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Mr. Beaks Chats With John Dykstra!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

Nice one, Beaks. Dykstra’s a bona-fide legend, and the fact that he’s still working to push the envelope each year is exciting. This is a heckuva good read by a guy who has proven to be an invaluable resource since his relocation to LA last year, so dig in:

As a kid, I used to while away the hours leafing through any number of movie books that battled for space on my bedroom’s bookshelf with baseball almanacs, comic books and Mack Bolan novels. The majority of these volumes were dedicated primarily to genre films – horror, sci-fi and fantasy – and their cultural impact, but one in particular sought to give a layman’s nuts-and-bolts understanding into how these films, so often reliant on spectacular visual effects, are made. It was INDUSTRIAL LIGHT & MAGIC: THE ART OF SPECIAL EFFECTS, by Thomas G. Smith, a title that is no doubt very familiar to many of you who read the site. It’s an oversized, glossily illustrated tome that served as my primer for the Special Effects industry which, at that point, was really occupied solely by the book’s titular subject.

Of all the brilliant, groundbreaking artists profiled in the Smith’s book – Richard Edlund, Joe Johnston, Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett to name a few – the name that always stood out for me was John Dykstra. Charged by George Lucas with hiring the talent and developing the technology that would allow ILM to, over the next twenty years, blaze a blindingly bright trail through film history, Dykstra, according to the book’s brief bio, seemed the Zen-like center of the STAR WARS production unit. Equal parts innovator, facilitator and ameliorator, Dykstra was responsible for nothing less than capturing images the likes of which filmgoers had never seen. And if that meant designing and constructing new equipment (i.e. the Dykstraflex camera, a pioneering piece of hardware in the field of motion control for which he won a special Scientific and Engineering Oscar the same year his f/x team won their Oscar for the utilization of it on STAR WARS) to meet these goals, so be it.

But when the upstart f/x outfit, at the behest of Lucas, relocated to Northern California, Dykstra stayed behind to start his own company, Apogee, which went on to provide memorable images for the cult sci-fi television melodrama, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, and such films as STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, FIREFOX and Tobe Hooper’s Cannon Films combo, LIFEFORCE and INVADERS FROM MARS. Post-Apogee, Dykstra served as the visual effects supervisor on the Schumacher BATMAN entries - easy now, guys, he didn't write them - before beginning his long term collaboration with Sony Pictures Imageworks, where he garnered an Academy Award nomination right out of the gate with his celebrated work on the first STUART LITTLE. Most intriguing about this nomination, aside from it being John’s first in twenty years, was how John suddenly found himself pitted against the ILM crew – including old colleague Dennis Muren, who he brought aboard the company way back in 1975 – and their work on STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE; however, any awkwardness was effectively dashed when THE MATRIX ran away with every technical Oscar available. But considering Imageworks rising profile in the visual effects community, it was clearly only a matter of time before John once again went head-to-head against his old company.

This brings us to the reason I’m hanging out in Culver City, CA, looking to steal thirty minutes out of John Dykstra’s busy schedule for AICN. That day has arrived; along with Scott Stokdyk, Anthony LaMolinara and John Frazier, Dykstra has received a Best Visual Effects nomination for SPIDER-MAN, vying for the coveted award against THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS and STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES, both of which boast f/x artists who, at one time, worked for John. But while this is terribly pertinent in my mind, it appears to me that John has plenty of other projects to keep him occupied, most notably a little film called THE AMAZING SPIDER MAN. In fact, a production meeting for this hotly anticipated sequel is breaking up as I follow John’s athletic 6’4” frame into his office. As we sit down to begin our conversation, John ponders the notion of competing agains his legacy very diplomatically.

Slouching back into a black leather couch, John confesses, “The part of this business that I enjoy is the invention. So, the idea that we are in a league, a comparable league to an organization that is known worldwide for its inventiveness and for its cutting edge technology is exactly where we want to be. We want to be right there… step-for-step, stride-for-stride with the people who are doing the kinds of images that get this kind of recognition. It’s terrific to be there.”

It is, in other words, a friendly rivalry, since, as John puts it, “It’s too small a community to have hostility. It’s very much a friendly rivalry. The thing about films is that they are so collaborative. Each movie is a composite. It’s never, with the exception of our film, it’s rare for a movie to end up being solely one person’s effort.” As for what sets his film apart from the work of his former colleagues, John adds, “The thing that’s interesting and exciting to me is the difference in the personalities of the films – the different thrusts of the films. And they are significantly different. I think that the SPIDER-MAN movie is much more a story about this character and much less a story about a world, and I think that’s the difference between (our) movie and STAR WARS *and* THE LORD OF THE RINGS.”

From there, we backtracked a little to the formation of ILM. I was curious to know if, as he brought together this remarkably talented group of technicians, whether or not he had any inkling that their efforts were about to change the way films are made. John humbly allows that, “I’d like to think that I was prescient, but I wasn’t. I was actually a very enthusiastic technician, artist, filmmaker – whatever you want to call it – and I saw this as an opportunity to apply a unique talent that I had in a way that allowed me to participate in mainstream filmmaking. So, really, it was less about having some foreknowledge of the brilliance of this story, and was more about exploring every possible avenue of filmmaking in any possible way you can. You know what I mean? It’s one of those deals where you set out to become an architect, and you end up, in order to get into architecture, you end up… making hot tubs, but in the process of making hot tubs, you come up with some device which allows you to turn water into hydrogen. So, it’s that kind of…. free association employment. And I think that the people that came to work on the first STAR WARS were an extension of that same personal approach on my part. I worked for Doug Trumbull, and I liked the idea of the collaboration being based on friendship, as well as an understanding of mutual talent. And I think that what that combined was the business of communication. And by doing so I think that the… STAR WARS product reflected the camaraderie that the people who were making the film shared. And I think that that is very much the same case with SPIDER-MAN.”

I quickly discovered that, while I would never in this lifetime tire of talking STAR WARS with one of the film’s integral visionaries, John, ever the forward-thinking innovator, was far more interested in SPIDER-MAN, so I seized upon this opportunity to discuss the ways in which motion control technology has evolved since its inception in the 1970’s. Buckle your seat belts.

“That’s a strange question because it turns out that motion control is pretty much what it always was. It’s a more sophisticated version. It’s faster and more capable, but the basic components of it are the same as they always were, which is the ability to control a camera’s position in space relative to a frame. Because you vary the time which varies the frame rate, so by varying the frame rate you can vary the speed of the system, but the camera is always in the same place in each frame. That’s the idea. And that part’s the same as it ever was, I think. The thing that’s different, and the thing I think that is truly the change that’s occurred, is, because we can do pre-visualization in the computer, we can compose and choreograph the scene using a surrogate of the environment, and because that information interprets now into motion control, which is fast enough to work real time – which is a big change – and it is flexible enough and precise enough to be simulated in the computer – so, what you see on the computer screen is something that you actually get to achieve in the real space – and because we can bring and sets and environments into the computer, we get to think through shots a lot more than we used to. So, many times, in the past using motion control, you’d show up on the day and you’d conceive the shot while you’re there. Now, because we have the sets and the ability to do pre-visualization, the more complex shots, specifically, we get to conceive and analyze, and try different variations. You know, if you tried six different camera moves, a complex set of camera moves, on a live-action set, it’d take all day. Six different camera moves done in pre-visualization may take all day, but it’s only one guy. And the creatives, then, can come and look at it, and say, “Hey, that’s the one we want!” So, you show up on the day, you’re not fiddling around trying different things. You get to put more of the money on the screen, which I think is the real focus of our effort.

“And the inverse of that, the odd thing about that, and the other thing about motion control that’s changed is that motion control is now user friendly, meaning that, should you get on stage and say, ‘You know, this shot needs to be motion control,’ you actually can set up motion control and very quickly record a move in a fraction of the time that it would take to use that kind of system back in the days of STAR WARS. People used to groan when they saw motion control come on the stage.

“The thing I think that’s critical in SPIDER-MAN, in terms of using motion control, was that the camera became part of the personality of the character. Very specifically, in “spider sense”, where you were experiencing directly his sensory input, and how he was isolating things out of the environment and defining them. And I think that the other camera move that is an offshoot of motion control is the cameraman that we created for Spider-Man.”

I think this is where John hits upon the crucial visual invention that made SPIDER-MAN the most vastly appealing blockbuster of last year. By creating a “character” – the cameraman – that follows Spidey as he swings through Manhattan, John and his Imageworks team devised a surrogate through whom the audience could feel what it’s like to be the web-head. John refers to this cameraman as “the photographer that works for a competition skydiver”. Toward that end, you can see where they have, rather ingeniously, added some digital buffeting of the camera to enhance this sense of moving at a high velocity through the skyscraper-ed corridors of the city. But that technical verisimilitude is only half of the achievement; the other half was the attention to character. Even John grows a little animated as he explains, “I think the unique characteristic of our cameraman is that he actually improved over the course of the film. And that was a conscious decision. It wasn’t just because we started out at one end and got better because many of the shots that are at the end of the movie were done at the beginning. So, we had the capability of making the performance fluid and graceful, but we chose to give the camera operation sort of the same kind of characteristics of personality, or character arc, that Spider-Man went through himself; he started out awkward, but became facile. It was the same component of personality development as reflected in camera motion, and that’s something again where motion control and the ability to pre-visualize helped us significantly.”

