Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Solar System

Source Internet Archive

When he saw saw this film in 1979, George Lucas hired Tom Smith to run his visual effects facility, Industrial Light and Magic. From 1980 to 1986, Smith oversaw the visual effects for many block buster features including: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestial (1982), Poltergeist (1982), Return of the Jedi (1983), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and many others. This is his academic film masterwork, which took over a year to create, over 13 weeks to film, and utilized "traveling mattes," with as many as five separate films running in the background, showcasing wonderful models and graphics.

About the making of the film, Tom Smith writes:

"I made that film in 1976 with Richard Basehard as narrator and a classical music score recorded in the Soviet Union... this was the film that turned my career toward visual effects. We shot it in a large rented space in the back of a West Los Angeles dress factory. We hung large black curtains to keep out light out from the factory but we could still hear the sewing machine whirring away behind the curtain. They were making bathrobes at the time, out of luffy material. It took months of preparation before we could shoot our first frame of film. We laid down a forty foot stretch of track of parallel plumbing ipes and put down a camera support whose movements were on a geared guide so every increment of movement could be controlled with the turn of a wheel. Nearly all of the shots involved a moving camera. It was like animation with three dimensional model planets instead of cell images. We found the best material for the planets was hard wood. So we hired a Hollywood cabinet shop to make nine spheres for us, about 18 inches in diameter. These were sanded and painted to match images in astronomy books and observatory photos. Shooting one frame at a time meant we never got more than a few seconds of film shot in a day. One long shot involved the camera moving in on Mars. The first long day’s work was ruined. As the camera came in on the red planet, a large piece of fuzz came into frame, sitting on the planet. It had drifted down on the sphere from the dress factory." - Academic Film Archive


In the Library:

• Rickitt, Richard. Special effects : The History and Technique [WorldCat]

• McCarthy, