (Anderson)—Van der Veer–produced effects that were deemed of a sufficient professional quality only eight years previously. In fact, Dune provides a remarkable historical instance of the impact special effects had on the reception and perceived success of a film, as well as a mark of changed expectations. Dune was an ambitious film in the expanded blockbuster vein but unable to fulfill contemporary expectations by the time and budgetary constraints set by its financial backers, a problem still often confronted by many special effects– heavy films.

Dykstra + Trumbull: Star Trek: The Motion Picture

The immediate post–Star Wars era saw a number of approaches to special effects which often took their cues from ILM. First and most salient is the very troubled special effects production on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, on which Apogee (in its first big feature project) assisted Trumbull with the cleanup work after Robert Abel and Associates, on their first feature job, were fired from the project. Star Trek offers an example that helps



determine what aspects of effects work were quickly becoming the standard for the industry, and how productions used effects to hearken back to earlier films but also establish a unique identity. Star Trek was a famously troubled production. Robert Abel and Associates, like Van der Veer, saw the opportunity to diversify from mainly television commercials into the feature film effects business. They brought even more technologically ambitious plans with them. Winning the bid for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Abel and Associates ran into an opposite problem from Van der Veer. They were in fact too technologically ambitious for what was possible at the time, and for the money. Abel tried most famously to incorporate both computer-assisted (as in motion control) and computer-generated imagery.53 However, they apparently underestimated the complexity, cost, and time required and were thus fired from the project.54 Additionally, Abel’s slick, TV-commercial style (which could be adopted, sparingly, to add zip to films like Star Wars or Close Encounters) ran up against too much preconceived narrative expectations of the Star Trek universe. In ads (and as history would show, in many kinds of films), an arresting visual style is often enough to carry interest. Abel’s “candy-apple neon” style, of the 7UP or Levi’s ads, which Richard Edlund previously described as “animated graphics with light flashes and a chromed look,” did not lend itself easily to the preconceived rational Star Trek universe familiar to fans from the TV show.55 Namely, Abel’s relaxed, broad-brushstrokes approach to ad work did not sit well with Star Trek’s established diegetic parameters, elaborate backstory, preexisting visual style, nor with the expectations of its fervent fan base.56 The first Star Trek feature film would require the adoption of specific visual and narrative details that did not mesh with Abel’s previously successful edgy, candy-apple neon look. Rather, Dykstra’s sharp-edged hardware and Trumbull’s animation made a better fit for Star Trek’s simultaneous very specified, solid hardware and its dreamy superstructure as represented by the “V’Ger” environment Spock explores. Like Dune, but representing a more positive example, Star Trek helps provide firm contours for what the aesthetic expectations for special effects–heavy films had become in the immediate post-1977 landscape. As stated previously, Dykstra and Apogee teamed up with Douglas Trumbull’s Future General to take over the effects on the troubled Star Trek production after Abel’s production fell behind.57 Predating Apogee by several years, Future General certainly can be seen as a model for the



late 1970s one-stop shop effects house, especially in its concentration on research and development. However, Trumbull’s professional career was more varied and peripatetic than Dykstra’s, and his ambitions more multimedia-based, as we will see. In 1979, when he took over the Star Trek effects, Trumbull was in the process of extricating himself from his contract with Paramount, of which Future General was a subsidiary. Knowing Paramount was desperate to complete Star Trek’s effects work on time for the announced release date, Trumbull leveraged his bailout of the troubled production as part of a deal to free himself from Paramount. He would then start yet another company, Entertainment Effects Group (EEG).58 Trumbull at EEG (and his later companies) completed some feature effects work in the 1980s, most famously Blade Runner (Scott, 1982). However, Trumbull’s vision for the future of movies went beyond special effects specialization. He was more interested in developing directing projects for himself (such as the ill-fated Brainstorm, delayed by Natalie Wood’s death during production in 1983) and inventing new entertainment technologies than remaining a special effects gun-for-hire. Not surprisingly, Star Trek’s tight time frame meant Dykstra’s and Trumbull’s work broke down along fairly practical lines: Dykstra and Apogee would handle most of the sequences with spaceships, as well as some of the showier discreet effects, like the transporter beams. Trumbull would primarily take care of the introduction of the Enterprise and the fantastic V’Ger walkabout at the climax. Rather than concentrate on speed and kineticism, Star Trek tended to the stately pace of 2001. As Dykstra put it, Star Trek’s spaceships were “slow and lethargic if anything,” which required longer takes.59 Longer takes required more detail and more careful matte work, since audiences would be scrutinizing the models for longer periods of time than most of Star Wars’ fast-moving, mistake-camouflaging takes. Combining their talents from Star Wars, 2001, and Close Encounters, as well as cementing an emerging science fiction formula, Dykstra designed the eye-catching opening, while Trumbull delivered an awe-inspiring climax. Dykstra described the pressure to repeat the formula he had helped establish: People are always coming to us and saying they don’t want an opening shot that looks like Star Wars—they just want something that has the same impact. Well, that gets a little tough after awhile. The Star Wars



opener was incredibly dramatic. It showed you the scale and the size of those ships, and it gave you a sense of speed that you don’t normally get in a space environment. So it’s an effective trick, but it’s been overused. [In Star Trek] the idea with the Klingons was to give us the same kind of visual impact, but without doing a real close flyby.60

In the Star Trek opening (fig. 7.4), instead of the ships flying over a fixed point simulating the audience’s point of view as in Star Wars, the camera twists and turns around the Klingon ships, both showing off the detailed model and the company’s motion-control capabilities. Inverting the famous flyover in Star Wars, Dykstra underlined the fact that Apogee commanded as sophisticated equipment as ILM.61 However, Lucas’s complaint that Dykstra cared less about eliminating matte lines appears justifiable. The Klingon ships move smoothly and logically, the models are full of detail, and the image quality is sharp and thick. However, the ships’ edges contrast sharply with the star field background, placing the ships in strong relief, bucking the style of photorealism that ILM had established with Empire. Trumbull also had to outdo his previous work without repeating himself. Like the “Star Gate” sequence in 2001, a human (or in this case, Vulcan) figure travels through an environment over which he has little control.

FIGURE 7.4 Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise, 1979): Apogee’s opening sequence.



FIGURE 7.5 Trumbull’s V’Ger sequence, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

The main change is in the focus on the character of Spock as the participant (fig. 7.5), rather than the (purposefully) blandly undifferentiated astronaut Dave of 2001. Spock narrates out loud (he is speaking on a com line to the Enterprise) as he encounters V-Ger, calling it a “gigantic imaging system” and like being “inside a living machine.” There are more frequent cuts to Spock’s face and more expressive reactions to the environment in Star Trek than Dave’s journey in 2001. As in 2001, and later in Blade Runner, Trumbull used the animation stand to create the “traveling” effect of the subject moving through abstracted, eerie spaces.62 However, in the case of Star Trek there is a more immediately rational explanation (with only a hint of the supernatural) than in the “Star Gate” sequence. Additionally, there appears to be less of an attempt to fully disorient the spectator. Most of the effects advance toward Spock frontally, with less twisting and turning of the point of view. We can surmise from Star Trek that a certain amount of expressive ambiguity has been lost as effects technology and aesthetics become more rationalized and fixed. Star Trek’s potential disaster was in the end averted by two very resourceful teams working together. However, Trumbull and Dykstra set a major precedent that would prove as much a predicament as a boon to effects artists over the years: the impression that a production could buy effects, after



much of the principal photography had wrapped, and complete them on a very short time frame. Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Dune were not the only overextended effects-heavy projects. Again and again in the late 1970s and early 1980s, producers clashed with ambitious effects houses over what could be accomplished and for how much money. However, as always, special effects artists proved to be inventive under daunting odds and zero budgets, sometimes to their own detriment. Damnation Alley (Smight, 1977) is a case famous among effects artists where the oblivious production executives wanted effects added to principal photography.63 Specifically, they wanted extra landscape and screen effects added to the background outside and on a screen inside of a moving vehicle’s window. The problem: the footage had not been shot with rear projection, nor against blue screen. It had also not been registered with either a stable, locked-down camera or with motion-control–programmed camera moves. Instead, to add a background behind a moving vehicle shot by a moving camera, the resourceful effects team had to painstakingly hand-animate the backgrounds by rotoscoping the camera’s move, frame by frame, instead of how rotoscoping is traditionally used, to track the character’s movement.64 In Damnation Alley, there is a good deal of fringing at the matte edges (where the matte line bleeds through), but this was still considered “good enough” for a lowbudget film that features giant iridescent scorpions. The Damnation Alley team solved their immediate problem, but also inadvertently contributed to the mystique that the effects team could magically (and cheaply) solve any problem encountered in postproduction. This impression has only increased with digital technology, placing pressure on effects technicians to always complete work faster and cheaper, and at a higher quality.65

Other Start-Ups

ILM, Apogee, and the various Trumbull companies were the era’s prominent new-style special effects shops. They were perceived by the industry to have the most advanced technology and were therefore the first in line for the bigger projects. However, other alumni from the new generation trained on Star Wars and Close Encounters were also starting independent businesses. While all of the new companies at least attempted to hype themselves as possessing the same advanced equipment, others were also



finding subtle niche areas in which to establish themselves. Robert Blalack, a CalArts graduate, as well as Star Wars alumnus, was one who was quickly motivated to start his own effects company. Blalack had trained with Dykstra and Trumbull on The Andromeda Strain (Wise, 1971).66 Initially, he cofounded Motion Pictures Inc. with Jamie Shourt, a former partner of Trumbull. Like many effects supervisors, including Dykstra and Trumbull, Blalack had ambitions beyond effects work. He saw effects work as a new avenue to directing. In 1980, Blalack founded Praxis.67 Due to Blalack’s background as an experimental filmmaker and teacher at CalArts, Praxis specialized in the more graphic and conspicuous effects styles rather than elaborate diegetic world-building. Blalack also gave many of his former CalArts classmates and students their first jobs in the effects industry, especially a number of notable women filmmakers, such as Betzy Bromberg, Laurel Klick, and Donna Tracy.68 Blalack frequently called on his own and his team’s CalArts optical printing education in his effects work.69 At CalArts, Blalack emulated the nonnarrative experimental films of his revered teacher Pat O’Neill.70 Blalack was also a proponent of Abel’s “candy apple neon” style, and he believed that the emphasis should be put on what he called “the dazzling, improbable, and the impossible.”71 Blalack constantly (mis-)quoted his favorite Lorenz Hart lyric (from “My Romance”) as the basis for his aesthetic: “Wide awake, I can make my [most fantastic] dreams come true,” and Praxis’s effects often displayed distorted live-action photography with a bizarre and patently unreal look.72 It should be said that Praxis also often completed fairly standard imperceptible composite work. Just as productions hired Apogee when ILM was busy, it could be said optimistically that Praxis was employed when Apogee was busy. In the 1980s, Praxis logged credits (with other effects houses) on films such as Airplane! (Abrahams, Zucker, and Zucker, 1980), Altered States, The Blues Brothers (Landis, 1980), Nine to Five (Higgins, 1980), Wolfen (1981), Cat People (Schrader, 1982), and Zapped! (Rosenthal, 1982). However, in the case of Wolfen (for which Praxis was the lone effects house), Blalack was able to encourage his team to be more creative than usual, even if they did have to scale back their ambitions to fit the needs of a narrative feature film.73 Like many, Blalack got into special effects to survive out of art school and specifically chose special effects because “it’s a craft—very technical and somewhat removed from the content of the film.”74 What Blalack



FIGURE 7.6 High-contrast matte work for the “wolf-vision” in Wolfen (Wadleigh, 1981).

means can be demonstrated in his effects for Wolfen (1981), one of Praxis’s first major projects. In many sequences, the action is staged and shot as if from the point of view of the titular wolf creatures terrorizing the urban environment. Wolfen’s so-called “wolf-vision” sequences sought to do Halloween’s (Carpenter, 1978) “psycho-vision” subjective shots one better by adding Steadicam smoothness (a fairly new invention in 1981, especially for special effects crews) and a creative distortion effect.75 In these sequences, the camera simulates a low-to-the-ground supernatural and intelligent wolf creature with a fluid but padding gait and alert gaze, who stalks victims behind chain-link fencing, park bench slats, and bushes (fig. 7.6). The wolf ’s eyes register the environment like a heat-sensitive camera, with vibrating colors that correspond to body-heat signatures more than contours. While stalking, colors are fairly cool, until the increasing redness indicates the wolf is making, or about to make, a strike. The landscape is abstracted through the wolf ’s eyes, with hard lines highlighting edges and delineating blocks of color, but at the same time suppressing detail. Although seeming to resemble video techniques emerging in music videos at the time, according to Betzy Bromberg, who worked on the film, “wolf-vision” employed a technique borrowed from traveling matte work. As previously described, the purpose of traveling matte work is to generate



black and white “holes” in the background so that opaque elements can be printed into them. This requires reprinting elements onto high-contrast black-and-white stock to produce the black-and-white holes. Rather than isolating elements to compose together, the Wolfen team printed the conventionally shot live-action footage several times onto high-contrast stock with higher and lower levels of contrast. Much like Pat O’Neill’s optical work on Melvin van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), which likely served as an inspiration, the high-contrast footage was then optically printed, layering various contrasting color filters. Bromberg describes the technique and the creative latitude Blalack and the producers gave the effects team to visualize “wolf-vision”: Basically with Wolfen [the first unit] shot the live-action material, and then we got the shots, and it was “do something.” We want something to look like wolf-vision. [ . . . ]That was taking the original footage and then generating hi-con elements from it and doing any number of hi con generations and then combining the generations together [with] color filters . . . so you’re taking a strip of film, and hi con is black and white that’s very high contrast. [ . . . ] You take them, you pull a first generation, the first generation still has some gray tones in it. From that first generation you make a second, from the second generation you make a third, fourth, fifth. And what we found is that you could combine the second and the fifth, or combine the fourth and the fifth, or second and the third, any two opposites, and what they’re doing is if they’re opposite generations the one [object] is dark, and one [object] is light. And when you combine them together, most of the [object] blacks itself out. However what’s left is the matte line. It’s where the two are not fitting together properly. So if you put those two together, and put a fog filter over the lens to exaggerate that a little, and then a color filter, what you’re doing is adding to your original scene, outlines of certain parts of things. You could control it by density of mattes. There were a whole set of controls that we could end up using. And if you combine the second and the fifth or whatever you’d get a different effect coming out of it. So most of the wolf-vision was that type of effect.76

Interestingly, rather than following the photorealistic strategy of minimizing the matte line “gap” to make a seamless composite, the Wolfen team at Praxis exploited and aestheticized the edges for expressive purposes.



The artists also maximized the aesthetic contours of the newly released, glossy 5247 filmstock described in chapter 4. The slightly flat color tonalities of 5247 provide even, distinct fields of saturated color with strong and shiny highlights. Unlike video technology of the day, the control of exposure is carefully calibrated, so that there is more detail in some important areas, such as when we need to see clearly who the victim is. In addition, as was typical for the more creative use of effects, they also bear an appropriate relation to the narrative. The supernatural creatures of Wolfen have a magical relationship to Native American shamans who oppose development and gentrification of the South Bronx. The “wolf-vision” imagined by the crew can easily be understood as the visual field of alterity (again, like Sweetback) and the stalking violent potential that accompanies an alternative way of seeing, until it is recognized and reckoned with. Praxis was one of the longer-lived optical houses, known as a supportive home for its artist-filmmakers. However, also like many optical effects houses, Praxis did not survive the early 1990s transition to digital technology. In 1994, Praxis was absorbed into the digital effects company that largely grew into Rhythm and Hues.77 Dream Quest was another house that grew out of the 1977 hits, but with a more traditionally minded, “gearhead” background than the more style-driven houses like Abel and Praxis. Trumbull assembled what would become the Dream Quest team on the production for Close Encounters. Interestingly, many on the Dream Quest team also originally worked for Abel, but serve as an example of those who muted and mainstreamed his slicker, more stylized look. The original founders, Scott Squires, Hoyt Yeatman, Rocco Gioffre, Frederick Iguchi, Thomas Hollister, and Robert Hollister began Dream Quest in 1980, after their work for Trumbull on Star Trek: The Motion Picture was completed. Dream Quest was made up of a highly diversified effects team who got their start in the more traditional effects techniques such as matte painting, animation, and miniatures as well as the more up-to-date skill set of motion control, camera engineering, and electronics. Like Apogee and Praxis, they also launched what they hoped would be a one-stop shop for feature work. Unlike most other shops, they were more team-oriented, with no single big personality either to rally around or to potentially scare off clients with equally big egos. Their first jobs were subcontracting mattes for Apogee.78 Former boss Trumbull hired them for a few subprojects, like simulating video screen graphics on Blade Runner. Close Encounters colleague Dennis Muren, now full-time at



ILM, also allocated to them a few shots on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Spielberg, 1982), and Coppola contracted them for the One from the Heart title sequence.79 Dream Quest finally got its first solo feature project on Columbia’s Blue Thunder (Badham, 1983). Director John Badham hired them after deeming ILM too expensive, and Trumbull and Apogee too busy (directing Brainstorm [1983] and working on Firefox, respectively).80 Blue Thunder is yet another example of a film put into production with a naïve understanding about the capabilities of special effects work, but also of how certain techniques, especially motion control, were becoming standard services for the independent houses. As with Dune and many other films of the era, Columbia tried to initially save money on the effects, and Dream Quest was hired after another (unnamed) house was fired.81 By all accounts, Dream Quest made the best out of a difficult situation. Blue Thunder was a project that applied the new special effects techniques toward the aesthetic of “real-world” photorealism instead of science fiction or fantasy. Dream Quest’s basic task was to position model F-16 fighter jets in low-altitude combat over downtown Los Angeles. The production had already shot aerial background plates of the Los Angeles skyline out of a helicopter.82 Now, instead of spaceships over a distant planet (or even spaceships over our planet), Dream Quest, like Apogee with Firefox, had to make convincing composites with realistic-looking Earth aircraft over recognizable cityscapes. This meant refining blue-screen techniques, especially to avoid the reflective blue-screen “spill” on shiny model aircraft.83 Dream Quest took advantage of many of the more photorealistic techniques (explosions, flares, reflections) learned on Trumbull’s projects, thereby building itself a niche as a go-to house for cheaper earthbound effects, and technical (over stylistic or aesthetic) innovation. Dream Quest was acquired by the Disney organization in 1996 to become its in-house effects team but was dismantled five years later.84 The final new house to discuss is Richard Edlund’s Boss Films. The last of the major independent houses to be established in the early 1980s, the company was formed after Edlund had spent eight years at ILM. Boss provides an illustrative case of what blockbuster-style special effects were becoming in the 1980s, in the wake of the successes of Star Wars and Close Encounters, as both a dissemination of ILM’s aesthetic and as an elaboration of it. Boss, along with Apogee, was most effective in competing with ILM through the 1980s. This is largely because, like ILM, they were both



headed by well-known special effects artists with successful track records on big projects. Boss likewise had the reputation as a house that could produce effects that were a balance of photorealism and fantasy. After Edlund finished his work at ILM for the Star Wars sequels The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Poltergeist (Spielberg, 1982), he bought Trumbull’s EEG stages in 1983, renaming the company Boss. Edlund left ILM after already having been hired to do effects work on Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984) and 2010 (Hyams, 1984). Edlund’s background before ILM combined professional still photography (primarily psychedelia-era album covers), traditional opticals learned at Westheimer in the 1960s, and high-style animation work acquired at Abel’s through the 1970s. As the previous account of Edlund’s work on The Empire Strikes Back suggests, he is clearly very technologically minded, recounting the many specialized VistaVision cameras he redesigned and custom built for ILM, and the many technical tweaks he made to the system put in place by Dykstra for Star Wars. With that in mind, much like the shifted approach from Star Wars to Empire, his work at Boss appears more interested in applying a certain stylization within the logic of photorealism rather than employing stylization mainly to add dynamism or pizzazz. Edlund strongly implies that he left ILM because it had become a stifling creative atmosphere. When, in the past, he and others had previously been free to experiment, now Lucas had a very specific idea as to what ILM should produce. As Edlund put it, ILM is “like a mill town. And in a mill town, you either work for the mill or you don’t.”85 He also believed that working for ILM, up in Northern California far away from the rest of the movie industry, was “like being in the foreign legion,” no doubt with the toil that implies.86 Edlund’s statements and defection bring additional evidence that Lucas had indeed shifted production away from experimentation toward homogenization in the 1980s, in order to produce a very specific ILM aesthetic based on Lucas’s vision. At Boss (likely a meaningful choice of name), Edlund availed himself of Trumbull’s 70mm and high-speed cameras, and promoted Boss as the only 70mm-capable effects house with the high image quality 70mm implied.87 Like Trumbull, Edlund saw the choice of film format and technological innovation as a strong stance in favor of a certain kind of entertainment experience, one with particular side-taking implications. Therefore, by



remaining attached to 70mm, Trumbull and Edlund were holding fast to the ideal of the expanded blockbuster, with its strong basis in shared, communal cinematic experience. Again, and with more detail, as Edlund put it in 1988: Movies are sort of a mass psychology game. You have to remember that when someone goes to a theater, what they are really buying is a shared experience. It’s almost a ritual to participate. . . . You want the audience to gasp collectively at the right second. If there is no reaction, or worse, if someone laughs instead of gasping, the spell is broken.88

However, now the way “shared experience” is understood has decidedly shifted emphasis away from Trumbull’s awe-inspiring, slow-paced, minimally narrative environments. Edlund’s effects work, though creative and impressive, demonstrates how the expanded blockbuster hippie ideal of “shared experience” had by the mid-1980s been mostly reabsorbed into the mainstream Hollywood paradigm. Rather than the kind of “pure” visual filmmaking touted by Kubrick and Lucas that briefly held sway in the late 1970s, the post-1980 blockbuster casts its spell through a more traditionally conceived narrative diegetic world, as an example like Top Gun (Scott, 1986) suggests. In Top Gun, aspects of visual filmmaking as Lucas conceived it are maintained, such as lively composition of the animation elements in the frame and kinetic sense of motion, along with the more rapid cutting and variety of shot selection that usually accompanies them. However, the effects sequences are motivated by fairly classical photorealistic aerial dogfight sequences amped up with graphic dynamics. Despite the common assertion (both positively and negatively understood) about films of the 1980s being less “narratively integrated” and more driven by spectacle, instead the “spectacalized” special effects aesthetic is now being reabsorbed into more traditional narrative patterns.89 More specifically, “thinking visually,” and “communicating with pictures,” is recast as spectacle by another name, and how spectacle becomes a more motivated (rather than “excessive”) part of the Hollywood blockbuster through the 1980s. Rather than the heterogeneous and uneven look of Star Wars, special effects of the 1980s work in a more narratively integrated manner to hold the attention of the audience, while at the same time providing “gasps” through the entirety of the film and building an illusionistic cinematic



environment. Additionally, much of the ambiguity and looseness of the expanded blockbuster is also remotivated for use into the mainstream Hollywood system. This can be seen quite clearly in the move from Kubrick’s 2001 to the Peter Hyams sequel 2010. For example, as opposed to 2001’s more obscure symbolism, in 2010 the diegetic world has become more consistently concrete, with more answers to questions regarding the monolith, the Star Child, and so on provided in the narrative. Likewise, the notion of what comprises a shared experience has shifted even farther from the expanded cinema’s 1960s “happening” model based in music, drugs, and the ideal of intersubjective merging, to a collective model with a longer cinema memory—comedy. For example, Ghostbusters delivers its sense of community through the long tradition inherent in the comedy genre: the shared experience of laughing along with the audience. Additionally, Ghostbusters provides an example of the Boss approach to special effects, and how Boss’s production marks this homogenizing shift. Interestingly, however, even as the expanded blockbuster moves farther away from its countercultural origins, in his rhetoric Edlund still maintains a commitment to fostering the cinematic institution as the primary site of social shared experiences. In Ghostbusters, Edlund and team essentially cleverly repurpose many effects techniques from Star Wars and Close Encounters. The film demonstrates both the extent to which the ILM system had become a flexible “rig” appropriate to many different kinds of projects, and one that could be adopted by other companies. Also, with Boss’s effects for the 2001 sequel 2010, Edlund could demonstrate that he was able to produce effects on a par with those that took Kubrick’s team three years, and could complete them with a reasonable budget and time schedule, albeit sixteen years after Kubrick’s film. Ghostbusters models how the ILM aesthetic was becoming solidified into specific expectations for how effects should look. The ghostbusting team, for example, “zaps” the ghosts into their storage boxes by holding them in electronic force fields (fig. 7.7). Filming and compositing the ghosts proceeded very much like the UFOs in Close Encounters. The foam-rubber ghost puppets were shot against black through diffused lenses, and like a Close Encounters UFO. Specifically in this case, the so-called Onionhead puppet in the hotel sequence was filmed motionless and animated by Trumbull’s version of the Dykstraflex motion



FIGURE 7.7 Electronic force fields in Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984).

control, itself now reengineered and renamed by him as “Compsy.”90 Like the luminescent UFOs in Close Encounters, the ghost’s glow was created with filters and animation rotoscoping in the compositing stage. Indeed, as an aesthetic, Boss transmutes the ethereal, luminescent Close Encounters technique into an approach that is strongly aligned with ILM’s style of photorealism. For example, as was traditional with the ILM creature shop, the movement for Onionhead had an anthropomorphic model. According to the puppeteers (reportedly following writer and star Dan Ackroyd’s lead), the gluttonous puppet’s form and movement was based on John Belushi’s Bluto character in Animal House (Landis, 1978).91 As former ILM animator and now EEG animation department supervisor Terry Windel put it: Our whole philosophy is to combine straight animation with photographic techniques, which help make that animation seem more believable to the eye. For instance, to create the Nutrona wands, we used hand-drawn animation for the beams themselves, but we combined that with pyrotechnic explosion shot on a stage to give them more realism.92

Again, a firm link between stage pyrotechnics in live-action photography and postproduction animation was the goal for grounding the fantastic elements in a photographic logic.



Ghostbusters’s comedy genre and the supernatural theme would seem to provide more latitude for overall stylization. Instead, the effects team took great care that the ghosts and ghostbusting tools take on a workaday, almost banal quality. Like Star Wars, the Ghostbusters project involved a great deal of rotoscoped animation. Though still graphically dynamic and visually arresting, the animation here is even more consistently narratively motivated. Further, the effects are also more realistically conceived to obey laws of physics and conventions of hard science. As screenwriter, Ackroyd actively researched contemporary “ghost science” to determine what kind of energy ghosts were thought to emit, the ectoplasmic residue, and the kind of tools which might be able to contain them.93 As an example, the artists rotoscope the rays of the ghostbusting “guns” by painting in wiggly orange electric power lines with blue tendrils encircling them for the tractor beams, which are meant to look like functional electrical forces that would hold a ghost and also would be dangerous to cross. In addition, many electrical effects issue crackling from various supernatural beings. Finally, although the ghosts are indeed imaginative creature creations, their design and movement is based on imagining that, if ghosts were real, and we could photograph them, then how would they look and how would they move? With their imagined visual bulk, we can suppose that the ghosts would move in the fast and fluid but slightly pendulous way they do. Like Close Encounter in particular, Ghostbusters repeats the narrative template of slowly building its fantastic elements into its diegesis: it begins with simple objects-moving-with-their-own-agency gags, slowly introducing ghosts and ghostbusting equipment, until letting loose in the climactic free-for-all on the roof of Dana’s (Sigourney Weaver) apartment building. This strategy for introducing the effects became quite standard over the next decade and can be mapped onto a more general narrative pattern in Hollywood cinema for the era that favored gradual but steady acceleration and intensification of action.94 By this strategy, Ghostbusters maintains a coherent diegetic look throughout, consistent with ideal photorealistic/fantasy balance established by ILM, so that the fantastic elements are grounded in prosaic scientific functionalism. Finally, the Ghostbusters team modifies its precedents by putting their similar aesthetics toward different thematic effects. Although also staging an encounter with supernatural forces, unlike Close Encounters the ghosts do not invite touch, fuzzy feelings or dreams of a better world beyond.



Instead, appropriate to the more anxious Reaganite 1980s, they are selfcontained, “ugly little spuds” spewing ectoplasmic slime. The temple in Dana’s refrigerator, representing a gateway to another dimension, is somewhat alluringly colored but also forbiddingly sharp and uncomfortablelooking. When seen in light of its rather questionable gender politics (“gatekeeper/keymaster” jokes, the female personification of the demon Gozer), Ghostbusters’s confrontation with unfriendly supernatural forces, purposefully or not, also sends up the scary and uncomfortably changing sexual dynamics of the 1980s. Despite the company’s established reputation, Boss, like all the other independent houses, lived in ILM’s shadow. After a promising start, by the end of the 1980s they were already being commissioned for more films like Masters of the Universe (Goddard, 1987) than Ghostbusters or Die Hard (McTiernan, 1988). Over the years, Boss tried to defray feature costs by branching into ad work, motion-simulation rides, and videogaming. Boss enjoyed an initially successful early 1990s foray into digital effects, working on Cliffhanger (Harlin, 1993), The Last Action Hero (McTiernan, 1993), True Lies (Cameron, 1994), The Specialist (Llosa, 1994), Species (Donaldson, 1995), Waterworld (Reynolds, 1995), and Outbreak (Petersen, 1995). However, Edlund could not keep up with the expense of the constantly changing digital equipment. Boss also could not compete financially with the rise of new digital-based houses with major corporate backing (such as IBM’s 50 percent stake in Digital Domain, Disney’s Pacific Data Images, and Sony’s ImageWorks). In 1997, after fourteen years in business, Boss closed, yet another ILM rival shuttered.

In the future we may expect to see fans flocking to see films from the workshops of the new heroes of the imagination. Where once people stood in line to see Gable or Monroe, lines will soon be forming to see films by John Dykstra, Ray Harryhausen, Doug Trumbull or any of a dozen other great effects artists. Doug Trumbull sees no reason not to expect that, as with the stars of the golden era, special effects artists will soon have their names above the title. — D AV I D H U T C H I N S O N IN FUTURE MAGAZINE (1978) 1

“Not-too-Realistic” and Intensified Realistic Approaches in the 1980s Traditional Stop Motion and Showscan

The projected era of the special effects star never really came into being, due largely to Lucas’s streamlining approach at ILM and Lucasfilm and his reinstating the producer system, which downplayed the role of all others who answered to him. Feature productions hiring the new independent effects houses were not interested in reordering the production hierarchy to give more prominence to effects “stars.” To win bids, ambitious effects supervisors had to tame their rhetoric. So, paradoxically, as special effects became more and more essential to big-budget features, producers like Lucas and his counterparts at studios and production houses insured that special effects supervisors would remain more or less anonymous technicians. To demonstrate Lucas’s and other producers’ success in repressing the rise of the star effects artist, it is striking that if one can name a special effects artist today, it is likely the same names Future lists in 1978: Trumbull, Dykstra, or Harryhausen. One is hard-pressed to name the visual effects supervisor for recent effects films like Avatar (Cameron, 2009) or The Avengers (Whedon, 2012). Instead, the special effects auteur has been reabsorbed into traditional auteur definitions: credit remains with directors like James Cameron or with directors/producers of effects houses, like Lucas’s ILM and Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop.



Along with asserting control over effects personnel, ILM has been very successful in establishing its particular house style as the style of cinematic photorealism. If ILM has been so influential since the late 1970s, then it stands to reason that ILM’s homogenization efforts stifled alternative styles and approaches. The domination of ILM’s particular special effects aesthetic has meant that, since the early 1980s, some long-held techniques were left behind and some other approaches tried and abandoned. Some alternative approaches indeed flourished in the 1980s until digitization in the 1990s, including Jim Henson’s and Frank Oz’s puppet-animation style in The Muppet Movie (Frawley, 1979) and Labyrinth (Henson, 1986), and large-scale practical makeup effects, as in The Thing (Carpenter, 1982) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (Craven, 1984).2 More revealing, however, are the styles and approaches, most notably special effects stop-motion animation, that were made impossible or unfeasible by the impact of special effects on the economic reorganization of big-budget filmmaking and the changed expectations the new style of photorealism brought with it. Nevertheless, in the early 1980s a few important styles resisted the ILM approach. At least for a short while, these personality-driven styles also promoted the special effects auteur as a new cinema star. The first, traditional stop-motion animation as a special effect (composited into a liveaction context rather than in an all-animation context), enjoyed a renewed prominence in the proliferation of techniques in the early 1980s, as seen in films such as 1981’s Clash of the Titans (Davis) and Caveman (Gottlieb). As a “not-too-realist” approach, as Ray Harryhausen put it, stop-motion animators made an argument for the pleasure and delight in what would now be considered “fakey,” or clumsily artificial and awkward effects. This approach is different from the special effects techniques that were reabsorbed in modified form by ILM technicians as both an aesthetic model to motion control and also Go-Motion creature animation on The Empire Strikes Back, and by others on films like RoboCop (Verhoeven, 1987).3 Instead of attempting to smooth the edges and hide the “clumsiness” long associated with stop motion as a special effect, traditional stop-motion animators like Harryhausen, Jim Danforth, and David Allen, in the early 1980s, accentuated what they saw as the handcrafted charm and the endearingly gawky movement of stop-motion animation effects. Conversely, Trumbull thought the expanded blockbuster had not gone nearly far enough in renewing the moviegoing experience, and he therefore introduced Showscan, an ambitious reimagining of cinema production



and exhibition. Trumbull believed that rather than offering new stories or new techniques in the same old 100-year package, Showscan heightened and intensified cinematic imagery overall, transforming both production and exhibition practices. Showscan is not, strictly speaking, a special effects technique or a special effects technology. Showscan combined the capture and projection in high frame rates with large film—70mm and IMAX— formats. Since at least the 1930s, high-frame-rate capture (running film through the camera at faster than 24fps) was a well-known technique of special effects artists to manipulate the perception of moving miniatures and models: if shot at a higher frame rate (following a scale-based mathematical formula), the model would appear in playback to have the appropriate weight and movement.4 Through this method, a miniature car falling off a cliff would not look like a toy car tossed by a child, but instead would appear to be a full-scale automobile accident. Trumbull applied this perceptual effect to image capture and projection in general, which when combined with the image quality of large-format film, would, in his rhetoric, minimize or eliminate the flicker effect, optimally sharpen the image, and intensify realism and heighten absorption by removing the sheet of glass between us and the world filmed. With the windowpane removed, the viewer, in stadium-style seats in the thrall of a large IMAX-style screen and the enormous images on it, would experience something like entering the diegesis. Juxtaposing these two alternative approaches provides conceptual foils for ways more special effects were forcing productions to think futuristically and nostalgically at the same time. Stop motion provided a “not too real” pushback to the mainstream ILM photorealist style, while Showscan moved beyond special effects techniques that interacted with live action and, in effect, became the experience.

Traditional Stop Motion I don’t think you want to make it quite real. Stop motion to me gives that added value of a dream world. — S T O P M O T I O N A N I MATOR RAY HARRYHAUSEN, CLASH OF THE TITANS (1 9 8 1 )


Its poetry, its anachronisms, its fairground aspect make Clash of the Titans, despite its shortcomings, a rare film which perpetuates the tradition of a magic à la Méliès. — O L I V I E R A S S AYA S ( 1981) 6



As the production account of Star Wars suggests, the aesthetics and technology of special effects more generally has been strongly influenced by stop-motion animation, and especially by practitioners who trained at Cascade Pictures and eventually helped form the original core of ILM. Because the aesthetic influence of stop motion has lingered even in contemporary filmmaking, examining this hybrid special effects form allows us to appreciate the construction of the cinematic worlds built by fantasy films, their cinema-specific magic, and viewers’ investment in them. For Lucas, the sense of a shared cinematic experience is group wonder generated by the “wow” factor of photorealist special effects, executed within a fully realized, explorable diegetic world, and propelled by a simple, archetypical narrative. Furthermore, at a time of burgeoning home video, cable, and the shrinking screens of multiplexes, Lucas considered the traditional cinema theater space as a privileged site for his audience to gather. Lucas has had a long history of courting his fan base to get them into the theater, but thwarting any “unauthorized” (meaning not authored by Lucas) fan activity. However, as Henry Jenkins has argued, another way big-budget and low-budget films have long encouraged an ancillary sense of community is through ‘unofficial” fan and cult activities.7 One fan group that had long been catered to by producers of cult movies is stop-motion animation enthusiasts. Rather than primarily meeting in the cinema (like big-city cinephiles), stop-motion fans in the 1970s and 1980s were served by many publications such as Cinefantastique, Photon, Starlog, and Cinefex, along with other more specialized mailing groups. Fandom around stop motion as a special effect has long coalesced around the particular talents of a few animators: most prominently, Willis O’Brien of King Kong fame, Ray Harryhausen of Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts (Chaffey, 1963), and Jim Danforth of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (Guest, 1970). Early on, of course, stop-motion animation was one of the few options (along with man-in-suit costuming and puppetry) to realize fantastic monstrous or impossible creature special effects, such as King Kong or the fighting skeletons of Jason and the Argonauts so beloved of special effects fans. Taking a cue from Harryhausen, I am calling the cinematic fantasy aesthetic that combines conventional live-action moviemaking with “unrealistic” animated material “not-too-realism.” “Not-toorealism” interrogates how stop motion balances the animated object with live-action footage. It engrosses the viewer into the diegesis not through



its seamlessness, but by riveting the viewer through an amazement and appreciation of the artistry and effort of its handcraftedness. When Vincent Canby says, “Clash of the Titans is not a movie to be recommended to anyone except moviegoers who have the capacity to be endlessly fascinated by Mr. Harryhausen’s none-too-convincing animated monsters,” he is voicing a typical mainstream critical stance.8 Despite a number of critics’ dismissal of stop motion, the early 1980s remarkably saw a brief resurgence of traditional stop-motion animation in feature filmmaking that would not have recognized ILM’s Go-Motion tweaks to stop motion as “improvements.” Interestingly, this nostalgic revival arose at the very moment when stop motion transitioned from a possible special effects technique, as it had been since the earliest cinema, to a niche animation technique. In spite of the 1970s efforts toward a seamless photorealistic aesthetic, the small flurry of feature films making use of traditional stop motion suggests that there was something of a practitioner backlash against ILM’s homogenization stance. Clearly, some filmmakers and fans preferred many of the qualities of traditional, “unrealistic” stop motion. What did these filmmakers and fans see in stop motion? Three examples from the same year (1981) help to mark a historical moment when stop motion began to definitively transition from possible special effects technique to specialized animation technique—Clash of the Titans, Caveman , and The Howling (Dante). In Clash of the Titans, stop motion is used traditionally (somewhat wistfully) as a special effects technique, as in 1933’s King Kong or earlier Harryhausen films such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (Juran, 1958). In Clash, Harryhausen’s hand-animated menagerie of mythological creatures populate nearly every sequence of the film. The creatures are meant not only to be part of the same diegesis as the live-action actors, but are an essential part of forming the enclosed fantastic world of the story and characters. The stop-motion creatures enrich and deepen the diegesis. In the case of Caveman, the cartoonish live-action comedy (in which actors’ motions are often as jerky as the stop-motion creatures) provides a forum for cult stop-motion animators Jim Danforth, David Allen, Randy Cook, and Jim Aupperle’s mostly stand-alone dinosaur animation. Caveman is an already nostalgic attempt to re-create the expert animation combined with fakey compositing found in traditional stop-motion special effects, and thereby recapturing those sequences’ particular old-fashioned charm.9 The Howling offers a negative example of



stop motion as a special effect. David Allen designed and animated several werewolf creatures that were supposed to serve within accepted special effects photorealistic parameters. Like Clash of the Titans, Allen’s werewolf creatures were designed to fit in and enhance the diegesis of the live action. However, after elaborate special effects animation sequences were edited together with the live action, director Joe Dante decided that the stop motion was not convincing enough and detracted from the horror mood he was trying to achieve.10 All the stop motion (with the exception of a few seconds) was cut from the final film. In the case of Clash of the Titans, it was the last mainstream feature film of its kind to use traditional stop motion “straight” as a special effect, albeit in a highly complex form, tinged with the longing for Harryhausen fantasy films past. The Clash of the Titans production illustrates two things in particular—that the ILM model had not quite yet fully established dominion over the effects industry, and that 1981 was the year stop motion as a special effects technique (rather than an animation choice) became impossible. Stop motion as a special effect—that is, conceived with efforts to cut together more or less seamlessly with the principal photography into a composite mise-en-scène, rather than as a stand-alone animation sequence— was never seamless or invisible, but always a specialty effects technique saved for special cases.11 Even the most famous single example of stop motion as a special effect in King Kong in 1933 was deemed “not convincing” (more specifically, “jerky” or “awkward”) at the time. Variety’s review, for example, states: “It takes a couple of reels for ‘Kong’ to be believed, and until then it doesn’t grip. But after the audience becomes used to the machine-like movements and other mechanical flaws in the gigantic animals on view, and become accustomed to the phony atmosphere, they may commence to feel the power.”12 However, as the Variety reviewer suggests, stop motion was not historically considered a particular problem for engagement with the film. The example of King Kong is instructive: the enduring popularity and influence of King Kong is not that the animation is especially convincing—it is not. 13 Rather, it has a double impact on the viewer: Kong combines the appreciation of handmade technical proficiency with, as Harryhausen has put it, an emotional attachment to a “mass of metal and rubber.”14 By the 1980s, as photorealism standards shifted, so did the attitudes toward stop-motion special effects in mainstream films, and the technique’s



obviousness began to be seen as a liability, even by its fans. To others, it created a fascinating dissonance when composited or cut together with liveaction photography. Stop-motion animators take pride in their characters and design them to be appreciated apart from live-action photography, as a cinematic trick. Rather than hiding its work or masquerading as live-action photography (as in the case of Go-Motion), stop motion has always served the purpose Olivier Assayas recognized: creating “magic à la Méliès.” The Méliès connection is instructive. Since nearly the earliest cinema, stopmotion animation has been used in live-action film to highlight film’s uniquely cinematic capacity for animation. Put more bluntly, stop motion parades the extent to which cinema and animation are both equally manipulated and manipulatable. As with Méliès, part of the magic comes from both seeing and demonstrating what is possible in cinema and witnessing what creative and dedicated artists can achieve with the medium. This can be seen as the opposite pole of the wonder of photorealism, which attempts a parallel enchanting effect using an aesthetic that magically blends into the live-action image capture. Ray Harryhausen trained under Willis O’Brien, initially on Mighty Joe Young (Schoedsack, 1949), and was most active animating sequences in live-action films in the late 1950s to the early 1980s.15 As attested to in countless interviews with contemporary directors who grew up watching his films, Harryhausen’s animation has had a substantial influence on the development of contemporary CGI effects.16 By introducing purposeful “not too realism,” Harryhausen’s aesthetic working model of stop motion provides a fascinating alternative theoretical stance to the way special effects are typically discussed. For many, the stop-motion aesthetic when applied to more photorealistic approaches brings much-needed qualities to “mechanized” effects work, such as expressivity, empathy, and handcraftedness, as we saw previously with ILM’s use of stop-motion techniques to program motion-controlled camera moves. Interviews with Harryhausen reveal his focused perfectionism.17 He rarely worked with assistants and spent months at a time animating his stopmotion sequences by hand. There is certainly nothing haphazard or careless in animating the often unbelievably complex Harryhausen sequences—for example, the six battling skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts. Nevertheless, when asked about CGI effects, Harryhausen was given to complaining that they’re “too perfect,” or even (see quote above) “too real.” But too real



for what? Harryhausen prided himself on his fully handcrafted sequences. He believed that in his hands-on approach, he transferred some of his own “acting” (and therefore his humanity) to his creatures. Harryhausen often credited his personal (albeit limited) acting experience in providing his creatures with expressivity. Instead of insisting on his model’s “trueto-life” movements, he instead emphasized their representation, or their “actor-ness.” As he has said, “I have a chance to act through my models.”18 Furthermore, achieving this kind of expressivity is clearly more important than perfect mimicry: “I feel I’ve gotten my best animation by a feel for the acting rather than the quest for technical perfection.”19 For Harryhausen it is at least in part this expressivity that makes the sequences resemble recognizable movie actor behavior, despite what might be seen as the technology’s shortcomings. One can extrapolate Harryhausen’s aesthetic goals as working toward creatures that move “appropriately” to their kind, in a way that reflects their character. They should act with expressive physical and facial gestures, easily recognizable as congruent with conventional movie notions of human emotion. Animation should be staged to mimic traditional continuity editing of live action through the variations of camera angle and distance, camera movement, and pace. Ontologically, it is important that the world of reference is the diegetically created movie world, not the “real” world as such.20 All of these characteristics of Harryhausen’s aesthetics seem to fit within conventional ideas of special effects, yet the look of the final product creates a tension that is difficult to reconcile, creating a cinematic fantasy aesthetic of not-too-realism. It is important that this tension cannot be attributed solely to the “datedness” of the effects vis-à-vis contemporary standards. The effects in Clash of the Titans looked equally “dated” to its 1981 audience, which was already used to Star Wars’ and The Empire Strikes Back’s new photorealistic standard for effects work. Variety’s review suggests as much: MGM’s “Clash of the Titans” [ . . . ] is mired in a slew of corny dialog and an endless array of flat, outdated special effects that are both a throwback to a bad 1950’s picture. Given what today’s audiences are used to, [ . . . ] it is impossible not to remember how much better it was put on screen in more recent special effects pics.21



Despite unbalancing the ideal ILM equilibrium between the fantastic versus the realistic, the Harryhausen aesthetic still manages both to absorb the viewer into the diegesis while also supplying the “wow” factors of technical and aesthetic virtuosity. Were, in fact, mainstream traditional stop-motion special effects possible after Star Wars? Many people remember Clash of the Titans as a low-budget picture and therefore conclude it should not be held to the same “blockbuster” standards as, say, Star Wars, or The Empire Strikes Back.22 However, Clash of the Titans was considered by its studio MGM to be a high-profile release. It had a relatively high budget (higher than Star Wars’ ) and, exactly like Star Wars, was aggressively marketed as a premier release to the science fiction and fantasy market.23 However, it is not a coincidence that Clash of the Titans was Ray Harryhausen’s last film, despite its surprisingly successful box office take (more than $100million worldwide). When Alain Garsault in Cahiers du Cinéma asserts, “Without Harryhausen, would Star Wars have been possible?,” he is, like Assayas, certainly talking about the precedent of the “magic à la Méliès,” an aesthetic precedent rather than a technological one.24 The obviously visible special effects in Clash of the Titans strongly test the limits of what constitutes a “convincing” cinematic diegesis (especially in the early 1980s), which convinces or absorbs by means other than seamless representation of a photorealistic world. Clash of the Titans offers a fascinating case for the possible variety of forms the aesthetics of special effects might take in a mainstream film, even if it is the last of its kind. The climactic sequence in Clash of the Titans presents a good example of the impressive and elaborate not-too-real effects on display. In it, Perseus rides Pegasus to save Andromeda and defeats the sea creature the Kraken by wielding the head of Medusa, along with a little help from the mechanical owl Bubo (fig. 8.1). By the standards of contemporary special effects (both then and now), it is certainly true that the stop-motion figures—for example, the Kraken—are too shiny and their movements are a bit lurching. Furthermore, in the stop-motion and live-action composited sequences, the lighting between the creatures and the live-action actors is inconsistent; in fact, the stop-motion creature is often lit more brightly than the actors, giving the animation visual priority. Indeed, along with attaining the kind of actorly expressivity described above, the stop-motion figures also have a textured quality that arrests the eye.



FIGURE 8.1 Harryhausen’s stop-motion Kraken in Clash of the Titans (Davis, 1981).

That the shinier foregrounded Kraken puppet is markedly brighter than the grainier background should not be understood as simple incompetence or failure to adapt to changing times and technology. Rather, Harryhausen and the filmmakers wanted their effects to be to some degree in relief to the film, not absorbed seamlessly into it. For Clash of the Titans, in 1981, that tendency became exaggerated in the face of, and in opposition to, the development of more photorealistic special effects as inaugurated by Star Wars and others. Harryhausen and his team seemed to believe that there was still room for the alternative aesthetics of not-too-realism. Harryhausen in particular wants us to see the seams and contours of the effects—in short, to see the layers of the filmic material and to be amazed by the technical virtuosity and film’s ability to bring such creatures to life. This approach is certainly counterintuitive in the study of special effects in mainstream cinema. I argue that stop-motion animation’s “laying bare” of the cinematic layers aims to rupture the idea of absorption in the diegesis.25 If one is pulled out of the diegesis, it is not in order to undertake an elaborate testing of reality versus fiction. Conversely in fact, stop-motion animation’s rupture works instead to heighten the distinction between “regular” live-action sequences and stop-motion sequences, thereby increasing the wonder (the “wow” factor) at the cinematic work. The not-too-real aesthetic accentuates the evidence of the special effect



(sometimes subtly, sometimes flamboyantly) in order to retain the specifically cinematic dreamworld effect Harryhausen prizes. The point is, one is supposed to experience the stop-motion sequences as special effects and be “wowed” by it as a movie handcrafted frame by frame by the animator. Harryhausen’s stop-motion films in general, and Clash of the Titans in particular, afford a strong corrective to reductive notions of the role that special effects play in either contemporary or past films, in terms of technology, economics, and aesthetics. Clash of the Titans had significant success with audiences, even without especially photorealistic special effects. However, as already noted, in that same year Joe Dante’s The Howling (1981) cut out its filmed stop-motion effects, largely, it seems, because of the filmmaker’s dissatisfaction with the convincingness of the animation work. Instead, that film relied on elaborate makeup and practical mechanical effects, as did many of the films in the 1980s. Clash of the Titans therefore seems to mark exactly the moment where “mainstream” stop-motion / live-action composite films became no longer possible and instead had to wait to become “reference material” for CGI effects. Assayas’s invocation of Méliès’s “movie magic” could be understood to mean that Harryhausen’s “pure” (i.e., low-tech) handworked effects preserve a connection to the technological “magic” of early cinema. And, furthermore, that Clash of the Titans reinstates the material’s cinematic “filmness” in a time of increasing technological encrusting over the film layer. I believe Assayas does mean something along these lines. However, rather than overliteralizing his statement and requiring it to conform to the specific context of early cinema, it is more interesting to think of the word “magic” as a heuristic for describing a feeling of “innocence” or simple cinematic wonder—or, even further, the cinema as a wonder. Such a conceptualization suggests that stop-motion animation taps into some sort of foundational myth of early cinema as an animation technology, which provides a “better than real” fantasy of the experience of cinematic pleasure. Moreover, stop-motion special effects reveal how viewers even desire the “failure” of photorealistic special effects, since seeing the seams shows the human intervention in a highly arcane technological area of production. As already described in relation to Go-Motion, what might be characterized as a stop-motion approach to special effects also shows precisely how ILM’s concepts of photorealism have a strong basis in stylization and caricature. A central ethos in stop motion is that technological perfection does



not necessarily mean a more desirable end result. In other words, when applied to computer-assisted motion control, the frame-by-frame handwork of stop motion introduces a necessary imperfection in both the creature’s and, in this case, the camera’s movement. Even more importantly, the stop-motion approach provides effects work with the visual evidence that human manipulation (however subtle) adds both visual interest and, conversely, greater believability. The commitment to these two seemingly contradictory approaches—photorealism and a touch of what I have called not-to-realism—form an important cornerstone of the overall digital special effects aesthetic, and especially the ILM aesthetic, as it exists today. Namely, filmmakers known for their creative, innovative, or at least aggressive use of special effects, such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and James Cameron (not to mention Jan Svankmajer) are on record as strong admirers of Harryhausen films, and especially credit his ability to create expressive, memorable, animated characters.26 However, one might say these filmmakers’ drive for more convincing photorealistic effects techniques means they have misunderstood, willfully or not, Harryhausen’s aesthetic.

Expanded Entertainment: Douglas Trumbull and Showscan

In the 1983 film Brainstorm, directed by Douglas Trumbull, the movie’s tagline asks the long-fantasized-about question, “Suppose it were possible to transfer from one mind to another the experience of another person.” In the film, scientists played by Christopher Walken and Louise Fletcher are developing a device that would allow “playback” of emotional and physical experiences, even facilitate the transfer of skills and memories. Conceived as a “communication breakthrough” with “travel, education, and news applications,” in short order the government appropriates the device for interrogation and torture. The film explores the positive and negative potential applications of a new technology, and a new imaging technology in particular. Most vividly, Brainstorm thematizes the dangers of too much intensity, but more specifically, too much individualized, subjective intensity visited on a single human brain, individually and socially. For many years before Brainstorm, Douglas Trumbull had been pondering the limits of human sensorium and how, like Kubrick, to use visual filmmaking more effectively in order to more directly and intensely transmit



experiences to an audience. Brainstorm represents the speculative narrative version of Trumbull’s wonderings. However, another longer-standing project of Trumbull’s, Showscan, was his dream in more real-world, material form. For Trumbull, new technology, and new media for communication (and as Brainstorm suggests, he did indeed see art as a communication medium), was needed to convey artists’ messages more directly and immediately. Trumbull had some conflicts over the years with Stanley Kubrick.27 However, Kubrick’s words in 1968 could also be Trumbull’s own: “[2001 is] not a message that I ever intended to convey with words. 2001 is a nonverbal experience. . . . I tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophic content. To convolute McLuhan, the message is the medium.”28 Trumbull shared the conviction with Kubrick that the movies were dying, and that they needed new technologies, aesthetics, and exhibition practices to remain both financially and artistically viable as a mass entertainment product. Also like Kubrick, Trumbull believed that the benefits of research and development in entertainment technologies went well beyond making money for the movie business. Trumbull shared a belief in the power of technology and imaging systems to expand consciousness and impact human knowledge. Both Kubrick and Trumbull, in the spirit of Gene Youngblood, “convolute” McLuhan-esque media theory to suit a repurposed notion of nonverbal communication, in which the visual image, as Kubrick put it, “directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophic content.”29 When Trumbull proclaims (as quoted in chapter 3), “I’m interested in pure experience rather than linear plot . . . an experience that almost transcends plot,” he is proclaiming his intention to take Kubrick a step further, beyond narrative cinema into new realms of entertainment experience.30 In addition to remaking cinematic narrative strategies, Trumbull also agreed with Kubrick that a major key to the advance of visual filmmaking was first to improve the moviegoing experience for audiences. Like Lucas, Kubrick publicly denounced the poor exhibition conditions of 1970s cinemas. In an attempt to counter these conditions, Kubrick also took precautions to ensure the image quality of his movies, in spite of small screens, weak projector bulbs, and monophonic sound.31 It is likely that in the case of 2001, for example, Kubrick chose in part to shoot on 70mm Cinerama so



that it would lose less image quality in nonideal exhibition circumstances. George Lucas would also take up the call for better exhibition practices in the 1980s and 1990s.32 However, Lucas was much more successful in pushing through the initiatives for better exhibition, especially in forcing theater owners to upgrade to his own THX sound systems. Lucas had the power to withhold the “content” theater owners wanted (initially in the shape of Return of the Jedi) if he did not get his way.33 Trumbull also saw the need for cinema to remake itself by reimagining its foundational exhibition and production technology. Trumbull began a side interest as public media critic as early as 1971, when he wrote a letter to the editor, published in the Los Angeles Times. After a screening of a re-release of The Bridge on the River Kwai (Lean, 1957), Trumbull was appalled by the way his experience was diminished by the poor projection technology, the physical condition of the cinema, as well as the low quality of the print. He complained, “It’s no wonder moviegoers lost enthusiasm.”34 In intervening years, Trumbull took this pet cause to interviews, often railing about the poor exhibition conditions of 1970s theaters and the movies’ future lack of viability. While doing so, he hardly missed a chance to promote his dream of future entertainment concepts or push his latest venture in 70mm, ride films, IMAX, or even HDTV. In interviews promoting Close Encounters, Trumbull proclaimed to Newsweek, “Close Encounters is one of the last big-time features as far as I’m concerned. It’s become too expensive to make movies.” The movie business was “dying a horrible death.”35 As early as 1984, he started blasting Hollywood’s technological stagnation and resistance to what we now call digital technology more generally: “Perforated, sprocketed, plastic film is not where it’s at. . . . 35mm and 70mm are obsolete. I’d like to come up with a technique to develop thinner film stock and combine film with the new electronic technology.”36 Throughout, Trumbull maintains an implicit thread that he made explicit in much later days: “Film has always been and is still about shared public experience.”37 This, in short, is the largely unarticulated polemic of many filmmakers of what I call expanded blockbusters, such as Kubrick, Lucas, Spielberg and Ridley Scott, who promote the power of communal immersion of the cinema, that is, the physical theatrical space of the cinema, as collective space.38 That, he implies, is the reason the cinema needs big screens, specialized exhibition spaces, and more dazzling images: they combine forces, in the spirit of Expanded Cinema, to encourage community



and counteract the individualized alienation of “small screens.”39 Trumbull initially introduced his Showscan concept in relation and in contrast to terms familiar to conventional filmmaking and exhibition. However, for Trumbull, his particular dream of expanded visual technologies could not be fully realized in “films” or even “the cinema” in its traditional institutional structure. Kubrick and Lucas were powerful directors near the top of the filmmaking hierarchy. They were therefore largely in control of their “movie messages” and were mostly content to fine-tune existing cinema conditions. Trumbull’s more marginal position as occasional director and a special effects supervisor certainly motivated him to think more boldly beyond moviemaking into the broader mediascape, and toward new models of entertainment. In 1977, Spielberg described Trumbull as “a new Walt Disney.”40 Trumbull as early as 1971 also thought of himself as a new kind of entertainment auteur: “I think I’m closest to Disney. I’m trying to come up with a new Disney-type concept of entertainment. Not strictly film-oriented but incorporating various kinds of multi-media experiences. I’d like to blend the capabilities of film with sound and other physical experiences.”41 What Trumbull envisioned was a multisensory and multimedia engagement that harnessed film’s cultural power toward a “future-oriented” imagination. While feature filmmakers like Kubrick and Lucas tended to think in terms of “message,” even if it was to be delivered “nonverbally,” Trumbull’s innovations were more about how imaging technology might jack directly into the human sensorium. Specifically, what was Trumbull’s technological intervention? As we have seen in the case of ILM, Boss, and Apogee, many filmmakers thought in terms of representation as simulation, and saw strengthening a sense of photorealism within traditional narrating systems as the way to increase a sense of audience absorption. As his previous special effects examples of Close Encounters and Star Trek: The Motion Picture suggest, Trumbull, inverted that trend. In the case of Showscan (and in contrast to how Richard Edlund used it), Trumbull did not draw on the conventional use of 70mm equipment to reinforce the traditional aesthetics of photorealistic effects, such as a crisper “single-generation look.” Trumbull instead believed that tweaking the existing 70mm and special effects technology invested the image with a sense of what he called “liquid realism.”42 The new imaging system would intensify the audience’s sense of spatial experience not based



solely on the illusion of movement (as in Star Wars’ hyperspace or Belson’s Allures), but through “an immersive, participatory illusion of 3-D space.”43 Trumbull believed he found the key to this kind of more direct impact in a surprising technical quarter: the frame rate. Special effects artists had been manipulating the standard 24 fps frame rate of the camera’s image registration for different effects since its earliest days. Trumbull, however, found an interesting surplus in images shot and then projected at 60 fps: “We . . . made a major discovery: at higher frame rates you tend to approach reality in the sense that the real world is not a series of still photographs.”44 Technically, what that meant was that the “distracting” flicker was minimized. Experientially, he likened the effect to “looking out a window.”45 Soon, Trumbull’s rather amorphous dream of a new entertainment concept was beginning to take a specific shape: a system at first called “Super 70,” which involved “projecting 70mm film at 60 rather than 24 frames per second.”46 By 1978 he was calling it “Futurex,” a “sound and projection system.”47 Finally, it took the name Showscan, and he began touting it as “3-D without the glasses.”48 Like many inventors before him, Trumbull backed up claims of “improved realism” from 60 fps with biological science. “This has been demonstrated by experiments using electrocardiograms, electronic ephalograms, galvanic skin response sensors, and muscle tension sensors.”49 Or, more specifically, as Cinefantastique reports: “The frame rate was chosen after a series of physiological tests showed that brain waves, pulse and skin responses rose as the frame rate rose. Responses leveled off at 60 fps. ‘We think the 60 fps rate approximates the same speed at which the eye normally senses reality itself.’ Trumbull explains.”50 Not only was “realism” improved, but at 60fps, “All kinds of magical functions started to happen. We didn’t change the lens or the film stock, the print stock, projection or the screen: we just changed the frame rate,” Trumbull claimed.51 When you get up to 60fps there’s a tremendously changed response. People unanimously reported not only greatly increased physiological response to the film, but better color, better sharpness, a sense of threedimensionality, a sense of participation, and an illusion of reality.52

This is, in essence, the illusion of “liquid realism”: One frame seems to melt seamlessly into the next, since the faster-frame filming speed reduces



blurring, and again there is, according to Trumbull, “no flicker” to distract from the illusion of reality. 53 In addition to modified frame rates in image capture and projection, Trumbull hoped Showscan would redesign the theatrical space: Showscan’s boxy theaters were designed to maximize the filmgoing experience, rather than seating capacity. Curved screens reach from floor to ceiling—a 17-ft height was dictated by the height of suburban shopping malls—and wall-to-wall, filling the viewer’s field of vision. Seats are close to the screen, and angled and tiered to give a direct unencumbered view.54

Projectors were also specially designed to run “hotter” at faster speeds, and with ten times brighter, more powerful projector lights. Finally in 1981, after much anticipation in the trade press, Showscan was ready to debut. The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner reviewed the preview screening, a ten-minute film called Night of the Dreams, screened in Westwood (home of many high-profile movie premieres). According to the newspaper review, “The results have to be seen to be believed: interior scenes have the eerie reality of videotape magnified a hundredfold, and swooping exterior effects are as dizzying as Cinerama on speed.” The newspaper also notes, ominously, that Showscan “will require investment in new projection equipment.”55 According to Roger Ebert, Showscan was, “incomparably more realistic than anything I had ever seen before on a movie screen.”56 Other reviews were more mixed. A long account of the premiere of the film New Magic (Trumbull, 1983) appeared in Cinefantastique. The reviewer recounts the film beginning with old-fashioned showmanship: a simulation of an old 35mm print coming on the screen, which then begins to “burn,” complete with screams and calls for help from an offscreen “projectionist.” After this old showman’s trick: We’re then treated to a slew of fast paced shots of shifting colors, racing dune buggies, and immense aerial vistas. Complimenting the kaleidoscopic bursts of action are high decibel explosions of sound from the surrounding speaker system. After the initial auditory shocks have passed, the film allows its viewers to explore the high quality of image-detailing, which is Showscan’s forte. Some of the sequences are indeed breathtaking—those filmed



underwater or from the air, for example—but such scenes are generally sensory experiences anyway, even on standard 35mm film. In the Showscan Process, similar shots realize a greater sense of clarity, but not much else. It’s surprising that such a ballyhooed process doesn’t deliver more. [ . . . ] It all makes for an enjoyable time. But it’s a far cry from those printed proclamations that exclaim Showscan as “the biggest film breakthrough since color.” It’s good, but so far, it’s not that good.57

Though Cinefantastique’s editorial stance is notoriously skeptical about new products, it was not alone in its judgment. Although 1981 saw Showscan’s official premiere, it apparently languished for another several years. After the attempted relaunch with the Showbiz Pizza chain as a financial partner in 1984, Showscan still could not get past the “beta” testing stage. In 1985, Trumbull tried to adapt Showscan to the ad world and commercial production, since, he said, “Commercials are the pace setters for features,” and “Showscan transfers better to video.”58 In the meantime, Trumbull took a special effects job for a Chanel spot directed by Ridley Scott. He continued to try selling Showscan at international expositions and world fairs.59 Through a combination of practical considerations and idealistic dreaming, it is probably not surprising that Trumbull was not able to make Showscan financially viable. The New York Times ran down the financial costs needed for Showscan: “A change-over to Showscan would not come cheaply. It would require extensive theater modifications that could cost several hundred thousand dollars each. The changes would include new or modified projectors, improved sound systems and reconfigured seating to allow a bigger screen. Moreover, the extra film the high frame rates required meant Showscan would add about 17% to movies’ production costs.”60 These changes did not seem likely to the Times, since “existing products are not clearly deficient.”61 Perhaps the New York Times was right. The problem with Showscan was that it was not markedly different enough from existing systems, especially since in the 1980s theaters had begun upgrading facilities to a sufficient degree.62 Trumbull spent the rest of the 1980s and 1990s trying to apply aspects of Showscan to other entertainment concepts, with mixed success. He adapted Showscan to his ride films, which were initially seen by many to be the next new phase of virtual entertainment.63 Through his company Berkshire Ride films, in 1991 he debuted Back to the Future—The Ride at



Universal studios (ironically based on a conventional feature film) and In Search of the Obelisk at the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas.64 Indeed for a while, Trumbull had a good deal of success as the designer of ride films.65 In 1994, Trumbull tried to get back to filmmaking. He bought IMAX with a group of financial partners, seeking to merge his Showscan technology with what was seen as his major competitor.66 However, that partnership did not last long, ending in 1997.67 Trumbull then developed an arcade-friendly version of a ride film, which would hold six people and “can be installed anywhere.”68 Trumbull’s dream constantly confronted the harsh realities of the movie business. Looking back ten years after the debut of Showscan, at the splashy debut of his Las Vegas ride film at the Luxor casino, Trumbull explained the “catch-22” of new technology: “Hollywood won’t make movies in a nonstandard format unless there are 20,000 screens out there, and exhibitors won’t put in 20,000 screens until Hollywood says they will supply movies for the new theaters.”69 Trumbull attempted to readjust to the market so many times that he eventually whittled Showscan, initially conceived as a sweeping remaking of visual experience, down to an arcade game—hardly the kind of communal or participatory experience he had first envisioned. Just as ironically for Trumbull, his Showscan has generally been chalked up as another cinematic gimmick that promised more realism, absorption, and participation than it could deliver. What is interesting about Showscan, however, is the seemingly heartfelt utopian conviction underlying its technological innovations. Though many have seen the desire to directly access the human sensorium as potentially dangerous and morally corrupt, Trumbull’s attempt to build a benign version perhaps did not go far enough. Or it could be that the dream of Showscan shows us that movies as we have known them for a hundred years are exactly realistic, absorptive, and participatory enough. Perhaps Showscan demonstrates how attached we are to the existing cinematic product, and that there are limits to how much stimulation we truly want from our entertainment. After making the film Leonardo’s Dream in the early 1990s, Trumbull appears to have resignedly come to the same conclusion: It was the first time I had a chance to make a period theatrical film with full makeup, wardrobe, sets, props, beautiful lighting, camera moves, etc. After that film was completed, I drew a very distinct conclusion that the Showscan process is too vivid and life-like for traditional fiction film.



It becomes invasive. I decided that for conventional movies, it’s best to stay with 24 frames per second. It keeps the image under the proscenium arch. That’s important, because most of the audience wants to be nonparticipating voyeurs.70

Like the characters in Brainstorm (originally meant to be shot in Showscan), Trumbull believed there was only so much intensity a moviegoer could handle, and there were limits to how much sensory stimulation it was appropriate for entertainment to provide. The final climactic sequence of Brainstorm involves Christopher Walken’s character finally getting to experience the playback of Louise Fletcher’s character’s death, the sequence upon which much of the marketing for the film hinged. Certainly Trumbull knew how to deliver an intense sensory experience, but way the sequence is organized also suggests he believes there are limits. Trumbull repeats the pattern set with 2001’s “Star Gate” sequence and Star Trek’s “V’Ger” sequence where periodic cuts to Walken’s awestruck response and to action happening “outside his head” temper the streak-animation’s strong illusion of forward momentum, while at the same time giving the spectator a break from the vigorous deluge of pulsing lights, sounds, and colors, which closely resemble the cosmic imagery from 2001 (fig. 8.2). In fact, though the aesthetics of the film do not make the same mistake, the narrative message of Brainstorm suggests not only that there are sensory limits to what the human brain can handle but also that sensory intensity on a too subjective or too individualized level is equally dangerous

FIGURE 8.2 Trumbull’s vision of heaven in Brainstorm (Trumbull, 1983).



and alienating. One character becomes morbidly addicted to experiencing another’s sexual encounter, and Walken’s character’s son is sent to the hospital with a psychotic break when he accidentally plays back a torture tape. However, when used as a way to bring people together, the technology can also have a positive effect. Most notably, the memory playback technology allows Walken to make a “mixed tape” of his memories for his estranged wife, played by Natalie Wood, of the high points of their marriage. Because she can experience his emotions and, in effect, merge with them, she can bypass the inadequacies of awkward human communication, and they are reconciled. Thus, although experiences and memories are individual and subjective, the playback technology provides the ability to share them without an intermediary, thus increasing intimacy and human connection. Like many films dramatizing technology as a topos, Brainstorm’s “message” is quite mixed: the memory playback can have interpersonal benefits, but it can also be co-opted by those with questionable purposes.71 Nevertheless, while acknowledging that all new technology has positive and negative uses, Brainstorm presents, in somewhat contradictory form, Trumbull’s argument that technology also provides the enormous potential for encouraging collectivity and connection, and lessening the sense of human alienation.72 However, more recent events suggest Showscan’s time may finally have come. As this volume was going to press, Peter Jackson, after consultation with Trumbull, had shot and released the first of his three Hobbit films (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Jackson [2012] ) in 48 fps to mixed response, and James Cameron was planning to shoot and project his Avatar sequels at 60 fps. This is in part due to the fact that while Showscan proved to be unrealizable in the 1980s and 1990s with film technology, digital image capture and projection allow higher frame-rate capture and projection without changing cameras or projectors. Both, as Trumbull has put it, only require modest changes to the servers and format of the media.73


The fantasy of Expanded Cinema’s encouraging a communal experience leading to mind-opening possibilities persisted in submerged form in the expanded blockbuster. As the expanded blockbuster became more and more corporate business as usual, a few alternatives appeared that more



emphatically stressed cinema’s appeal as a communal experience. Showscan sought to be a “future-oriented” way to encourage a kind of cinematic collectivity based on the audience’s physical presence in the theater. Stop motion could be seen as being “located” in the fantasy life of the fan outside the theater. Stop motion and Showscan may represent two poles of the attempt to find and build a sense of cinematic community through eye-catching and absorbing effects techniques. However, it was ILM’s “middle way,” combining (moderate) sensory intensity, fan-drawing narrative worlds, and a replicable and economically feasible technological system that proved the most durable, leading to today’s familiar model of the blockbuster as an entertainment “tentpole” for a mass of ancillary markets. The practices associated with the expanded blockbuster did not entirely disappear in the 1980s, but changed its contours significantly. The much-derided 1980s “high concept” aesthetic with its shiny surfaces, music-driven editing, fluorescent and neon lighting, and emphasis on sensation (as seen in films like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner [1982], Adrian Lyne’s Flashdance [1983], and Michael Mann’s Manhunter [1986] ) provide important clues to this transformation into a production cycle. Of course, other international filmmaking trends, including the high-gloss advertising style of Tony and Ridley Scott as well as the French cinéma du look, most associated with Luc Besson and Jean-Jacques Beineix, provide a parallel visual model. In the 1980s, however, rather than creating these looks profilmically via lighting and set construction (as was primarily the case with the European model), many films of the era added special effects techniques to enhance “ordinary” live action with flash and sparkle. While much of the specific elements of, say, Youngblood’s notion of Expanded Cinema fell away, as Edlund put it, the shared theatrical experience remained a concern to filmmakers. In other words, filmmakers sought to combat the sense of overmechanization and an encroaching fear of technology that special effects films engendered. The sensations filmmakers sought to encourage were not necessarily individualized in the spectator, but humanistically collective, activated and enhanced by the experience of viewing a film together as a group. As big-budget Hollywood filmmaking has been driven almost entirely by special effects production over the last several decades, big-budget Hollywood filmmaking and the special effects aesthetic have largely merged to mean the same thing. Typically, special effects–driven blockbusters are



discussed primarily as marketing products: they are seen as a way to lure spectators into the theaters and away from their smaller (though ever-larger) TV screens at home, and as expensive ads to sell ancillary merchandising and promote corporate synergy across other entertainment platforms, such as video games or Internet content.74 Special effects aesthetics, when discussed at all, also tend to be viewed in economic terms. Albert LaValley, for example, has convincingly argued that special effects provide one of the major ways that Hollywood promotes its economic dominance by showing off its state of the art.75 As others such as Brooks Landon have pointed out, a new technique is typically self-consciously displayed in long takes near the beginning of the film, exhibiting to the awe-struck spectator that “here is what movies can do now.”76 Visual evidence supporting this approach abounds, for example in the flyover at the beginning of Star Wars discussed in an earlier chapter, or the transforming cyborg in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Cameron, 1991), or Trinity hanging in the air at the beginning of The Matrix (Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, 1999). Since, of course, the movie industry has always been a business, the production of special effects–driven blockbusters plays into this logic: as of 2013, ten out of ten of the all-time worldwide moneymakers out of Hollywood could be categorized as “special effects pictures,” while nine out of ten are effects with creatures (Cameron’s 1997 Titanic being the lone exception). Fifty out of the top fifty can safely be categorized as narratively relying on or marketed on the basis of their effects or animation as well. Therefore, it seems economic good sense that special effects films keep getting made because they are seen to repay their expensive investments.77 However, there is a surprising creative upshot to big-budget filmmaking, albeit one circumscribed by these same economic considerations. It may be an obvious point that contemporary filmmakers, and even many executives who produce special effects blockbusters, also see themselves as part of a creative and artistic endeavor, albeit one usually compromised by economic demands. For many contemporary filmmakers, perhaps surprisingly, the special effects–driven blockbuster carries a certain desired artistic benefit: Hollywood’s economic power and dominance to deliver a communal, collective viewing experience. This certainly means ideally delivering a film to a large, fully equipped cinema enjoying full-house capacity. In addition, saturation booking (releasing the film on thousands of screens on the same day) and international unified release dates mean



that the most popular blockbuster movies are seen by millions of people around the world more or less at the same time, or at least over the same weekend. In this way, the filmmaker can envision his or her film reaching an enormous imagined cinema-going community. For an artist-filmmaker (or at least someone who fancies him or herself one), this global reach is a powerful motivation to make popular special effects–driven blockbusters, and no doubt one of the reasons Hollywood has long been so successful in luring American independent (Sam Raimi, Jon Favreau, Katherine Bigelow, and Doug Liman) and global auteurs (Alfonso Cuarón, Paul Greengrass, Guillermo del Toro, Michel Gondry, and Christopher Nolan, to cite a few contemporary examples) to direct and work on big-budget action, science fiction, and fantasy films that are Hollywood’s primary export.78 With this global reach in mind, I argue that contemporary Hollywood’s formation of the “tentpole” blockbuster has grown out of a distorted reflection of the 1970s ideal of the expanded blockbuster.79 The big-budget film was not only meant to dazzle the senses while stimulating the mind, it was also meant to bring people physically together in the theater, and also socially in discussion. What began as a hippie fantasy of communities formed by multimedia technology was made rather strikingly actual, in an altered form, by Hollywood’s economic tactics of marketing and distribution.

If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed. — S TA N L E Y K U B R I C K 1

Conclusion World-Building and the Legacy of 1970s Special Effects in Contemporary Cinema

The ethos of 1970s filmmakers of many stripes is that films show us our world, a faith that was believed to carry real-world consequences. More elaborate special effects technology meant that filmmakers could also provide us with alternate world possibilities. The expanded blockbuster took different forms but were united under the idealistic ethos that by presenting us with different worlds, the films could spur change by prompting moviegoers to think about our world’s own transformation or alteration. This attitude is of course an important connection the later 1970s special effects films had to the earlier wave of socially conscious films we more reflexively think of when discussing “political” 1970s films such as The Parallax View (Pakula, 1974) or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Forman, 1975). Recent critics’ oft-stated dislike for excessive CGI in “over-animated” live-action films suggests the extent to which the original, somewhat idealistic context in which optical animation was conceived has been largely forgotten. The explicit impulse to draw upon special effects technology in service of a “change the world” optimism (however we may judge that impulse’s efficacy or motivation) seems to have been short-lived. Instead, many filmmakers quickly (and largely unironically) used much the same technology to convey the opposite side of the coin, the negative potential



for over-technologization to express pessimism and dystopia (e.g., Blade Runner, The Terminator). As the world-building impulse wove its way through the Hollywood marketplace, it also underwent a rapid transition in critical opinion to exemplify the empty soulless technologized spectacle.2 Indeed, within the thematic use of special effects technology in the broader industry through the 1980s and 1990s, any transformative instinct (where technology is imagined as more potentially positive than negative), spurred by the example of Star Wars and Close Encounters, is an underground theme at best in later effects-driven films (such as Zemeckis’s Back to the Future in 1985, and Tron in 1982). Likewise, it is often argued, as it has been for Star Wars, that if there is an explicit polemic to the world-building on display in films like 300 and the Transformers films (2007/2009/2011), it can only be described as conservative at best, and dangerously retrogressive at worse.3 However, I suggest an alternate way to consider the importance of the aesthetics of recent digital Hollywood filmmaking. Like Bazin’s suggestion that deep-focus techniques reveal the cinema’s important role in how we represent our world, I suggest that the aesthetics of visual effects-heavy, post–Star Wars filmmaking can carry a similar rhetorical weight and epistemological import. In part, this importance derives from exploring the possibilities of what movies can do and the role of visual illusion. Likewise, visual effects technology allows us to think about how these represent the world, and what effect such representations have on visual culture more broadly. Moving beyond representation as a series of narrative codes, understanding visual effects technology and the related digital imaging systems that have grown out of them help us understand the roots of cinematic production at the level of the drawing board, so to speak. Indeed, 1970s special effects technology has certainly become more elaborate and intensified in the last several decades. While photorealistic techniques historically derived by ILM from Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back tend to dominate, one can nevertheless discern a marked divergence in special effects approaches. This is especially clear when one compares films like 300’s aggressively animated look with the more photorealistic but scarcely less manipulated Zodiac.4 Such a split in approaches, albeit in subtler form, was already in evidence even in 1977. Trumbull himself recognizes the lost opportunity in the streamlining of special effects aesthetics. Remarking in 1996 upon the continual emphasis on



photorealism, he laments: “Instead of making things look more fantastic, we became involved with making fantastic things fit in seamlessly.”5 As Trumbull noticed, very quickly, the expanded blockbuster’s “shared experience” shifted its emphasis away from Trumbull’s dreamlike, minimally narrative environments or even Star Wars’ kinetic heterogeneity. Instead, as we saw in the examples of Ghostbusters in chapter 8, the expanded cinema ideal of “collectivity” was quickly reabsorbed into the traditional Hollywood paradigm to build an overall narrative diegetic world. Unlike 2001 or even to a degree Trumbull’s Brainstorm, the special effects have again largely been subordinated, naturalized, and diegetically motivated, however spectacular they appear. Throughout this study, I have avoided drawing too hard a line between 1970s effects tendencies, arguing instead Lucas/ILM and Trumbull/ Future General had much in common in technology and aesthetic lineage. Likewise, I have resisted contrasting too strongly my two main film examples, Star Wars and Close Encounters. In the 1970s, the major differences between the films lay not in the technology, but in the aesthetic and the thematics toward which they were used. At this point, I would like to change tack and, instead of emphasizing the similarities between Star Wars and Close Encounters, I will more forcefully contrast the Trumbull aesthetic against the ILM aesthetic, as a way of demonstrating the polemical implications of choosing one way of viewing and constructing a cinematic world over another. In part, this split in aesthetics was due to diverging polemic approaches to designing the diegetic world depicted on screen. Since 1977, ILM artists have been encouraged to shape the images on the screen and the film frame like an artist in front of a canvas. As Lucas put it: I’m very much more comfortable working in the medium the way a painter or a sculptor or somebody would. You don’t start in one corner and just work down to the bottom of the page. You basically put on a layer, and then put on another layer, then you step back and look at it and put on another layer. And that’s what we’ve been doing in the filmmaking process.”6

On one hand, Lucas makes a fascinating observation on how the composite mise-en-scène is constructed layer by layer like a figurative painting.



Just as significantly, he understands cinematic space as once again a world organized and edited by the filmmaker’s control of the frame. Lucas uses terms reminiscent of Bazin’s differentiation between cinema and painting, but instead overturns the virtue of the ambiguity of deep-focus aesthetics to one that privileges the “designability” of the frame—in other words, the photogram as a (nineteenth-century) canvas, not as a window. Lucas certainly suggests a vast, complete, and knowable world beyond that frame. However, the advantage is that each “view” in every individual photogram is built up with an “all-over” design approach to the composite mise-enscène. The filmmakers and technicians carefully composed each shot and sequence of shots for the particular view at hand (now we see the Death Star blow up, now we have a space battle) to be able to carefully order and gauge the dynamic relations between the elements, for maximum impact. They approached composition from rather traditional conceptions of visual dynamics gleaned from graphic art and motion graphics, in which the relations of compositional elements must take place in a delimited space for the “proper” view of spatial relationships and juxtapositions. This approach reinforces the sense that the viewer is fixed in place and subject to the organizing hands of the all-powerful filmmaker. Trumbull, by contrast, in his various company iterations (Future General, EEG) also carefully designed the film frame but with a softer, more expansive and permeable approach to the limits of the frame. Like Spock exploring the V’Ger in the climax of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, characters and spectators move through or gape at a vast, ungraspable, limitless environment, which becomes less knowable rather than more so. Effects objects and patterns extend well beyond the limits of the frame or, as in Close Encounters, are too big to be contained by the frame.7 The spectator feels as though the effects are washing over him or her as they seem to spontaneously explore a phenomenon from many angles. Like the ideal of deep-space compositions, the spectator’s attention is free to wander and encounter extraneous thoughts and sensations. Of course these sequences appear in narratively motivated contexts in Spielberg’s and Ridley Scott’s films, for example. However, in the long stretches in which these sequences are on screen, the spectator feels, as Scott Bukatman has suggested, a certain release from the causal structures of conventional cinematic narrative.8



I argue that although divergent, the ILM/Trumbull approaches are different steps toward reconfiguring cinematic space, with “visual filmmaking” in mind. If, as suggested in the much-quoted observation by Alfred Hitchcock about Steven Spielberg (“[Spielberg is] the first of us who doesn’t see the proscenium arch”), then it is equally true that Lucas and his team also are not composing for theatrical dramatic impact (i.e., character and scenery centered).9 Instead, the graphic, specifically mobile graphic dynamism, takes precedent. Trumbull, always forward-thinking, seems to be designing for the ever-expandable virtual environment. The consequence of these aesthetic differences in approach, which began as a reflection of the rather personal aesthetics of the filmmakers involved, within a specific visual culture historical context, has been profound for cinematic aesthetics. In the years since the success of Star Wars and Close Encounters in 1977, these tendencies have mixed and reconfigured over the years.10 Nevertheless, a meaningful rift remains. We might characterize the split, with apologies to Bazin, as those who put their faith in the optical and those who put their faith in animation.11 It is important to note that I am not making an expected division between kinds of subject matter: the more “invisible” or “imperceptible” effects work in more reality-based films (such as Zodiac) versus more fantasy and fantastic-based films (such as 300). Rather, I want to suggest an aesthetic and socially inflected approach to the effects material which may be more fantasy or “real-world” based, and which has a basis in polemical attitudes toward filmmaking’s potential for a real-world intervention that was especially prevalent in the 1970s. Stated more simply (albeit schematically), does the world need a total redesign and an entirely new paradigm (Close Encounters), or do we find the good in what is already there, rearranging or reconfiguring it (Star Wars)? In the 1970s, filmmakers often explicitly understood the consequences of their aesthetic choices and were expected to defend them within activist, almost political modernist terms. For example, Lucas has claimed the political motivation behind all his 1970s films as “wanting to change the world and trying to say, ‘Look, we’ve got to change the way we live,’ ” and that THX-1138 (1971), American Graffiti(1973), and Star Wars had the “same message” in a “different guise.”12 Trumbull takes a different stance. Rather than characterizing his movies (especially those he directed) as thematic



expressions of his worldview, Trumbull instead clearly considers movies and cinematic technology as a worldview. In the spirit of Gene Youngblood and Marshall McLuhan, he believes “It’s important to visualize the future for people,” in order to cushion the blow of the information overload people experience every day.13 Further, Trumbull expanded on his claim that “Film was always and is still about shared public experience,” by developing imaging technologies that he felt encouraged the sensation of a shared public experience.14 In other words, the cinema and entertainment more broadly finds its power through encouraging mediated communal contact rather than sparking individual insight. In the films themselves, most simply, the faith in the optical and the faith in animation could also be characterized as the difference between a “traditional” movie world where strange or amazing things happen, and a seemingly infinitely mutable movie world. For those who put their faith in the optical, championed most consistently by the ILM tendency, the photorealistic aesthetic takes precedent. Therefore, the giant transforming robots of Transformers are colored, shaded, and animated with reference to how like objects in the “real” world look when photographed—in this case, like metallic trucks or cars. These physical characteristics are then mapped onto an anthropomorphic human-like character. Another, less obvious kind of taking the known world as one’s primary model is the case of John Dykstra’s effects work for Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. The production filmed photographic background plates on location in Chicago with a swinging camera (the purpose-built, so-called “Spydercam”), which were then digitized as the basis for the highly kinetic “swooping through skyscraper canyons” effect. Despite considerable manipulation of the photographic raw material to conform to the aesthetics of cinematographic movement, standards of photorealistic aesthetics hold sway: what would the weight of a real body look like under those circumstances? Or, what “real-life” animal has a movement most appropriate to the way we imagine a Doc Ock’s tentacles would move? All have the goal of making the digital animation look as much like live-action photographic aesthetics as possible. Furthermore, this approach tends to hold for the films in the Marvel superhero universe, for example in The Avengers (2012) , whose style director Joss Whedon described as “insanity grounded in reality.”15 Your “friendly neighborhood Spiderman” is an idealized super human while, by contrast, Superman is an idealized, human-like alien from



another, ostensibly better, world. Those who put their faith in animation approach the world of the movie as more flexible and designable (which is often reflected in the utopian or dystopian narratives in which they appear, such as The Matrix). The art direction, sets, costumes, and so on approach the fanciful look of the effects, fashioning a more stylized world. For example, in The Matrix and Mission Impossible II (Woo, 2000), one of course set in a fully futuristic fantasy world, the other in an ostensibly recognizable “real” world), the action freezes in midair while the camera swirls around the actors, bullets flying all the while. In films in the “faith in animation” mode, including much of the filmography of David Fincher before The Social Network (2008), it is less of a priority to replicate the effect of a real-life camera operator filming the action. Instead, effects objects are presented from camera angles with no possible human perspective, and “cameras” move through impossible spaces, such as out of the gullet of Edward Norton in the beginning of Fight Club (Fincher, 1999).16 Also, as in King Kong (Jackson, 2005), 300 (Snyder, 2006), Green Lantern (Campbell, 2011), Cloud Atlas (Wachowski and Wachowski, 2012), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Jackson, 2012), the bulk or entirety of the live action can be shot against wholly blue-screen-clad sound stages, allowing the entire set to be digitally filled in later with any imagined backdrop. It should also be noted that I am stressing a matter of emphasis rather than the exclusion of one tendency over the other. However, by and large, most contemporary effects-driven films can fit fairly comfortably into one tendency or the other. Again, the optical and animation aesthetics are not determined by the digital technology, only facilitated and exaggerated by it. The more critically progressive stance would seem to be to laud films that imagine the possibility of an infinitely mutable world. However, for the time being, the anecdotal evidence of critical opinion suggests that although we desire to be wowed by more spectacular special effects and action sequences, in ostensibly live-action films we seem to still strongly put our faith in the optical. Perhaps the continued faith in the optical demonstrates that despite the many claims to the contrary, the photochemical look has not yet been exhausted as an aesthetic. Another possibility is that we as filmgoers and critics still have not totally accepted the overwhelming evidence that photographic imagery, which used to be fairly difficult to manipulate, has now become exceedingly simple to mutate to whatever aesthetic or imagery we desire. Or else we do not like it made so apparent.



Blame It on Kubrick [The 2006 film 300’s] Oatmeal-colored CGI skies that don’t look skylike; CGI hills that don’t appear hard to climb; CGI blood that spurts in unconvincing geysers; a dinky CGI thunderstorm that looks like a tempest in an iMac. Nothing in 300 has weight, dimension, or density; every overstylized, joysticky frame has been sprayed with a coat of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Movie. [ . . . ]. Computer technology is not the enemy of art, or of great filmmaking, as anyone who has seen The Lord of the Rings (or even Letters from Iwo Jima) can attest. But CGI is no friend to a director who imagines it will help him achieve a kind of visual perfection that would otherwise be thwarted by the annoying humanness and/or variability of stuff like production designers, extras, weather, changes in the light, physical landscape, and the spur-of-the-moment inspiration that can bring a film to messy, exciting life. — M A R K H A R R I S , E N TERTAINMENT WEEKLY (2007) 1 7

Twenty years after Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park, why do critics still employ such rhetorical overkill in condemning CGI aesthetics? Commentary like Harris’s is certainly a reaction to the sometimes rushed drive to heap more and more effects shots in less time and for less money. Conversely, it is certainly an implicit uneasiness with digital manipulation that is achieved all too seamlessly and undetectably. There is also a long-standing conception that CGI is somehow achieved too easily, that a technician need only “press the dinosaur button” and a photoreal dinosaur appears. However, critics rarely recognize this apprehension as such, and as a result they tend to attack its more visible manifestations in films like 300 (Snyder, 2006). Critic Mark Harris’s commentary is one of many examples of the digitalphobic rhetoric so common in recent journalistic and academic criticism of computer-generated images, which posit we have “lost” something essential, and essentially real, about the cinema in the shift to digital production.18 This is yet another example of a commentator’s fear that too perfect digital imaging removes “humanity” from filmmaking and, by extension, the human experience cinema is “supposed” to reflect. Predictably, Harris names 1970s auteurs like Robert Altman and Sidney Lumet as more “humanist” filmmakers who traffic in chance and spontaneity that these airless films could learn from. However, after citing more contemporary auteurs as Darren Aronofsky’s, Christopher Nolan’s, and David Fincher’s mania for perfectionism, Harris goes on to blame a rather surprising and inspired culprit: Stanley Kubrick. Harris’s insight is canny. Kubrick’s example of the intellectual popular film, which was reworked by 1970s and early 1980s filmmakers as the



expanded blockbuster largely within the science fiction, fantasy, and action genres, still resonates as an ideal for many filmmakers today.19 The seemingly limitless control that CGI provides to the modern self-styled auteur, however, may be the more substantial consequence of Kubrick’s legacy. Harris’s lament on CGI’s ability to control all aspects of the filmmaking process can be seen within a larger recent trend for lauding the 1970s for its greater “authenticity,” and devising productions that specifically hearken back to that time of filmmaking history, such as Zodiac (Fincher), Death Proof (Tarantino), or American Gangster (Scott), and There Will Be Blood (Anderson) (all 2007), as well as Super 8 (Abrams, 2011), and Argo (Affleck, 2012). Perhaps needless to say, many of these elaborate homages to the 1970s require nearly as much CGI as the average action film to re-create their “authentic” 1970s environments. Even 1970s optical special effects, once dismissed as cheesy and fakey, are looked back at nostalgically as the real thing, meaning more visibly substantial than CGI. Notice, for example, the cult status of films previously dismissed for their “bad” special effects, such as Dune and Tron. Also, the oeuvre of Michel Gondry has made much out of staging purposefully “inept” or what might be called “naïve” special effects in films such as Be Kind, Rewind (2008) and The Science of Sleep (2006). Specifically, it is the expressly photographic look of 1970s special effects, when the effects objects had “weight, dimension, density,” that is admired.20 An example of the recent fetishization for the photographic look can be seen in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, which contractually stipulated a photochemical finish (as well as The Master [Anderson, 2012], which was shot in 70mm). Additionally, we can consider Spielberg’s tributes to John Ford—War Horse (2011) and Lincoln (2012)—which seem to memorizalize the end of the explicitly 35mm photographic-captured movie by heightening their photochemical aesthetic qualities, especially those associated with Old Hollywood prestige genres, war films, and biographies.21 Ironically, what critics and some filmgoers seem not to like about contemporary CGI is precisely that it is the culmination of Kubrick’s, Lucas’s, and Spielberg’s drive toward greater control of all the elements of filmmaking that this study has been delineating. In fact, today’s CGI filmmaking, which is flexible enough to handle the diverse aesthetics of outrageous fantasy in addition to gritty photorealism, can be seen as the apotheosis of cinema’s total “animate-ability,” with nearly all styles possible. However, as the rhetoric of critics like Harris suggests, paradoxically it seems that many of us still prefer our illusions to strive for the rather



narrow parameters of 1970s photorealism, and that the novelty of physicsdefying CGI multitudes and busy clutter as a spectacle in and of itself has begun to wear out. Rhetorically understood as a correction back toward “greater realism,” the visible marks of photographic elements of 1970s cinematography are now studied by recent filmmakers such as Star Trek’s J. J. Abrams to extract the most expressive of the photorealism practiced in films not only like Star Wars but also in other hallmarks of 1970s filmmaking by auteurs such as Altman or Hellman.22 However, framing, lighting, camera, and textural effects that initially were marks of drawing attention to cinematic technique (and therefore laying bare the apparatus), have become so associated with realism that they now are read by the viewer as visual integrity, misleadingly suggesting the lack of CGI by cuing the 1970s. When confronted with a 3D extravaganza like 2009’s Avatar, many popular press commentators, such as the New York Times’ David Kehr, cannot resist comparing the film to The Jazz Singer (Crosland, 1927)—the film that in cinema legend kick-started the transition from silent cinema to sound.23 The assumption is, of course, that Avatar is to 3D as The Jazz Singer was to sound. In the rush to historically contextualize an overwhelming popular success like Avatar, commentators conveniently forget a number of important factors and reinforce many historical misconceptions (e.g., The Jazz Singer was not the first sound film or even the most popular early sound film).24 The most important misconception, however, is that technological and aesthetic transformations (reinforced by the relatively swift transition to sound) happen in a very short period of time, due to the impetus of one strong film. In this book, I have made an argument that over the course of several decades, cinema worldwide has undergone a transition in production methodology and aesthetics that the development of special effects first helped instigate and then facilitated. Its slow but incremental evolution has made the phenomenon less obvious than that of sound. There can be little doubt that feature film production overall has gradually shifted to a postproduction model necessitated initially by elaborate special effects work but eventually broadened to include digital manipulation across nearly all production categories. In this transition, single films such as Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, and Avatar have played important roles in marking visible signposts and providing convenient rhetorical shorthand. Avatar may be the Jazz Singer, or Star Wars, of 3D. More likely, I argue that it will serve as the apex of the 1970s-inflected special effects film,25



FIGURE C.1 Flying on Banshees in Avatar (Cameron, 2009).

much like Sunrise (Muranu, 1927) can be understood as an almost nostalgic last gasp for the silent film in its perfect embodiment and culmination of its aesthetics (while at the same time introducing new Movietone sound on film technology). Perhaps Avatar sums up all that special effects filmmaking since Star Wars has realized (fig. C.1). The Avatar filmmakers seek to foreground absorption, sensation, and kinesis in its aesthetic, while at the same time thematizing those properties in the narrative. The composite mise-enscène highlights, intensifies, and outlines elements of its fantastic environment in phosphorescent and pulsating lighting effects. The diegesis provides both the viewer and the onscreen protagonists virtual bodies through which to explore a synthetic fantasy world full of exhilarating activities in order to push that body to its (safely observed) limits. Avatar also presents a stock narrative (although effectively edited for propulsive forward momentum) re-prioritized as an environment to experience, not primarily a causal chain to follow along and pursue. In other words, Avatar is the ultimate expanded blockbuster, updated with the latest cinematic imaging tools to become the synthesis of technology, visual cinema, and narrative developments, not to mention self-consciousness, over the last thirty years or so. Many have noted the irony that most highly technologized blockbusters— The Matrix, Lord of the Rings (Jackson, 2001/2002/2003), Avatar—nearly



always feature anti-technology narratives. However, this impulse seems to be not just a simple irony of special effects–heavy cinema. I argue that the push and pull of attitudes toward technology and illusionistic visioning systems means that the narrative of special effects cinema requires the tension and irony such narratives produce. It seems the obsessive attention to developing new illusionistic photorealistic imaging technology in the production must be allayed in the narrative by an at least technology-ambivalent message. As in the dominant narrative mode of silent cinema, melodrama’s conventions centered around the limits of what is known and can be said, or not said. Likewise, the anti-technology narratives of nearly all special effects blockbusters must play out the limits of what technology can and should do, providing the audience a context for their fantasies and anxieties. What recent films like Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith (Lucas, 2005) and, perhaps most powerfully, Avatar and Gravity (Cuarón, 2013) have taught us is that the many 1970s filmmakers who strove for more complete aesthetic control over all aspects of the composite mise-en-scène have perhaps realized their goal all too well. Star Wars ends with a communal celebration by the underequipped but spirited rebel alliance. All the initially isolated main characters are united in common cause, unaware that the Empire will strike back in the sequel. The majority of Close Encounters’ running time suggests the possibility of disparate people being called together to witness an awesome display of alien technology, but nevertheless culminates in Roy Neary’s (Richard Dreyfus) being the only human to fully enter the alien world. In both cases, the films thematize the struggle to master the technology that visualizes their narratives so vividly, and to reimagine the kinds of stories and experiences that cinema will now be able to realize. In both cases, the special effects programs force the viewer to think about how he or she interacts with the world, and the forces beyond his or her control. Strikingly, Avatar can be described in very similar albeit more self-conscious terms. In title, narrative, thematics, technology, aesthetics, exhibition, representation, and historical context, Avatar brings those implicit concerns right to the surface, deep in its conception and execution. The special effects in 1977 and beyond stage the enjoyment and exploration of the loss of control. And in different ways, they exploit the fantasy of entering a special effect. It is a fantasy that seems to only have become more potent over the last several decades.


Introduction 1. Herb Lightman, “Spielberg Speaks about ‘Close Encounters,’ ” American Cinematographer (Jan. 1978): 59. 2. Gregg Kilday, “Special Encounter on Effects,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 5, 1977. 3. Betzy Bromberg, personal interview by author, Tujunga, CA, July 9, 2007. 4. For discussion of the use of the term “New Hollywood” (and other terminology such as “American auteurs,” “American New Wave directors”), see Elsaesser, Horwath, and King (2004), especially their three introductory essays. See also Thomas Schatz, “The New Hollywood,” in Collins, Radner, and Collins (1993); and Peter Krämer, “Post Classical Hollywood” (1998). For arguments against the designation of a “New Hollywood,” see Kristin Thompson (1999) and David Bordwell (2006). 5. Rather than become mired in the argument over whether digital technology records an “index” (which I understand as an argument historically situated in the 1990s and early 2000s) and if so, what kind, this study follows Rick Altman’s, Tom Gunning’s, and Jim Lastra’s assertion that cinematic representation always translates “reality” whether captured photochemically or digitally; and likewise, we cannot recover an “original vision” or “original sound” as an aesthetic model (Altman 2004; Gunning 2007; Lastra 2000). 6. Tom Gunning, “The Cinema of Attractions,” in Elsaesser and Barker (1990). Academic interest in cinematic special effects has tended to approach the topic primarily through concerns with the ontological status of the photographic versus digital image.



For more on ontology, see Mitchell (1992), Cubitt (1998), Spielmann (“Aesthetic Features . . . ,” 1999), Rosen (2001), and Doane (2002). Additionally, according to subject theory approaches to film (by which I mean the loosely affiliated approaches of Lacanian psychoanalysis, cultural studies, apparatus theory, etc.), the matrix of narrative, thematic, technological, and psychic space makes the science fiction special effects cinema an ideal site to play out, negotiate, or soothe cultural anxieties about the human in the face of technology, e.g., questions of real/artificial, human/inhuman, and the power structures that control these relations. For thematic work that “reads” cinematic “texts” in light of cultural anxieties and fixations with new technologies of special effects, especially in relation to the science fiction genre, see Albert J. LaValley (in Slusser and Rabkin 1985); Vivian Sobchack (1987); Sean Cubitt (1992); Brooks Landon (1992). More are collected in Sean Redmond (2004). See also Annette Kuhn’s two volumes Alien Zone and Alien Zone II (1990, 1999) for many examples of the subject theory approach. For discussions of the role of special effects in light of the change or stability of narrative conventions in blockbuster filmmaking, see Buckland (“Between Science Fiction . . . ,” 1992), Thompson (1999), King (2000), and Bordwell (2006). 7. Scott Bukatman, “The Artificial Infinite: On Special Effects and the Sublime” and “The Ultimate Trip: Special Effects and Kaleidoscopic Perception” (in Bukatman 2003), and Bukatman, “Zooming Out: The End of Off-Screen Space” (in Lewis 1998); Annette Michelson (1969); Gunning, “The Aesthetics of Astonishment” (1989) and Gunning, “The Cinema of Attractions” (in Elsaesser and Barker 1990); Dyer, “Entertainment and Utopia” (in Dyer 1992). 8. More recently, the theoretical sands have shifted toward what has come to be known as “affect theory” as a way to reconceptualize subject-based theories of spectatorship toward a more sensorally and phenomenologically based approach. This treatment would seem to be an ideal way to consider special effects, with its aesthetic that emphasizes an “extra narrative” appeal to the senses. However, when discussing special effects, affect theory tends to focus on only the most spectacular visible forms and isolated events in the overall film, such as 2001’s so-called “Star Gate” sequence. What I consider the most fruitful examples of this “affect theory” approach—such as Miriam Hansen on the cinema’s “aesthetic-affective” dimension of modernism, Linda Williams’s reading of Psycho as “fun” in a similar way to a rollercoaster, and Richard Dyer on Speed—treat the special effects as part of the aesthetic program of the film as a whole, and also understand the viewing subject as relishing the difference between “real life” experiences and those at the movies. See Miriam Hansen, “Classical Cinema as Vernacular Modernism” (in Gledhill and Williams 2000); Linda Williams, “Discipline and Fun: Psycho and Postmodern Cinema” (in Gledhill and Williams 2000); and Dyer (1994). 9. To demonstrate the intensification of special effects in feature filmmaking since the 1970s, perhaps it may be convincing to look at quantitative evidence. For example, we can examine the traditional way “special” sequences were apportioned in the late 1960s, compared with practice in the 1970s and today, by touting the number of the effects shots in a given film (meaning the number of shots that required the postproduction skills of



specialized effects artists). For example, 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 boasted 201 special effects shots, an enormous number at the time, out of 602 total shots. (For 2001 and Star War’s number of effects shots, see Herb Lightman, “Filming 2001: A Space Odyssey,” American Cinematographer (June 1968): 442; John Dykstra, “Miniature and Mechanical Special Effects for STAR WARS,” American Cinematographer (July 1977): 704.) Star Wars in 1977 nearly doubled that amount, with 365, again, a previously unimaginable amount (out of 2,089 total shots). To emphasize how much things have changed, the recent J. J. Abram’s Star Trek (2009) professed 860 effects shots (Fordham 2009:118). Roland Emmerich’s disaster epic 2012 (2009) claimed an astonishing 1,300 (Fordham 2010: 32). A film like Avatar (2009) could scarcely be considered to contain any shots that are not classified as “special effects shots.” Avatar’s official count: 2,500 effects shots, and in fact, all but 110 shots are classed as visual effects (Fordham 2010:146). For reference, a famously rapidly cut film like Moulin Rouge (2001) has approximately 3,569 total shots, while in the late 1960s even Hollywood action films like Bullitt (1968) had closer to 1,000. That being said, less action-oriented dramas such as A History of Violence and Munich (both 2005) have closer to 1,200 total shots. All shot totals from 10. See Crafton (1999), Lastra (2000), Spadoni (2003, 2007), and Altman (2004). Also, much like the resistance to sound films in the 1920s and 1930s by prominent critics and theorists, special effects films have engendered a similar resistance from many critics and academics. 11. Stephen Prince, for example, compares the Errol Flynn maritime adventure The Sea Hawk (1940) unfavorably to Master and Commander (2003) as an example for what digital can do that “backlot” studio-era effects could not, suggesting that had Warner Bros. had the same tools as ILM in 2003, the studio would have made more “powerfully convincing images of men at sea” (Prince 2012:178). 12. See Maltby (1995). 13. After Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson (1985), Bordwell and Thompson have remained the strongest advocates of the “classical” stance, arguing that Hollywood cinema may be in a “mannerist” period now, but this nevertheless proves the flexibility of their classical model. Thomas Elsaesser (in Elsaesser and Buckland 2002) is among the most prominent of the “post-classical” group and argues that Hollywood filmmaking has altered sufficiently (most significantly in terms of its self-awareness and reflexivity) to identify a distinct historical and theoretical shift. 14. See Bordwell (2006). 15. Although more research needs to be done on studio-era effects practices, especially from studio to studio, purpose-built effects divisions were not especially common before the late 1920s and early 1930s, and instead cinematographers and camera operators skilled in “trick” photography would complete composites, as well as independent optical houses. As more postproduction and process techniques proliferated in the 1930s, studios began to organize skilled personnel into units, but continued to outsource complex opticals to independent houses. See Carl Louis Gregory, “Trick Photography” Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (Sept. 1926): 99–107.



16. The overlap between “visual effects” and feature-length animation is getting blurrier by the year, but for the most part the visual effects and animation production companies remain separate. Pixar and Dreamworks Animation, for example, do not complete effects sequences for live-action films, although ILM’s venture into featurelength animation with Rango (2011) may signal a sea change. 17. Furthermore, at this point, though all are working with digital technologies, professional publications like American Cinematographer make it very clear that the so-called digital “workflow” or “pipeline” (the merging of different areas of production into the final product) is hardly smooth and seamless. For a description of digital workflow problems, see Christopher Probst, “Go with the Flow,” American Cinematographer (Jan. 2012). 18. For an overview of the turmoil in the effects industry, see David S. Cohen,, “Ailing f/x Sector Spotlights Creaky Tentpole Foundation,” Feb. 14, 2013. 19. Prince (2012); Manovich (2001:178). 20. See Prince (2012:89, 117). My interpolations to quoted material in this book appear in brackets and include ellipses as well as (for translated material) terms from the original language. 21. See Turnock, “The ILM Version” (2012). As I have argued elsewhere, I believe this 1970s aesthetic holds true through the contemporary digital effects era. While someday there may be a “digital realism” markedly distinct from photorealism, I do not think it has yet emerged, and digital effects still routinely mimic marks of photography, more specifically 1970s cinematography, to cue a realism effect. However, for now, I will largely confine my argument to the 1970s and 1980s. 22. See Thompson (1988:197–217). 23. See the Star Wars “Special Edition” re-release of 1997, then deemed a photorealistic improvement over the 1977 version, but which now seems datable to the technology of 1997. Or, see even how the animation and composites of The Matrix (1999) are also today quite noticeable in the light of more recent styles of historical realisms. 24. Rudolf Arnheim, “Film and Reality,” Film as Art (1957). 25. Also, if special effects realism wanted to replicate what the eye sees in real life, digital technology would easily allow, for example, a view of a climactic battle from a single ideal viewing point, in a seemingly uncut shot, in real time. While such a strategy might provide the viewer a more realistic sense of “you are there,” most filmgoers would not judge this experience as being “more realistic.” Instead, they might be annoyed they were not shown more angles of the action, closer up, and edited for heightened excitement. 26. See Lastra (2000). 27. Douglas Trumbull, “Creating the Photographic Special Effects for CE3K,” American Cinematographer (Jan. 1978). 28. See Hall and Neale (2010). Despite his billions (and despite having sold Lucasfilm in October 2012 to the Disney corporation for $4 billion), Lucas still considers himself “a ’60s, West Coast, liberal, radical, artsy, dyed-in-the-wool” type. Bryan Curtis, “George Lucas Is Ready to Roll the Credits,” New York Times, Jan. 17, 2012.

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29. For a canonical discussion of political modernism, see Rodowick (1995). I want to stress that the Expanded Cinema model is not congruent with political modernist notions of the “alternative public sphere” as it is described by Miriam Hansen (following Jürgen Habermas), although it has elements in common. Expanded Cinema as Gene Youngblood formulated it, and as it was generally discussed in its West Coast context, was meant to encourage a collective merged consciousness leading to what he calls “radical evolution,” a cosmic harmony that would leave behind the need for traditional leftist movements of revolution, which simply replace one polarized status quo with another. See Youngblood (1970:50). 30. Bukatman makes a similar argument about Douglas Trumbull’s “kaleidoscopic” effects sequences (such as the “Star Gate” sequence in 2001), but casts Trumbull as an “alternative” aesthetic to mainstream special effects usage, such as that in Star Wars. As will be discussed later, I reposition Trumbull’s and ILM’s special effects within a larger context, finding more commonality than difference. See “The Ultimate Trip” (in Bukatman 2003:112–).

1. Optical Animation: Special Effects Compositing Up to 1977 1. Found in the Stanley Kubrick Archive in University of the Arts archives and Special Collections at the London College of Communication at Elephant and Castle, conducted October 2007. 2. Lucas, quoted in Claire Clouzot, “The Morning of the Magician: George Lucas and Star Wars” (1977), in Kline (1999:58). 3. One of the reasons this kind of effects work has largely been ignored by scholars and effects enthusiasts is that such effects typically met their goal. For example, the files in the Linwood Dunn Collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Pickford Center archive, Hollywood, document shot after shot of clouds composited into a background, presumably for composition. Also, although the most thorough account of matte paintings, Mark Cotta Vaz and Craig Barron’s The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting (2002) focuses most prominently on the more fantastic and elaborate examples, such as the Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz (1939), much more common and unobtrusive matte paintings were designed never to be scrutinized, such as those that completed the upper stories of a building or the ceiling areas of ballrooms or mansions, covering the lighting equipment. 4. See note 4 in the introduction. 5. This viewpoint is evident in trade press rhetoric, in Daily Variety articles such as Joseph McBride, “Hollywood Rediscovers an Old B.O. Star: Special Effects,” Daily Variety (Oct. 29, 1974). 6. The extremely popular early 1970s trend of disaster films should not be forgotten, such as Airport (1970), Earthquake (1974), The Towering Inferno (1974), and many others. Aspects of these films will be discussed in the next chapter.


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7. This tier of value is a particular problem in Cook (2000). 8. Kline (1999:58). 9. Lev Manovich (2001) most influentially calls for greater prominence to be given to animation in cinema’s image construction. I agree broadly with his contention. However, Manovich sees greater animation of the film image as primarily a mark of the digital. I argue that greater animatability of the cinematic image was already a priority well before digital imaging. 10. To complicate matters in the case of Welles, it is now well known that many deep-focus shots in Citizen Kane (1941) were completed by Linwood Dunn with an optical printer. For example, in the shot where Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore) tries to commit suicide, at least one of the three planes of action (the glass with the spoon in the extreme foreground) is optically printed. See Dunn in Dunn and Turner (1983). 11. Harrison Ellenshaw, “Creating Matte Paintings for EMPIRE,” American Cinematographer (June 1980): 608. See many examples of this contemporary attitude toward photorealism in both American Cinematographer and the Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (hereafter, JSMPTE ; note that “and Television” was added to the society’s name in 1950). 12. Especially before industrial standardization of the optical printer in the 1940s (and frequently beyond), the often jerry-rigged optical printer’s frame advance systems calibration could not be consistently relied on to account for perfect lineup over numerous passes and required refined printing skills that very few operators possessed. 13. See, for example, the special effects fan publications such as Cinefex, Cinefantastique, Photon, and others, as well as Michele Pierson’s (2002) discourse analysis of special effects fan publications. 14. Bordwell (2006:16). See also Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson (1985), Balio (1993), and Bordwell (1997) for more examples of this approach. 15. How they were to achieve their various effects was often portrayed as a kind of magic, even by directors meant to be supervising them. See two articles by Cecil B. DeMille, “A Director Looks at ‘Process Shots,’ ” in American Cinematographer (1936) and “Motion Picture Directing,” in JSMPE (later, JSMPTE) (1928), where DeMille recounts that effects supervisor Farciot Edouart, in order to add a cloud effect to The Plainsman (1936), used his “big Optical Printer” but “wouldn’t tell me just how he did it.” 16. In terms of sound technology aesthetics in the transition to talkies, James Lastra (2000) has convincingly described how early sound technicians tested and debated the various aesthetics of sound technology with as much professional diligence as solving purely technological problems with sound. In other words, the aesthetic goal (multidirectional sound) often preceded the technical step, and the technological “results” (where to place microphones) of problems introducing sound were manifold. 17. This tendency to de-emphasize the primacy of the principal photography becomes more evident in the 1980s and beyond, with the renewed development of blue-screen work. Blue screen radically fragments principal photography by “reducing” actors shot

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in front of a blue screen to just another element to be composited in postproduction, often along with many other separately produced photographed and animated elements. 18. More research is needed to determine each studio’s effects department’s emphasis on particular techniques, which appears not to be consistent across the studio era. For example, MGM effects department head Arnold Gillespie’s unpublished memoir (“Big Ones Out of Little Ones”) at the Margaret Herrick Library describes the MGM hierarchy as favoring physical and mechanical effects and rear-projection composites, while severely downplaying, even disparaging, optical composites. MGM and Paramount were at the forefront of rear-projection research and development. RKO and Universal, however, the home of very talented optical printer operators (Linwood Dunn and John Fulton, later at Paramount), entrusted their optical department with more responsibility, including for films such as King Kong and The Invisible Man (both 1933). 19. In academe, the term opticals cannot be considered a synonym for optics. It is misleading (as to the particular technology at work) that optical effects more or less correspond with “optics” as theorized by Jonathan Crary (1990) or with Jean Louis Baudry’s apparatus theory (Mast, Cohen, and Braudy 1992). A related misconception many bring to the technology of special effects work is that a working knowledge of a 35mm still camera is sufficient to understand optical effects. Certainly, polemic regimes of vision described in apparatus theory as inherent to the technology can be applied to optical effects. Of course, knowledge of 35mm still technology is a useful starting point. However, the extent of manipulation of every variable of optical technology (lighting, lenses, frame rate, etc.) to achieve a desired result is much more elaborate than in 35mm still photography, as well as the kind of inscription assumed in theories of optics. 20. A forthcoming dissertation from Paul Malcolm (UCLA) very usefully divides special effects into three distinct historical eras, as determined by technology: in-camera, optical, and digital. 21. It is worth noting that early trick films were effected by a variable frame rate, from 16 frames per second (fps), depending on the consistency of the camera operator’s hand-cranking. Mechanized advance systems replaced hand-cranking in the late 1910s. The frame rate was standardizing at 24 fps by the sound era. 22. A sequence in The Sting (1973), for example, re-creating Chicago’s elevated trains, is often cited as a particularly audacious use of in-camera matting techniques. Albert Whitlock, along with Director of Photography (DP) Robert Surtees, had principal photography film the lower part of the frame, matting black the area above where the train would appear. The film was then cranked back, the image meticulously lined up, and the separately captured train footage was filmed on the same negative. This was done in-camera because, with color film, in-camera techniques were still the best way to get a first-generation look in the final negative. Bill Taylor, ASC, and Syd Dutton (cofounders of Illusion Arts, an independent effects company), personal interviews by author, Van Nuys, CA, July 25, 2006. 23. The history of traveling matte technology is complex, especially in the 1920s. For an easy to understand version, see Rickitt (2000:312).


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24. To be more specific, the printing steps are: (A) Shoot an actor against a blue background; (B) If it is a color composite, transfer the color to a black-and-white color separation positive. This is repeated two more times with the appropriate filters for the three-color separation process; (C) A high-contrast duplication of the black-and-white negative is generated, producing a negative image of the actor against a clear field; (D) Female and (E) male traveling mattes are generated from C, on high-contrast duplication stock. Now, the printing begins; (F) The male matte is combined with the background, making a black hole for the actor, and (G) vice versa; (H) F and G images are printed together to make the final composite. See Fielding (1968:207–209). 25. George Turner, “The Evolution of Special Visual Effects,” in Dunn and Turner (1983:46). The terms “rear” and “back” projection can be used interchangeably. Three technical elements were needed to bring rear projection to the fore: more sensitive film stock, brighter projection lights, and bigger screens. 26. More research needs to be done on this topic, but for a rare studio example of a shot from a moving car without image stabilization, see William A Seiter’s Chance at Heaven (1933), when Joel McCrea drives toward debutante Marion Dixon, flagging him down on the roadside. 27. They are likely called “plates” because early matte paintings were completed on clear plate glass and placed between the camera and the profilmic action. 28. Bill Taylor, ASC, personal interview. 29. See Fielding (1968:237–39). 30. Another on-set composite technology that had significant effect on the development of process work in Hollywood special effects in the 1920s and 1930s was the “Schufftan process,” a complex mirror and optics-based technique named for former Ufa cinematographer (and Fritz Lang and Max Ophuls collaborator) Eugen Schufftan, which allowed a kind of “set extension” without postproduction compositing. Therefore the Eiffel Tower or Taj Mahal or any other static object could be reflected into the same illusory “profilmic” space as the actors, and the camera registered the separate elements at the same time. Unlike projection technologies, the Schufftan process could not be used with moving-image footage. For more on Schufftan and Ufa special effects, see Katharina Loew (2011). 31. The priority given the introduction of sound technology did slow developments in special effects for a time, but not for long. Both JSMPTE and American Cinematographer published a flurry of articles between 1926 and 1933 lauding the Dunning Process, the Dieterich Process, and others. . See Frank Williams, “Trick Photography” (1928); Carroll Dunning, “Some Problems . . .” (1929) and “Dunning Process” (1931); C. Dodge Dunning, “Compositite Photography” (1929); and William Stull, “The Baker Process” (1932) and “The Dietrich Process . . . ” (1933). 32. The percentage of optical shots in Citizen Kane changes depending on the source, in some cases going up to 90 percent. I decided to cite a conservative estimate. As was the studio’s practice, the head of the department was granted on-screen credit. Therefore, on RKO projects throughout the 1930s, as is true with King Kong, photographic effects department head Vernon Walker is credited, although Dunn or

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others may have completed the bulk of the optical work: Dunn’s “In Memorium” notice from the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) is vague ( “He soon headed his own optical effects department and eventually became head of the photographic effects department . . . [which] lasted until RKO ceased operations 28 years later [in 1957]” (in the “Linwood Dunn” clip file of the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library). What likely happened is that when Walker died in 1948, Dunn took over the photographic effects department and likely received his first on-screen credit for Mighty Joe Young in 1949. 33. Arnold Gillespie, MGM’s Special Effects Department Head from 1925 to 1965, certainly had little respect for his own small optical department, which he characterizes with thinly veiled disdain: “Optical’s stumper is mainly due to the fact that tolerances involved are extremely minute. Unless superior craftsmanship, with know-how is tightly welded to a conscientious refusal to do less than the best, these unmet tolerances can and do scream out discordant notes.” Arnold Gillespie, “Big Ones Out of Little Ones” (unpublished manuscript; copyright 1968), Part I, pp. 11–12, in the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library, Special Collections. Beverley Hills, CA. 34. For more, see Farciot Edouart, “The Evolution of Transparency Process Photography” (1943), reprinted in Dunn and Turner (1983:107–). 35. Ibid., 108–109. 36. Dunn and Love developed the optical printer for a wartime military standardization project. See George Turner, “Cinemasters: Linwood Dunn, ASC” (1985:34–42). 37. See Hartley Harrison, “Problems of Background Projection” (1934); Charles Anderson, “Background Projection Photography” (1952); Frederick Foster, “The Photography of Background Plates” (1962); and Herb Lightman, “MGM’s ‘Laced-Process’ . . . System” (1964). 38. Edouart (1983:108). 39. Edouart (1983) and Lightman (1964). 40. See Turnock (2012:157–). 41. This despite claims, such as that of Dominique Païni (2000), that Hitchcock, Sirk, and others were using the dislocating effects of rear projection for deliberate, expressive purposes, notably to achieve a sense of heightened subjectivity. First, it is unclear whether 1950s audiences would have perceived rear projection as anti-naturalistic, which needs more research. But we must then be prepared to assume that Gidget director Paul Wendkos was also using nearly identical rear-projection techniques in the surfing scenes for expressive purposes. 42. I have yet to see any producer note or critical review before 1960 that criticizes the rear-projection work in a film. However, I have found cinematographers in the midto late 1950s touting films shot on location with “no interiors” and no process shots, such as Barnett Guffey’s (ASC) work on They Came to Cordura (1959), noted in Arthur Gavin, “ ‘Not an Interior in the Picture’ ” (1959:166–). 43. McBride, “Hollywood Rediscovers . . .” (1974). 44. See the rhetoric justifying the “more real” vérité-style location shooting in films such as Francis Ford Coppola’s You’re a Big Boy Now (1966), Michael Ritchie’s Downhill Racer (1969), and Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool (1969). See Andrew Laszlo, “The Far


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Out Photography of . . . ” (1967:402–); Michael Ritchie, “Directing ‘Downhill Racer’ ” (1969:1055–); and Herb Lightman, “The Filming of ‘Medium Cool’ ” (1970:23). 45. Of course, the transition to color is usually attributed to the competition from television. I am not claiming that the transition to color was effected solely due to backprojection issues, only that it is another factor in consideration. The topic of the transition to color film is a complex one. For more, see Gorham Kindem, “Hollywood’s Conversion to Color,” in Kindem (1982:136–45). 46. There were a few attempts to revive it, in “improved” form, such as with front projection in the late 1960s. Kubrick’s use of front projection in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in 2001 caused quite a stir in technical circles. However, this trend was somewhat short-lived, since by the 1970s the attention had shifted again to optical work, due in large part to Kubrick’s revivification of optical techniques in the outer space sequences of 2001. See Lightman (1968:442). 47. See Bill Nichols’ essay on the perception of motion in de Lauretis and Heath (1980). 48. As demonstrated by Linwood Dunn in his traveling lecture series, most “camera movement” in optical shots was in fact completed in postproduction on the optical printer, not by the on-set camera, most notably perhaps in the famous tracking shot “through” the skylight to Susan Alexander Kane in the bar in Citizen Kane. Dunn also demonstrated this technique in his lectures with shots from Nocturne (1946) starring George Raft and Flight for Freedom (1943) with Herbert Marshall, which feature extreme long shots that seem to track to medium shots of human figures, in fact joined by invisible dissolves. There were rare exceptions to the “locked-down camera” rule before the 1970s (see Rickitt 2000), but they are very few. 49. As Syd Dutton, matte artist on the film claimed, Earthquake (1974) was a film in which the camera movement was strictly limited by the lack of camera movement in the effects shots. Syd Dutton, personal interview. 50. Although process and optical techniques are distinct approaches to special effects work, usually employing different specialists, it is important to stress that they cannot always be strictly opposed. There is, of course, miniature rear projection, where the moving image is projected onto a matte painting. Also, Ray Harryhausen’s Dynamation technique is an example of a hybrid style (which had its origins in Willis O’Brien’s techniques in filming King Kong) and can be seen in the famous skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts (1963). For a more detailed explanation, see Rickitt (2000). 51. American Cinematographer’s coverage of The Towering Inferno, for example, devotes the majority of its pages to the acting unit and the stunt unit, with only a short article on its miniature and optical effects. Charles Loring, “The Towering Inferno . . .” (1975). See also Mik Cribben, “On Location with Jaws” (1975). 52. John Dykstra, ASC (and founder of Apogee, Inc., an independent effects house), personal interview by author, Los Angeles, CA, July 26, 2006. 53. Dykstra understood he was speaking to a nonspecialist general audience (see Kline 1999:53). 54. Most influentially, again, by Manovich (2001).

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55. For more on the development of the animation industry and, specifically, multiplane animation, see Crafton (1993). 56. It should be noted here when I’m talking about “Disney” I mean the company more than the man. As Nicholas Sammond points out (2005:28), technology developed by others or a team of others was credited to Disney the man as symbol of the organization. 57. Rickitt (2000:139). Lotte Reinger also used multi-plane animation to different effect at least as early as The Adventures of Prince Achmed in 1926. 58. Rickitt (2000:154). Reportedly, the Fleischers also developed a horizontal multi-plane model system around the same time, but the question of influence is still in question. For a discussion of the systems’ similarities and differences, see animation historian Harvey Deneroff ’s blog ( willis-obrien-iwerks-multiplane-camera-and-fleischers-stereoptical-process). 59. Rotoscoping has gained recent notice not only as an early technical model for digital motion capture technology but also as a digital animation technique. Known as interpolated rotoscope, and used most prominently in Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006), interpolated rotoscope takes scanned live-action footage and essentially “draws over it” digitally, usually resulting in a kind of stylized animation. 60. Crafton (1993:158). Or, one can just as easily say, motion capture is a later form of rotoscope. 61. Rickitt (2000:54, 141–42). In the early 2000s, rotoscope in digital special effects was typically used to designate digital “cleanup,” such as removing wires in stunts or other unwanted objects in the mise-en-scène. 62. Paul Mandell, “Adam Beckett: . . .” (1978:19). In the interview, Beckett points out that the light sabers were outsourced from ILM to Van Der Veer Photo Effects. 63. See Sitney (1979). 64. Slavko Vorkapich, “A Fresh Look . . .” (1972:182; emphasis in original). 65. Ibid., 182–83. 66. While I would like to be able to describe Belson’s techniques in detail, he kept his precise working method a guarded secret, even up to his death in 2011. What is known is that Belson resisted the word abstract in describing his films. Since he insisted he filmed actual material objects, he believed the word did not apply. See Malcolm Le Grice (1977:82) and Gene Youngblood (1970:157). 67. Abstract animation has a long history in mainstream cinema. Just as special effects production in Hollywood has long had technical and aesthetic links to animation, it has also long been linked with experimental and avant-garde practices. See the exhibition catalog Visual Music (Brougher et al., 2005) for a brief discussion of this history. Conversely, Esther Leslie’s book, Hollywood Flatlands (2002), discusses animation’s attraction to European intellectuals. 68. New York’s Museum of Modern Art devoted a series to CalArts graduates, “Tomorrowland: Cal Arts in Moving Pictures” (May 25–August 13, 2006), and screened many films by artist-filmmakers who also worked in technical areas of the movie industry, especially special effects. For example, CalArts alumni who worked on Star Wars


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include Adam Beckett, animation and rotoscope designer; Larry Cuba, computer automation and graphic displays; David Berry, optical printer operator; Robert Blalack, composite optical photography; Chris Casady, animator; Loring Doyle, optical lineup; and Donna Tracy, optical camera assistant. Berry, Casady, and Doyle all went on to work at ILM. Tracy eventually worked at Digital Domain. 69. See Sitney (1979:431). Sitney quotes himself in an identical passage in “Saugus Series” (1986–87:160). 70. Pat O’Neill, personal interview by author, Pasadena, CA, July 19, 2007. 71. Malcolm Le Grice has a more technical/formalist approach to O’Neill, but one has the sense he is not sure what to make of O’Neill’s films, deeming them interested in exploring “the graphic,” but stopping short of more fully explicating the implications that approach might have. Le Grice (1977:114). 72. West Coast experimental filmmakers’ closely intertwined association with the film industry has not helped their critical reception with more high modernist film critics. Not only were West Coast filmmakers considered compromised by “selling out” to the industry, according to Le Grice they were also too heavily influenced by “apolitical,” “unintellectual” concerns with “mind expansion, psychedelia, and McLuhan’s global village concept of televisual communication,” instead of “more rigorously formalist and politicized” New York and European filmmakers. In fact, he judges Belson and Scott Bartlett with Marxist moralism: The popularization of passive quietist philosophies or religions, whose patterns have been established in stable, caste or feudally structured societies, is ominous when it occurs in the context of the aggressive technology of a Western capitalist state like America. (Le Grice 1977:121) David E. James has made more favorable arguments for the West Coast avant-garde and questioned the Hollywood/Los Angeles avant-garde split. For example, see James (1999) and in Willis (1994). 73. Youngblood (1970:100). See also David E. James’s (2005) and Moritz’s (2004) work on West Coast abstract filmmakers. 74. For Youngblood, the New Hollywood auteurist or political films such as The Graduate (1967) and Easy Rider had it all wrong: by remaining invested in narrative and only tweaking the conventions of traditional Hollywood filmmaking, they were just reinforcing a mental reliance on those old forms. 2001 is the closest a Hollywood film had come to expanded cinema, but was hampered by what Youngblood saw as its “anti-technology” thematics. Youngblood (1970:59 and 151–). 75. Jordan Belson, Robert Breer, James Whitney, and many other West Coast filmmakers constantly refer to popular spirituality conceptions of yogic and tantric mental states as important for both producing and experiencing their films. See Youngblood (1970) for more examples of this tendency. 76. Usually disseminated through traveling film festivals, including the Genesis Film Productions package and Pyramid Films, “where they’d circulate these film packages that [had] all these kinds of films in them. They’d have fifteen films and they’d go to

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different colleges, and travel around to different theaters, and they were very popular.” Richard Winn Taylor (Abel and Associates employee, computer animation pioneer), personal interview by author, Marina del Rey, July 18, 2007. 77. Because “off the shelf ” optical printing equipment was expensive and hard to come by, many filmmakers found they had to cobble together optical printing equipment to realize their designs. For example, James and John Whitney Sr. first had to purpose-build an optical printer from a World War II surplus model, until they took out a loan to buy a Cine Special (Brick [1972:41] ). Pat O’Neill also tells of having to purpose-build optical printing equipment from government surplus (John G. Hanhardt, “A Conversation with Pat O’Neill,” in Lazar [2004:197–98] ). 78. Although 1970s auteurist lore claims that unions barred MFA film students in the 1960s and 1970s from the Hollywood industry, USC historically hired industry professionals to teach practical aspects of the film industry. Also, students (including George Lucas) often won internships on studio film sets. These connections did not necessarily lead to jobs in the industry, but the studio system was not as closed to film students as is often claimed by Lucas and others. See Biskind (1998:37). 79. Course descriptions and faculty lists are taken from the USC Cinema Department, School History Course listings, 1960–1969 catalog. Additional information about USC’s film school curriculum appears on the Laserdisc compiled by John Howe and Dick Farber: USC Film School: The First 50 Years. Both sources are cataloged at the USC Cinema Library. Special thanks to USC Cinema Librarian Ned Comstock for help with information on the history of the USC film school. 80. Ibid. 81. In an interview with special effects artist Robert Blalack (Star Wars, Wolfen), he was asked what brought him to CalArts to begin with. He responded that he had enrolled after seeing an ad for the school designed like a “Soviet Rebel art poster,” which claimed that CalArts “would not be an ‘art school,’ . . . [but instead] would be a fervent cross pollination of the separated schools of each art,” converging in the center of the “ ‘Wheel,’ a place called ‘critical studies.’ ” Though commending the school’s idealism, Blalack claimed that conflict with Disney’s trustees meant the idealism only lasted about three months, and he left soon after. See Levine (1998). 82. In the 1970s, special effects became very visible and spectacular indeed. Yuri Tsivian’s phrase, the “medium sensitive viewer,” from his book Early Cinema and Its Cultural Reception (1994) seems apt to the reception of 1970s special effects–heavy cinema. Robert Spadoni also uses Tsivian’s phrase to discuss sound in early sound-era horror films (Spadoni 2003:6). 83. Although initially only the camera moved, not the model. 84. When developing Close Encounters, Spielberg looked into computer animation, but deemed it too expensive (Lightman 1978:58). Likewise, computer animators from the firm III (Information International, Inc, who would later work on Tron) produced an animated sequence on spec of X-wing fighters in 1979 to show to George Lucas, but he did not hire III for The Empire Strikes Back as they had hoped. See Siggraph video documentary, The Story of Computer Graphics (1999); and Edlund, “Jedi Journal” (1983:12).



85. As an example of someone powerful enough to force through technological changes in industry practice, I point to the future George Lucas, who used control of his own “content” to force theater owners to upgrade sound systems to his THX in the 1990s, and tried to do the same, with more limited success, with digital projection in the early 2000s. 86. The financial failure of Tron (1982) certainly slowed down the investment in CGI technologies for the early part of the 1980s. 87. It also meant that cinematographers (for example, Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, the DP for Close Encounters) and art directors were charged with making live-action photography a bit more stylized and less stripped down and naturalistically “gritty” than in the late 1960s. 88. See Turnock (2012). From another angle, Garrett Stewart takes up the loss of photographic basis as a theme in his reading of Blade Runner: “Body Snatching: Science Fiction’s Photographic Trace,” in Kuhn (1999).

2. Before Industrial Light and Magic: The Independent Hollywood Special Effects Business, 1968–1975 1. See Cotta Vaz and Duigan (1996:6). 2. That is, the authors work for or are otherwise affiliated with Lucasfilm. See, for example, Smith (1988); Cotta Vaz and Duignan (1996); Glintenkamp (2011). For more independent voices that nevertheless draw upon more or less the same ILM details and personnel for their primary evidence, see Pye and Myles (1979); interviews in Kline (1999); and numerous articles in the special effects fan magazine Cinefex—for example, Shay, “Of Ice Planets . . .” (1980); and Mandell, “Tauntauns, Walkers . . .” (1980). 3. The Hollywood service industry in general (which includes the companies that develop and provide photographic equipment, lab work, lights, film stock, transportation, and many other areas both technical and practical) has been almost completely ignored in academic studies. One notable exception: it is discussed primarily in reference to the 1930s in Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson (1985). 4. More research needs to be done on this topic. According to the ASC member lists (published in American Cinematographer, such as January 1924:27), most early effects personnel began working individually for slapstick comedy producers in the 1910s and 1920s, before joining early studios or setting up independent houses. As to Jackman, an Inter Office Communication dated July 9, 1936, in the Warner Brothers Archive at USC lists September 16, 1936, as the last day of his contract. A 1937 article in American Cinematographer declares him back in business after “retirement”; see “Jackman Returns to Business” (1937:137). 5. The publishing world, however, does not lack for special effects books made for enthusiasts and fans. See Bronson (1974), Cotta Vaz and Duigan (1996), Rickitt (2000), Cotta Vaz and Barron (2002), and Klein (2004).



6. This started with Trumbull’s Future General in the mid-1970s, then Dykstra’s effects company Apogee in 1979, continued with Richard Edlund’s Boss Films (when he bought Future General from Trumbull after he changed his focus to Showscan), and on and on up through contemporary filmmaking. 7. Dykstra quoted in Kline (1999:53). 8. See Julie Turnock, “From Star Wars to Avatar” (2010) and Turnock (2012). 9. Lucas quoted in Kline (1999:44). 10. Before computerized motion control, it was difficult but not impossible to get a sense of kineticism with locked-down cameras. As is well known, Lucas had the effects team look at World War II films with aerial battle sequences and actual aerial footage to compose the effects shots and also set the pace for the editing. For a good example of kinetic flying sequences well before motion control, see optical effects artist John Fulton’s work on such films as The Bridges of Toko-Ri (1954) or Strategic Air Command (1955). 11. See the many fan appreciations of King Kong animator Willis O’Brien, for example, in Shay (1973:21). The same applies to Ray Harryhausen, for example in Culhane (1981) or Mandell, “Stop Frame Fever . . .” (1983). 12. Daily Variety’s review was typical: “[Clash of the Titans] is mired in a slew of corny dialog and an endless array of flat, outdated special effects that are both a throwback to a bad 1950’s picture. Given what today’s audiences are used to, [. . .] it is impossible not to remember how much better it was put on screen in more recent special effects pics.” See “Berg” (pseud., 1981). 13. See Biskind (1998:317, 341). 14. On Disney effects in this era, see Toy, “Anything Possible . . .” (1972); on Eustace Lycett and the history of the Disney effects shop, as well as on effects work for Disney’s space film entry The Black Hole (1979), see Lycett, “Matte Scan and ACES” (1980). For more on Albert Whitlock’s special effects shop at Universal, see “Special Effects,” Hollywood Reporter (1981). Also reported by Bill Taylor and Syd Dutton, who worked for Whitlock in the 1970s (Taylor and Dutton, personal interviews by author). 15. For example, Daily Variety touts U.K. special effects facilities in “Brit Technicians . . .” (1980). 16. See the many times Lucas compares, or is asked to compare, Star Wars to 2001 in interviews, in Kline (1999:32, 44, 50, 81). 17. Ibid., 44, 50. 18. Douglas Trumbull, “Creating Special Effects for ‘2001’ ” American Cinematographer (June 1968:452). 19. Kubrick asserts this often in interviews; see Phillips (2001:18, 36). 20. Ibid., 47, 78. 21. See Michelson (1969). One can argue that Michelson is identifying the reordering of cinematic space that would highlight the importance of special effects films to the reorganization of blockbuster forms. 22. See Bukatman (2003) as well as his essay “Zooming Out: The End of Off-Screen Space” in Lewis (1998).



23. Much information comes from the Kubrick Archive in University of the Arts archives and Special Collections at the London College of Communication at Elephant and Castle, conducted October 2007 (hereafter, Kubrick Archive). 24. Lightman (1968:442). 25. Ibid. Kubrick knew traditional traveling matte technology was out “because I feel that it is impossible to get original-looking quality with traveling mattes” (ibid.:443). 26. Raymond Fielding describes contact printing as follows: The original negative, containing certain image components, which we wish to transfer to the finished scene, is printed to a master positive on a stepprinter. The master positive is then threaded into a process camera in bi-pack fashion, with a roll of fine-grain duplicating negative raw stock. The master positive is placed directly behind the aperture plate and the dupe negative behind the master positive, both strips in contact, emulsion-to-emulsion. (Fielding 1968:107–108) Specifically for 2001, Kubrick described the variation on the standard practice, which was based in the color-separation dupe process in order to build up image density: We purposefully did all of our duping with black and white, 3-color masters. (. . .) There were no color interpositives used for combining the shots, and I think this is principally responsible for the lack of grain and the high degree of photographic quality we were able to maintain. More than half of the shots in the picture are dupes, but I don’t think the average viewer would know it. The separations were made, of course, from the original color negative and we then used a number of bi-pack camera-printers for combining the material. A piece of color negative ran through gate while, contact-printed onto it, actually in the camera, were the color separations, each of which was run through in turn. The camera lens “saw” a big white printing field used as the exposure source. (Lightman 1968:443) 27. Lightman (1968:443). 28. Ibid. 29. Documentation and pictures of this device can be found in the Kubrick Archive. 30. Even something that seems as basic as getting the star field to move and look right in the proper perspective took on epic dimensions. Rather than using the expected traveling matte technique, Kubrick instead used labor-intensive, hands-on methods associated with key-frame animation: Twenty enlargers operated by 20 girls were set up in a room and each girl was given a 5–6 foot segment of the scene. She would place one frame at a time in the enlarger, line up the grid on the frame with the grid on her [animation] platen and then trace an outline of the foreground subject onto an animation cel. These would serve as the basis for mattes in the master optical printing in the Technicolor lab (Lightman 1968:443).



31. Front projection used powerful lights and the precise alignment of an angled mirror and light-sensitive screens to “trick” the camera into seeing projected material and live-action material as part of the same space (and registering as such). Front projection was thought to create a more convincing joining of the foreground and background than back projection. The larger screens and powerful lights meant that the picture quality of the background plates registered better, and the foreground figures meshed more seamlessly with the background. MGM had invested heavily in process work research and development, so it is not surprising that Kubrick would want to take advantage of their technology. Bill Taylor, ASC, personal interview; see also Edouart (1943). 32. See Lightman (1968:420). 33. Kubrick was bitter about the attention Trumbull received for 2001, which he believed was exaggerated and diminished his own contribution. He went so far as to run an ad—sixteen years later, in the Hollywood Reporter (“An Open Letter from MGM/ UA and Stanley Kubrick” [1984] )—that attempted to turn the spotlight back to himself (and the other effects artists) and away from Trumbull, emphasizing Trumbull’s place as one of a team, not the effects supervisor. 34. He did direct the modestly successful Silent Running (1972) and the troubleplagued Brainstorm (1983). 35. Along with Showscan, which will be discussed more thoroughly in chapter 8, Trumbull built a number of ride films, including for the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas, and served as the president of IMAX in the 1990s. See “Some Pin Exhibition Hopes . . .” Daily Variety (1982). 36. For example, see “Douglas Trumbull’s Brave New World” (1986) and Jack Kroll, “The Wizard of Special Effects” (1977:99). 37. In personal interviews, Syd Dutton, Richard Winn Taylor, and John Dykstra all reference 2001 as an important influence. 38. Including Mark Stetson (Superman Returns, 2006), Mike Fink (The Golden Compass, 2007), Hoyt Yeatman (Underdog, 2007), and Scott Squires (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, 2011). 39. See McBride (1974). 40. See “The Honor Roll: Farciot Edouart” (1974:776); and “After 52 Years with Paramount, . . .” (1967). 41. L. B. Abbott was named director of all special effects for Twentieth Century Fox in 1957 and held that post until retired in 1970. “Obituary: L. B. Abbott” (1985). 42. Gillespie worked at MGM for forty years and, before that, at Goldwyn studio from 1923. He retired in 1965. “Obituary: Arnold Gillespie” (1978). 43. See the Variety article, “Brit Technicians . . . ,” (1980). 44. Personal interview with Whitlock protégés Bill Taylor and Syd Dutton. 45. Personal interview, Bill Taylor. 46. Quoted in Harwood, “Film Effects Men Turn Trick . . . ,” (1977). 47. “Sensurround” (1974:1312–). 48. See McClay, “Earthquake” (1974:1289).



49. See Loring (1975). 50. Downplaying the composite effects is a long Hollywood tradition, consistent with the notion that knowing about them diminishes the cinematic magic, a practice that the post–Star Wars films would reverse. 51. See, for example, Manohla Dargis, “In the Studios’ Shadow, . . .” (2004), about Pat O’Neill’s work for Lucas. 52. According to Bill Taylor, personal interview. 53. A number of Southern California “farm schools” trained students specifically to enter particular entertainment job markets. Most prominent were CalArts (funded primarily by Disney in 1961 as an industry training ground), Cal State Long Beach, and Art Center College of Design in Pasadena (known for its slick industrial design, primarily automotive. 54. See note 37. 55. For an account of one of these events, see Stephen A. Kallis, Jr., “Motion Picture ‘Magic’ Demonstrated . . .” (1972:188). 56. Many older houses competed for feature work with the new houses in the late 1970s and early 1980s (but did not really adapt well to the changed landscape). Many went out of business in the reorganization of the effects business in the 1980s, but many are still active with a revised business model, such as Pacific Title, Graphic Films, and others. 57. Bill Taylor, personal interview. 58. Dunn retired in 1981, and Film Effects Hollywood was sold to Coppola’s American Zoetrope. It reportedly failed due to Coppola’s neglect or poor management. See Bob Harris, “The Reel West” (1984). 59. Dunn and Love developed the optical printer for a wartime military standardization project. Though it is unclear in my research thus far specifically what optical printers were used for in wartime, the military played an important role in developing equipment that would be important to later effects work. See Turner (1985:34–42). 60. See, for example, Linwood Dunn, “The Cinemagic of the Optical Printer,” in Dunn and Turner (1983), for more examples of optical printing in Citizen Kane. As in the case with The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler, 1946), John Fulton completed some important optical printing work that masqueraded as deep focus (for example in the nose of the plane in the beginning of the film). See Paul Mandell, “Making Miracles the Hard Way: John P. Fulton, ASC” (1983:42–). Gregg Toland published a number of articles on deep space photography, but was conspicuously silent on the contribution of the optical printer operators for his deep-focus effects. 61. According to his unpublished autobiography, Dunn began his production career as DP (on a hand-cranked movie camera) on silent Pathé serials in 1926 in Hollywood, as well as a freelance cinematographer on feature films. Linwood Gale Dunn, PhD, ASC, “Biography” (written in the 1980s), in the “Linwood Dunn” clipping files of the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library. 62. Ibid. 63. Bill Taylor, personal interview. In fact, Kubrick and his team borrowed the 70mm optical contact printer from Film Effects and had it sent to the U.K. for 2001, which they



named the “Linn Dunn Printer” in his honor. Thanks to Bryan Loftus, optical printer operator on 2001, for this information, personal interview, London, Oct. 25, 2007. 64. Film Effects Hollywood service brochure, Kubrick Archive. 65. Ibid. The brochure was apparently sent to Stanley Kubrick when he was scouting effects companies for 2001: A Space Odyssey. 66. I also argue that Dunn’s constant stressing of the elaborate optical techniques in Mad, Mad World, as well as the broader coverage the film received in publications such as American Cinematographer, was instrumental in bringing optical techniques back to the attention of the technical filmmaking community. Since realizing problems with color rear projection, technicians had been casting about for composite techniques as an alternative to color rear projection. 67. Bill Taylor, personal interview. 68. Anderson was a beneficiary of studio equipment sell-offs. See “Special Effects Specialists Are Once Again . . .” (1978). 69. Kirk Honeycutt, “Optical Trick King . . .” (1977). 70. Van Der Veer Photo Effects was mostly known for traveling matte blue-screen work, had its own matte painting facility with a matte artist (Lou Lichenfield, who had worked at Fox and Warner Bros.), and L. B. Abbott was an in-house consultant. See “Van der Veer” (1979). 71. Other similar companies included the Westheimer Company, founded by Joseph Westheimer in 1955, who got his start in the motion picture unit of the U.S. Army Air Corps, and then worked for Warner Bros. and Eagle-Lion in their special effects departments. Westheimer mostly worked on ads and for television shows such as Star Trek, The Outer Limits, The Wild, Wild West, The Twilight Zone, Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, Dynasty, and Moonlighting until his retirement in 1989. See “Obituary: Joseph Westheimer” (1998). Richard Edlund, said that, while at Westheimer: “I did everything. I was a cameraman, I hand lettered titles, I set up weird trick shots like those marching Gillette razor blades and the ones showing how all those tomatoes squeeze into a bottle of Hunts ketchup.” See Pat Broeske, “Wizardry of Edlund . . .” (1986). 72. Many independent production companies, such as AIP (Meteor, The Swarm), hired Van der Veer. Most unhappily for Van der Veer’s future reputation, they did a great deal of work for famously thrifty Dino de Laurentiis, including the 1976 King Kong, Orca (1977), and Flash Gordon (1980). De Laurentiis hired them because they would work economically, often after firing a more expensive house, as was the case in 1983 for Dino de Laurentiis’ production of Dune (1984). He had originally hired John Dykstra’s house Apogee, but the deal fell through due to “conflicts over location shooting.” See Alex Block, “Special Effects Industry Small, . . .” (1983). Van der Veer’s reputation also suffers due to being caught up in a special effects industry scandal relating to the 1976 Oscar for Visual Effects. The visual effects committee, chaired by stop-motion animator and matte painter Jim Danforth, had decided not to award a Visual Effects Oscar for that year (as had also happened in 1973), since the main candidates were not considered worthy. The award was nevertheless given for King Kong and Logan’s Run (both for which Van der Veer did the major effects), allegedly



under pressure of de Laurentiis. Danforth and other committee members, including Al Whitlock, resigned in protest. See Honeycutt (1977) and Joseph McBride, “2 More Quit Acad . . . ” (1977. 73. Filming miniatures at a faster frame rate gives them the illusion of greater weight, so that they appear to be moving at a speed appropriate to their size. For more information on this, see Fielding (1968). 74. To be fair, Van der Veer’s firm worked on many other films and projects now more highly regarded in the special effects community. For example, it completed a good deal of outsourced rotoscope and animation work for Star Wars (including much of the work on the light saber) as well as for 1941 (1979), Spielberg’s follow-up to Close Encounters. Because it had built up a reliable track record, Van der Veer was for a while a serious bidding rival for feature projects to the post–Star Wars houses that had sprung up after 1978. However, by not pursuing the new standard for meticulously rendered integrated photorealism that was the trend after Star Wars, Van der Veer did not keep up with the direction the industry was heading. Van Der Veer also seems to be the only house whose phone number the New York Times had on file (or who would talk to them). In immediate post–Star Wars articles about the “new” special effects, Van der Veer (which the Times misspells as Van de Vere) is the main informant in regard to the state of the industry. See Carolyn See, “Hollywood’s Secret Star . . . ” (1977). 75. John Swallow (former employee at Apogee and special effects producer, Universal Studios), personal interview, Universal Studios, CA, July 21, 2006. 76. The priority given to building cinematic environments over structures favoring stricter narrative causality as an important way contemporary Hollywood cinema narrates (a rare area of agreement between Thomas Elsaesser and David Bordwell) could, and probably should, largely be credited to Trumbull. Note also Bukatman’s essays suggesting the implications for Trumbull’s encompassing cinematic worlds in science fiction and fantasy films since the mid-1970s. See Bordwell (2006); Bukatman, “The Artificial Infinite: On Special Effects and the Sublime” (in Bukatman 2003); and Bukatman, “The Ultimate Trip: Special Effects and Kaleidoscopic Perception” (in Elsaesser, Horwath, and King 2004:75–); Elsaesser (2006). 77. Kevin Thomas, “Technology’s Impact on Society . . . ” (1971). 78. Don Shay and Jody Duncan, “2001: A Time Capsule” (2001:81). 79. Thomas (1971). 80. Douglas Trumbull, “The Slit Scan Process as  .  .  .” (1969). According to John Whitney Jr., his father coined the term “motion graphics” as a term of art. John Whitney Jr. (independent filmmaker and producer, computer animation pioneer), personal interview, Hollywood, CA, July 20, 2007. 81. John Whitney, Jr., personal interview. 82. Ibid. Also, Whitney talks about the incident obliquely, without naming names, in Brick (1972:58). 83. Whitney Sr. described his animation mechanisms in an article for American Cinematographer, directly in response to a reference made to his work in a previous article on 2001: A Space Odyssey. See Whitney, “Animation Mechanisms” (1971:26–).



84. According to Bill Taylor, “[Cascade] could do anything with a TV commercial. [ . . . ] They couldn’t have been more different in emphasis than Abel, which was the home of super backlit graphics.” Bill Taylor, personal interview. 85. Specific information about Cascade is scarce, but peer-reviewed professional message boards fill in some gaps in the record. See, for example, stopmotionanimation. com, a website that mixes professional discussion on animation with amateur enthusiast discussion. 86. For an (albeit brief) academic account of the stop-motion cult in the 1970s, see Michele Pierson’s account (2002:66–77). For a colloquial, but more “insider” account, see the documentary produced for the Criterion DVD (Disc 2) of Dennis Murenn’s Equinox (1967). 87. This is in contrast to creature animation, which tends to be less anthropomorphic or whimsical and is more concerned with dynamic movement in line with the logic of the creature’s physical structure. It can also be contrasted to puppet animation, which is equally anthropomorphic and whimsical, but is not reliant on photographic technology (specifically stop motion) for its aesthetic effect. 88. The precise details of the story occasionally change, but is told this way in Mandell (1980:5). 89. Tippett’s position, though central, was always a bit more independent than the others. Although the others were full-time ILM employees, Tippett typically worked at ILM more as a freelance contractor or consultant, starting his own influential effects house, Tippett Studios, in the mid-1980s. 90. Richard Edlund, “Special Visual Effects for Empire” (1980:552). Edlund explains the ILM philosophy behind the aesthetics of motion control, that a more mathematically perfect motion-control shot is “so perfect that it is not interesting,” and requires a “human element to it” (565). 91. Or, more properly, a “Go-motion” creature. Go-motion technology will be discussed more thoroughly in chapter 7. 92. Dennis Muren explains the relation between the Go-motion and the motioncontrol units in “Effects Photography for Empire” (1980:572), in the same issue of American Cinematographer where Mandell covers in detail the whole tauntaun overhead shot, as well as the Go-Motion program for Empire (1980:4–). 93. Myrna Oliver, “Obituary: Robert Abel” (2001). 94. Abel’s ads cost $1,500–2,000 for every second, two to four times the industry average. But clients apparently believed he was worth the money: Abel had the top clients, 7UP, Chevrolet, ABC, CBS, Max Factor, Zenith, Levis, and won thirty-three Clio Awards. See Jeffery Kaye, “Abel Neglex Trex Effex” (1979). 95. When asked, “When did you first get your hands on a motion-control system?,” Richard Winn Taylor (no relation to Bill Taylor), one of the original effects supervisors at Abel, replied: “At Abel studios. […] We built a one-of-a-kind camera system there that had a computer, we called it HAL9000 or something, It ran with punch tapes, and it controlled Selsyn motors that ran the camera down the track, and ran the follow focus cam, and controlled the exposure, timed the frame, all that. It was motion control, this



was before Star Wars, roughly 1973, that was “Bubbles” and we were using it then.” Richard Winn Taylor, personal interview. 96. Ibid. 97. Richard Winn Taylor started working professionally developing the filmed visuals for the traveling light and music show “Rainbow Jam.” Richard Winn Taylor, personal interview. 98. According to Abel, fantasy was defined in terms of surrealists, such as “Magritte, Chagall, and Dali” (James Delson, “The Future of Special Effects” [1979] ). Abel liked to cite nonverbal communication gestalt theory and surrealist painting as the bases for his approach to ad work. He said he wanted images that would “reach directly into the subconscious where images and ideas are held for long periods of time.” John Purvis, “Levis to Star Trek: . . .” (1978:39–). 99. See Broeske (1986). 100. See Kaye (1979). 101. Don Shay, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture: . . .” (1980). 102. “Obituary: Robert Abel,” The Hollywood Reporter (2001). 103. Ibid., and The Story of Computer Graphics (Siggraph video documentary, 1999). 104. Untitled report of a rare post-retirement public appearance by Abel. Hollywood Reporter (February 18, 1998). 105. Besides TV advertising, other frequent clients for the independent effects houses were the independent filmmaking outfits, which formed a parallel production schedule to the big-budget Hollywood films—forexample, John Carpenter’s Dark Star (1974) and Howard Ziehm’s Flesh Gordon (1974). 106. In New York, R/Greenberg Associates was especially prominent, best known for opening title designs and designing logos for films, but later moved into the movie special effects field with Ellen Burstyn’s Resurrection (1980). They billed themselves as “Offering an alternative to traditional [effects] generated at Pinewood and Shepperton in England, as well as ILM (Lucas), EEG (Trumbull), and Apogee (Dykstra).” Dick Smith, “Special Effects Looming Larger . . . ” (1984). 107. See McBride (1974). 108. Pierson (2002:66–77). 109. As reported in several trade publications in the mid-1970s—for example, in McBride (1974); also in James Harwood, “Earthquake’s Al Whitlock Bemoans  .  .  .” (1975); and “Special Effects Booming, but . . .” (1978). 110. A list of Dunn’s appearances, circa 1974, appears in the “Linwood Dunn” clipping files of the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library. 111. Document from Film Effects Hollywood, circa 1974, in the “Linwood Dunn” clipping files (ibid.). 112. Ibid. 113. A videotape of Dunn’s presentation, with audio of Dunn talking over it, can be seen in the Linwood Dunn Collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Pickford Center archive, Hollywood.



114. Undated document in the “Linwood Dunn” clipping files: “Special Effects Film Presentations and Lectures Given by Linwood G. Dunn, ASC. President, Film Effects Hollywood, Inc.,” which lists the locations of ninety programs given between 1965 in San Diego and June 2, 1976, in Los Angeles (SMPTE). 115. Other studio old hands did their part as well. Besides appearing with Dunn, Arnold Gillespie also gave lectures at film schools and, at the suggestion of a USC student, wrote an informal how-to book (“Big Ones Out of Little Ones,” unpublished, but on deposit at the Academy’s Herrick Library), per McBride (1974). L. B. Abbott published a long article, “The Cameraman and Special Photographic Effects” (1975:1150–), enumerating and explaining the technical details of traditional special visual effects techniques for both cinematographers and special effects camera operators. 116. Filmex (L.A. film journal) announcement of Dunn’s program, April 7, 1974 (which also included Art Cruickshank, Howard Anderson Jr., Paul Lerpae, and CSC representative Wally Gentleman). 117. Museum of Fine Arts/Boston, Lecture Series on “The Future of Special Effects and Animation,” Oct. 25–27, 1974. featured “History of Animation” by Chuck Jones, “The History of Special Effects of the Still Image” by Dr. Carl Chiarenza, “Animation and Special Effects in the Independent Cinema” with Robert Breer and Pat O’Neill, “The History and Future of Special Effects in the Cinema” by Linwood Dunn, “Image Synthesis from Slit-Scan to Raster-Scan” by John Whitney, “The Relationship of Special Effects in Film and Video” by Ed Emshwiller (sci-fi illustrator and technician of independent cinema), and “25 Years from Now: The Future of the Audio-Visual Environment” by Isaac Asimov. 118. Howard, “Special Photographic Effects” (1974). 119. According to Syd Dutton (personal interview): “Up in San Francisco I had gone to a Linn Dunn lecture and that was the first time I ever learned anything about matte painting. I was amazed by it.” Bill Taylor (personal interview) contacted Dunn about job possibilities and that’s how he ended up at Mercer’s. Dunn was reportedly happy to give career advice to anyone who asked. Anecdotally, many filmmakers and technicians have cited Dunn’s lectures as an inspiration, including Trumbull, Dykstra, Muren, Edlund, Randall Cook, and more. Dunn visited the set of Star Wars at the behest of Twentieth Century Fox, and was greeted as a “beloved dean of special effects” by the crew. See Don Shay, “Of Ice planets, . . .” (1980), an interview with Richard Edlund on The Empire Strikes Back. 120. “I saw [Dunn’s program] quite a few times, because we happened to be on touring in similar cycles, so I’d go to different cities and look at it.” Pat O’Neill, personal interview. 121. See note 21 of chapter 3. 122. See, for example, “John Dykstra” (1978:45–) (on “Battlestar Galactica”), and Dykstra on The Empire Strikes Back in American Cinematographer (June 1980) and Cinefex 3 (1980). 123. See Mandell (1978:19).



124. Pat O’Neill, personal interview; and Edlund (1983:15, 67). 125. See, for example, the series of special inserts in American Cinematographer (May and August 2007, and forthcoming) called “Authoring Images,” which explore how digital imagery and manipulation (especially the digital intermediate) has affected the “creative triangle” in pre-production, filming, and through to postproduction. 126. See, for example, Jack Kroll, “Star Trekking” (1977); Chris Hodenfield, “Masters of Illusion” (1978); and Delson (1979). 127. See .“Howard Anderson Sees Another Jump . . .” (1967); McBride (1974); Harwood (1975, 1977); and See (1977).

3. The Expanded Blockbuster: The Auteurist Aesthetics of 1970s Special Effects–Driven Filmmaking 1. Lucas, quoted in John Seabrook, “Letter from Skywalker Ranch: Why Is the Force Still with Us?,” in the New Yorker (January 6, 1997), reprinted in Kline (1999:202). Lucas has also said that in Star Wars he was “going for emotions over ideas,” which may be another way of saying he was more interested in affect and sensual engagement than what he called the “literary.” See Biskind (1998:343). 2. Pauline Kael, “The Greening of . . .” (1977:177, emphasis added). 3. For a rehearsal of auteurism critiques, see, Staiger, “The Politics of . . .” (1985). 4. This is typically the hyperbole of popular critics such as Peter Biskind, Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly (, or Richard Corliss of Time magazine ( article/0,28804,1625074_1625073_1625054,00.html. 5. Kline (1999:60). Lucas then claims that, after his experimentations with narrative in what he called the “sequence films” of THX-1138 (1971) and American Graffiti (1973), Star Wars was for him an experiment with “old style narrative.” 6. For remembrances of Star Wars’ impact on young future filmmakers, see “ ‘Star Wars’ 35th Anniversary: Jon Favreau, Eli Roth & 13 Other Filmmakers on How George Lucas’ Classic Influenced Them” (see 7. Again, the major surveys of 1970s filmmaking, namely Cook (2000), and influential economic accounts of the era, such as Wyatt (1994), Maltby (1995), and Prince (2000), or narrative discussions like Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson (1985), typically make surprisingly brief reference to Star Wars. The more recent Will Brooker book on Star Wars (2009) is an exceptionally detailed study of the film. Brooker also excellently sums up and cites the academic “embarrassment” over Star Wars (8). 8. See Cook (2000:2–3). 9. Such as MCA buying Universal in 1962 or Gulf & Western buying Paramount in 1966, per Cook (2000:2–3).

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10. See, for example, Wyatt (1994), Maltby (1995), Thompson (1999), Cook (2000), Elsaesser, Howarth, and King (2004), Bordwell (2006). Whether you see blockbuster production as an “intensification” of the classical style (as Bordwell and Thompson do) or as a shift to a new paradigm of “post-classical” filmmaking (as in Elsaesser), it is hard not to argue that Star Wars and Close Encounters, among others, emphasize sensation and “attractions” over tight narration and character. 11. Biskind, writing from the vantage point of the late 1990s, is one of the most vocal anti-Lucas and Spielberg critics: “When all was said and done, Lucas and Spielberg returned the ’70’s audience, grown sophisticated on a diet of European and New Hollywood films, to the simplicities of the pre-’60’s Golden Age of movies” (Biskind 1998:343–44). Biskind even provides a good roundup of others who share his opinion, such as Pauline Kael’s later charge that the new blockbusters were “infantilizing the audience, reconstituting the spectator as child, then overwhelming him and her with sound and spectacle, obliterating irony, aesthetic self-consciousness, and critical reflection” (344). Director William Friedkin likens Star Wars to McDonalds: “the taste for good food just disappeared” (344). Biskind even quotes Marcia Lucas, ex-wife of George and editor of many of his films: “Right now . . . there are so few good films, and part of me thinks Star Wars is partly responsible for the direction the industry has gone in, and I feel badly about that” (345). As a representative example, academic arguments against what Star Wars wrought are often somewhat implicit (though not subtle). To cite a few prominent instances: David Cook calls the “Lucas-Spielberg juggernaut” “juvenile” and “conservative” and links them to Reaganite economic policies (2000:xvi–xvii). Likewise, Robin Wood in Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (1986) links Star Wars to political conservatism. Richard Maltby quotes (by way of agreeing with) Thomas Doherty’s charge of blockbuster filmmaking’s “juvenilization of American Cinema,” in Richard Maltby, ‘‘ ‘Nobody Knows Everything’: Post-Classical Historiographies and Consolidated Entertainment,” in Neale and Smith (2000:34). 12. See Maltby, ‘‘Nobody Knows Everything,” in Neale and Smith (2000:27). 13. See Wyatt (1994). 14. Ibid., 13. 15. Ibid., 23. 16. Ironically, it was often said about the 1980s that the most interesting “filmmaking” was happening in the TV commercials. As discussed in chapter 2, most often it was said about Abel and Associates’ “candy apple neon” style ads. For example, see Purvis (1978:39–). Also, Stanley Kubrick unsarcastically praises the “complex . . . visual poetry” of TV commercials in Phillips (2001:199). 17. See Wyatt (1994:26–28). 18. No doubt the long-standing academic mistrust of aestheticization in part derives from Frankfurt School critics (such as Max Honkheimer and Theodore W. Adorno’s attack on the culture industry in Dialectic of Enlightenment), and especially from Walter Benjamin’s often-quoted call against the aestheticization of politics at the end of


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his “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” (1936). What troubled Benjamin was not aesthetics as a category, but that certain kinds of aesthetics could be put toward fascist uses. Elsewhere in the same essay Benjamin argues for the role of specifically cinematic aesthetics as a way to break away from old idealist artforms. See Benjamin (2002). 19. Gunning, “The Cinema of Attractions,” in Elsaesser and Barker (1990). 20. Which is perhaps in retrospect not so surprising, as 2001’s slow-paced, enigmatic intellectualism perhaps requires some hindsight to gain critical approbation, while Star Wars’ pleasures are more immediate. This is reflected in the contemporary critical reactions. Roger Ebert gave 2001 a mixed review (“it fails on the human level but succeeds magnificently on a cosmic scale”) (Ebert 1968), but for Star Wars: “I found myself feeling a combination of admiration and delight. ‘Star Wars’ had placed me in the presence of really magical movie invention: Here, all mixed together, were whimsy and fantasy, simple wonderment and quietly sophisticated storytelling” (Ebert, “Star Wars,” 1977). Variety likewise says of 2001: “A major achievement in cinematography and special effects, ‘2001’ lacks dramatic appeal to a large degree and only conveys suspense after the halfway mark. Despite the enormous technical staff involved in making the film, it is almost entirely one man’s conception and Kubrick must receive all the praise—and take all the blame” (“2001,” Daily Variety 1968). But: “ ‘Star Wars’ is a magnificent film. George Lucas set out to make the biggest possible adventure fantasy out of his memories of serials and older action epics, and he succeeded brilliantly. [. . .] The results equal the genius of Walt Disney, Willis O’Brien and other justifiably famous practitioners of what Irwin Allen calls ‘movie magic’ ” (Murphy 1977). 21. See Canby, “Star Wars” (1977), and Canby, “An Encounter That Is Out of This World” (1977). Both Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel gave both films positive reviews: Ebert, “Star Wars” (1977) and “Close Encounters” (1977); and Siskel, “Star Wars Flashes . . .” (1977) and “Close Encounters Is a First-Rate Entertainment . . .” (1977). Stanley Kauffmann was not enthusiastic about Star Wars (“Innocences,” 1977), but was surprisingly positive about Close Encounters (“Epiphany,” 1977). 22. See Phillips (2001:90). 23. Ibid. 24. See Kline (1999:19, 22, 43); and Friedman and Notbaum (2000:13, 79). 25. Olivier Assayas, “SPFX News,” Cahiers du Cinéma 315–318 (1980). Assayas also cannily points out that many of these new kinds of productions, which he imagines should require directors with a totally complete set of filmmaking skills, are often directed by the most traditional of “interchangeable” Hollywood directors such as Robert Wise and Richard Donner. 26. As suggested strongly by Biskind (1998), and at least implicitly by Pye and Myles (1979), as well as by Stephen Farber’s “George Lucas: The Stinky Kid Hits the Big Time” (1974), originally published in Film Quarterly, in Kline (1999). 27. Lucas: “We calculated that there are something like $8 million worth of science fiction freaks in the USA and they will go to see absolutely anything with a title like Star Wars.” Quoted in Kline (1999:80–81).

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28. Siskel called it a “hip updating of . . . the Flash Gordon serials” (May 27, 1977). Also see reviews, for example, by Vincent Canby (May 26, 1977:66) and A. D. Murphy (1977). 29. See Lightman (1978:42). 30. Trumbull, quoted in Kilday (1977). 31. The USC Cinema Department Student Guide from the 1960s at the USC cinema library lists courses and professors but, unhappily, not syllabi with film screenings. See also Biskind (1998) and Pollock (1999) for their take on the atmosphere of USC in the 1960s. 32. See Kline (1999):207). 33. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Potemkin at least was widely shown (Spielberg and Kubrick both make somewhat negative reference to the film in Friedman and Notbohm (2000:66) and in Phillips (2001:103–104), along with comments about other Soviet filmmakers (Vsevolod Pudovkin and Lev Kuleshov). There are also many anecdotal accounts of seeing Potemkin around this time in commercial theaters, such as cinematographer John Hora’s (Gremlins, 1984): “We [Dennis Jakob and I] saw Battleship Potemkin together at the Cornet theater [in Pasadena], and I was reborn.” Hora, “ASC Close-up” (2007:112). 34. See Youngblood (1970:75). 35. Vorkapich (1972:223). 36. Thompson (1999); Bordwell (2006). 37. In the case of traditional animation, this plasticity is more potential than actual. The Fordist assembly-line industrial efficiency of most animation meant the splitting up of different elements, much of which was automated and repeated, such as the background. See Crafton (1993). However, the single hand animator and the experimental animator working alone were examples of the “plasmatic” flexibility that Eisenstein so admired in Disney’s early animation. See Eisenstein (1988). 38. The “Special Edition” of Star Wars in 1997 supports this claim, since one of the major changes made was to add more individual CGI elements to the frame, increasing the density of figures and motion. Also, the tendency toward greater density is especially ramped up in Lucas’s Star Wars prequel trilogy, but especially Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith (2005). 39. The heterogeneity extended to the narrative of Star Wars as well. As many have noted, Star Wars is a mashup of mythological ur-narratives and 1950s sci-fi serials as well a meta-filmmaking narrative about the struggle of the independently minded filmmaker (Brooker 2009). Aesthetically, it combines disorienting and kinetic “moving into infinity” hyperspace and spaceship battles (experimental filmmaking), graphic in-frame montages of spaceship models (2001, Flash Gordon serials), fast-paced montage editing (Soviet montage), gritty “documentary” location shooting (1960s New Hollywood filmmaking), as well as sets designed to look aged and dirty. 40. Bukatman begins his discussion of Trumbull’s emphasis on the spectatorial relationship to the effect/environment by differentiating it from Dykstra’s in Star Wars and Firefox (1982): he calls Dykstra’s films “all hyperkinesis and participatory action” as opposed to Trumbull’s “especially contemplative” work. See Bukatman (2003:95).


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41. I am grateful to Tom Gunning for this suggestion. 42. See Eyman, “Trumbull the Magician” (1978:24). 43. Again, see reviews by Vincent Canby, A. D. Murphy, and Roger Ebert (see notes 20 and 21). 44. The one place all the elements did cohere and ultimately fuse with the narrative was the bed of the optical printer. After all the various elements of live-action photography, projection plates, animation, and miniature photography are planned, designed, shot, and developed, they are finally joined together, on one strip of film, in the final optical printer composite. The optical printer has the effect of streamlining all the crazyquilt material. In other words, it is the optical printer that made Star Wars into a viable feature film. Close Encounters, on the other hand, employed optical printing toward a more unified-looking aesthetic. It builds its disorientation and awe in a way that appears more controlled and purposeful. 45. Jay Cocks (critic, screenwriter, and friend of Lucas), quoted in Kline (1999:207). 46. Trumbull, quoted in Kroll, “The Wizard of . . . ” (1977:99). 47. Lucas’s famous Eisenstein poster has been pointed out by many interviewers— for his supporters, to lend him an artistic sheen; and, one suspects, for his detractors, to create an ironic/unflattering juxtaposition. Again, I am less concerned with rehabilitating Lucas as a “proper” auteur and more interested in tracking his past rhetoric and self-presentation in relation to his influences and models. 48. Elsaesser, Horwath, and King (2004:39). 49. See Biskind (1998:340); Friedman and Notbohm (2000:86). They have been in business together at least up to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). “Points” refers to “back end” deals to pay out percentage points of the final gross. 50. So much so, that Kenneth Anger accused American Graffiti of being a “rip off ” of his work, probably Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965). Anger’s entire review is worth replicating here: Why have I been back to see CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND six times, braving lines, wait, cold, and four-buck-fifty admission price? Can it be I love the movie? Listen, I have been back to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind six times to see if I have been ripped off. I mean SCORPIO RISING [1964]. The toys, the kid. I mean. LUCIFER RISING [1973–1981]. The saucers. Subject dear to my heart. Other movies that have ripped off Kenneth Anger, AMERICAN GRAFFITI (music), ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE (theme) I’ve stayed away from. Not Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I’ve been back to see it six times. Then there’s the matter of my name (abbreviated) on the track. There it is, Dolbyized, and it sounds just like kenanger in the bust of static at the start of the Indianapolis control room scene. Is that punk hustler Spielberg trying to tell me something like: Haw, haw, ripped you off!?!? See Anger, “A Short Review . . .” (1978:54).

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51. “On the other hand, Star Wars is a classic story and old-style narrative, even blatantly old-fashioned. I wanted to know if I could do it. . . . It’s really what I wanted to do: be the sole architect of a traditional story where everything was linked by cause and effect.” Lucas, quoted in Kline (1999:60). 52. To see how many times Spielberg’s story gets repeated, see, for example, Friedman and Notbohm (2000:28, 38). 53. For a more gossipy account of Spielberg’s position among the New Hollywood filmmakers, see Biskind (1998). 54. The American Zoetrope under discussion is Coppola’s first corporate iteration under that name, which was funded in a joint venture by Warner Bros. as an independent mini-studio in San Francisco in 1969. However, the financial failure of Lucas’s THX-1138 and films forced the studio to revoke promised funding for later pictures. Zoetrope continued on as Coppola’s production company, known for its technological innovation rather than as a mini-studio. For a concise account of the American Zoetrope story, see, for example, the documentary “A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope” on the THX-1138 (Director’s Cut) DVD. 55. See Lightman (1978:58); and Steven Spielberg, “The Unsung Heroes” (1979:68). 56. According to Richard Edlund, he consulted many of the visual effects masters, including Farciot Edouart, Hans Koenkamp, Winton Hoch, and Linwood Dunn, for Star Wars, so “I wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.” Edlund, quoted in Ron Magid, “Forward Thinker” (2008:59). Also, according to Richard Edlund, Fox sent Dunn and Cecil Love to check on the Star Wars effects team; see Shay, “Of Ice Planets, . . .” (1980:15). 57. Lucas, quoted in Kline (1999:50). 58. See Bukatman (2003:82). 59. “John Dykstra” (1978), emphasis in original. See also Brad Dunning, “Lights, Camera  .  .  . Praxis!” (1984); and Kroll, “The Wizard of  .  .  . ” (1977). Further, as the writer editorialized, “Doug Trumbull sees no reason not to expect that, as with the stars of the golden era, special effects artists will soon have their names above the titles.” Hutchinson, “The Incredible World . . .” (1978:62).

4. “The Buck Stops at Opticals”: Special Effects Technology on Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1. Lucas, quoted in “Behind the Scenes of The Empire Strikes Back,” American Cinematographer (June 1980): 546, about getting the funding from Twentieth Century Fox for Star Wars. 2. Lightman (1968:442); Dykstra (1977:704). 3. Trumbull (1978:96). 4. “Behind the Scenes of Star Wars,” American Cinematographer (July 1977): 747, 757. Dykstra also had worked in flight simulation, creating a system for pilot training with computerized cameras (in Kline 1999:58).


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5. This is according to Edlund, albeit thirty years after the fact (in Magid 2008:60). 6. Dykstra (1977:704). 7. Trumbull (1978:72). 8. Ibid. 9. Although it is important that most “virtual” digital camera moves in live-action films—most famously David Fincher’s (such as Fight Club [1999] or Panic Room [2002] ) or the Spiderman films (Rami [2002/2004/2007] )—use as their basis pre-filmed photographed “plates,” which are then built upon and modified digitally. See for example as well the digitally extended shots of actual Chicago turned into expanded Gotham for Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005). 10. Lightman (1968:443). 11. Ibid., 442. 12. Trumbull (1978:72). I do not know yet how the Freddieflex was used. The selfmocking tone of Trumbull’s comments suggests that the professional rivalry is more friendly than rancorous. Trumbull used a version of the Dykstraflex system on Close Encounters, and he and Dykstra worked together again shortly thereafter on Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). It is also worth noting that Trumbull’s description comes after Dykstra had received such acclaim for the results of his Dykstraflex system. On a related note, the “flex” in all these camera names refers to reflex cameras, which use a viewfinder with a mirror attachment to allow the camera operator to see exactly what the lens is “seeing,” rather than the slightly offset “non-reflex” camera viewfinder. This is especially important in visual effects shooting (and principal photography shooting that will have visual effects material added to it), where precise lineup requires knowing exactly what the lens is “seeing.” 13. Lucas in interview on Star Wars widescreen collector’s edition (1995) VHS, Empire Strikes Back. 14. Lucas interviewed in Kline (1999:81–82). 15. Dykstra (1977:702). Dykstra’s reference to aerial dogfights in World War II movies is important in large part because it alludes to the cinematic impact of earlier effects work and the simulation of camera effects, not anything with a pretense to actual aviation. 16. Ibid., 705. 17. Trumbull (1978:73). 18. In the Kubrick archive in London, the effects work documentation carefully logs the activity of the “Linn Dunn” printer, as the crew named it. 19. “Behind the Scenes of Star Wars,” 747. 20. Robert Blalack, “Composite Optical and Photographic Effects for STAR WARS,” American Cinematographer (July 1977): 707, 708; and Mick Garris, “Richard Edlund: 2nd Effects Cameraman,” Cinefantastique 6–7 (1978): 17. 21. See Jay Hoben, “A Complex Web,” American Cinematographer (May 2007): 32; and David Heuring, “The Dream Thieves: Inception,” American Cinematographer (July 2010): 29. 22. Trumbull, quoted in regard to Showscan (in “Big Screen Test” [1981] and “Some Pin Exhibition Hopes on Technological Advances” [1982] ).

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23. In Phillips (2001:201), Trumbull’s “Letter to Editor” (1971), and Kroll, “The Wizard of . . . ” (1977). 24. Kubrick avoided duping, using contact printing as much as possible, but used three-color separation to maintain image density. See Lightman (1968). 25. Scott Higgins, Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s, 23–27. 26. Ibid. 27. The Williams traveling matte process used black-backing, but unlike earlier incamera mattes like those Méliès used, were composited in postproduction. The Dunning Process of the late 1920s used blue- or black-backing and an orange-lighted set to make in-camera composites. These two techniques were eventually combined, modified, and refined, resulting in the blue-screen technology still in use. 28. For more on this attitude, see the interviews in American Cinematographer and Cinefex with Richard Edlund and Dennis Muren on the preparation for The Empire Strikes Back. Both obsess about the matte lines that made it through in Star Wars. By the amount of time and energy they spend on it, they clearly had been given a very strong directive to eliminate that problem. See Edlund (1980), Mandell (1980), Muren (1980), and Shay, “Of Ice Planets, . . . ” (1980). 29. The ILM team solved the shrinkage problem on The Empire Strikes Back by asking Eastman Kodak to make filmstock 5247 on a tougher Estar (rather than acetate) base, to prevent shrinkage and distortion. Bruce Nicholson, “Composite Optical Photography on EMPIRE,” American Cinematographer (June 1980): 571. 30. Mandell (1980:13; emphasis in original). 31. Dykstra (1977:754). 32. Edlund (1980:567). 33. Shay, “Of Ice Planets, . . . ” (1980:12). 34. Trumbull (1978:75). 35. Ibid. 36. Ibid. 37. Lightman (1978:39). 38. The 1973 version was called 5247 100T Process ECN-2. The 1976 version, more specifically, was called 5247/7247 100T. 5254 was introduced in 1964, as 5220. See “Four New Motion Picture Films Introduced by Eastman Kodak,” American Cinematographer (Nov. 1964): 634; and E. E. Gregg Snazelle, “How the New Color Negative Film Will Create Potential for More Production,” American Cinematographer (Sept. 1974): 1074. 39. Cook (2000:369); and Vilmos Zsigmond, “Lights! Camera! and Action! for ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’” American Cinematographer (Jan. 1978): 64–65. 40. Lightman (1978:39). 41. From the 1990s to the 2010s, cinematographers (or whoever is choosing) have a variety of film stocks to select among for different purposes. As David Cook claims in Lost Illusions (2000:370), until 1980 when Fuji released its own film stock that Hollywood cinematographers felt could compete with Kodak, filmmakers did not have that many film stock choices. They had to use what was available, crossed with what the


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production could afford (35mm and 70mm were much more expensive). One advantage touted for the new Kodak stock was to allow better resolution for films shot on 16mm to be blown up to 35mm, and therefore cut the price of many productions without losing image quality). “Kodak Introduces Improved 5247/7247 Color Negative,” American Cinematographer (Jan. 1973): 96.

5. A More Plastic Reality: The Design and Conception of Star Wars and West Coast Experimental Filmmaking 1. “Behind the Scenes of Star Wars” (1977: 700–701). 2. Earlier films that used models and miniatures, matte composites, and other photographic techniques were often very convincingly and seamlessly achieved (for example, Strategic Air Command [Mann, 1955] or The Fountainhead [Vidor, 1949] ), but did not attempt the same kind of intensified layering of the 1970s. 3. Lucas himself acknowledged the impossibility for perfection on Star Wars’ budget (in Kline 1999:50). 4. Ibid. 5. John Dykstra, Chris Casady, and Pat O’Neill, personal interviews by the author; Chris Casady, Larry Cuba, and David and Diana Wilson in Alternative Projections Oral Histories (by various interviewers); and print interviews with Adam Beckett and John Dykstra (by Paul Mandell), as well as Dennis Muran, Richard Edlund, Ken Ralston, and others in Cinefantastique’s special Star Wars issue 7.1 (1978). Chris Casady, Alternative Projections Oral Histories, interviewers Adam Hyman and Mark Toscano, Dec. 4, 2009; Larry Cuba, Alternative Projections Oral Histories, interviewer Andrew Johnston, July 23, 2010; David Wilson, Alternative Projections Oral Histories, interviewer Mark Toscano (date unknown, c. 2010); Diana Wilson, Alternative Projections Oral Histories, interviewer Mark Toscano (date unknown, c. 2010). Transcript of the event “Infinite Animation work of Adam Beckett,” interviewees Dave Berry, Beth Block, Chris Casady (Director), Richard Edlund, Jules Engel, Jon Erland, Roberta Friedman, Bruce Green, Peter Kuran, Richard Taylor II, Pat O’Neill, Pamela Turner, David Wilson, at the Linwood Dunn Theater at the Acadamy’s Pickford Center, Hollywood CA, Jan. 19, 2010. 6. Though Lucas long claimed that Campbell was an inspiration, in interviews he did not put it front and center of his influences until considerably later, and especially not until the late 1990s when ramping up publicity for the prequel trilogy. 7. “Behind the Scenes of Star Wars” (1977:700). 8. Ibid. 9. Kline (1999:44). 10. “Francis [Ford Coppola] is the arty director. He’s the one who likes psychological motivations, Brecht and Albee and Tennessee Williams. I’m more drawn to Flash Gordon. I like action-adventure, chases, things blowing up, and I have strong feelings about science fiction and comic books and that sort of world. [ . . . ] I’m very akin to a toymaker. I like to make things move.” Ibid., 43.



11. Ibid., 44. 12. As is well known, it is increasingly difficult to see the 1977 version of Star Wars since 1997’s “Special Edition” theater and DVD release, which digitally added, subtracted, and cleaned up elements of the 1977 version Lucas was not satisfied with. Lucasfilm will not allow prints of the original release to be screened in repertory, and the 1977 version currently exists only in an out-of-print laserdisc, VHS, and as a “bonus disc” on the 2004 DVD release, also currently out of print. Various fan websites chronicle the different versions and what many fans consider Lucas’s suppression of the 1977 release. Many fans consider the unrestored 2004 “bonus disc” version to be of intentionally poor quality, in order to boost the reputation of the various digitally altered versions. See, for example, and I am working from the “bonus disc” billed as the 1977 version on the 2004 DVD release, as well as the 1995 widescreen VHS release. 13. “Behind the Scenes of Star Wars” (1977:701). 14. To this end, he also hired as Director of Photography Gil Taylor, cameraman on Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Kubrick, 1964) and A Hard Day’s Night (Lester, 1964), which he called “good, eccentrically photographed pictures with a strong documentary flavor” (ibid., 700–701). 15. See Pye and Myles (1979), Biskind (1998), and Brooker (2009). 16. Lucas in fact admired Reggio’s later Koyaanisqatsi (for which Coppola served as an executive producer), and later Lucas served as executive producer for Reggio’s follow-up, Powaqqatsi (1988). 17. As seen on After Film School, What? (KCET [1967], recorded October 20, 1967), at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. A poor-quality version of the film can be seen on YouTube. 18. Lucas’s student films can be seen at the USC Cinema Library, and some of them on YouTube. 19. The tendency to refer to himself as an experimental filmmaker, rather than a traditionally auteurist filmmaker, seems to have become even more pronounced as time goes by. As he recounted in 1997: “After I did American Graffiti my friends said, ‘George you should make more of an artistic statement,’ but I feel Star Wars did make a statement— in a more visual, less literary way. People said I should have made Apocalypse Now after Graffiti, and not Star Wars. They said I should be doing movies like Taxi Driver. I said, ‘Well, Star Wars is a kid’s movie, but I think it’s just as valid of an art film as Taxi Driver.’ Besides, I couldn’t ever do Taxi Driver. I don’t have it in me. I could do Koyaanisqatsi but not Taxi Driver” (Kline 1999:211). 20. So successfully, that John Whitney Sr. said (sincerely, it seems, in spite of the fact that the streaking technique was based partially on his own, though a few stages removed) of Star Wars’ hyperspace streak effects, “It would be impossible to find a more exact visual dramatization of this purely fictional idea of a time warp. I expect it will be used again and again.” John Whitney, “Motion Control: An Overview,” American Cinematographer (Dec. 1981): 1243. 21. Both Betzy Bromberg and Pat O’Neill expressed this sentiment to me in interviews. Bromberg: “Honestly, I feel like what was tapped out of me was a lot of time,



energy, skill, but every drop of skill that the industry got out of me, I got twice as much for my own films.” Bromberg, personal interview by author, Tunjunga, CA, July 9, 2007. 22. This is also substantiated by Lucas’s film school experience in editing and experimental filmmaking and work experience in areas of animation, title-making, and optical camerawork. 23. Pat O’Neill, personal interview by author, Pasadena, CA, July 19, 2007, and Chris Casady, personal interview by author, Hollywood, CA, June 21 and June 24, 2010. 24. Although they could have worked (and did) for independent effects houses. Bill Taylor, personal interview by author, Van Nuys, CA, July 25, 2006, and Syd Dutton, personal interview by author, Van Nuys, CA, July 25, 2006. 25. The USC Cinema Department Student Guide from the 1960s at the USC cinema library lists courses and professors but, unhappily, not syllabi with film screenings. 26. See Johnston (2011). 27. For example, as Biskind put it, “Lucas’s genius was to strip away the Marxist ideology of a master of editing like Eisenstein, or the critical irony of an avant-garde filmmaker like Bruce Connor, and wed their montage technique to American pulp. Star Wars pioneered the cinema of moments, of images, of sensory stimuli increasingly divorced from story, which is why it translates so well into video games” (Biskind 1998:343). 28. Pat O’Neill, personal interview; Betzy Bromberg, personal interview; and Roberta Friedman, personal remarks to author, Los Angeles, CA, Nov. 12, 2010. 29. Julie Turnock, “The True Stars of Star Wars” (Jan. 2015). 30. Pat O’Neill, personal interview; Chris Casady, personal interview; and Larry Cuba, Alternative Projections Oral Histories. 31. Legends of the formation of ILM (such as Cotta Vaz and Duigan [1996] ) concentrate on the core ILM team, led by John Dykstra at the original ILM facility in Van Nuys. However, by the final months of production, Lucasfilm needed to farm out a good deal of optical work in order to complete the film on time. As Adam Beckett, experimental animator and core ILM rotoscope artist on Star Wars put it, “just about every optical house in town worked on Star Wars” (Mandell 1987:19). 32. O’Neill, personal interview. 33. Pat O’Neill, personal interview; Syd Dutton, personal interview; and Chris Casady, personal interview. For a description of Dunn’s presentations, see Kallis (1972). The Linwood Dunn Collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Pickford Center archive also has several versions of Dunn’s various presentation reels, some with his recorded voice speaking over the clips. 34. As Bromberg said, “The experimental film community can look down on people who work in the industry. There’s a whole thing. Students look down on industry a lot of times. Which to me is insane” (Betzy Bromberg, personal interview). Casady expresses similar sentiments (Chris Casady, personal interview). 35. O’Neill, Bromberg, and Casady express similar sentiments. Pat O’Neill, personal interview; Betzy Bromberg, personal interview; and Chris Casady, personal interview. Remarks by Robert Blalack in interview in Levine (1998).



36. Betzy Bromberg, personal interview. 37. As was the case with John Whitney Sr., who did not work on Star Wars or Close Encounters, but played an important role in developing techniques that were used in both. 38. Pat O’Neill, personal interview. 39. Mandell, “Adam Beckett” (1978:20). 40. Betzy Bromberg, personal interview. 41. Trumbull (1969). 42. Pat O’Neill, personal interview. 43. Ibid. 44. Mandell, “Adam Beckett” (1978:20; emphasis in original). 45. Cuba generated the simulation using the Grass system at the University of Illinois, Chicago Campus, a system developed by Tom DeFanti at Ohio State, according to Many other technicians with a background in experimental filmmaking at art schools like CalArts worked on Star Wars, such as Peter Kuran, David Berry, Chris Casady, Loring Doyle, and Donna Tracy. For more on these artists in the special effects field as well as their experimental work while at CalArts and beyond, see Turnock, “Not Just a Day Job,” as well as the website for the MoMA exhibition, “Tomorrowland: CalArts in Moving Pictures.” 46. Pat O’Neill, personal interview. 47. Mitch Tuchman, “Pat O’Neil in All Directions,” Film Comment (July 1976). 48. Sitney (2002:431). O’Neill agrees that investigating in “gerrybuilt perspectives” is a central project of his work. Pat O’Neill, personal interview. 49. James (2005). 50. Brougher et al. (2005). 51. Mandell, “Adam Beckett” (1978:18–21). 52. Chris Casady, personal interview. 53. Some moving-image footage of these explosions was shown at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ tribute screening to Beckett, Infinite Animation: The Work of Adam Beckett, at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theater, August 17, 2009. 54. Richard Winn Taylor, personal interview; Chris Casady, personal interview; and John Dykstra, personal interview. 55. That is, the authors were or are employees of Lucasfilm. See, for example, Thomas G. Smith (1988); Cotta Vaz and Duignan (1996); and Glintenkamp (2011). These Lucasfilm-sponsored histories make little or no reference to the experimental filmmaking background of any of their core staff and also do not reference the sizable outsourced personnel for the original Star Wars trilogy. 56. Reviewers such as Vincent Canby, Stanley Kauffmann, Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert, and Pauline Kael refer to these films’ visual, graphic, and visceral impact; see notes 2, 11, and 21 in chapter 3. 57. See, for example, articles in journals such as the issue dedicated largely to the artist-technicians on Star Wars (Cinefantastique 7.1 [1978] ). Also, the American Cinematographer’s series of articles on the special effects of Star Wars (July 1977) and Close



Encounters (Jan. 1978). The special effects fan magazine Cinefex has very detailed technical articles on the making of The Empire Strikes Back (Cinefex 3 [1980] ), as well as articles on Blade Runner, Close Encounters, and many others. 58. See Noel Burch on the strength of cinematic movement and sync sound to engage diegetic effect, in “Narrative/Diegesis” (Burch 1990). In light of Lucas’s oft-cited reliance on Joseph Campbell’s world mythologies, we can also make a connection with Belson’s cosmologically inflected notion of his film’s relation to yoga and Hindu mysticism. See Visual Music (Brougher et al. 2005 ) for more on Belson in this regard. 59. “Behind the Scenes of Star Wars” (1977:701). 60. Surprisingly, studio special effects before 1968 rarely took advantage of animation’s multiplane animation stands to provide a “z-axis” into space. After Kubrick used multiplane animation and slit-scan photography in the “Star Gate” sequence to create movement into the perspectival deep-space distance, that technique became more common. Combined with motion-control movement, the post-1970s film frame featured many more axes to move virtual cameras through. 61. As Brougher et al. (2005) point out, the expanded cinema experience (of which drug use was a nearly mandatory part to get the total effect) could be uncomfortable and distressing in this regard. The job of a Hollywood film is thus to hype a certain level of intensity, but to purposefully resist becoming alarming. 62. As early as 1979, Ebert calls Star Wars’ opening flyover sequence “seminal.” Roger Ebert, “Alien,” Chicago Sun-Times (May 25, 1979). 63. As described variously, by Landon (1992), Cubitt (1998), and Warren Buckland (in Redmond, 2004), as well as Albert J. LaValley (in Slusser and Rabkin 1985), Pierson (2002), and Bukatman (2003). 64. Filmmakers often talk of the necessity of keeping “opticals” on screen for as short a time as possible, since that gives the spectator less time to carefully scrutinize it (Spielberg 1979:68). 65. Bukatman relates the “too largeness” to notions of the sublime, what he calls the “technological sublime” in “The Artificial Infinite” in Matters of Gravity (2003): 93. 66. The “proper narrative” can be seen to begin with the droids R2-D2 and C3P0, and oddly sticks primarily with them for the first twenty minutes of the film. 67. Reported in Biskind (1998:340); repeated in Pollock (1999:197).

6. “More Philosophical Grey Matter”: The Production and Aesthetic of Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1. Spielberg, quoted in Friedman and Notbohm (2000:128). 2. Trumbull, quoted in Thomas (1971). 3. Spielberg, quoted in Lightman (1978:42). 4. Eyman (1978:24). 5. Future General became a subsidiary of Paramount in 1974. Future General got a few back endpoints for Close Encounters, which is why, even though Close Encounters

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was a Columbia film, Paramount made money on it as well. “A Few Million for Par [Paramount] from Encounters,” Daily Variety, Jan. 1, 1978. 6. Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Paramount Press Release (Oct. 1979) at Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Margaret Herrick Library, Beverly Hills, CA. 7. Trumbull (1978:72). 8. Stories vary as to whether or not Lucas actually did try to hire Trumbull for Star Wars and was turned down or if in fact Lucas never wanted to hire him in the first place. That he hired a Trumbull protégé suggests at least that there was some consulting between them. As we saw in an earlier quote, Lucas says he never wanted him. Trumbull says: “I almost did Star Wars, too, but Lucas was a little leery about working with me. There’s no getting away from it, you’re working with another director, and the major event in moviemaking is the interplay of egos, who’s on top, who’s working for who and who will perform.” Trumbull, quoted in Eyman (1978:24). 9. Trumbull founded a special effects house shortly after 2001 called Trumbull Film Effects (later relaunched as Future General), where Dykstra worked for effects on The Andromeda Strain (1971) and Silent Running (1972). Dykstra (1977:757). 10. Trumbull (1978:72). Trumbull praises Spielberg as a collaborator in Eyman (1978:24–25). 11. Trumbull (1978:72). 12. Ibid. 13. Trumbull, quoted in Eyman (1978:24–25). 14. Ibid. 15. Chris Casady, personal interview by author, Hollywood, CA, June 21 and June 24, 2010; see also Mandell, “John Dykstra” (1978:11, 14). 16. Peter Jackson and James Cameron have recently begun experimenting with highframe-rate capture and projection systems, which digital technologies make more feasible. Jackson released The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) in several formats, including High Frame Rate (HFR) 3D, and expects to release the film’s two sequels likewise. Cameron has announced he will likely shoot the Avatar sequels in HFR. Trumbull has been active in consulting with those filmmakers. David S. Cohen, “Showscan Digital Captures at 120 fps,” Daily Variety (Apr. 11, 2011). See also Turnock, “Removing the Pane of Glass: The Hobbit, 3D High Frame Rate Filmmaking, and the Rhetoric of Cinematic Realism,” Film Criticism (Spring/Summer 2013): 30–59. 17. Trumbull, quoted in Eyman (1978:25). 18. Trumbull, quoted in Kroll, “The Wizard of . . . ” (1977:99). 19. Canby, “An Encounter . . . ” (1977). 20. Jean-Claude Biette, “Rencontres Du Troisième Type,” Cahiers du Cinéma 287 (Apr. 1978): 57 translation mine). Original French: “ . . . il est enfin possible de voir, et avec toute la fidélité dans le rendu et la realization que permet encore aujourd’hui le grand écran, que l’humanité terrestre a un but et que son Histoire, si délirante qu’elle puisse paraître, a un sens. [ . . . ] . . . le spectacle—sont, grâce à l’ampleur des moyens et à la beauté des maquettes de Trumbull, partiellement convaincantes . . .” 21. Though, according to Trumbull, he carefully negotiated the onscreen credit for Close Encounters, so that Spielberg’s would read “Visual Effects Concepts by Steven


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Spielberg” while his own would read “Special Photographic Effects Supervisor.” That was due to his experience on 2001 in which Kubrick’s credit read “Special Photographic Effects Designed by Stanley Kubrick” and therefore prevented Trumbull from receiving the Academy Award for 2001’s special effects. Dan Scapperotti, “Douglas Trumbull: Interview,” Cinefantastique 6.4 and 7.1 (1978): 36. 22. Lightman (1978:58). 23. The UFO miniatures, from the smaller ships to the mother ship (construction supervised by Greg Jein as the miniature department head), were conceptualized and designed by Spielberg, Alves, Trumbull, and production illustrator Ralph McQuarrie (also the production illustrator on Star Wars) to look something like “an oil refinery at night” or “a city of lights.” The ships were made up of neon tubes photographed in a smoke environment to appear self-illuminated. The neon design was carried out by Larry Albright, a friend of Trumbull’s who was also a light installation artist. Trumbull (1978:83). 24. Spielberg uses many sexualized terms for his special effects: “When we lose optical generations in 70mm, hopefully there will be a happy marriage between the virgin 35mm and the deflowered 70mm.” Technicians use these terms as jargon (male and female mattes, for example) and that is meaningful enough, but Spielberg makes several explicit joking references to the sexual analogies. Lightman (1978:39). 25. Bukatman, “The Ultimate Trip” in Bukatman (2003:111–). 26. At least in the original release version. In a featurette extra for the 1998 collector’s edition DVD, Spielberg has said that he “never should have gone inside the mothership” (in the 1980s Special Edition) and subsequently left it out for the 1998 DVD release. “Third Encounter Getting Close,”Hollywood Reporter (Feb. 27, 1998). 27. In Forbidden Planet (1956), for example, the brief representation of the id monster is similarly amorphous, but most of the Krell technology is in the shiny sci-fi tradition. In Close Encounters, it is the human technology that is hard-edged. 28. For more on the culture of psychedelic light shows, see Brougher et al. (2005). Other interesting connections in this vein may include queer disco scholarship, such as Richard Dyer’s “In Defense of Disco 1979,” New Formations 58.1 (2006:101–108). Also camp responses may be useful: Rex Reed reportedly likened the mothership to “One of Mae West’s earrings”; quoted by Spielberg in “Newsweek Roundtable with Ang Lee, Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Paul Haggis, and Bennett Miller” in Newsweek (Feb. 6, 2006): 67. See also Kenneth Anger’s response in Anger (1978:54), quoted in note 50 of ch. 3, this volume. 29. In a classic Bellourian analysis (Bellour 2002), sequences are marked by narrative and markers of changing time and place. My division is based more on the special effects as markers of the sequence, since that is how they would be marked by the technicians as well. 30. See note 63, ch. 5. However, even the narrative function of the special effects object is not so straightforward. The narrative of the film as a whole is structured around looking, being amazed, and having (naïve) faith in what you see. In this way, the first look at the UFOs far from “stops” the narrative. The stopping, looking, gaping of

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the characters is well within their narrative trajectory. Further, by manifesting to these people, the special effects object is narrating by confirming the suspenseful, strange phenomena that has been building up. 31. See Nick Browne, “The Spectator in the Text: The Rhetoric of Stagecoach,” in Mast, Cohen, and Braudy (1992). 32. For recent commentary on Flavin, see Jeffery Weiss (2006). Also, as Hal Foster points out in the same volume about Flavin’s fluorescent tubes, they also have a tacky and campy association that I think Trumbull also picks up on, and critics like Canby remark upon as well. See Weiss (2006:142). 33. Kauffmann, “Epiphany” (1977). 34. I discuss these more thoroughly in “ ‘Designed for Everyone Who Looks Forward to Tomorrow!’: Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the 1970s Expanded Blockbuster,” in Bob Rehak, Michael Duffy, and Dan North, Special Effects: New Histories, Theories, Contexts (forthcoming). 35. Perhaps most influentially argued by Robin Wood in Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (1986:162). 36. Youngblood (1970:33). Youngblood was a faculty member of CalArts in 1970. 37. These ideas are further discussed by Pye and Myles (1979) and Biskind (1998), among others. 38. Lucas’s close association with Coppola’s “alternative movie studio/hippie commune” American Zoetrope in the early 1970s suggests this, as do his experimental student films. Spielberg’s involvement was more tangential, through personal friendships with Lucas, Coppola, de Palma, and others associated with the New Hollywood. 39. The Frankfurt School theorists, especially Theodor W. Adorno and Walter Benjamin, have formulated the fear of reification in political rhetoric most influentially. 40. See Turnock, “Designed for Everyone . . . ” (forthcoming). 41. Future magazine, for example, used the rubric of futurism to explore a number of controversial issues (women’s liberation, gay rights) to a readership they assumed would at the very least entertain contrarian or alternative ways of looking at social issues and problems. 42. Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (1970:25). 43. Trumbull, quoted in Thomas (1971). 44. Bukatman, “The Ultimate Trip” in Bukatman (2003:111–). See also Scott Richmond, “Resonant Perception: Cinema, Phenomenology, and the Illusion of Bodily Movement,” PhD diss., University of Chicago (2010). 45. Michelson (1969:54–63). 46. Lucas, quoted in Kline (1999:121, 149). 47. Ibid., 79–81. 48. Something that Francis Ford Coppola recognized early. He tried to establish his economic freedom by founding American Zoetrope in San Francisco in the early 1970s, but financial mismanagement brought an end to his dream of a mini-studio in Northern California. Lucas, who worked with Zoetrope during the time of American Graffiti, learned his lessons well from Coppola’s financial troubles.


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49. Kauffmann, “Epiphany” (1977). 50. Much like Miriam Hansen’s reading of Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) as his entry into the discussion of film as a “new hieroglyphic” or universal language, Close Encounters could be understood also to be making an argument for cinema, in particular spectacular, highly visual, special effects–driven cinema as the new universal language. In the beginning of the film, the French cannot speak with the Americans who cannot speak to Mexicans without the intervention of interpreters. By the end, the aliens bring a universal language that unites all through sound and light patterns. Miriam Bratu Hansen, Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film (1991). 51. Canby, “An Encounter . . . ” (1977). 52. Certainly, the political profile of futurism has changed as well. It is interesting to note that the face of futurism has become Newt Gingrich, who frequently calls himself a “conservative futurist,” citing Toffler. However, rather than advocating education and familiarization with technology to ease the shock, as Toffler does, Gingrich exploits the anxieties associated with technology for scare tactics. Paul Gray and Karen Tumulty, “Inside the Minds of Gingrich’s Gurus,”Time, Jan. 23, 1995.

7. Optical Special Effects into the 1980s: A Well-Oiled Machine 1. “Hollywood’s Magician” Panorama (Apr. 1988) (Eastman Kodak promotional publication). 2. Lucasfilm published results of the Theater Alignment Program in 1985, which evaluated the exhibition standards in theaters across the United States. The results found that, overall, projection and sound standards were quite poor. See Kubrick’s comments in Phillips (2001:201). 3. Perhaps surprisingly, makeup and other physical effects were generally not included in these companies. More research needs to be done on this independent sector of the effects community that flourished in the 1980s, including teams led by Stan Winston, Rick Baker, and Rob Bottin. 4. Edlund quotes Lucas as rating the effects on Star Wars as “3.5 out of 10.” See Shay, “Of Ice Planets . . . ,” (1980:23). 5. It is exactly this characterization of ILM as a well-oiled machine that encourages its champions and detractors. Betzy Bromberg, for example, characterized ILM as “factory-like,” in contrast to the “Mom and Pop” house where she worked for years, Fantasy II Effects. That being said, another effects worker I interviewed, Bill Gilman, who had done freelance work for ILM, admired their organization and professionalism. Betzy Bromberg, personal interview by author, Tunjunga, CA, July 9, 2007; and Bill Gilman, personal interview by author, Los Angeles, CA, July 12, 2007. 6. George Lucas interview, and extra on The Empire Strikes Back (VHS Widescreen Collector’s edition 1995). 7. See Mandell, “Stop Frame Fever . . . ” (1983:29).



8. Edlund (1980:565). 9. Muren continues, “Here at ILM most of our spaceship motions are made by hand, instinctively, with a joystick by the camerman himself. It’s fast and allows the cameraman freedom to add his style to the shot.” Muren (1980:613). 10. Ibid. 11. Mandell (1980:5). 12. Muren (1980:573). 13. Ibid. 14. Shay, “Of Ice Planets . . . ,” (1980:7). 15. Ibid. Of course, Muybridge’s book is used by many kinds of animators as a locomotion reference, not just stop-motion animators. 16. Ibid. 17. Ibid., 15. 18. Muren (1980:588, 592). 19. “John Dykstra,” Fantastic Films (Aug. 1978): 45. 20. Muren (1980:588). 21. Edlund (1980:552). 22. Nicholson (1980:562). 23. Ibid., 571, 612. 24. Thanks to Doron Gallili for this information. 25. Nicholson (1980:571, 612). 26. Quoted in “John Dykstra,” Fantastic Films (Aug. 1978): 45– (emphasis in original). 27. John Dykstra, personal interview by author, Los Angeles, CA, July 26, 2006. 28. As a continuing series of special supplements to American Cinematographer suggest, this integration of the special effects team into the production process is still considered a problem in the industry. See the series “Authoring Images,” Part I (May 2007), Part II (Aug. 2007), and Part III (Mar. 2008). These articles also chronicle the breakdown of traditional production categories in the rise of increasing digitization in all areas of production. 29. John Swallow, personal interview by author, Universal Studios, CA, July 21, 2006. 30. Initially, according to fan magazine Cinefantastique, the plan was to change their name from the Dykstra-coined Industrial Light and Magic to “Magic Light Industries” or MLI. Presumably, once Dykstra gave up the name ILM and took Apogee as his company’s name, ILM could keep theirs. “Star Wars II: Magic Light Industries Formed,” Cinefastastique 7.3–4 (Fall 1978): 70. 31. Though Lucas was already too powerful for Dykstra to too strongly criticize, his position is clear: “George and I are not what you call the best of friends. . . . I don’t think that our conflict was based on anything other than the fact that we have different interests as people. We had a common interest in the movie.” “John Dykstra,” Fantastic Films (Aug. 1978): 45–. 32. Ibid. 33. John Dykstra, personal interview by author.



34. Ibid. 35. Ibid. 36. Ibid. Dykstra was not specific about these technologies. 37. Ibid. 38. Apogee’s focus on the process (over the end result on the screen) meant that it had available readymade striking effects created via a new laser or photo process, which could wait for a script to accommodate it. This was the opposite of how the procedure usually worked. For example, for Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985), Dykstra had previously photographed the effect of shooting a laser through a broken ashtray, and then motion-controlled it in order to generate the look of a force field. The advantage of the approach was “that’s where technology allowed for a certain aesthetic. What we were capable of doing was a direct result on the aesthetic image.” Ibid. 39. John Swallow, personal interview by author. 40. Bill Taylor, personal interview by author, Van Nuys, CA, July 25, 2006. 41. Paul Mandell “The Altered States of ‘Altered States,’” Cinefex 4 (April 1981): 4. 42. John Swallow, personal interview by author. 43. John Dykstra, personal interview by author. 44. Ibid. 45. Don Shay, “Star Trekking at Apogee with John Dykstra,” Cinefex 2 (Aug. 1980): 55. 46. Pacific Title still exists today (and is very successful in digital postproduction facilities). Mercer and Westheimer did not survive the transition to digital technology. Westheimer retired in 1989. Mercer’s activity seems to have ended in about 1988. 47. See note 58 in chapter 2 for information on the sale of Film Effects to American Zoetrope. 48. Barry Nolan suggests the others—EEG, ILM, and Apogee—get so much more attention because they are “good at public relations.” Nolan, quoted in Block (1983). 49. Janet Maslin, “Dune: Review,” New York Times (Dec. 14, 1984). 50. As Edlund put it, they “could get away with [imperfect matte lines] in Star Wars because shots were very short and fast.” Edlund, quoted in Shay, “Of Ice Planets, . . . ” (1980:12). 51. Don Shay, “Creating an Alien Ambiance, Cinefex 1 (Mar. 1980): 20–. 52. Roger Ebert, “Dune: Review,” Chicago Sun-Times (January 1, 1984). 53. Abel and Associates would eventually become one of the leaders in early entertainment applications for computer-generated imagery through the 1980s—for example, as one of the major effects houses on Tron (Lisberger, 1982). 54. According to Trumbull, Abel’s plans for his computer-programming technique were too ambitious. The technology was not yet streamlined enough for efficient industrial use, in that the computer and camera technologies couldn’t “talk” to each other. It was too steep a learning curve for the time allowed. Trumbull also thought that Abel seemed to focus too minutely on the technology and not enough on what he called “aesthetic judgments,” which can’t be determined by a computer. They did not account for



human perception and photographic registration of it, which may also have cut down production time. Shay, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1980:7). 55. Edlund, quoted in Broekse (1986:43). 56. Purvis (1978:39). 57. According to Richard Winn Taylor, who was working for Abel on the Star Trek project, the Abel side was much different, and he characterizes Trumbull’s move as more of a hostile takeover. Richard Winn Taylor, personal interview by author, Marina del Rey, July 18, 2007. 58. Shay, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1980:4–6). 59. Shay, “Star Trekking at Apogee . . . ” (1980:51). 60. Ibid., 52. 61. As stated previously, since Lucas took the “Dykstraflex” motion-control rigs with him in the move to Northern California, Dykstra therefore had to rebuild his own equipment. 62. Don Shay, “Blade Runner: 2020 Foresight,” Cinefex 9 (July 1982): 23–24. 63. Mick Garris, “Survival Run,” Cinefantastique 6.2 (1977): 30; Margo Anderson, “Spectacular Visual Effects for ‘Damnation Alley,’ ” American Cinematographer (Nov. 1977): 1182, 1184. 64. As recounted by Dennis Muren in Mandell, “Tauntauns, Walkers, . . . ” (1980:29). Muren said he learned from that in a similar trick for the simulated helicopter shot of the Tauntaun in The Empire Strikes Back. 65. For more on the time pressure on contemporary effects artists, see David S. Cohen, “Blockbusters Take Toll on F/XShops: Hollywood Puts Pressure on Techies,” Daily Variety online (May 25, 2007), at 66. Anthony Brandt, “Masters of Illusion,” Quest (June 1980). 67. “SFX Oscar Winner R Blalack Has Formed His Own Company, Praxis Film Works, in North Hollywood,” Daily Variety (Oct. 10, 1980). 68. Betzy Bromberg, personal interview by author. 69. Brad Dunning (1984). 70. Diane and Stan Levine (1998). 71. Brandt (1980). 72. According to Nancy Rushlow, Praxis’s executive producer, quoted in Brad Dunning (1984). 73. Blalack’s favored model for wolf-vision was described in Cinefantastique as “experimenting with the use of false color and color substitution. The results . . . were judged ‘phenomenal,’ but it was decided that it looked too phenomenal for the film’s purposes.” The producer, Rupert Hitzig, said, “We held that the juxtaposition would distance the audience’s subconscious identification with the Wolfen, and in turn, with the picture itself.” Stephen Rebello, “Wolfen,” Cinefantastique 11.3 (Sept. 1981): 39. 74. Brad Dunning (1984). 75. The producer calls it “alien vision” in the Cinefantastique article because, he believes, wolves have been maligned enough. Rebello (1981). 76. Betzy Bromberg, personal interview by author.



77. Praxis sold its studio facilities to Rhythm and Hues, and Blalack was contracted to make commercials for Rhythm and Hues. “Mount/Kramer, Praxis to make FLIX together,” Hollywood Reporter (July 22, 1994). 78. Marc Ricardson, “Dream Quest: A Dream in the Making,” Cinefex 12 (Apr. 1983): 55. 79. Ibid., 59. 80. Ibid., 60. 81. Ibid. 82. Ibid., 60, 63. However, because they had been shot with a standard, unstabilized camera and not with a special gyro-stabilized mount, the existing plates were too jumpy and therefore unworkable as background effects shots. Dream Quest thus had to reshoot complicated aerial shots over Los Angeles. 83. They also had to roto-in reflections onto buildings in the background plates. For details on the blue-screen work on both Blue Thunder and Firefox, see “Blue Thunder,” Cinefantastique 13.5 (June–July 1983): 8–9. 84. David S. Cohen, “Industrial Light & Magic Goes to Disney with Lucasfilm.” See (Oct. 30, 2012). 85. Richard Natale, “Richard Edlund: Magician of the Silver Screen,” Los Angeles Herald-Examiner (Dec. 7, 1984). 86. “Edlund Being Honored in Toronto,” Daily Variety (Sept. 5, 1986). 87. “Special Effects Giant Boss Film Utilizing Talents on 2010 Movie,” Hollywood Reporter (Nov. 14, 1984). 88. Edlund, quoted in “Hollywood’s Magician,” Panorama (Apr. 1988). 89. This argument is described negatively, for example, by Wyatt (1994) and in more positive terms by Geoff King (2000). 90. Adam Eisenberg, “Ghostbusters,” Cinefex 17 (June 1984): 30. As Trumbull asserts in the Close Encounters article in American Cinematographer (Trumbull 1978), the main difference from the Dykstraflex is that the Compsy has more range of motion along more axes. 91. Eisenberg (1984:33). 92. Windel, quoted in ibid., 49. 93. Ibid. 94. This formula, where both effects sequences and narrative moments increased steadily over the course of the film, held for at least a decade. However, more recently, it has been common to begin with a “bang” of some sort (often a flashback or flashforward), whether an intense action sequence or spectacular display of effects techniques: see, in the first case, the recent James Bond films (such as Casino Royale, 2006) or the Bourne films with Matt Damon (such as The Bourne Identity [Liman, 2002] ), and in the second case, the Matrix or Spiderman films. This strategy may well have begun in earnest with Spielberg (previously the popularizer—though not the originator—of the Jaws strategy of visual withholding of the effects object) or Saving Private Ryan’s (1998) 25-minute Normandy Beach opening sequence. Geoff King (2000) describes blockbuster narrative patterning in more detail.



8. “Not-too-Realistic” and Intensified Realistic Approaches in the 1980s: Traditional Stop Motion and Showscan 1. Hutchinson (1978:62). 2. More research needs to be done on puppetry and makeup approaches, but I would argue that they strongly recall elaborations of earlier techniques and approaches, and therefore were comfortable directions for many productions looking for fantasy subjects and more effects, but that could not afford the optical effects of the Star Wars sort. 3. Later, artisanal stop-motion traditions formed the conceptual basis of CGI creature animation at ILM in its transition to digital effects, most particularly in Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993). See Jody Duncan, “Jurassic Park: The Beauty in the Beasts,” Cinefex 55 (Aug. 1993). 4. For more on this, see Turnock (2013). 5. Harryhausen quoted, on more recent animation techniques, in Anita Gates, “The Man Who Wrote, Haltingly, the Book on Special Effects,” New York Times (Jan. 25, 1998:AR33). 6. “Sa poésie, ses anachronisms, son côté forain font du Choc des Titans malgré ses travers un film rare qui perpétue la tradition d’un magie à la Méliès” (translation mine). Olivier Assayas, “Le Choc des Titans,” Cahiers du Cinéma 326 (July–Aug 1981): 63–64. 7. Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. 8. Vincent Canby, “Clash of the Titans: Mixed Adventures,” New York Times (June 20, 1981). 9. Despite its ardent fan base, stop motion as a special effect was already recognized as in decline by 1981. See Mandell, “Stop Frame Fever . . . ” (1983). 10. Charles Tesson, “Profiles de Monstres,” Cahiers du Cinéma (Feb. 1982): 18. 11. Richard Rickitt recounts the stop-motion dinosaur footage Arthur Conan Doyle showed in public in advance of The Lost World, and newspaper accounts claim audiences believed they were seeing real dinosaurs, but these stories should probably be understood as pre-release hype. See Rickitt (2000:183). 12. “Bige” (pseud.), “Review: King Kong,” Daily Variety (Mar. 7, 1933). 13. Many interviews with Harryhausen retell his story of seeing King Kong at the Mann’s Chinese theater as a boy and how that formative experience prompted his career in stop motion. See, for example, Culhane (1981:47). 14. Ray Harryhausen, Fantasy Film Scrapbook, 19. 15. Harryhausen died in 2013 and did not animate a film after 1981’s Clash of the Titans, although he did act as a consultant on some projects. 16. For example, see the feature article touting Harryhausen as the “godfather of special effects,” with testimonials from directors such as Lucas, Spielberg, and Jackson, and others. Steve Daly, “The Beastie Boy,” Entertainment Weekly, June 11, 2004, 82–89. 17. Or, as one reviewer put it, “Perhaps [Harryhausen] fancies himself Zeus? On a whim, he sets in motion a tidal wave which washes out an entire civilization in one fell swoop.” J. Gartenberg, “Ray Harryhausen: Master of Handcrafted Special Effects,” Films in Review (Oct. 1981): 507.



18. Culhane (1981:49). 19. As Ray Harryhausen put it: “The minute you let the technical end take over, it becomes slightly mechanical. But sometimes, you’re trying to express emotions through movements, without even planning them, you’ll get what you want.” Harryhausen, quoted in ibid. 20. Synthesized from statements in Harryhausen (1972); Jeff Rovin, From the Land Beyond: The Films of Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen (1977); Elliot Stein, “The Thirteen Voyages of Ray Harryhausen,” Film Comment (Nov.–Dec. 1977); Culhane (1981); Alain Garsault and Hubert Niogret, “Ray Harryhausen, Artisan, Technicien et Créateur,” Positif (Dec. 1981): 2–11; Gartenberg (1981); and Howard Maxford, “Clash of the Titans,” Film Review (July 1998): 56–61. 21. “Berg.” (pseud., 1981). 22. Of course, as already discussed, Star Wars was only a blockbuster in retrospect. 23. The studio spent $5 million on advertising for its first week, and $1.5 million in the two years leading up to the film’s release. Richard Kahn, vice president of marketing for MGM, claims that, “By the time the movie opened, 62% of the public was aware of Clash of the Titans.” There was also a cross promotion with Mattel, as well as an hourlong TV documentary on the making of the film. Aljean Harmetz, “Titanic Publicity Effort for “Clash of the Titans,” New York Times, June 22, 1981, C13. It is worth noting that, much like Star Wars, Clash was marketed somewhat on a niche basis, to fantasy/sci-fi enthusiasts and children, which gives it a certain marginal tinge. “Research had shown that science-fiction enthusiasts would be looking for another movie genre, so we positioned ourselves in sword and sorcery quite happily,” says Mr. Kahn (in ibid.). “We started putting stories in space and fantasy journals two years ago. An elaborate 10-page color advertisement was mailed to science fiction groups in the fall of 1979. We went to 60 science fiction conventions all over the world, giving away posters, showing animated displays of our sea monster, the Kraken.” 24. “ . . . sans Ray Harryhausen, Star Wars aurait-il été possible?” (translation mine). Garsault and Niogret (1981:3). 25. Also, the disruption is not Brechtian, or Shklovskian. Unlike Shklovsky (and other models of artistic estrangement often called Brechtian), it does not want the viewer to contemplate the gap between art and life or even to resensitize the viewer to the wonder that is everyday life. V. Shklovsky, “Art as Technique,” in Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis, eds. and translators, Russian Formalist Critique: Four Essays (1965). 26. Interestingly, ILM’s decades-long dedication to the ethos of stop motion has meant it has not been at the forefront of developing the leading trend in creature animation: motion capture. In motion-capture technology, an actor wears a sensor-rigged bodysuit that captures his or her movements in the computer, which then serves as the basis for a CGI-animated character (much like the Fleischer Brothers’ rotoscoped Koko the Clown). It is a technique most prominently developed by Peter Jackson’s Weta team, as seen in Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films and the Na’vi in Avatar. However, it should be noted that Weta also employs prominent stop-motion animators, especially Randy Cook, as part of its creature animation team, and that motion capture is a translation and representation of human movement, not a facsimile of it.



See Joe Fordham, “The Two Towers: Middle Earth Strikes Back,” Cinefex 9 (Jan. 2003), and Joe Fordham, “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Render Unto Caesar,” Cinefex 128 (Jan/ 2012). 27. The conflict was over assigning the proper credit for the effects of 2001. “An Open Letter from MGM/UA and Stanley Kubrick,” Hollywood Reporter (Aug. 15, 1984). 28. See Phillips (2001:47. 29. Ibid. 30. Trumbull, quoted in Kilday (1977). 31. For more by Kubrick on the state of exhibition in the 1980s, see Phillips (2001:202). 32. Kubrick, for example, cites the “Theater Alignment Program” from 1985, what he calls the “Lucas Report,” which was a published study of exhibition practices and conditions commissioned by Lucasfilms. Ibid., 201–202. 33. Prince (2002:293). See also Prince’s account of theater expansion in the 1980s (ibid., 79–89). 34. Douglas Trumbull, “Letter to Editor,” Los Angeles Times (Nov. 28, 1971). 35. Trumbull, quoted in Kroll, “The Wizard of . . .” (1977). This is a theme Trumbull returns to over and over in interviews. For further examples (such as “We better get our act together [by making 70mm films], or we’re just going to be making TV”), see “Movie Industry Selling Out to Video Industry,” Hollywood Reporter (Dec. 15, 1981), and “Douglas Trumbull: Interview,” Hollywood Reporter (Mar. 1, 1994). 36. Bill Desowitz, “Trumbull Tells Movies to Revitalize to Survive,” Hollywood Reporter (May 2, 1984). 37. “Tripping the Light Fantastic,” Daily Variety (Feb. 23, 1996). 38. As in note 29 of the introduction, one should not confuse “expanded cinema” with Jürgen Habermas’s notion of the public sphere or Miriam Hansen’s understanding of “alternative public sphere,” which tend to favor verbal and visual discourse as an impetus to political action. Instead, Youngblood insisted on what he called a sweeping reconceptualization of leftist revolutionary movements, which he preferred to call “radical evolution.” Rather than continually inverting and reproducing binary positions, radical evolution called for technology to develop a broadening and merging of individual human consciousness into an intermedial, multi-subjective experience of community that would transcend discourse (Youngblood 1970:50). This is also more related to Scott Bukatman’s sense of expanded theatrical space in his essay “Zooming Out: The End of Off-Screen Space,” in Lewis (1998). 39. In 1981, Trumbull claimed that the movie industry was selling out to the video industry and blasted the industry for “allowing itself to become an industry of small screens.” “Movie Industry Selling Out to Video Industry,” Hollywood Reporter (Dec. 15, 1981). 40. Spielberg, quoted in Trumbull (1978). 41. Trumbull, quoted in Thomas (1971). To be the “next Disney” was the 1970s gold standard for many interested in entertainment concepts, as a model for multimarket entertainment diversification. Robert Abel also name-checked Disney as a model (mixed with more “with-it” movements like surrealism): Abel claimed, “We were fans



of surrealists like Magritte, Chagall, and Dali, so we created a style that borrowed the fantasy of Disney but took the reality you find re-created in [documentary] films.” Abel, quoted in Delson (1979). Though I have never seen Lucas liken himself to Disney, journalists often bring it up, as in Kerry O’Quinn’s 1981 interview in Starlog (reprinted in Kline 1999). Lucas himself tends to use “Disney” adjectivally as a synonym for “a kid’s movie.” See, for example, Kline (1999:227). Ironically, in the 1980s even Disney was undergoing corporate restructuring in order to become the “the next Disney.” 42. Bob Fischer and Marji Rhea, “Interview: Doug Trumbull and Richard Yuricich, ASC,” American Cinematographer (Aug. 1994): 56. 43. Of course, many cinema technologies have been introduced with promises of greater “participation” such as the various widescreen technologies of the 1950s, such as Cinerama, Cinemascope, VistaVision, and Todd-AO. For more on widescreen technologies, see John Belton, Widescreen Cinema (1992), Peter Lev, Transforming the Screen: The Fifties (2003), and Ariel Rogers, Cinematic Appeals: The Experience of New Movie Technologies (2013). 44. “Trumbull on Technology,” USC Spectator (Fall 1983). 45. “Showscan: What It Is, and How It Works,” Cinefantastique (Sept. 1984): 108. 46. Kilday (1977). 47. “A Few Million for Par (Paramount) from Encounters,” Daily Variety (Jan. 1, 1978). 48. “Showscan,” Cinefantastique (Sept. 1984): 108. In light of the interaction between technology developed for the movie industry and technology in experimental filmmaking, Tom Gunning reports a presentation given at SUNY-Purchase circa 1980 by early computer graphics pioneer and experimental filmmaker Stan Van Der Beek, who was at the time very excited about the possibilities in high-frame-rate filmmaking. Gunning believes that Van der Beek may have been working with Trumbull on Showscan, but is not certain. More research needs to be done to establish this connection. 49. “Some Pin Exhibition Hopes on Technological Advances,” Daily Variety (Sept. 17, 1982). 50. “Showscan,” Cinefantastique (Sept. 1984). 51. “Trumbull on Technology,” USC Spectator (Fall 1983). 52. Ibid. 53. Richard Stevenson, “Bringing the Movies to Life,” New York Times (Nov. 4, 1987). 54. “Showscan,” Cinefantastique (Sept. 1984). No doubt the attentive reader has already begun to think about similarities to IMAX, an already existing Canadian technology. Trumbull helpfully explains the difference, that IMAX’s standard speed (24 fps) against a large frame size means major movement of any fast-moving subject between frames. He says that IMAX is mostly in specialty venues—like amusement parks. Showscan by contrast is compatible with modified 70mm equipment and viable for feature films. “Some Pin Exhibition Hopes on Technological Advances,” Daily Variety (Sept. 17, 1982). Trumbull would later attempt to merge Showscan and IMAX technologies by buying IMAX with financial partners in 1994. For more on the history of IMAX, see Allison



Whitney, “The Eye of Daedalus : A History and Theory of IMAX Cinema,” PhD diss., University of Chicago (2005) (Proquest Online). 55. “Big Screen Test,” Los Angeles Herald-Examiner (May 25, 1981). The account also claims that Night of the Dreams was scheduled to play along with Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981) at the National Theater when it was to open in the next month, but I have not found evidence that it did. 56. Unhappily, the Times did not not print Ebert’s complete comments. See Stevenson (1987). 57. Interestingly, the description of Showscan in Cinefantastique is similar to rhetoric around medium sensitivity to high definition (HD) images: “when an extreme close up of Christopher Lee’s face fills the screen, we become starkly aware of the detailed Showscan image; the picture is so sharp and crystal-clear that every line and blemish etched into an actor’s face comes into focus. Showscan may even require new makeup techniques as well as new projection systems.” Randy Palmer, “Trumbull’s ‘Showscan’ Is a Hit—Sort Of,” Cinefantastique (Sept. 1984): 108. Not surprisingly, Trumbull got involved with HD about ten years before anyone else. In “Trumbull Taking High-D Road on Innovative ‘Roses’ Short,” Daily Variety (June 14, 1989) notes that Trumbull’s short ballet film, The Dream of Roses “foresees blend of TV and film.” 58. “Trumbull Returns to Commercial Production,” Back Stage (Nov. 15, 1985). 59. “Douglas Trumbull’s Brave New World: The Special Effects Wizard of Close Encounters Has Reinvented the Movies,” Los Angeles Style (May 1986), provides descriptions of Trumbull’s Showscan films exhibited at Expo 85 in Tsukuba, Japan, including Night of Dreams, New Magic (described as “experimental”), Big Ball (a “thrill film”), and Let’s Go! 60. Stevenson (1987). 61. Ibid. For more on technical change and a discussion of “needed” or “not needed” innovations, here discussed in terms of Technicolor, see Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson (1985:353). 62. As Stevenson (1987) proclaims, “Movies today boast spectacular special effects, the latest in sound systems and ever-improving color and clarity.” See Prince (2002) about the expansion of the theater business in the 1980s. 63. Including many academics, to judge by the flurry of articles appearing circa 1990. See especially Lauren Rabinovitz “From Hale’s Tours to Star Tours,” Iris (Spring 1998): 133–52; and Erkki Huhtamo, “Encapsulated Bodies in Motion: Simulation and the Quest for Total Immersion,” in Simon Penny, ed., Critical Issues in Electronic Media (1995). 64. “F/X Make Luxor Las Vegas a Sight to See,” Daily Variety (Oct. 18, 1993). 65. Though touted as the future of entertainment, the “special venue” nature of these ride films primarily in amusement parks and a Las Vegas casino meant they never reached the same number of people as a film or a video game. 66. “Trumbull, Partners Pay $100 Million for IMAX,” Hollywood Reporter (Jan. 10, 1994).



67. “Trumbull Ankles a Profitable IMAX,” Daily Variety (Feb. 6, 1997). Although even after stepping down in 1997, Trumbull was still a major stockholder trying to make dramatic features with IMAX. Carl DiOrio, “Trumbull Preps Sci-fi IMAX Pic,” Hollywood Reporter (February 13, 1997). 68. Eric J. Olson “F/X Wiz Bows Ridefilm System,” Daily Variety (Nov. 5, 1998). 69. “F/X Make Luxor Las Vegas a Sight to See,” Daily Variety (Oct. 18, 1993). 70. Fischer and Rhea (1994). 71. For a more elaborated argument on this thematic of cinema depicting other media, see Paul Young, The Cinema Dreams Its Rivals: Media Fantasy from Radio to the Internet. 72. Like Benjamin and his sense of human/technological “innervation,” in the famous 1936 “Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” essay (second version), Benjamin (2002:101–133). Trumbull appears to tentatively believe that technology can help reconnect us to our bodies and renew our sense of humanness through sensory shocks. For more on the topic of Benjamin and innervation, see Miriam Bratu Hansen, “Benjamin and Cinema: Not a One-Way Street,” Critical Inquiry 25:2 (Winter 1999). 73. Jeff Labrecque, “ ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Tech Pioneer on ‘Hobbit’ Footage: ‘A Fabulous and Brave Step in the Right Direction,’ ” Entertainment Weekly online (May 2, 2012). See also Turnock (2013). 74. See Richard Maltby, Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction, and Wyatt (1994). 75. Albert J. LaValley, “Traditions of Trickery,” in Slusser and Rabkin (1985:144). 76. Landon (1992). 77. All-time worldwide box office data from Further, with more international outsourcing and affordable digital services, geographic Hollywood does not have a monopoly on effects films any more. Russia (Night Watch [Bekmambetov, 2004] ), Daywatch [Bekmambetov, 2006] ), Spain (Pan’s Labyrinth [Del Toro, 2006] ), South Korea (The Host [Bong, 2006] ), China (House of Flying Daggers [Zhang, 2004] ), and many other countries such as Thailand and India are making effects-driven films (usually with elaborate multinational coproduction deals) that are deemed exportable back into the U.S. market. Nevertheless, most international effects productions make use of U.S. and U.K. firms for the production of their effects, rather than local companies. 78. As Thomas Schatz points out, for Hollywood this is a good deal because they are cheap. Thomas Schatz, “New Hollywood New Millennium,” in Warren Buckland, ed., Film Theory and Contemporary Hollywood Movies. 79. “Tentpole” is an industry term for a product that serves as the centerpiece of ancillary marketing, thus “holding up” other sectors of the entertainment business, such as toys, video games, and other tie-ins. For an elaboration of the digital cinema argument across several registers, and the discussion of the blockbuster film as a tentpole for the entertainment industry, see Thomas Elsaesser, “Digital Cinema: Delivery, Event, Time,” in Thomas Elsaesser and Kay Hoffman, eds., Cinema Futures: Cain, Abel or Cable?.



Conclusion: World-Building and the Legacy of 1970s Special Effects in Contemporary Cinema 1. Much quoted, but may be apocryphal; quoted in Jerome Agel, ed., The Making of Kubrick’s 2001. 2. As exemplified in the mainly negative reviews for Blade Runner, which, for example, Roger Ebert and Janet Maslin both say some version of the film “looks sensational” but “special effects technology . . . overwhelm its story.” Roger Ebert, “Blade Runner: Review,” Chicago-Sun Times, June 2, 1982. Janet Maslin echoes that the “effects have run away with it.” Janet Maslin, “Screen: Futuristic ‘Blade Runner,’ ” New York Times, June 25, 1982. 3. In an article about recent Iraq War movies, critic director and screenwriter Paul Haggis states, “To make a film like Transformers at a time of war is a political act”—by which he of course means a retrogressive political act. Haggis, quoted in Ali Jaafar, “Casualties of War,” Sight and Sound (Feb. 2008): 22. Many others (including the Sight and Sound article just cited) have criticized 300 under similar terms. 4. See, for example, the Cinefex article on Zodiac that enumerates its very extensive digital retrogression of contemporary San Francisco to make the city look like it did in the 1970s. Jody Duncan, “The Streets of San Francisco: Zodiac,” Cinefex 109 (Apr. 2007): 49–. 5. Trumbull, quoted in “Tripping the Light Fantastic,” Daily Variety (Feb. 23, 1996). 6. Lucas, quoted in Kline (1999:179). 7. In the case of Close Encounters, the relation to the frame can have as much to do with Spielberg as Trumbull himself. However, I would argue that Trumbull has more consistently played with the limits of the frame in this way. 8. Bukatman (2003). 9. This quote by Hitchcock is often cited but hard to track down. It is attributed to Pauline Kael, who quotes an unnamed older director’s view (over drinks) on Jaws, but does not name Hitchcock: “He [Spielberg] must never have seen a play; he’s the first one of us who doesn’t think in terms of the proscenium arch. With him, there’s nothing but the camera lens.” Quoted in Pauline Kael, For Keeps, 691. According to another citation, it came from a TV interview with Hitchcock. There it is cited: “He’s the first one of us who doesn’t see the proscenium arch,” which is also applicable to Close Encounters. Quoted in Owen Gleiberman, “Review: The Bourne Ultimatum,” Entertainment Weekly (Aug. 1, 2007). Perhaps it was a quote Hitchcock liked to repeat? 10. Many of the prominent visual effects supervisors working today got their start in the late 1970s at some level of the effects business. The breakdown is surprisingly consistent between those who, on one side, trained and made much of their career at ILM: Dennis Muren (War of the Worlds [2005], Super 8 [2011] ), Richard Edlund (Charlie Wilson’s War [2007] ), John Dykstra (Spider-Man 1 & 2 [2002, 2004], X-Men: First Class [2011] ), John Knoll (Pirates of the Caribbean I–III [2003, 2006, 2007], Pacific Rim [2013] ), Joe Letteri (Avatar [2009], The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012]), and Craig Barron (Zodiac).



In the animation group are visual effects supervisors who trained under Douglas Trumbull: Mark Stetson (Superman Returns [2006] ), The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 2 [2012] ), Richard Yuricich (Mission Impossible I & II [1996, 2000] ), Scott Squires (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer [2007]), Mike Fink (The Golden Compass [2007], The Life of Pi [2012] ), Richard Hollander (Harry Potter 1 [2001], 300: Rise of an Empire [2014] ), and John Gaeta (The Matrix [1999], Speed Racer [2008] ). 11. Certainly an expected, but insufficient, conclusion would be to ascribe the difference in approaches to the historical problem of what new digital aesthetics should look like: on which precedent (animation or photography) do we base the aesthetic? However, once again, the tendency predates the introduction of digital effects on a wide scale in the early 1990s. By a similar argument, the division can also not be fully explained by separating out the people who entered the business in the 1990s digital effects boom, like Scott Skotdyk (Spider-Man 3 [2007] ) or Chris Watts on 300, versus those who got their start with optical effects. Instead, like many filmmaking practices such as editing and sound that have felt the impact of digital technology, the digital helps provide clear examples in special effects of the tendency to choose one aesthetic over another, here where a more animated or optical look is more evident and exaggerated. 12. Lucas, quoted in Kline (1999:115). Other examples of Lucas’s remarks on his films’ polemical stance: “Rather than do some angry, socially relevant film, I realized there was another relevance that is even more important—dreams and fantasies.  .  .  . It’s fun” (Stephen Zito, “George Lucas Goes Far Out,” in Kline [1999:53] ); “When I did American Graffiti, I discovered making a positive film is exhilarating. [ . . . ] The idea [of Star Wars] is not to be afraid of change. There are bad robots, good robots . . . Accept that there will be change inevitably. Make change work for you, don’t passively just let it happen to you” (Kline [1999:149–50] ). For his part, Spielberg avoided (and tends to still avoid) making pronouncements about his “worldview.” When asked in 1974, “Do you think you have a view of the world that comes through in your film work?, Spielberg answered, “No, not yet. Ask me that question in ten years.” Friedman and Notbohm (2000:14). 13. Kevin Thomas, “Technology’s Impact on Society Woven into Silent Running,” Los Angeles Times (Mar. 14, 1971). 14. Trumbull makes an astonishing number of Benjamin-like statements. See “Tripping the Light Fantastic,” Daily Variety (Feb. 23, 1996). 15. Don Witmer, “All Together Now,” American Cinematographer (June 2012): 34. 16. A tendency William Brown has characterized as “post-humanist.” Brown (2009). 17. Mark Harris, “Micro Mangling,” Entertainment Weekly, Mar. 23, 2007. 18. An attitude he clings to in an op-ed against James Cameron’s claim that Avatar’s digital performance capture “empowers” the actor. Instead, Harris makes an argument for the irreplaceability of human actors. Harris, “An Avatar for Best Actress?,” Entertainment Weekly, Jan. 29, 2010, 24. 19. However, recent ambitious filmmakers (in Harold Bloom’s terms) “read” and “swerve” from Kubrick with a different cinema in mind than the generation before. Instead of controlling the mise-en-scène with an eye toward a new kind of popular



movie experience, they frequently look to Kubrick as an exemplar of a strong auteur’s expressive independence in the Hollywood system. 20. Although it employed CGI for some fire and explosions as well as landscape “cleanup” (removing twenty-first-century artifacts from the landscape, for example), the film went against the grain of contemporary filmmaking by not using a digital intermediate for color correction and the like. See Stephen Pizzello, “Blood for Oil,” American Cinematographer (Jan. 2008): 36–. 21. Patricia Thomson, “Animal Instincts: ‘War Horse,’ ”American Cinematographer (Jan. 2012): 48–. 22. As I have described more fully elsewhere, filmmakers like J. J. Abrams, Neil Blomkamp, and Alfonso Cuorón have also reacted against the “overly plastic” look of CGI to embrace what Abrams called “the analog and real.” See Turnock (2010). 23. David Kehr, “When Hollywood Learned to Talk, Sing and Dance,” New York Times, Jan. 15, 2010. Or see Benjamin Svetkey, “The New Face of Movies,” Entertainment Weekly, Jan. 22, 2010, 34. Both articles are rather cautious to refer to Avatar more as a potential “paradigm shift” than in more definite terms. 24. See Donald Crafton, The Talkies: American Cinema’s Transition to Sound, 1926–1931. 25. Avatar’s status as live action seems to be an industry designation, and a rather artificial one at that. According to the visual effects supervisor, 2,500 shots were classed as special effects shots, while only 110 shots in the film can be considered non-special effects shots. Therefore, despite the Academy’s designation that to be considered an animated film for awards consideration, “a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75% of the picture’s running time,” Avatar was considered in the live-action awards category. DeBruge (2013). It is also striking that much of the highly touted “real-time” motion-capture technology (in which the director on the set can see low-resolution images of the characters on a monitor during motion capture, and also the live-action characters and characters composited into backgrounds instead of seeing green or blue screen environments) developed for the film is an attempt to move an important postproduction process to the principal photography work flow. The fact that filmmakers are trying to get as much done as possible back on set during principal photography stands as evidence of the huge effort to transition effects work and other digital work to postproduction. Jody Duncan, “The Seduction of Reality: Avatar,” Cinefex 120 (Jan. 2010): 146.


Archives and Special Collections Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Margaret Herrick Library, Beverly Hills, CA Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Pickford Center, Hollywood, CA Stanley Kubrick Archive, University of the Arts Archives and Special Collections at the London College of Communication at Elephant and Castle, London, U.K University of California Los Angeles Film and Television Archive, Los Angeles, CA University of Southern California Film Library, Los Angeles, CA

Interviews by Author and Others Personal Interviews Conducted by the Author Bromberg, Betzy (independent filmmaker and special effects technician); Tujunga, CA, July 9, 2007. Casady, Chris (independent filmmaker and special effects technician); Hollywood, CA, June 21 and 24, 2010. Cuff, Joy (U.K. special effects matte painter and set decorator on 2001); at the Kubrick Archive, London, U.K., Oct. 23, 2007.



Dutton, Syd (cofounder of Illusion Arts, independent effects house); at the Illusion Arts offices, Van Nuys, CA, July 25, 2006. Dykstra, John, ASC (special effects supervisor on Star Wars and founder of Apogee, Inc., independent effects house); Los Angeles, CA, July 26, 2006. Gilman, Bill (freelance digital composite artist); Los Angeles, CA, July 12, 2007. Johnson, Brian (U.K. special visual effects supervisor), Kubrick Archive, London, U.K. Oct. 24, 2007 (and via email). Johnson, Tim (DreamWorks Animation Director of Over the Hedge, 2006); DreamWorks Animation campus, July 28, 2006. Kuran, Peter (independent filmmaker and special effects technician), Beverley Hills, CA, Aug. 5, 2011. Lee, Sandra (former ILM archivist); at the Warner Brothers Archive (USC), Los Angeles, CA, July 10, 2007. Loftus, Bryan (U.K. cinematographer and optical printer operator on 2001); London, Oct, 25, 2007. O’Neill, Pat (independent filmmaker and freelance special effects technician); Pasadena, CA, July 19, 2007. Swallow, John (former employee at Apogee, and special effects producer, Universal Studios); Universal Studios, CA, July 21, 2006. Taylor, Bill, ASC (cofounder of Illusion Arts, independent effects house); at the Illusion Arts offices, Van Nuys, CA, July 25, 2006. Taylor, Richard Winn (Abel and Associates employee, computer animation pioneer); Marina del Rey, July 18, 2007. Whitney, John, Jr. (independent filmmaker and producer, computer animation pioneer); Hollywood, CA, July 20, 2007.

Interviews Conducted by Others Casady, Chris. In Alternative Projections Oral Histories, interviewed by Adam Hyman and Mark Toscano, Nov 21 and Dec. 4, 2009; see oral-histories/. Cuba, Larry. In Alternative Projections Oral Histories, interviewed by Andrew Johnston, July 23, 2010. Freidman, Roberta. In Alternative Projections Oral Histories, interviewed by Mark Toscano, Jan. 19, 2010. “Infinite Animation work of Adam Beckett” (transcript of the event). Interviewees Dave Berry, Beth Block, Chris Casady (Director), Richard Edlund, Jules Engel, Jon Erland, Roberta Friedman, Bruce Green, Peter Kuran, Richard Taylor II, Pat O'Neill, Pamela Turner, David Wilson, at the Linwood Dunn Theater at the Acadamy’s Pickford Center, Hollywood CA, Jan. 19, 2010. O’Neill, Pat. In Alternative Projections Oral Histories, interviewed by Adam Hyman, June 6, 2010.



Wilson, David. In Alternative Projections Oral Histories, interviewed by Mark Toscano, Jan. 30, 2010. Wilson, Diana. In Alternative Projections Oral Histories, interviewed by Mark Toscano, May 1, 2010.

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Abbott, L. B., 77, 78, 79, 82, 85, 96–97, 293n70, 297n115 Abel, Robert, 91–92, 93, 163, 223, 228, 295n94, 299n16, 316n54, 321n41. See also Robert Abel and Associates Abrams, J. J., 272 abstract animation, 55, 166, 285n67. See also experimental animation abstract films, 48, 50–51, 53. See also experimental filmmaking Academy Awards, 8, 88, 220, 293n72, 327n25 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 96, 279n3, 296n113, 308n33 Ackroyd, Dan, 236, 237 Acme-Dunn optical printer, 37 activist culture, 2 ads. See television aesthetics, 2, 22, 61–62, 109–111, 299n18. See also ILM (Industrial Light & Magic); individual film titles affect theory, 276n8 AIP (American International Pictures), 81, 123 Airplane! (Abrahams, Zucker, and Zucker, 1980), 228 Airport (Seaton, 1970), 42, 78–79, 82, 279n6 Alien (Scott, 1979), 75, 220–21

Allen, David, 89, 94–95, 240, 243, 244 Allen, Irwin, 79 Allen, Woody, 26 Allures (Belson, 1961), 50, 166–67 Altered States (Russell, 1980), 57, 196–97, 218, 228 Altman, Robert, 66, 108, 122, 270, 272 Alves, Joe, 184 American Cinematographer magazine: creative triangle and, 298n125; digital workflow and, 278n17; on Dykstraflex, 134–35, 318n90; Edouart, Farciot and, 280n15; Empire Strikes Back, The (Kershner, 1980) and, 305n28; film stocks and, 305n41; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Kramer, 1963) and, 293n66; Jackman, Fred and, 288n4; sound technology and, 282n31; Towering Inferno, The (Guillermin, 1974) and, 284n51; on 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968), 72, 74, 133; Whitney, John, Sr. and, 307n20 American culture, science fiction films and, 193–95, 199, 238, 276n6 American Film Institute, 95 American Gangster (Scott, 2007), 271 American Graffiti (Lucas, 1973), 124, 267, 302n50, 307n19



American International Pictures (AIP), 81, 123 American Zoetrope, 124, 125, 219, 292n58, 303n54, 313n38, 313n48 amusement park “ride films,” 181, 182, 216, 238, 252, 256–57, 291n35, 323n65 ancillary merchandise. See merchandise, ancillary Anderson, Howard, Jr., 85, 86, 96–97 Anderson, Paul Thomas, 271 Androcles and the Lion (Erskine, 1952), 96 Andromeda Strain, The (Wise, 1971), 228, 311n9 Animals in Motion (Muybridge), 210 animation: abstract, 53, 166, 285n67; Beckett, Adam and, 160; blockbuster films, expanded and, 122; character, 88–89, 90, 207, 208–212; Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 154; creature, 240, 295n87, 319n3, 320n26; design flexibility and, 269; digital, 268, 285n59; Dykstra, John and, 43–44, 45; Edlund, Richard and, 233; feature-length, 5, 278n16; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Kramer, 1963) and, 84; live-action footage and, 44, 268; multiplane, 43, 44, 45–46, 133, 164, 169, 170, 310n60; optical, 23, 29, 58–62, 173, 267, 268; vs. photographic aesthetics, 61–62; prominence of, 280n9; rotoscoping and, 44, 46–48, 67; special effects and, 43–48; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 154, 157, 160, 167, 169, 173; streak, 88, 118–19, 169, 258, 307n20; traditional, 1, 44, 55, 301n37; Trumbull, Douglas and, 325n10; 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) and, 70; visual effects and, 278n16. See also experimental animation; multi-plane animation stand; puppetry; stop motion; 3D animation; 2D animation; West Coast experimental animation animatronics, 67, 89 anthropomorphic design, 68, 89, 127, 206, 236, 268, 295n87 Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979), 57, 211, 307n19 Apogee, 81, 205, 215, 216–19, 222, 223–25, 227, 231, 232–33, 293n72, 316n38 Argo (Affleck, 2012), 271 Arnheim, Rudolf, 12 Aronofsky, Darren, 270 Ashby, Hal, 39, 66, 108 Assayas, Olivier, 112–13, 245, 247, 249, 300n25

Astruc, Alexandre, 105, 112 Aupperle, Jim, 89, 243 auteurism, 1, 2, 105–106, 112–13, 116, 150, 262. See also Trumbull, Douglas; individual film titles avant-garde, films and, 54, 57, 94, 113, 117, 123, 151, 156, 285n67, 286n72. See also experimental filmmaking Avatar (Cameron, 2009), 26, 69, 239, 259, 272–74, 276n9, 311n16, 320n26, 326n18, 327n25 Avengers, The (Whedon, 2012), 11, 239, 268 Avery, Tex, 208 background projection. See rear projection Back to the Future (Zemeckis, 1985), 264 Back to the Future—The Ride, 256–57 Badham, John, 232 Bamboo Blonde, The (Mann, 1946), 96 Bartlett, Scott, 149–50, 151, 286n72 Bass, Saul, 50 Batman Begins (Nolan, 2005), 138 Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, 1925), 117, 301n33 Battlestar Galactica (television), 194–95, 219 Bazin, André, 24, 105, 264, 266 Beckett, Adam: CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) and, 152, 285n68; effects houses and, 64; optical printing and, 56; rotoscoping and, 157, 160; special effects industry and, 152; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 99, 155, 157, 160, 164, 165fig., 219 Beineix, Jean-Jacques, 260 Bellour, Raymond, 188–89 Belson, Jordan: abstract imaging trend and, 153; abstract label resistance and, 285n66; Allures (1961) and, 50, 166–67; animation and, 17, 28, 57; Eastern spiritualism and, 286n75, 310n58; experimental filmmaking and, 51; graphic dynamism and, 116; imagery impact and, 48; Le Grice, Malcolm and, 286n72; Lucas, George and, 149–50, 151; optical printing and, 56; special effects industry and, 152; technophilia and, 196 Berg, Jon, 89, 207, 208, 209 Berkshire Ride films, 256–57 Berry, David, 285n68, 309n45 Besson, Luc, 260 Biette, Jean-Claude, 184, 187, 311n20 big-budget Hollywood films, 260–62. See also blockbuster films, expanded Bigelow, Katherine, 262


Binger, Ray, 38 Birds, The (Hitchcock, 1963), 47–48 Black Hole, The (Nelson, 1979), 49 Blackton, J. Stuart, 31, 44–45 Blade Runner (Scott, 1982): aesthetics of, 109, 260; diegetic environments of, 170, 171; as dystopia, 195, 263–64; experimental filmmaking and, 164; reviews of, 325n2; Trumbull, Douglas and, 75, 87, 182, 224, 226, 231; virtual camera effect and, 43, 46 Blalack, Robert: Bromberg, Betzy and, 228; CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) and, 228, 285n68, 287n81; Dykstra, John and, 228; effects authorship struggles and, 127; O’Neill, Pat and, 228; Rhythm and Hues and, 317n77; Robert Abel and Associates and, 93; special effects industry and, 152, 156, 157; Trumbull, Douglas and, 228; Wolfen (Wadleigh, 1981) and, 230, 317n73. See also Praxis blockbuster films, expanded: aesthetics of, 109; anti-technology narratives and, 273–74; CGI (computer-generated imagery) and, 178; collective experience and, 252–53, 259–60, 261, 265, 268, 279n29; definition of, 17; economic aspects of, 197, 260–62; Edlund, Richard on, 233–34; era of, 22; Expanded Cinema (Youngblood) and the, 55; experimental filmmaking and, 163; idealistic ethos and, 263; ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and, 260; independent houses and, 122; intellectual popular films and, 270–71; narrative and, 109, 120, 122, 273–74, 318n94; stop motion and, 260. See also Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977); Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) Blues Brothers, The (Landis, 1980), 228 blue screens: Abbott, L. B. and, 79; Blue Thunder (Badham, 1983) and, 232, 318n83; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Kramer, 1963), 84; live action and, 269; mattes and, 143; motion control and, 135; techniques of, 141–42, 280n17; Van Der Veer Photo Effects and, 219, 293n70; Williams Process and, 305n27 Blue Thunder (Badham, 1983), 232, 318n82, 318n83 Bogdanovich, Peter, 14, 81, 123 Bordwell, David, 7, 27, 120, 277n13 Borehamwood Studios, 75 Boss Films, 81, 218, 232–33, 235, 236, 238 Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 95, 97


Bowie, David, 194–95 Bowie, Les, 75, 97 Bradbury, Ray, 194–95 Brainstorm (Trumbull, 1983), 196–97, 224, 232, 250–51, 258–59 Brakhage, Stan, 48 Breer, Robert, 97, 286n75 bricolage method, 133 Bridges at Toko-Ri, The (Robson, 1954), 41, 289n10 Bringing Up Baby (Hawks, 1938), 96 Bromberg, Betzy, 64, 152, 155–56, 157–58, 228, 229, 230, 307n21, 308n34, 314n5 Browne, Nick, 188–89 “Bubbles” (7UP ad) (Abel), 91–92, 132–33, 145 Buck Rogers and the 25th Century (television), 194–95 Bukatman, Scott, 4–5, 71, 126, 186, 196, 266, 279n30, 301n40 Burroughs, Edgar Rice, 148 By the Sea (1962), 91 Cahiers du Cinéma, 112–13, 184, 247, 300n25 CalArts (California Institute of the Arts): Beckett, Adam and, 152, 285n68; Blalack, Robert and, 228, 285n68, 287n81; counterculture scene and, 163; Disney and, 56, 287n81, 292n53; Lucas, George and, 164; Museum of Modern Art and, 285n68; O’Neill, Pat and, 152, 155; optical printing and, 154; special effects industry and, 155, 163, 285n68; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 51, 160, 309n45; West Coast experimental filmmakers and, 152 California State University–Long Beach, 51, 124 camera animating device. See motion-control rig camera movement, 1, 40–41, 59, 68–69, 70, 79, 130, 132 caméra-stylo, 112 Cameron, James, 123, 239, 250, 259, 261, 311n16, 326n18 Campbell, Joseph, 147, 306n6, 310n58 Canby, Vincent, 111, 183, 187, 243 candy apple neon look, 92, 145, 149, 223, 228, 299n16 Carpenter, Jeff, 93 Carpenter, John, 15, 56, 153, 163 Casady, Chris, 152, 285n68, 309n45 Cascade Pictures, 80, 87, 88–89, 205, 207, 242, 295n84, 295n85



Cat People (Schrader, 1982), 228 Caveman (Gottlieb, 1981), 67, 89, 240, 243 CGI (computer-generated imagery): Abel, Robert and, 93; “authentic” films and, 271; Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 287n84; critics and, 263, 270–72; Cuba, Larry and, 160; experimental filmmaking and, 163–64; flexibility of, 271; Harryhausen, Ray and, 245; motion-control technology and, 320n26; 1970s film industry and, 60; Robert Abel and Associates and, 75, 316n53; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 178; stop motion and, 319n3; Tron (Lisberger, 1982) and, 288n86 character animation, 88–89, 90, 207, 208–212 Chomón, Segundo de, 31, 44 Cimarron (Ruggles, 1931), 83 Cinefantastique magazine, 94, 242, 254, 255–56, 317n73 Cinefex magazine, 242, 305n28, 309n57 cinéma du look, 92, 260 cinema of attractions argument, 4, 111 CinemaScope, 137 cinematic documentary realism, 16 cinematic photorealism. See photorealism cinéma vérité, 11, 15 Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941), 36, 41, 83, 96, 282n32, 284n48 Clair, Renè, 50 Clash of the Titans (Davis, 1981), 67, 69, 240, 242, 243, 244, 246–50, 289n12, 320n23 classical filmmaking, 7–8 Classical Hollywood, 106–107, 110 Classical Hollywood Cinema, The (Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson), 7 classical style special effects, 21–22 Classical to Post-Classical debates, 7, 277n13, 299n10 Cliffhanger (Harlin, 1993), 238 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977): aesthetics of, 115, 125, 180, 184; animation and, 154; auteurism and, 106; as blockbuster film, 113–16, 187; budget and, 179; cinema as universal language and, 314n50; cinema history and, 106– 109; cinematic diegesis and, 106–107; color and, 140; computer animation and, 287n84; Expanded Cinema and, 187; experimental filmmaking and, 164; film stocks and, 137, 144; Future General effects company and, 131, 184, 310n5; graphic dynamism and, 28, 49, 118, 183;

independent houses (optical/title/effects) and, 122; industry change and, 14; kineticism and, 132, 183; light use and, 184, 185–88, 189; Lucas, George and, 123; mattes and, 143; miniatures and, 143–44, 185, 312n23; models and, 184, 185, 189; motion control and, 131–32, 136; Muren, Dennis and, 185; music and, 187, 198; narrative and, 106, 120; as new world paradigm, 267; optical printing and, 130, 154, 302n44; optimistic futurism and, 194, 197, 198; photorealism and, 24, 57, 130, 145; reviews of, 111; rotoscoping and, 48; sensory engagement and, 186, 198; sequelization and, 197; special effects and, 108, 130–32, 136, 137, 140, 143–44, 145; Spielberg, Steven on, 114, 179; vs. Star Wars (Lucas, 1977), 182–83, 185–86, 198–99, 265; Trumbull, Douglas and, 75, 87, 121, 132, 154, 181–82, 184, 186, 187–88, 252, 311n21; UFOs and, 143–44, 180, 185–192, 312n23 Cloud Atlas (Wachowski and Wachowski, 2012), 269 Cockfighter (Hellman, 1974), 22 Cocks, Jay, 123 Cohl, Émile, 44, 45 collective experience, films as, 252–53, 259– 260, 261, 265, 268, 279n29 color, 38–40, 139–142, 144, 156fig., 284n45, 290n26 Columbia Studios, 232 commercial aesthetics, 109 composites: before and after Star Wars (Lucas, 1977), 69; definition and history of, 30–43; disaster films and, 78–79; frame control and, 24–25; Hollywood tradition and, 292n50; mise-en-scène and, 24–25; 1980s and, 67; 1920s/1930s and, 29–40, 282n30; Saugus Series (O’Neill, 1974) and, 161–62; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 134; studio-era methods and, 26; technologies, 33, 67, 282n30; 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) and, 72. See also front projection; in-camera methods; mattes; opticals; process photography; rear projection; transparencies Compsy, 235–36, 318n90. See also Dykstraflex motion-control rig computer-generated imagery (CGI). See CGI (computer-generated imagery) Conan the Barbarian (Milius, 1982), 220


Conquest of Space (Haskin, 1955), 71, 167–68 contact printing, 72–74, 290n26 contemporary cinema, 263–74 Cook, David, 108, 305n41 Cook, Randy, 243, 297n119, 320n26 Coppola, Francis Ford: AIP (American International Pictures) and, 81; Apocalypse Now (1979), 57, 307n19; as auteur, 105, 112–13; Dream Quest and, 231–32; Dunn, Linwood and, 97; as exciting filmmaker, 14; experimental filmmaking and, 153; location work and, 39; Lucas, George on, 306n10; One from the Heart (1982) and, 219, 231–32; photorealism and, 22; studio-based techniques and, 69. See also American Zoetrope Corman, Roger, 81, 114, 123, 219 counterculture scene, 99, 163 creative triangle, 101, 217, 298n125 creature animation, 240, 295n87, 319n3, 320n26 Cuarón, Alfonso, 262 Cuba, Larry, 152, 153, 155, 157, 160, 161fig., 285n68, 309n45 Dalí, Salvador, 151, 296n98, 321n41 Damnation Alley (Smight, 1977), 28, 227 Danforth, Jim, 89, 94–95, 96, 240, 242, 243, 293n72 Dante, Joe, 244 Dark Knight, The (Nolan, 2008), 138 Day the Earth Stood Still, The (Wise, 1951), 186 Death Proof (Tarantino, 2007), 271 Decay of Fiction (O’Neill, 2002), 162 de Laurentiis, Dino, 86, 126, 140, 218, 219, 293n72 del Toro, Guillermo, 262, 324n77 De Palma, Brian, 15, 105 dialogue replacement technology, 34–35 Dick, Phillip K., 194–95 Die Hard (McTiernan, 1988), 238 digital anxiety, 5 digital-based houses, 238 Digital Domain, 93 Digital Domain (IBM’s), 238 Digital Harmony (Whitney, John, Sr.), 193 digital technologies: aesthetics and, 269, 326n11; animation, 268, 285n59; digitization, 240, 315n28; effects and, 5, 8–9; as effects era, 281n20; ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and, 100; imaging, 44, 259, 264, 275n6, 278n21; as an index, 275n5; vs.


optical, 4; Trumbull, Douglas on, 252; workflow problems and, 278n17 Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality (Prince), 5–6 Dillon, Melinda, 188 disaster films (1970s), 77–79, 82, 101, 154, 279n6 Disney, 70, 77, 232, 238, 278n28, 285n56, 287n81, 292n53, 301n37, 321n41. See also Disney, Walt; Universal Studios Disney, Walt, 45, 56, 253 Dogme 95, 11 Dorney, Bill, 85 Doyle, Loring, 285n68, 309n45 Dream Quest, 81, 205, 218, 231–32, 318n82 Dreyfus, Richard, 115, 180, 274 drug use, 48, 54, 195–96, 197–98, 310n61 Duel (Spielberg, 1971), 124 Dune (Lynch, 1984), 69, 140, 218, 220–22, 271 Dunn, Linwood: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Dunn Collection, 96, 279n3, 296n113, 308n33; Acme-Dunn optical printer and, 37, 82–83; career of, 292n61; Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941) and, 41, 83, 96, 280n10, 282n32; Dykstra, John and, 297n119; Edlund, Richard and, 297n119; Film Effects Hollywood, 82, 83, 136–37, 219, 292n58; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Kramer, 1963) and, 84fig., 293n66; King Kong (Cooper and Schoedsack, 1933) and, 83, 96, 281n18, 282n32; lectures, 81, 95–97, 155, 284n48, 297n117, 297n119; “In Memoriam” notice, 282n32; montage and, 118; Muren, Dennis and, 297n119; O’Neill, Pat and, 97, 155, 161; practitioner discourse of, 13; realism and, 13; Saugus Series (O’Neill, 1974) and, 161–62; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 303n56; studio era and, 21, 64; Trumbull, Douglas and, 297n119; 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) and, 96, 136–37; youth recruitment efforts and, 67, 81, 95–98. See also optical printing Dunning, Carroll, 64 Dunning Process, 282n31 Dunning Process Company, 64 Dykstra, John: Andromeda Strain, The (Wise, 1971) and, 228, 311n9; animation and, 43–44, 45; Apogee and, 216–19; Blalack, Robert and, 228; Bukatman, Scott on, 301n40; Dunn, Linwood and, 297n119;



Dykstra (continued ) effects authorship struggles and, 101, 127; flight and, 303n4, 304n15; ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and, 177, 181, 216, 325n10; independent houses and, 81, 215; Lucas, George and, 127, 133–34, 177, 213, 216, 315n31; Pederson, Con and, 132–33; Silent Running (Trumbull, 1972) and, 311n9; Spiderman I & II (Raimi, 2002, 2004) and, 268; as star effects artist, 239; Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise, 1979) and, 223–27, 304n12; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 43, 65, 127, 131, 133–34, 154, 177, 181; Trumbull, Douglas and, 131, 177, 181, 304n12. See also Dykstraflex motioncontrol rig Dykstraflex motion-control rig, 76, 132–35, 136, 216, 235–36, 304n12, 317n61, 318n90 Dynamation, 284n50 Earthquake (Robson, 1974), 69, 78–79, 279n6, 284n49 Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (Sears, 1956), 69, 186 East Coast filmmaking, 51–52, 53, 54 Eastern spiritualism, 48, 54, 195, 197–98, 286n75, 310n58 Easy Rider (Hopper, 1969), 22 Ebert, Roger, 15, 221, 255, 300n20, 325n2 economic aesthetics, 7 economics, films and, 7, 197, 260–62 Edlund, Richard: Boss Films and, 232–34, 235, 238; on candy apple neon look, 92, 223; digital era and, 81; Dunn, Linwood and, 297n119, 303n56; Empire Strikes Back, The (Kershner, 1980) and, 90, 207–208, 233, 305n28; Expanded Cinema and, 260; Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984) and, 235; ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and, 232–33, 325n10; photorealism and, 13, 233; Return of the Jedi (Lucas, 1983) and, 233; Robert Abel and Associates and, 80, 93, 233; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 154, 303n56; Westheimer Company and, 80, 293n71 Edouart, Farciot, 38, 77, 96–97, 280n15, 303n56 EEG (Entertainment Effects Group), 224, 227, 233, 236 effects houses. See independent houses (optical/title/effects)

Eisenstein, Sergei, 49, 117, 118, 301n37, 302n47 Ellenshaw, Harrison, 25, 27 Elsaesser, Thomas, 4–5, 7, 123, 277n13 Empire Strikes Back, The (Kershner, 1980): character animation and, 208–212; faux helicopter shots in, 120fig., 211fig.; graphic dynamism and, 119, 214; ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and, 65, 131, 205–14; Lucas, George and, 177, 206– 207, 209; mattes and, 213; optical printing and, 212, 213; photorealism and, 148, 206–207, 213, 214; stop motion and, 90, 207–212; zoopomorphic Imperial Walkers in, 210fig. See also Edlund, Richard; Muren, Dennis Entertainment Effects Group (EEG), 224, 227, 233, 236 Eraserhead (Lynch, 1977), 57 Estar, 214, 305n29 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Spielberg, 1982), 88, 110, 231–32 European New Wave, 15, 16 expanded blockbuster. See blockbuster films, expanded Expanded Cinema: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 187; collective experience and, 252–53, 259–60, 279n29; feature films and, 58; intensified intermedial experience of, 54–55; movement, 16, 52, 54; O’Neill, Pat and, 52; political modernism and, 16, 267, 279n29, 321n38 Expanded Cinema (Youngblood), 16, 55, 117, 163, 193 expanded senses. See sensory engagement experimental animation, 17, 28, 48, 55–56, 57, 146–47, 150, 151, 301n37 experimental filmmakers, 48, 50, 56–58, 80, 116–18, 149–71. See also individual filmmakers experimental filmmaking: abstract, 48, 50–51, 53; Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 164; commercial work and, 80; contemporary, 3; experiential emphasis and, 53, 55; ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and, 100, 164; kineticism and, 28, 153, 164; mainstream filmmaking and, 170, 171, 286n72; manifestos, 193; music events and, 54, 163, 312n28; O’Neill, Pat and, 51, 97; optical printing and, 55–56, 152, 154, 164; political filmmaking and, 16; rotoscoping and,


164; Scott, Ridley and, 57, 152; By the Sea (1962), 91; sensory engagement and, 53, 55, 166; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 146–47, 151–61, 162, 164, 301n39; traveling shows and, 163; Trumbull, Douglas and, 51; West Coast, 50, 51–52, 113, 170, 178, 286n72; Youngblood, Gene and, 53, 113, 163. See also experimental animation; experimental filmmakers; Lucas, George experimental films. See experimental filmmaking fan cults, 89, 94–95, 242, 243, 300n27 Fantasia (Disney, 1940), 50 Fantastic Voyage (Fleischer, 1966), 42, 77 Favreau, Jon, 262 Fight Club (Fincher, 1999), 132, 269 Film Comment, 162 Film Effects Hollywood, 80, 82, 83, 84, 126, 136–37, 205, 219, 292n58 film festivals, 95, 286n76 film formats. See film stocks Filmic Expression (USC class), 56 film schools, West Coast, 51, 56, 95. See also CalArts (California Institute of the Arts); Long Beach State; UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles); USC (University of Southern California) film stocks. See Fuji; IMAX; Kodak; Lazy 8 film stock; optical printing; VistaVision; individual film stocks Fincher, David, 269, 270 Firefox (Eastwood, 1982), 219, 232, 318n83 Fischinger, Oskar, 50, 151 5369 film stock, 213–14 5302 film stock, 213–14 5254 film stock, 144–45, 305n38 5247 film stock, 144–45, 231, 305n29, 305n38 5235 film stock, 213–14 Flashdance (Lyne, 1983), 110, 260 Flash Gordon (Hodges, 1980), 28, 93, 140, 220 Flash Gordon comic strips, 123 Flavin, Dan, 189 Fleischer, Max, 46, 285n58 Fletcher, Louise, 250, 258 Flying Down to Rio (Freeland, 1933), 36, 41, 83 Forbidden Planet (Wilcox, 1956), 48, 160, 167–69, 312n27 Ford, John, 112, 113, 137, 271 Foreign Correspondent (Hitchcock, 1940), 38 Fox Studios, 77, 78, 82


frames, 24–25, 44, 89, 135, 241, 254–55, 281n21, 294n73, 311n16, 325n7 Frampton, Hollis, 48, 51 Francis, Freddie, 220 French poetic realism, 11 Friedman, Roberta, 152 front projection, 33, 70, 74, 284n46, 291n31 Fuji, 213–14, 305n41 Fuller, Buckminster, 54 Fulton, John, 36, 41, 97, 281n18, 289n10, 292n60 Future General effects company: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 131, 184, 310n5; as independent house, 204, 227; vs. Lucas/ILM (Industrial Light & Magic), 126–27, 265; replicable efficiency and, 131; 70mm film format and, 139; Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise, 1979) and, 93, 223–24; Trumbull, Douglas and, 75, 131, 181 Future magazine, 193, 239, 313n41 “Future of Special Effects and Animation, The” (lecture series), 297n117 Future Shock (Toffler), 180, 193, 196 Gance, Abel, 50 Garsault, Alain, 247 Genesis Film Productions, 163, 286n76 Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984), 28, 89, 233, 235–38, 265 Gillespie, Arnold “Buddy,” 38, 77, 78, 96–97, 283n33, 291n42, 297n115 Gioffre, Rocco, 231 Godard, Jean-Luc, 15, 105, 113 Gombrich, Ernst, 27 Go-Motion, 209–212, 240 Gondry, Michel, 262 graphic dynamism: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 28, 49, 116, 118, 183; definition of, 15; Dunn, Linwood and, 96; Empire Strikes Back, The (Kershner, 1980) and, 119, 214; experimental filmmakers and, 116–18; Lucas, George and, 49, 105, 267; music and, 117; 1970s/1980s filmmaking and, 27–28, 49–50, 57–58; Spielberg, Steven and, 105; Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise, 1979) and, 28, 49; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 28, 49–50, 116, 118– 19, 121, 146, 178; Trumbull, Douglas and, 49, 116, 122. See also sensory engagement Graphic Films, 80, 87–88, 154, 205, 292n56 graphic wipes, 36, 118–19



Gravity (Cuarón, 2013), 274 Great Train Robbery (Porter, 1903), 45 Greenberg, Clement, 54 Greenbergian model, 54 Greengrass, Paul, 262 Green Lantern (Campbell, 2011), 269 Guffey, Cary, 188 Guillerman, John, 79 Gulliver’s Travels (Fleischer, 1939), 46 Gunning, Tom, 4–5, 111, 322n48 Halloween (Carpenter, 1978), 229 Hammer Films, 75 Harold and Maude (Ashby, 1971), 66fig. Harris, Mark, 270–71 Harryhausen, Ray, 89, 94–95, 96, 209, 239, 240, 242–50, 284n50, 319n13, 319n15, 320n19 Haunted Hotel, The (Blackton, 1907), 44–45 Hawks, Howard, 112 Heavy Light (Beckett, 1973), 157, 158fig. Hellman, Monte, 66, 123, 272 Henson, Jim, 240 Hero with a Thousand Faces, The (Campbell), 147 high-concept aesthetics, 109–111 High Frame Rate (HFR), 311n16 Hindenburg, The (Wise, 1975), 69 Hitchcock, Alfred, 23, 38, 47, 152–53, 267, 325n9 Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The (Jackson, 2012), 259, 269 Hollister, Robert, 231 Hollister, Thomas, 231 Hollywood, 27, 51, 64–65, 67, 260–62, 265, 288n3. See also New Hollywood Horizon magazine, 193 Howard, Tom, 75 Howard Anderson independent house, 84–85 Howling, The (Dante, 1981), 67, 145, 243–44, 249 Hud (Ritt, 1963), 38 Hughes, John, 93 Iguchi, Frederick, 231 ILM (Industrial Light & Magic): aesthetics of, 68, 70, 90, 99, 100, 127–28, 146, 148–49, 240, 250, 295n90; Apogee and, 218, 232–33; blockbuster films, expanded and, 260; Boss Films and, 232–33; Bromberg, Betzy and, 314n5; as corporate entity, 131; Dykstra, John and, 177, 181,

216, 325n10; economic domination and, 3, 87, 205; Edlund, Richard and, 232–33, 325n10; Empire Strikes Back, The (Kershner, 1980) and, 65, 131, 205–214; experimental filmmaking and, 100, 164; as factory-like, 314n5; Future General effects company and, 126–27, 265; house style of, 127–28, 148–49, 177, 206, 240; independent houses and, 81, 215, 227; Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993) and, 66; Lucas, George and, 3, 87, 100; Lucasfilm Ltd. and, 63, 65; mission statement, unofficial, 208; Muren, Dennis and, 88, 89, 325n10; 1977 (post) and, 204–205; O’Neill, Pat and, 159–60; origins of, 63–64; photorealism and, 65–67, 68, 100, 146, 205, 206–207, 213, 214, 240, 250; Pirates of the Caribbean (Verbinski, 2003) and, 66; Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981) and, 66, 67; Ralston, Ken and, 89; replicable efficiency and, 131; Return of the Jedi (Lucas, 1983) and, 99–100, 159, 206, 233; staff of, 89, 325n10; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 63–64, 65, 66–67, 99–100, 154; stop motion and, 90, 244, 319n3, 320n26; Tippett, Phil and, 89; Trumbull, Douglas and, 265, 267 Image Works (Sony’s), 238 IMAX, 137, 182, 241, 252, 257, 291n35, 322n54, 324n67 immersion and bodily engagement, 3, 15, 28, 49. See also sensory engagement; visual filmmaking in-camera methods, 31–32, 281n20, 281n22 independent houses (optical/title/effects): Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 122; digital-based houses vs., 238; Dykstra, John and, 81, 215; history of, 64; new effects artists and, 101; niche houses, 87–90; 1977 (post) and, 204–205, 215–16, 227–38; optical printing and, 85; outsourced work and, 85–86; overview of, 79–87; production companies and, 8–9; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 99, 122, 154, 308n31; studios and, 77, 277n15; West Coast experimental filmmakers and, 152. See also Apogee; Boss Films; Dream Quest; Future General effects company; Howard Anderson independent house; ILM (Industrial Light & Magic); Motion Graphics Inc.; niche houses; Praxis; Ray Mercer independent house; Trumbull Film Effects


Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). See ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) Information International, Inc. (III), 93, 287n84 In Search of the Obelisk ride film, 256–57 Internet content, 261 Invisible Man (Whale, 1933), 36, 281n18 Iron Man films (2008/2010), 11, 66 It Happened Tomorrow (Clair, 1944), 50 It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Kramer, 1963), 83, 84, 96, 293n66 Jackman, Fred, 64, 288n4 Jackson, Peter, 239, 259, 311n16, 320n26 James, David, 162–63, 286n72 Jason and the Argonauts (Chaffey, 1963), 89, 242, 245, 284n50 Jaws (Spielberg, 1975), 42, 78, 108, 114–15, 124, 179 Jenkins, Henry, 242 John Carter of Mars (Burroughs) series, 148 Jolly Green Giant television ads, 89 Jones, Chuck, 97, 208, 297n117 Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993), 5, 66, 88, 272, 319n3 Kael, Pauline, 15, 105, 106, 111, 183, 325n9 kaleidoscopic perception, 196, 279n30 Kauffmann, Stanley, 15, 111, 192–93, 197 Kehr, David, 272 Kellog, Ray, 97 kineticism: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 132, 183; experimental filmmaking and, 28, 153, 164; intellectual (quasi-), fusion with, 71; before motion control, 289n10; 1970s filmmakers and, 49, 180; sensory engagement and, 15; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 60, 68–69, 132, 133–34, 146, 167, 169, 178; Vorkapich, Slavko on, 118 King Kong (Cooper and Schoedsack, 1933), 36, 45, 69, 83, 89, 96, 207, 244, 281n18, 282n32, 319n13 King Kong (Guillermin, 1976), 86–87, 126, 220, 222, 293n72 King Kong (Jackson, 2005), 269 Klick, Laura, 228 Kodak, 95, 144, 213–14, 305n29, 305n41 Kosower, Herb, 56 Koyaanisqatsi (Reggio, 1982), 150, 307n16 Kubelka, Peter, 48 Kubrick, Stanley: as auteur, 326n19; as exciting filmmaker, 14; film stocks and,


139, 251–52; Harris, Mark on, 270–71; Pederson, Con and, 88; photorealism and, 24; science fiction and, 15; Trumbull, Douglas and, 88, 158–59, 251–52, 291n33; 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and, 70–74, 76, 111–12, 251, 284n46, 290n30, 310n60; visual impact and, 49, 117; Whitney, John, Sr. and, 88 Kuran, Peter, 152, 309n45 Kurtz, Gary, 123 Labyrinth (Henson, 1986), 240 Landon, Brooks, 261 Lapis (Whitney, James, 1966), 48 Last Action Hero, The (McTiernan, 1993), 238 Lastra, James, 13 LaValley, Albert, 261 Lazy 8 film stock, 137, 138fig. See also VistaVision Legato, Robert, 93 LeGrice, Malcolm, 51, 54, 286n71, 286n72 LeGuin, Ursula K., 194–95 Leonardo’s Dream (Trumbull, 1989), 257–58 Lightman, Herb, 72, 74, 76, 133 Liman, Doug, 262 Lincoln (Spielberg, 2012), 271 Linwood Dunn Collection, 96, 279n3, 296n113, 308n33 liquid realism, 253, 254–55 Lloyd, Harold, 84 location shooting, 22, 39, 76, 301n39 locked-down camera, 40–41, 59, 68–69, 130, 284n48, 289n10 Logan’s Run (Anderson, 1976), 86, 222, 293n72 Long Beach State, 51, 124 Lookout Mountain Films, 80, 155, 159 looping. See dialogue replacement technology Lord of the Rings (Jackson, 2001/2002/2003), 69, 109, 273–74, 320n26 Los Angeles Center College of Design, 95 Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 255 Los Angeles Times, 252 Lost World, The (Allen, 1925), 23, 33, 141, 319n11 Love, Cecil, 37, 82–83 Lucas, George: American Zoetrope and, 313n38, 313n48; as auteur, 112–13, 150; Bartlett, Scott and, 149–50, 151; Belson, Jordan and, 149–50, 151; CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) and, 164;



Lucas (Continued ) Campbell, Joseph and, 147, 306n6, 310n58; career of, 123–24, 125, 183, 308n22; on Coppola, Francis Ford, 306n10; critics on, 299n11; Dykstra, John and, 127, 133–34, 177, 213, 216, 315n31; Dykstraflex motion-control rig and, 317n61; Eisenstein, Sergei and, 117, 302n47; as exciting filmmaker, 14–15; experimental filmmaking and, 17, 57, 107, 149–51, 152, 153–54, 163, 164, 307n19, 308n22; on filmmaker as painter/sculptor, 265–66; film stocks and, 137; graphic dynamism and, 49, 105, 267; Harryhausen, Ray and, 250; ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and, 3, 87, 100; influences on, 149–50, 151, 306n6; Information International, Inc. (III) and, 287n84; kineticism and, 180; MacKenna’s Gold (Thompson, 1969) and, 150; Muren, Dennis on, 209; as 1970s effects architect, 21; on opticals, 129; optimistic futurism and, 194, 197; photorealism and, 22–23, 24, 28; on science fiction fan base, 300n27; self-view and, 278n28, 306n10; sensory engagement and, 171; stop motion and, 209; studio-based techniques and, 69, 125–26; theater spaces and, 242, 252, 288n85, 314n2; Trumbull, Douglas and, 75, 126–27, 181, 311n8; USC (University of Southern California) and, 56, 124; as visual filmmaker, 105, 148, 171. See also Empire Strikes Back, The (Kershner, 1980); ILM (Industrial Light & Magic); Lucasfilm Ltd.; Phantom Menace (Lucas, 2012); Return of the Jedi (Lucas, 1983); Star Wars (Lucas, 1977); Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith (Lucas, 2005); Star Wars: Special Edition (Lucas, 1997); THX-1138 (Lucas, 1971) Lucasfilm Ltd., 3, 63, 65, 87, 125, 157, 159, 278n28, 308n31, 314n2. See also Lucas, George Lumet, Sidney, 108, 270 Lynch, David, 220 Lyne, Adrian, 110 MacKenna’s Gold (Thompson, 1969), 150 Magi, 93 makeup, special effects, 67, 240, 249, 314n3, 319n2 Malick, Terrence, 66, 105 Maltby, Richard, 7, 109 Manhattan (Allen, 1979), 117

Manhunter (Mann, 1986), 260 Manovich, Lev, 5, 43 Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929), 117 Man with the Rubber Head, The (L’Homme à la Tête en Caoutchouc) (Méliès, 1901), 31 marketing, films and, 14, 108, 110, 260–61, 262, 320n23, 324n79 Marnie (Hitchcock, 1964), 23, 188–89 Master, The (Anderson, 2012), 271 Masters, Tony, 220 Masters of the Universe (Goddard, 1987), 238 Match Point (Allen, 2005), 26 Matrix, The (Wachowski and Wachowski, 1999), 109, 261, 269, 272, 273–74, 278n23, 318n94 mattes: in-camera techniques and, 281n22; disaster films (1970s) and, 78–79; Empire Strikes Back, The (Kershner, 1980) and, 213; experimental filmmaking and, 164; film stocks and, 214; lines and, 42, 142– 44, 213, 230, 305n28, 316n50; paintings, 29, 33–34, 84, 96, 134, 279n3, 297n119; in Wolfen (Wadleigh, 1981), 229fig. See also traveling mattes Maya effects software, 93 McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Altman, 1971), 28–29 McCall, Rod, 93 McCay, Winsor, 44 McLaren, Norman, 149–50, 151, 170 McLuhan, Marshall, 54, 193, 251, 268, 286n72 Meet John Doe (1941), 49 Méliès, Georges, 31, 32fig., 44, 186, 245, 247, 249 Mercer, Ray, 85, 86, 219, 297n119, 316n46 merchandise, ancillary, 109, 110, 197, 324n79 “Methods of Montage” (Eisenstein), 49 MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer): Borehamwood Studios (U.K.), 75; Clash of the Titans (Davis, 1981) and, 246, 247, 320n23; effects department, 78, 281n18, 283n33; front projection and, 291n31; Gillespie, Arnold “Buddy” and, 38, 291n42; 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) and, 74; United Kingdom (U.K.) outsourcing and, 77 Michelson, Annette, 71, 196 Mighty Joe Young (Schoedsack, 1949), 207, 245, 282n32 military, 37, 218, 283n36, 292n59. See also U.S. Army miniatures: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 143–44, 185,


312n23; disaster films (1970s) and, 78; Dunn, Linwood and, 96; frame rates and, 294n73; Graphic Films and, 87, 88; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Kramer, 1963) and, 84; King Kong (Cooper and Schoedsack, 1933) and, 36; Logan’s Run (Anderson, 1976) and, 86; 1941 (Spielberg, 1979) and, 79; 1970s (pre) films and, 306n2; as optical photographic technique, 29; process photography and, 33–34; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 131, 134, 147, 167–69; 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) and, 70, 74. See also models Mission Impossible II (Woo, 2000), 269 models: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 184, 185, 189; frame rates and, 241; Graphic Films and, 87; Harryhausen, Ray and, 246; 1970s (pre) films and, 306n2; optical animation and, 59, 60; Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise, 1979) and, 224, 225; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 147, 173, 301n39; 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) and, 74. See also miniatures montage, 49, 117–18 Moonraker (Gilbert, 1979), 74 motion capture, 5, 320n26, 327n25 motion control, 43, 59–60, 91–92, 131–32, 136, 170, 205, 284n50, 289n10, 295n95, 320n6. See also Compsy; Go-Motion; motion-control rig; motion tracking system (MTS); stop motion; individual film titles motion-control rig, 76, 132–35, 136, 216, 235–36, 304n12, 317n61, 318n90 Motion Graphics Inc., 80, 88, 153 Motion Picture Academy, Science and Technology committees, 81 Motion Pictures Inc., 228 motion tracking system (MTS), 136 movie brats moniker, 94, 113, 163 Movietone sound, 273 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), 49 multipanel splitscreen printing, 96 multi-plane animation stand, 43, 44, 45–46, 132, 226, 285n58, 310n60 Muppet Movie, The (Frawley, 1979), 67, 240 Muren, Dennis: Cascade Pictures and, 80, 88, 89; Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 185; Dream Quest and, 231–32; Dunn, Linwood and, 297n119; Empire Strikes Back, The (Kershner, 1980) and, 208, 209, 212–13,


305n28; E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Spielberg, 1982) and, 88, 231–32; Go-Motion and, 210; ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and, 88, 89, 325n10; Jurassic Park (Spielberg,1993) and, 88; on Lucas and stop motion, 209; on mattes, 142; on spaceship motion, 315n9; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 90, 154, 207; War of the Worlds (Spielberg, 2005) and, 81 Museum of Modern Art, 285n68 music, films and, 71, 96, 117, 150, 187, 198 music events, 54, 55, 163, 296n97, 312n28 Muybridge, Eadweard James, 210 Napoléon (1927), 50 narrative: blockbuster films and, 109, 120, 122, 273–74, 318n94; Bukatman, Scott and, 266; Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 106, 120; Expanded Cinema and, 58; high-concept aesthetics and, 110; shifts, 107; special effects and, 69, 312n30, 318n94; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 106, 120, 176, 178, 301n39, 303n51; 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) and, 120; visual and, 71, 113 Nashville (Altman, 1975), 12, 22, 122 naturalistic aesthetics (1970s), 2, 22 New Hollywood: auteurism and, 1, 2, 105; filmmaking styles, 66–67, 122; heydey of, 111; influences on, 123; location photography and, 39; narrative and, 107; sensory engagement and, 15; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 301n39; vs. studio aesthetics, 22, 39 New Magic (Trumbull, 1983), 255–56 Newsweek, 252 New Wave period, 22 New World Pictures, 81, 123 New York Times, 256, 272, 294n74 niche houses, 87–90. See also independent houses (optical/title/effects) Nicholson, Bruce, 214 Nightmare on Elm Street, A (Craven, 1984), 240 Night of the Dreams (Showscan film), 255 1941 (Spielberg, 1979), 28–29, 79, 294n74 Nine to Five (Higgins, 1980), 228 Nolan, Barry, 219 Nolan, Christopher, 138, 262, 270 Norton, Edward, 132, 269 not-too-realism, 242–43, 250 Novros, Lester, 56, 87, 88



O’Brien, Willis, 36, 45, 89, 209, 242, 245 Olympia (Riefenstahl, 1938), 49 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Forman, 1975), 263 One from the Heart (1982, Coppola), 219, 231–32 O’Neill, Pat: Abel, Robert and, 91; animation and, 17, 28, 57, 151; Blalack, Robert and, 228; CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) and, 152, 155; composite imagery and, 161; Dunn, Linwood and, 97, 155, 161; effects houses and, 64; experimental filmmaking and, 51, 52, 97; films of, 162; “Future of Special Effects and Animation, The” (lecture series) and, 297n117; graphic dynamism and, 116; ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and, 159–60; imagery impact and, 48; Le Grice, Malcolm and, 286n71; Lookout Mountain Films and, 80, 155, 159; Lucasfilm Ltd. and, 157, 159; optical printing and, 56, 155, 157, 230, 287n77; Sitney, P. Adam on, 52–55; special effects industry and, 152, 156; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 155–57; technophilia and, 196; Youngblood, Gene on, 53–55. See also Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Van Peebles, 1971) One Man Band, The (L’Homme Orchestre) (Méliès, 1900), 31, 32fig. optical and effects business, independent, 64. See also independent houses (optical/ title/effects) optical animation, 23, 58–62, 173 optical houses. See independent houses (optical/title/effects) optical photography, 29, 30, 36. See also opticals optical printing: Acme-Dunn optical printer, 37; CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) and, 154; Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941) and, 284n48; Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 130, 154, 302n44; definition of, 29; Dunn, Linwood and, 36, 37, 83, 96, 98, 280n10, 281n18, 283n36, 292n59; Edouart, Farciot and, 280n15; Empire Strikes Back, The (Kershner, 1980) and, 212, 213; experimental filmmaking and, 55–56, 152, 154, 164; film stocks and, 136–37; Fulton, John and, 36, 281n18, 292n60; independent houses and, 85; Love, Cecil and, 37; O’Neill, Pat and, 56, 155, 157, 230, 287n77; single-head optical printer,

41fig.; Sitney, P. Adams on, 52–53; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 68–69, 134, 154, 302n44; studio-era, 40–43, 280n12; 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) and, 70, 290n30, 292n63; updated version of, 42–43; Whitneys and, 287n77 opticals: animation and, 23, 29, 58–62, 173, 267, 268; composites and, 31–33; continued appeal of, 269; decline of, 37; definition of, 30; as dominant technology 1970s to 1990s, 74; effects, 40, 82; as effects era, 281n20; Gillespie, Arnold “Buddy” and, 283n33; history and techniques of, 29–37; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Kramer, 1963) and, 293n66; Lucas, George on, 129; vs. optics, 281n19; as outsourced effects work, 79–80; photorealism and, 268; 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) and, 284n46. See also composites; in-camera methods; mattes; optical photography; optical printing; process photography; rear projection optimistic futurism, 193–99 Orca (Anderson, 1977), 86 Oscars. See Academy Awards Outbreak (Petersen, 1995), 238 Outland (Hyams, 1981), 67 outsourced effects work, 79–80, 82, 85–86. See also independent houses (optical/ title/effects) Oz, Frank, 208–209, 240 Pacific Data Images (Disney’s), 238 Pacific Title and Art, 80, 84–85, 219, 292n56, 316n46 painting analogy, special effects and, 265–66 Pal, George, 209 paradigms of special effects, 27, 29 Parallax View, The (Pakula, 1974), 263 Paramount Decrees (1938–1948), 63 Paramount Studios, 36, 38, 71, 77, 93, 224, 281n18, 310n5 Pederson, Con, 75, 87, 88, 91, 132–33 periodization of cinema history, 7–8 Permutations (Whitney, John, Sr., 1968), 167 Phantom Menace (Lucas, 2012), 8–9 Photographic Society of America, 95 photographic vs. animation aesthetics, 61–62 Photon magazine, 94, 242 photorealism: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 24, 57, 130, 145; definition and history of, 10–12; divergence from, 264; Edlund, Richard


and, 13, 233; Empire Strikes Back, The (Kershner, 1980) and, 148, 206–207, 213, 214; ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and, 65–67, 68, 100, 146, 205, 206–207, 213, 214, 240, 250; Lucas, George and, 22–23, 24, 28; mattes and, 143; 1970s and, 130; opticals and, 268; practitioner rhetoric on, 25; Return of the Jedi (Lucas, 1983) and, 148; return to, 272; shifts and, 23–24, 25, 244–45; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 23–24, 130, 145, 146, 147, 148, 171–72, 178; stop motion and, 90, 249– 250; 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) and, 11, 24, 70–71, 72, 129–30 Pierson, Michele, 4–5, 94–95 Pillsbury Doughboy, 89 Pirates of the Caribbean (Verbinski, 2003), 66 political filmmaking, 16, 263, 267, 286n74 political modernism, 16, 267, 279n29, 321n38 Poltergeist (Spielberg, 1982), 233 Porter, Edwin S., 44 postproduction, 8, 26, 29, 170, 205, 272, 327n25. See also production process practitioner discourse, 13, 25, 38 Praxis, 205, 218, 228–31, 317n77 Prince, Stephen, 5–6, 8 process photography, 29–43, 284n50 production process, 14, 215–16, 315n28. See also postproduction Puppetoons, 209 puppetry: animation and, 295n87; Cascade Pictures and, 89; Clash of the Titans (Davis, 1981) and, 248; Empire Strikes Back, The (Kershner, 1980) and, 208–210, 211, 212; Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984) and, 235–36; King Kong (Guillermin, 1976) and, 86; Labyrinth (Henson, 1986) and, 240; Muppet Movie, The (Frawley, 1979) and, 67, 240; as special effects, 67, 319n2 Pyramid Films, 163, 286n76 Ra, Sun, 194–95 Rafelson, Bob, 39 Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981), 66, 67, 145 Raimi, Sam, 262. See also Spiderman I and II (Raimi, 2002/2004) Ralston, Ken, 81, 89, 207, 208, 209 Rand Corporation, 95 Ray Mercer independent house, 80, 84–85 Raymond, Alex, 123 Reaganite politics, 193, 199, 238 realism, cinematic. See photorealism


rear projection, 22, 23, 26, 33–36, 37–40, 77, 282n25, 283n41 Research Council of the Academy, 37 Return of the Jedi (Lucas, 1983), 99–100, 148, 159, 206, 233 R/Greenberg Associates, 93, 296n106 “Rhapsody in Blue” (Gershwin), 117 Rhythm and Hues, 93, 231, 317n77 ride films. See amusement park “ride films” Riefenstahl, Leni, 49 RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum), 13, 36, 37, 64, 82, 83, 281n18, 282n32 Robert Abel and Associates, 75, 80, 88, 91–93, 132–33, 215, 222–23, 233, 295n95, 316n53, 317n57 Robinson, Glen, 78 RoboCop (Verhoeven, 1987), 195, 240 Rocky (Avildsen, 1976), 117 rotoscoping: animation and, 44, 46–48, 67; Beckett, Adam and, 157, 160; definition of, 29; diagram, 47fig.; as digital animation technique, 285n59; for digital “clean up,” 285n61; experimental filmmaking and, 164; Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984) and, 237; history and techniques of, 46–48; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 48, 167, 169, 294n74 Safety Last! (Neymeyer, 1923), 84 Sarris, Andrew, 2, 112 Saugus Series (O’Neill, 1974), 48, 52, 53, 97, 98fig., 161–62 Schüfftan, Eugen, 50, 151, 282n30 science fiction films, 15, 70, 193–96, 199, 238, 275n6 science fiction literature, 194–95 Scorsese, Martin, 15, 81, 105, 123 Scott, Ridley, 57, 110, 145, 152, 256, 260 Scott, Tony, 260 screen space, 170 Searchers, The (Ford, 1956), 137 sensory engagement: affect theory and, 276n8; Brainstorm (Trumbull, 1983) and, 258–59; Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and, 186, 198; experimental filmmaking and, 53, 55, 166; filmmakers and, 15, 16, 196; graphic dynamism and, 15, 49; Lapis (Whitney, James, 1966) and, 48; Lucas, George and, 171; New Hollywood and, 15; Saugus Series (O’Neill, 1974) and, 48; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 169, 178; Trumbull, Douglas and, 253, 266; 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) and, 117



Sensurround, 78–79 7UP “Bubbles” ad (Abel), 91–92, 132–33, 145 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The (Juran, 1958), 243 7362 (O’Neill, 1965– 66), 53 70mm film stock: Dunn, Linwood and, 83; Edlund, Richard and, 233–34; expense of, 305n41; image quality and, 32, 136–37; Kubrick, Stanley and, 139, 251–52; Master, The (Anderson, 2012) and, 271; Showscan and, 241; Trumbull, Douglas and, 138–39, 181, 252, 253, 254 Sexy Robot ad, 93 She (Holden and Pichel, 1935), 96 Shoot the Piano Player (Truffaut, 1960), 49 Shourt, Jamie, 228 Showscan, 253–54, 255, 260, 322n48, 322n54, 323n57. See also Trumbull, Douglas Sidewinder’s Delta (O’Neill, 1976), 97, 162 Silent Running (Trumbull, 1972), 131, 196, 311n9 Single Wing Turquoise Bird light show musical performance, 163 Sirk, Douglas, 38–39, 283n41 Sitney, P. Adams, 48, 51, 52–55, 162 6/18/67 (Lucas, 1967), 150 slit-scan technology, 88, 310n60 Snow White (Disney, 1937), 45 social change, 2, 4. See also American culture, science fiction films and; counterculture scene; political filmmaking; Reaganite politics Sony Pictures Image Works, 238 sound technology, 6, 13, 78–79, 121, 272, 273, 277n10, 280n16, 282n31 Sound Technology and the American Cinema (Lastra), 13 Soviet montage, 117 spaceships. See UFOs special effects: aesthetic demands and, 27–28; before and after Star Wars (Lucas, 1977), 68–69; authorship struggles and, 101, 113, 126; as change force, 6, 7–8; classical style, 21–22; definition of, 8; distinct historical eras and, 281n20; dystopias and, 263–64; economic aspects of, 197, 260–62; history of, 2, 64–65, 288n4; Hollywood and, 265; international films and, 324n77; narrative and, 69, 312n30, 318n94; 1980s and, 67, 69, 234–35; 1970s (post) and, 68–69, 205, 271, 276n9; 1970s (pre) and, 29–43, 68–69; photographic base of, 61; production process and, 8–9,

14, 26, 29, 272, 315n28; realism and, 11–12, 278n25; star artists and, 239; topos and, 5; units vs. directors, 115–16. See also experimental filmmaking; makeup, special effects; puppetry; studioera special effects; individual film titles special effects houses. See independent houses (optical/title/effects) Specialist, The (Llosa, 1994), 238 Species (Donaldson, 1995), 238 Spiderman I and II (Raimi, 2002/2004), 26, 81, 138, 268, 318n94 Spielberg, Steven: as auteur, 112–13; career of, 123–25, 183; on Close Encounters vs. Jaws, 114, 179; critics on, 299n11; as exciting filmmaker, 14–15; experimental filmmaking and, 17, 57, 152; on 5247 film stock, 144; graphic dynamism and, 105; Harryhausen, Ray and, 250; Hitchcock, Alfred on, 267, 325n9; kineticism and, 180; optimistic futurism and, 194; photorealism and, 22–23, 24, 28; sexualized effects terms and, 312n24; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 123; studio-based techniques and, 69, 125–26; television and, 124; Trumbull, Douglas and, 181, 184–85, 253, 311n21; as visual filmmaker, 105. See also Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977); Jaws (Spielberg, 1975); 1941 (Spielberg, 1979) split screens, 96, 118 Squires, Scott, 231 Stagecoach (Ford, 1939), 188–89 Staiger, Janet, 7 Star! (Wise, 1968), 163 Starlog magazine, 242 Star Trek (Abrams, 2009), 66, 68, 100, 276n9 Star Trek (television), 83, 85, 86 Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise, 1979): Abel, Robert and, 93, 223; Apogee and, 219, 222, 223–25; Dykstra, John and, 223–27, 304n12; Future General effects company and, 93, 223–24; graphic dynamism and, 28, 49; opening sequence, 170, 225fig.; Trumbull, Douglas and, 87, 93, 223–27, 258, 304n12; V’Ger sequence, 28, 46, 223, 224, 226fig., 258, 266 Star Wars (Lucas, 1977): aesthetics of, 108, 115, 125, 149, 162, 171–72; Allures (Belson, 1961) and, 166–67; animation and, 150, 154, 157, 160, 167, 169, 173; auteurism and, 106; Beckett, Adam and, 99, 155, 157, 160, 164, 165fig., 219; as blockbuster


film, 113–16; California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) and, 51, 160, 309n45; Cascade Pictures and, 89; cinema history and, 106–109; cinematic diegesis and, 106–107; vs. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977), 182–83, 185–86, 198–99, 265; color and, 140; as documentary fantasy, 149, 171–72; Dykstra, John and, 43, 65, 127, 131, 133–34, 154, 177, 181; Dykstraflex motion-control rig and, 76; Edlund, Richard and, 154, 303n56; effects team recruitment and, 99; experimental filmmaking and, 146–47, 151–61, 162, 164, 301n39; film stocks and, 137–38; financing and production of, 114, 147; genesis of, 147–48; graphic dynamism and, 28, 49–50, 116, 118–19, 121, 146, 178; ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and, 63–64, 65, 66–67, 99–100, 154; independent houses and, 99, 122, 154, 308n31; industry change and, 14; kineticism and, 60, 68–69, 132, 133–34, 146, 167, 169, 178; locked-down camera and, 68–69; Lucas, George and, 99, 124, 148–51, 177, 181, 267, 298n1, 298n5, 303n51, 307n19, 308n27, 326n12; mattes and, 143; miniatures and, 131, 134, 147, 167–69; models and, 147, 173, 301n39; montage and, 301n39; motion control and, 68–69, 90, 131–36, 169, 207; Muren, Dennis and, 90, 154, 207; narrative and, 106, 120, 176, 178, 301n39, 303n51; New Hollywood filmmaking and, 301n39; 1970s filmmaking surveys and, 298n7; O’Neill, Pat and, 155–57; opening sequence of, 169, 172–77, 261; optical animation and, 173; optical printing and, 68–69, 134, 154, 302n44; optimistic futurism and, 194, 198; photorealism and, 23–24, 130, 145, 146, 147, 148, 171–72, 178; as postproduction model, 272; reviews of, 111, 300n20; rotoscoping and, 48, 167, 169, 294n74; sensory engagement and, 169, 178; sequels and, 67, 197; special effects and, 23, 68–69, 108, 119fig., 121, 130–36, 161fig., 163, 168fig., 276n9; Spielberg, Steven and, 123; stop motion and, 207, 208–212; studio-based techniques and, 69, 125–26; Trumbull, Douglas and, 126; 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) and, 148, 176; United Kingdom (U.K.) and, 75; Van Der Veer Photo Effects and, 294n74; virtual camera effect and, 43


Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith (Lucas, 2005), 274 Star Wars: Special Edition (Lucas, 1997), 177, 278n23, 301n38, 307n12 Stetson, Mark, 81 Stine, Clifford, 78 Sting, The (Hill, 1973), 281n22 stop motion: blockbuster films, expanded and, 260; Cascade Pictures and, 80, 87, 88–90; cinema’s first decade and, 44–45; decline of, 319n9; definition of, 29; Dynamation, 284n50; Empire Strikes Back, The (Kershner, 1980) and, 90, 207–12; fan cults and, 89, 94–95, 242, 243; ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and, 90, 244, 319n3, 320n26; Lucas, George and, 209; Méliès, Georges and, 44; Muren, Dennis and, 88–89, 207; 1980s and, 67, 240, 243; overview of, 241–50; photorealism and, 90, 249–50. See also Danforth, Jim; GoMotion; Harryhausen, Ray; motion control; O’Brien, Willis; Williams Process; individual film titles Strategic Air Command (Mann, 1955), 41, 289n10 streak-animation techniques, 88, 307n20 structuralist movement, experimental cinema, 48 studio-era special effects: artist-technicians and, 151; departments, 27, 77, 115, 281n18; dialogue and, 34–35; digital technologies vs., 277n10; disaster films (1970s) and, 78, 154; experimental filmmakers and, 50; limitations of, 26; Lucas, George and, 69, 125–26; naturalistic films and, 21–22; 1930s (pre) effects divisions and, 277n15; optical printing and, 40–43, 280n12; process photography and, 35–36, 37–40; rear projection and, 29–30, 39; Spielberg, Steven and, 69, 125–26; unions and, 50, 152–53. See also Dunn, Linwood; Edouart, Farciot; Fulton, John; Gillespie, Arnold “Buddy”; Jackman, Fred; O’Brien, Willis studios, 70, 77–80. See also Columbia Studios; Disney; Fox Studios; MGM (MetroGoldwyn-Mayer); Paramount Studios; Twentieth Century Fox Studios; Universal Studios; Warner Bros. studio system, 63, 82 stunts, 78–79 Sugarland Express, The (Spielberg, 1974), 124 Sullivan’s Travels (Sturges, 1941), 38



Sunrise (Murnau, 1927), 141, 272–73 Super 8 (Abrams, 2011), 81, 271 Svankmajer, Jan, 250 Swallow, John, 216, 218 Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Van Peebles, 1971), 52, 155, 156fig., 230 Taurog, Norman, 56 Taylor, Bill, 80, 85, 218, 297n119 Taylor, Richard Winn, 91, 92, 93, 132–33, 152, 295n95, 296n97, 317n57 Technicolor, 140 technological aesthetic paradigm, 27 technology, views on, 195–96, 263–64, 273– 74, 275n6, 324n72 technophilia, 195–96 television: Abel, Robert and, 91–92, 93, 295n94, 299n16; ads, 89, 91–92, 93, 132–33, 145; filmmakers who began in, 110; independent houses and, 80, 81, 85, 153; Robert Abel and Associates and, 75, 91–92; science fiction popularity and, 194–95; Scott, Ridley and, 110; Spielberg, Steven and, 124; Van Der Veer Photo Effects and, 86; Westheimer, Joseph and, 293n71 Ten Commandments, The (DeMille, 1956), 36 tentpoles, blockbusters as, 152, 324n79 Terminator, The (Cameron, 1984), 67, 155, 263–64 Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Cameron, 1991), 5, 88, 261 Terminator Salvation (“McG,” 2009), 66, 100 theater spaces, 203, 242, 251–52, 256, 288n85, 314n2 There Will Be Blood (Anderson, 2007), 271 Thief of Baghdad (Berger et. al., 1940), 75 Thing, The (Carpenter, 1982), 67, 240 35mm film stock, 32, 137, 138, 139, 144, 252, 281n19, 305n41 Thompson, Kristin, 7, 11, 120 3D, 5, 8–9, 254, 272 3D animation, 44, 45, 100. See also stop motion three-color separation, 139–42 300 (Snyder, 2006), 264, 267, 269, 270, 326n11 THX-1138 (Lucas, 1971), 114, 124, 267, 303n54 Tippett, Phil, 89, 207, 208, 209, 210, 295n89 Titanic (Cameron, 1997), 120–21, 261 title houses. See independent houses (optical/ title/effects)

To Catch a Thief (Hitchcock, 1955), 23, 34 Toffler, Alvin, 180, 193, 195, 196 Toho Studio, 95 Toland, Gregg, 147, 292n60 Top Gun (Scott, 1986), 110, 234 topos, special effects as, 5 To the Moon and Beyond (World’s Fair film), 88 Towering Inferno, The (Guillermin, 1974), 42, 79, 279n6, 284n51 Tracy, Donna, 228, 285n68, 309n45 Transformers (Bay, 2007/2009/2011), 26, 66, 100, 120–21, 264, 268 transparencies, 33 traveling mattes: decreased use of, 37; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Kramer, 1963) and, 84; O’Neill, Pat and, 97; optical printing and, 36; pioneers of, 64; principles of, 33, 34fig., 282n24; rotoscoping and, 47; Van Der Veer Photo Effects and, 293n70; Williams process and, 305n27; Wolfen (Wadleigh, 1981) and, 229–30 trick filmmakers, early-twentieth-century, 31 trick perspective, 89 Trip to the Moon (Méliès, 1902), 186 Tron (Lisberger, 1982), 91, 93, 145, 157–58, 264, 271, 288n86, 316n53 True Lies (Cameron, 1994), 238 Truffault, François, 2, 49, 105 Trumbull, Douglas: Abel, Robert and, 93, 316n54; amusement park “ride films” and, 256–57; as auteur, 126, 239, 253, 279n30; Blalack, Robert and, 228; Bukatman, Scott and, 186, 301n40; Cameron, James and, 311n16; career of, 180–82; cinematic environments and, 294n76; cinematic technology as worldview, 266– 67; on digital technologies, 252; Dream Quest and, 231; Dunn, Linwood and, 297n119; Dykstra, John and, 131, 177, 181, 304n12; on the Dykstraflex, 133; effects authorship struggles and, 101, 127; Entertainment Effects Group (EEG) and, 224, 233; experimental film and, 51; film frames and, 266; film stocks and, 137–39, 181; frame rates and, 254; graphic dynamism and, 49, 116, 122; Graphic Films and, 80, 87–88; high definition (HD) and, 323n57; ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and, 265, 267; IMAX and, 137, 182, 252, 257, 291n35, 322n54, 324n67; industry impact and, 75, 76; Jackson, Peter and, 311n16; Kubrick, Stanley and, 88,


158–59, 251–52, 291n33; Lucas, George and, 75, 126–27, 181, 311n8; mattes and, 143; motion tracking system (MTS) and, 136; multi-plane animation stand and, 46; Novros, Lester and, 88; optimistic futurism and, 196; sensory engagement and, 253, 266; 70mm and, 138–39, 181, 252, 253, 254; Showscan and, 75, 139, 181, 240–41, 253, 254–59, 322n54; on special effects aesthetics, 264–65; Spielberg, Steven and, 181, 184–85, 253, 311n21; Taylor, Richard Winn and, 317n57; technology and, 324n72; theater spaces and, 252; on video industry, 321n39; virtual environments and, 267; visual effects supervisors and, 325n10; Whitney, John, Sr. and, 88; Youngblood, Gene and, 268. See also Blade Runner (Scott, 1982); Brainstorm (Trumbull, 1983); Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977); Future General effects company; Leonardo’s Dream (Trumbull, 1989); New Magic (Trumbull, 1983); Silent Running (Trumbull, 1972); Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise, 1979); Star Wars (Lucas, 1977); Trumbull Film Effects; Trumbullflext; 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) Trumbull Film Effects, 311n9 Trumbullflext, 133 Tuchman, Mitch, 162 Twentieth Century Fox Studios, 82, 85–86, 137 2D animation, 44, 45, 48, 55, 91, 100, 208 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968): animation and, 70; Dunn, Linwood and, 96, 136–37; as effects benchmark, 64–65, 272; effects shots and, 276n9; Howard, Tom and, 75; Kubrick, Stanley and, 70–74, 76, 111–12, 251, 284n46, 290n30, 310n60; Lightman, Herb and, 72, 74, 76; Michelson, Annette and, 71, 196; miniatures and, 70, 74; models and, 74; music and, 71; narrative and, 120; optical printing and, 70, 290n30, 292n63; opticals and, 284n46; overview of, 70–76; Pederson, Con and, 75, 87; photorealism and, 11, 24, 70–71, 72, 129–30; sensory engagement and, 117; special effects technology and, 132; “Star Gate” sequence and, 28, 49, 71, 132, 158–59, 276n8, 310n60; Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) and, 148, 176; Trumbull, Douglas and, 87, 132, 184–85, 225, 226, 258; vs. 2010 (Hyams,


1984), 235; United Kingdom (U.K.) and, 75, 76, 88; Variety on, 300n20; youth and, 81 2010 (Hyams, 1984), 233, 235 UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), 56, 91, 117, 153, 163 UFOs, 143–44, 180, 185–92, 312n23 underground film, 1 Understanding Media (McLuhan), 193 United Kingdom (U.K.), 70, 74, 75, 76, 88, 99 Universal Studios, 36, 70, 77, 124, 216, 256–57, 281n18 University of California, Irvine, 51 University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). See UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) University of Southern California (USC). See USC (University of Southern California) Unsworth, Geoffrey, 97 U.S. Army, 37, 82–83 USC (University of Southern California), 56, 87, 95, 124, 153, 163, 287n79 Van der Beek, Stan, 322n48 Van Der Veer, Frank, 82, 85, 86–87, 219. See also Van Der Veer Photo Effects Van Der Veer Photo Effects, 80, 82, 85–86, 215, 219–22, 293n70, 293n72, 294n74 Van Peebles, Melvin, 52, 155 Variety, 77, 94, 244, 246, 300n20 Veevers, Wally, 75 Velle, Gaston, 31 Verne, Jules, 148 Vertigo (Hitchcock,1958), 23, 38, 50, 152–53 Vertov, Dziga, 117, 118 V’Ger sequence. See Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise, 1979) video games, 216, 238, 261, 308n27, 324n79 Vidor, King, 56 virtual camera effect, 43, 46 visceral engagement. See sensory engagement VistaVision, 32, 69, 136, 137–38, 173, 212– 13, 233, 322n43 visual effects, definitions of, 5–6, 8–9 Visual Effects Society, 8, 80, 81 visual filmmaking, 15, 105, 106, 111, 148, 171, 234, 250–51, 267 Vorkapich, Slavko, 49, 50, 117–18, 151, 176 Walken, Christopher, 250, 258, 259 War Horse (Spielberg, 2011), 271



Warner Bros., 64, 208 War of the Worlds (Spielberg, 2005), 81 Water and Power (O’Neill, 1989), 162 Waterworld (Reynolds, 1995), 238 Wavefront effects software, 93 Welles, Orson, 24, 112, 280n10 West Coast abstract filmmakers, 48 West Coast art movements, 16–17 West Coast experimental animation, 28, 48, 56, 57, 150 West Coast experimental filmmakers, 50, 152–63. See also experimental filmmakers; individual filmmakers West Coast experimental filmmaking, 50, 51–52, 113, 170, 178, 286n72 Westheimer, Joseph, 96–97, 293n71, 316n46 Westheimer Company, 80, 86, 154, 219, 233, 293n71 West Side Story (Wise, 1961), 83, 96 Weta Workshop, 239, 320n26 Whedon, Joss, 268 When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (Guest, 1970), 89, 242 Where Danger Lives (Farrow, 1950), 96 Whitlock, Albert, 77, 293n72 Whitney, James: Abel, Robert and, 91; abstract experimental animation and, 17; abstract imaging trend and, 153; computer-assisted movement and, 170; Eastern spiritualism and, 286n75; effects houses and, 64; experimental filmmaking and, 51; imagery impact and, 48; Lapis (1966) and, 48; Motion Graphics Inc. and, 153; optical printing and, 56, 287n77; special effects industry and, 152 Whitney, John, Jr., 88 Whitney, John, Sr.: Abel, Robert and, 91; abstract experimental animation and, 17; abstract imaging trend and, 153; American Cinematographer magazine and, 307n20; computer-assisted movement and, 170; Digital Harmony and, 193; Dunn lectures and, 97; effects houses and, 64; experimental filmmaking and, 51; “Future of Special Effects

and Animation, The” (lecture series) and, 297n117; graphic dynamism and, 116; imagery impact and, 48; Motion Graphics Inc. and, 80, 88, 153; optical printing and, 56, 287n77; Permutations (1968), 167; special effects and, 151, 152; streak effects and, 307n20; technophilia and, 196; Trumbull, Douglas and, 88; Vertigo (Hitchcock,1958) and, 50, 152–53 widescreen technologies, 322n43 Williams, Frank, 64 Williams Composite Laboratories, 64 Williams Process, 141, 305n27 Wilson, Diana and David, 152 Windel, Terry, 236 Wolfen (Wadleigh, 1981), 28, 155, 157–58, 228–31, 317n73 women filmmakers, 228 Wood, Natalie, 224, 259 World’s Fairs, 87–88 Written on the Wind (Sirk, 1956), 38–39 Wyatt, Justin, 109–110 Wyler, William, 24 Xanadu (Greenwald, 1980), 67, 93 Yeatman, Hoyt, 231 yoga. See Eastern spiritualism Youngblood, Gene: Eastern spiritualism and, 195; Expanded Cinema and, 16, 193, 260, 279n29, 321n38; experimental filmmaking and, 53, 113, 163; New Hollywood auteurs and, 286n74; O’Neill, Pat and, 53–55; technophilia and, 196; Trumbull, Douglas and, 268; Vorkapich, Slavko and, 117 youth, effects careers and, 67, 81, 94–95, 215 youth audiences, 16, 58, 70 youth culture events, 16, 92 Zapped! (Rosenthal, 1982), 228 Zemeckis, Robert, 145, 264 Zodiac (Fincher, 2007), 264, 267, 271, 325n4 zoopomorphism, 210, 211 Zsigmond, Vilmos, 144

F I L M A N D C U LT U R E A series of Columbia University Press Edited by John Belton What Made Pistachio Nuts? Early Sound Comedy and the Vaudeville Aesthetic Henry Jenkins Showstoppers: Busby Berkeley and the Tradition of Spectacle Martin Rubin Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II Thomas Doherty Laughing Screaming: Modern Hollywood Horror and Comedy William Paul Laughing Hysterically: American Screen Comedy of the 1950s Ed Sikov Primitive Passions: Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography, and Contemporary Chinese Cinema Rey Chow The Cinema of Max Ophuls: Magisterial Vision and the Figure of Woman Susan M. White Black Women as Cultural Readers Jacqueline Bobo Picturing Japaneseness: Monumental Style, National Identity, Japanese Film Darrell William Davis Attack of the Leading Ladies: Gender, Sexuality, and Spectatorship in Classic Horror Cinema Rhona J. Berenstein This Mad Masquerade: Stardom and Masculinity in the Jazz Age Gaylyn Studlar Sexual Politics and Narrative Film: Hollywood and Beyond Robin Wood The Sounds of Commerce: Marketing Popular Film Music Jeff Smith Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture Michael Anderegg Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930–1934 Thomas Doherty Sound Technology and the American Cinema: Perception, Representation, Modernity James Lastra Melodrama and Modernity: Early Sensational Cinema and Its Contexts Ben Singer Wondrous Difference: Cinema, Anthropology, and Turn-of-the-Century Visual Culture Alison Griffiths Hearst over Hollywood: Power, Passion, and Propaganda in the Movies Louis Pizzitola Masculine Interests: Homoerotics in Hollywood Film Robert Lang Special Effects: Still in Search of Wonder Michele Pierson Designing Women: Cinema, Art Deco, and the Female Form Lucy Fischer

Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture Thomas Doherty Katharine Hepburn: Star as Feminist Andrew Britton Silent Film Sound Rick Altman Home in Hollywood: The Imaginary Geography of Hollywood Elisabeth Bronfen Hollywood and the Culture Elite: How the Movies Became American Peter Decherney Taiwan Film Directors: A Treasure Island Emilie Yueh-yu Yeh and Darrell William Davis Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film Adam Lowenstein China on Screen: Cinema and Nation Chris Berry and Mary Farquhar The New European Cinema: Redrawing the Map Rosalind Galt George Gallup in Hollywood Susan Ohmer Electric Sounds: Technological Change and the Rise of Corporate Mass Media Steve J. Wurtzler The Impossible David Lynch Todd McGowan Sentimental Fabulations, Contemporary Chinese Films: Attachment in the Age of Global Visibility Rey Chow Hitchcock’s Romantic Irony Richard Allen Intelligence Work: The Politics of American Documentary Jonathan Kahana Eye of the Century: Film, Experience, Modernity Francesco Casetti Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums, and the Immersive View Alison Griffiths Weimar Cinema: An Essential Guide to Classic Films of the Era Edited by Noah Isenberg African Film and Literature: Adapting Violence to the Screen Lindiwe Dovey Film, A Sound Art Michel Chion Film Studies: An Introduction Ed Sikov Hollywood Lighting from the Silent Era to Film Noir Patrick Keating Levinas and the Cinema of Redemption: Time, Ethics, and the Feminine Sam B. Girgus

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