John is also quite proud of how they met the challenge of defining Spider-Man’s character through pure movement. “I know a lot of people say, ‘Well, it’s easy. He doesn’t have a face!’” John laughs a little, and continues, “Well, guess what, the most critical component of an actor in a convention performance is their face. You take that away from them, then the actor *and* the director are stymied because, suddenly, everything has to be done with body language.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in the film’s final sequence – “The Last Swing” – where we watch a newly confident Peter Parker become the Spider-Man we know and love from the comics. It’s this extended shot – twenty nine seconds of screen time, which took six months to complete – that sent so many audiences out on a high note, ready for the sequel, or possibly a repeat viewing.

Pleased as he is with their achievement on SPIDER-MAN, and the subsequent vindication from the Academy, I ask John if he has ever considered returning to improve these images as his erstwhile collaborator, George Lucas, has so famously (or infamously, depending on your own personal assessment), done with the original STAR WARS trilogy.

“No. I don’t think so. It’s kind of an odd thing because I know George went back and adjusted the first STAR WARS, and when I saw the adjustment to the movie, I went, ‘Well, I understand why he did it. I’m not sure that it changed the movie at all.’ In fact, in an odd way, the thing that he did which was successful was that he kept the changes that he made to the movie in the spirit of the original movie. The quality of the opticals were not vastly improved over the quality of the opticals that existed in the first film. He didn’t go back and put… year 2000 imagery into a film from 1977, which wouldn’t have worked. And I give him credit for that.

“Now, you ask about going back to do things in SPIDER-MAN. I don’t think so. I think that the film stands in its own right. There’s an odd thing that’s said, that works of art are never completed, they’re abandoned. And I think that ‘abandon’ is truly what you do. You move on. You learn from that experience, and you go into the next opportunity with a new piece of vocabulary. Our vocabulary, our dictionary, now has pages full of information that we gained from the making of the first film. And the ingenuity that went into the making of that first film is no longer ingenuity; it’s a known commodity. So, now, we take our ingenuity and our experience and move into the next movie realizing that the last thing that we want to do is to simply make a better version of that movie. What we have to do is make a *different* movie. That’s the only way that SPIDER-MAN 2 will be a success compared to SPIDER-MAN 1.”

Finally, our conversation turned to the use of motion capture vis-à-vis full (absent the actor) CG character animation, both of which were employed on SPIDER-MAN. John explains, “We used a lot of motion capture for people who did conventional things, people walking and talking, which is really hard stuff to animate because of the subtle cues – we are so intimate with a human being, and when you watch a human being move you know their mental state. You can watch a guy across a room, sitting at a table, drinking a cup of coffee, and guess as to whether he’s unhappy or happy without hearing a word or even seeing their face. I think that the key to our survival is the ability to read other people’s language, be it directed at you, or not directed at you. This is what made this character so challenging to do. It was to create a surrogate for reality which we know intimately well, and, then, the second challenge was to, indistinguishable from the real character, take that character which we now recognize as a human, and make it do things that humans can’t do.

Summing up his philosophy, John states, “Motion capture for things that are conventional that real people can do; animation for things that extend beyond the realm of real things. And they both have their own strengths and weaknesses, and, fortunately for us, they can be used on the same movie.”

Creatively, John Dykstra appears to have found in Imageworks (and, specifically, Sam Raimi) the perfect collaborator through whom he can be, along with the rest of his Imageworks team, a true contributor to the finished film by, as John puts it, “expanding the normal areas of our contribution”. It’s the kind of freedom John has been pursuing throughout his career, which may have, at times, lent it a quixotic tincture. But there is little denying the confidence and contentment John now exudes. Given the ever-expanding tools at his disposal, and their rapidly growing sophistication, it’ll be a blast watching him push the envelope he personally sealed nearly thirty years ago.

Faithfully submitted,

Mr. Beaks

Readers Talkback
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  • March 6, 2003, 6:26 a.m. CST

    Will Spidey win the oscar for best visual effects?

    by Rogue_Leader

    It is niminated right? Its effects were good, but honestly they were not that great. Good enough though. Not sure if it should win the oscar though. Its going up against some very high profile competition. Not the least of which of course is Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. BTW who won the Golden Globe for best visual effects?

  • March 6, 2003, 6:34 a.m. CST

    A class act

    by zacdilone

    I remember idolizing Dykstra as a kid, and it's nice to see his evolution into a consummate professional. Nice interview.

  • March 6, 2003, 6:41 a.m. CST

    I used to work directly with John Dykstra

    by Goofball_Jones

    I worked for a week as a production assistant for the now defunct Apogee when Space Balls was being made. I got to meet my childhood hero about a month before they started with the effects. I had gone to Apogee there in Van Nuys, walked in and wanted to fill out a job application. But the receptionist said they didn't work that way, and weren't really looking for anyone at the time. But I still thought it was cool because they had one of the original X-Wing fighters under a glass case in the lobby. So I thought it wasn't a wasted effort. As I was walking back to my car, I heard someone calling to me and I turned around and it was John Dykstra coming out to talk to me. He took me over to a tree that had a picnic table under it to chat with me. We talked for like 15 minutes about working there. I was like 24 at the time and had zero experience in the biz. But he said he'd put my name on a list of production assistants...and about a month later I was taking film back and forth to the lab. I'll never forget that, even though I worked there for a week only because I lived too far away to drive everyday. But It certainly was fun!

  • March 6, 2003, 6:50 a.m. CST

    Don't get me wrong

    by Heleno

    Lots of Spidey's effects were great, and deserve an Academy nod and then some, but some of them were just appalling, sub-game standard. The bit where he's running along the rooftops and jumping right after he gets his powers verges on dire, and early parts of the chase sequence following Uncle ben's death are also dodgy as hell. Still, I guess most of the work went into the web-slinging, skyscraper-surfing sequences, which rocked.

  • March 6, 2003, 7:09 a.m. CST

    And to pre-empt all you naysayers

    by earthworm

    Spidey moves like that because HE ISN'T FULLY HUMAN anymore, he's a Spiderman. Find me a real Spiderman, film him, show me how he moves, THEN you can bitch about Spideys movement. Still think Two Towers will (should?) shade it come Oscar night tho. Shame.

  • March 6, 2003, 7:19 a.m. CST

    REAL Spidermen can talk and shoot webbing out of their butt!

    by Dog Of Mystery

    And Spider-Man moves like that because it's a goddamn comic book movie. Suspend your disbelief and shut up.

  • March 6, 2003, 7:29 a.m. CST

    Errr UncleFukka, thats the point I was making nt

    by earthworm

  • March 6, 2003, 8:33 a.m. CST

    earthworm et al

    by Heleno

    Just to be clear, I am not slagging off Spidey's effects as a whole. And I am fully capable of suspending disbelief. However, the scene where Spidey ran along the rooftops stood out because I couldn't suspend disbelief - the effects were so bad they jarred me out of my daze. It wasn't the jumping parts I had a problem with, but the running, which any old human can do. The leg movements just don't look natural in that scene, the shadow doesn't seem to match up, and the rhythm just seemed all wrong to me. That one scene stood out in contrast to the general perfection of the rest of the film, and that's why I drew attention to it.

  • March 6, 2003, 10:15 a.m. CST

    spidy FX

    by ph27

    spidy had the best visual effect shots of the year but only in some scenes. it had the hardest job of any film all year. To create a virtual human that would fill the visual frame alot of the time. TTT should still win every award going for visual effects tho. gollum was magnificent. Even he had his bad moments tho that are easy to forget because of the brilliance of the performance.

  • March 6, 2003, 10:53 a.m. CST

    Dykstra is no Joe Johhnston

    by DavidCamp

    I think most people are in general agreement. Dykstra may be a nice guy, but it doesn't stop the effects in Spider-man from being fairly poor, effectively stealing the more deserving Minority Reports nomination in the sfx category. Also, Joe Johnston (The god) could kick Dykstra's ass anyday of the week. Joe is my hero, you just got to love that god, and he is 53 this year...yay!

  • March 6, 2003, 12:33 p.m. CST

    Without John Dykstra, Joe Johnston whould be designing blow-drye

    by Carson Dyle

    It was Dykstra who recruited fellow Cal State Long Beach Industrial Design major Johnston to go to work on a little movie called Star Wars. Joe is a very talented fellow (and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet), but it was Dykstra who first recognized that talent and gave Joe his shot.

  • March 6, 2003, 1:40 p.m. CST

    old argument

    by Lazarus Long

    As much respect as many of us have for Dykstra, it doesn't change the fact that the effects in Spider-Man seemed a little weak, most notably with the moving CG Spidey. It doesn't matter if he's supposed to move like a spider, like a human, whatever. The point is that it didn't LOOK right. And if it takes me out of the film, that's a problem. Now obviously with TTT they focused on Gollum's expressions more than his movement, so it worked. There weren't a lot of Gollum "action" scenes, and they didn't keep tight shots on him for very long in those moments. HOWEVER, aside from Gollum, as good as WETA's work was, I still think overall ILM did a better job on Attack of the Clones. With the single exception of Anakin jumping on the round cow-type animal on Naboo, there wasn't anything that looked fake (like the wargs, or the flying Nazgul) The new worlds and CG creatures all looked disturbingly real. And while there wasn't any character as well-done as Gollum, they did more CG characters with speaking parts. Dex, Watto, Yoda, Taun We, Poggle the Lesser. That's a lot of work. Lord of the Rings will win the Oscar, but I feel that people are focusing too much on one aspect of the effects. Serkis and the animators of Gollum deserve a special award, but there's nothing done in Helm's Deep that is any more impressive than ILM's work.

  • March 6, 2003, 1:47 p.m. CST

    Dykstra is a legend, but that does nothing to change the fact th

    by Red Giant

    Articles and publicity always come out "coincidentally" around awards time. The ILM presentations, etc are really just For Your Consideration bits. Both ILM and Dykstra realize the truth of the current hear-and-now situation: Weta is kicking ass. They can't change that. Gollum is obviously in another league regardless of what you compare it to. Yoda is shit compared to him. The only thing Yoda had going for him is history, not the current movies. Gollum was a real presence and actor, unbelievable. That alone would give all awards to Weta. But let's not stop there. I have never seen anything like some of the scenes in Two Towers: the charge of Gandalf and Eomer down the hillside is unreal. Not only does it look wild, it evokes emotions of triumph and salvation since IT LOOKS REAL. It really looks like 3,000 horsemen are coming down the mountain towards a few thousand remnants of the Uruk-Hai army. At no point do you say, "what a fake" or "humans don't move like that". Here is another direct apples-to-apples comparison regarding Spiderman. I really liked Spiderman, I own the DVD, etc. But it was more for Tobey and the acting than effects, since they mostly were average. Pick any scene where a humanoid is running/moving/swinging/flying, and it looks really pretty poor. A couple were strikingly good but way too many were bad. Now, in direct contrast, most of the army shots in Two Towers were all digital with maybe a handful of combatants in some foreground shots. You can't tell at all. And this is 100s of them at once, not just one like Spidey they could concentrate on getting right. Btw, in the FOTR, the ENTIRE SCENE crossing the Bridge of Khazad Dum was digital, meaning the entire camera swoop that tracks them all running across the bridge and turns to show gandalf facing the Balrog - EVERY SINGLE PERSON in that entire sequence was 100% digital. I don't see why we should cut slack for anyone like Spidey's running and jumping fakeness when we know this is possible and is being done just fine (even more complex at that).

  • March 6, 2003, 2:06 p.m. CST

    that being said, Two Towers doesn't "easily" win, all 3 films ha

    by Tall_Boy

    so there.

  • March 6, 2003, 2:10 p.m. CST

    One word...

    by Devils Halo


  • March 6, 2003, 2:30 p.m. CST

    Red Giant Is Right On Target

    by Barron34

    I am not a huge FX buff, but I have to agree completely with Red Giant, who obviously knows what he is talking about, and hits the nail right on the head. The uruk-hai army scenes are all great, they do not "break character", appear fake, and take us out of the movie at any point, and that seems like a hell of an accomplishment considering how many figures are involved in these scenes. Ultimately, the bottom line is: do these effects "work" visually and dramatically in the context of the story? The Two Towers effects always brought me INTO the story, not OUT of it, like some of the Spidey scenes (a movie that I very much liked, more for character reasons that FX reasons). Attack of the Clones was good in many FX senses, but the scenes with masses of clones or armies were not as realistically displayed as th Two Towers armies. In The Two Towers, the WETA "Massive" software allowed each soldier to move in a distinctive, realistic, believable, and individualistic manner, rather than in an artifically regimented way, like the soldiers in Attack of the Clones. This made the battle scenes in Two Towers quite excellent, very easy to suspend disbelief and be swept up in the epic story. In Attack of the Clones, a scene such as the introduction of the clones on the rain-swept clone planet was obviously inferior, to me. You have these masses of clones that are in rigid lines that were not natural like the groupings of uruk-hai in Two Towers. The masses of soldiers in AOTC did not look natural, but were synthetic in their groupings and movements. It was breathtaking to see large armies depicted like that, but when Two Towers came out, it showed how armies are to be portrayed with CGI. The Attack of the Clones stuff is good, but it doesn't compare to the Two Towers stuff, which was great. This does not even mention the phenomonal wrok of WTA and Andy serkis on Gollum, the first truly great CGI character performance in movie history. Lucas deserves credit for his good work, but frankly WETA's work was better than just 'good'. It was great. Two Towers deserves the FX oscar.

  • March 6, 2003, 2:30 p.m. CST

    Just ADMIT It, Spidey can't jump in the film.

    by KONG33

    he can't land either. Just admit it sucks and that you'll try harder next time.

  • March 6, 2003, 2:33 p.m. CST

    I never noticed what a monster package he has...

    by KONG33

    I guess the cgi fellas were having some fun.

  • March 6, 2003, 4:17 p.m. CST

    I've got to agree with Lazarus...

    by crimsonrage

    ...the reason Yoda isn't getting respect is because his performance was not only restrained (unlike Gollum's overacting...still great performance and FX work though) but was not done through motion capture (because of his size) and because he isn't very human. Gollum is a very humanoid creature and therefore it's easier to suspend disbelief with him. When you're looking at Yoda, you're looking at a little green alien testicle in a robe. As for the armies of Orcs...well, they were in the frickin' dark! It's much easier to create believable special effects in the dark. The reason the clones don't move in their own little, quirky ways is because they're not supposed to! They're clones! They're supposed to look the same! The big battle at the end of "Attack of the Clones" is a milestone because it's entirely digital, in broad daylight! Oh yeah, and it's CLEAR. Peter Jackson screwed up what could have been an AMAZING sequence by shaking the camera to the point of incoherence. When shaky cam is used well (like in "Cross of Iron") it can greatly enhance a battle scene. When used poorly ("Gladiator") it completely throws all of the months of fight choreography into the garbage. Regardless of the film's quality, "Attack of the Clones" has the best special effects of the year.

  • March 6, 2003, 4:23 p.m. CST

    Good interview.

    by Nocturnaloner

    It's rare that someone with such a specialized knowledge can speak about it in a way that is so eloquent and accessible. Dykstra sounds like he would be great to work with. Good questions too, Beaks, and good research. You're one of the best writers here, so stick around.

  • March 6, 2003, 4:39 p.m. CST

    Good article, bad fx

    by mortsleam

    Dykstra is a legend, and deservedly so, but I agree with those that say Spider-Man didn't deserve Academy Recognition as much as say Minority Report. In comparison to Minority Report's seamless blending of real world locations, miniatures and CGI, Spider-Man comes off as slightly amateurish. I get it: that's what they were going for in the beginning. And yes, the Spidey simulacrum does look like he's learning as he goes along. But why then does the Green Goblin consistently look herky-jerky? And why do the running scenes look wholly unconvincing? That said, I'm hoping Dykstra and his team can expand upon their work in Amazing. As for the Oscars, in all actuality, I'd say there were five movies released this year that qualified for best special effects. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - for giving us the first truly convincing, emotionally resonant, fully realized CGI character, as well as for that amazing scene with Frodo and the Nazgul. Minority Report - for showing once again that it takes a visionary to come up with cool effects, but it takes a director with vision to integrate them into his movie. Reign of Fire - for the coolest Dragons ever created by a company that no longer exists. Spider-Man - for CGI that was true to the tone of the book, if not necessarily reality. And Blade II - just to piss off Lazarus Long. Lazzie, you're blind if you think scenes like the chases in Coruscant or the Geonosis Droid Factory weren't ruined by overly busy, frenetic, annoying glitchy action. Too much going on just for the sake of throwing it up onscreen and saying, "lookee what I can do with action figure profits!" And Anakin riding the bull was worse than anything in any of the other movies, including the Warg Attack, which even I'll admit was spotty. But there's no debate as to what will win this year. It will be The Two Towers by virtue of Gollum. And it should. Because that performance showed what Special Effects were originally concieved to do: not overshadow the performers or the story, but compliment and enhance them.

  • March 6, 2003, 6:55 p.m. CST

    spiderman's writing was much worse than its special effects

    by eau hellz gnaw

    most of the computer generated stuff looked fake as fuck (the rooftop running is just the best example of that), but at least the movie had impressive scenes in which spiderman swung through the city among the skyscrapers. the writing on the other hand, was terrible for the most part.

  • March 6, 2003, 7:14 p.m. CST

    C'mon man...

    by Devils Halo

    the Gopher in Caddyshack! GENIUS!

  • March 6, 2003, 8:30 p.m. CST

    Good read

    by -Dr.Strangelove-

    As always, great work Mr.Beaks, this one

  • March 7, 2003, 12:11 a.m. CST

    The REAL inventers of CG Army Technology

    by Lavaman

    Sorry Barron 34, but ILM was the first effects house to use the CG Army technique with The Phantom Menace. The Droid/Gungan Battle had fully idependant moving characters 3 years before Weta's "Massive". And by the way, the Clone Troopers moved independently of each other as well. I don't get why there is so much disrespect of ILM's work on Attack Of The Clones, I guess people hate George Lucas so much they ignore everything associated with him. Weta could win because of Gollum(very impressive), But ILM has a shot as well.

  • March 7, 2003, 12:44 a.m. CST

    Comparing Dex, Yoda, clones to Weta digitals

    by Red Giant

    I won't convince any Star Wars lovers simply since they have their minds made up (as do I, in the other direction). This is meant to address objective people. Btw, I love the OT and hate the crap Lucas churned out in EP I and II - and the general public agrees with me as do the (lack of) award noms. The effects were above the acting, as in acting == grade D and effects == A-/B+. I cannot believe anyone would mentino that Dex character as "realistic". God that scene was eerily uncomfortable watching Ewan pretend to eye him and smile, etc. Horrible animation given the close proximity and lighting, exactly what they need to avoid if they truly want us to look at it as a real creature. Watto is cute and funny, so I tend to overlook his obvious animation as fairly good. The clones marching down the ramp was an improvement over the complete shit that TPM had with the robots, but still all they seemed to do was stagger the walking motions to make them look more "random". My favorite animation from AOTC was actually the tall, thin female alien (forget name). That was very nice although she annoyed me on a different level (way too polite to the point of ass-kissing and moved too slow. Makes one wonder how they ever got anything done/built). Weta and PJ understand how to make armies look real infinitely better, both in volumes of combatants and individualized actions/reactions. They just have a better knack for what little nuances to pull off to give a better reality illusion. Both ILM and Weta had their bad moments, I just think ILM had a lot more of them with very few wins. The creatures in the AOTC arena looked REAL to you?? Were you on acid watching it or something? :) The Wargs and Ents both had a few dodgy movements, although they all had good ones also. Now, if you want to talk about non-character great scenery, Coruscant was very well done in appearance (acting aside). In that camp I might consider them on par if not beter, but not at all on creature work.

  • March 7, 2003, 9:48 a.m. CST

    "ILM was the first effects house to use the CG Army technique wi

    by minderbinder

    If anything, I'd argue that Starship Troopers did it first...but anyway, the Weta stuff looks REAL, like a huge group of actual people. The Ep1/2 stuff looks like copy/paste.

  • March 7, 2003, 9:51 a.m. CST

    "I know that these scenes are taking place COMPLETELY inside of

    by minderbinder

    I guess you're completely unaware of motion control cameras? Even with swooping camera movements, you often have real environments and real actors in the shot, whether the camera moves or not has NOTHING to do with how much of the shot is CGI (or other FX).

  • March 7, 2003, 10:09 a.m. CST

    "...the reason Yoda isn't getting respect is because.."

    by minderbinder

    "was not done through motion capture" Who cares how he was done? The average viewer doesn't know, but audiences have raved about Gollum. (and you could still easily do motion capture if you wanted for Yoda, size is irrelevant) "Gollum is a very humanoid creature and therefore it's easier to suspend disbelief with him." CLUE: Humanoid figures are WAY harder to do, which is partly why Gollum is so impressive. "It's much easier to create believable special effects in the dark." So? PJ uses his FX to tell STORY, not for eye candy. "They're clones! They're supposed to look the same!" So let me get this bash PJ for having a scene set in the dark because it's "easier", yet you praise Lucas for doing a battle scene the "easy" way of using multiple copies of the same robot (clone, gungan, etc) instead of having unique participants? "The big battle at the end of "Attack of the Clones" is a milestone because it's entirely digital, in broad daylight!" And it's entirely fake looking. Bravo. "and it's CLEAR." Um...I assume by "clear" you mean "unrealistic"? "Regardless of the film's quality, "Attack of the Clones" has the best special effects of the year" You can't be serious. Sure, a few decent shots, but lots of fake looking stuff. ***Remember when a magazine published a still of Sam Jackson in the arena and everyone on this site whined that it obviously was a fake that someone at EW photoshopped together? And remember the shot of gollum's head that everyone on this site (even "experts" who claimed to work in the FX industry) said there was no way it could possibly be CG, it must be a latex head created to make some fake publicity shots? Yep, both shots were in the films, the shitty "too lazy to build a set so let's bluescreen everything" compositing in Clones and the "I can't believe it's CGI" shot in TTT. It also says a lot that some people are actually so desperate for an argument to defend Clones that they're going on about the QUANTITY of FX instead of the quality ("and the oscar for Most visual FX goes to..."). No way, TTT is walking off with the FX oscar easily.

  • March 7, 2003, 10:59 a.m. CST


    by DavidCamp

    Well, Dykstra seems cool...but he still hasn't worked with Viggo Mortensen this year, unlike Joe. Hidalgo is gonna be so f**ing awesome. Lets hope Joe is using his October Sky skills, and doesn't pull any of that crap out of the bag like Jumanji again.

  • March 7, 2003, 6:20 p.m. CST

    Minder, good reminder about Starship Troopers being great F/X

    by Red Giant

    Wow, I had forgotten how good those were. Amazing and more in the Weta mold, IMO. Very well done, can't tell F/X from models, robots, etc.

  • March 7, 2003, 8:50 p.m. CST

    Response to minderbinder

    by Lavaman

    Good call on Starship Troopers, I forgot, that movie certainly does predate The Phantom Menace's use of CG Army. Barron 34 was acting like WETA invented this technique, which they did not. Also, you say the Droid/Gungan scene looked like shit and was fake looking. I say you are wrong, The Helms Deep Battle looked no better. Also, why does everybody only talk about the Clone Troopers marching single file, during the Clone War Battle they are moving independently all over the place! I happen to love both Star Wars and The Lord Of The Rings, Peter Jackson is doing a stunningly great job with the Rings adaptation, I just don't get why the people who praise Lord Of The Rings have to shit all over Star Wars in the process. Don't trash one movie to prop up another.

  • March 7, 2003, 9:15 p.m. CST

    Fake you say, some people are blind!

    by Lavaman

    minderbinder, you say the Clone War Battle was fake looking, LMFAO! The Clone War Battle was the most photorealistic war scene ever created using cgi, the Clone Troopers looked totally real even up close. A lot of people thought the Clones were men in costume like the original trilogy, but they were A LL computer generated! The computer generated Uruk-hai army was only seen from a distance making it easier to render, all the close ups of the Uruk-hai are men in costume! Bravo indeed. You say TTT will win the Oscar for best Special Effects easy, no contest. Don't be arrogant, Attack Of The Clones has just as much chance of winning. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

  • March 7, 2003, 11:57 p.m. CST


    by crimsonrage

    ...maybe I should say because of Yoda's proportions. Integrating motion capture for a character of that scale (with his odd little arms and legs and hunched-over back) is not only difficult but the movements would come off as wrong. Another reason Yoda doesn't get respect is because the animators were tied down by the established look and movements of the Yoda puppet. He can't go jumping around sniveling with overdone facial movements in every scene like Gollum. Of course, you're right when you say it doesn't matter how it was done just if it looks real. Well, Yoda looks entirely real to me (for what he is). Yes, humanoid figures that are supposed to look human are more difficult to do because we're obviously more associated with humans and are more ready to pick out little problems. However, creating a very stylized humanoid figure (which is what Gollum is), while very difficult, is much easier. Creating a believable character that has no relation to anything in reality is much more difficult than a stylized humanoid. No matter what form he's in Yoda is never going to be fully believable to an audience (and no matter how great the Yoda puppet was, we could still all tell that Frank Oz had his hand shoved up his butt). I never bashed PJ (as you call him) for putting scenes in the dark. The battle of Helm's Deep should have been in the dark like it was. I'm just pointing out that it's easier to make effects in the dark (like it's easier to have a bunch of characters move exactly the same...the reason the clones do is because they're not only clones, but they're an army in formation. Ever see "Triumph of the Will"? The Nazis all move the same when marching! How unrealistic!) I bashed PJ for incoherently shaking the camera to the point that the battle became incomprehensible. This has nothing to do with FX...I was just going off on a tangent. "And it's entirely fake looking." Are we going to get into a "This looks fake." "No it doesn't!" argument? Because that'll get us nowhere. I'm actually giving specific reasons why I think "AOTC" has the best effects of the year. I have not once resorted to "That looks fake." Yada yada yada (and believe me, I could when it comes to "The Two Towers"...if you want examples I'll give 'em). Since perception of what looks real and fake is entirely subjective, a "This looks fake." "No it doesn't!" argument will get us nowhere.

  • March 8, 2003, 6:50 p.m. CST

    To Lavaman

    by Barron34

    I was not "acting like WETA invented the technique". What the f*c! does that mean! I never said any such thing. I love how you put words into someone's mouth when you don't agree with your opinions. Where did I ever say that Jackson was the first to do CGI armies? All that I said was that Jackson and WETA did it BETTER than Lucas in Attack of the Clones. Which is exactly true. Case closed.

  • March 8, 2003, 6:59 p.m. CST

    And Another Thing...

    by Barron34

    Just because I liked LOTR better than AOTC doesn't mean I am "shitting all over" Lucas and Star Wars. I am an old Star Wars fan, and I am more dissapointed in the latest movies than anything else. They had lots of good things about them, but they are not nearly as good as they should be, in my opinion. Also, I think the effects in AOTC were good, and quite breathtaking at points in terms of Lucas's boldness in attempting such shots. This still doesn't make up for the fatc that the writing, the story, and the acting were not nearly up to par, again in my opinion. Lastly, although the effects in AOTC were quite spectacular, the effects in LOTR (Two Towers) were BETTER. I don't have some vendetta against Lucas. I just think that the latest movies don't compare well at all to the original StarWars movies, and that the LOTR movies are better films, both in terms of story, directing, and effects (not to mention acting). This is just my opinion, and doesn't constitute hating Lucas, etc. Why are some people so defensive about AOTC, etc? It doesn't make much sense to me.

  • March 8, 2003, 7 p.m. CST


    by Barron34

    In my earlier post, I meant to write: "I love how you put words in othher people's mouth when they don't agree with your opinions".

  • March 9, 2003, 12:48 a.m. CST

    To Barron 34

    by Lavaman

    I apolagize if I came across as being a jerk, I do tend to be a little defensive about the prequels, but I do think that Attack Of The Clones has a decent chance of winning the Oscar as well as does The Two Towers. I do love what Peter Jackson and WETA is accomplishing with The Lord Of The Rings, both The Fellowship Of The Ring and The Two Towers are very Epic! I am most anticipating The Battle Of The Pelennor Fields, as big as the Battle Of Helms Deep was just imagine how big The Seige on Minas Tirith will be! Peace

  • March 9, 2003, 7:40 p.m. CST


    by Barron34

    Cool. No problem. I'm looking forward to Return of the King very much too. I grew up on Tolkien's books as a kid, was a huge fan, and the books were a big influence on me. Seeing Peter Jackson's film versions of the books triumph as they do is a great thrill for me. Being older now, I am rather jaded as far as entertainment goes, but seeing FOTR and TTT onscreen is to be transported back to that childhood happiness for awhile. Really can not wait until next December. Whatever awards are given out this year, I really hope that Return of the King wins big in 2004. Jackson and company certainly deserve it, and a Best Picture award would be the crown of this great film achievement. Barron out.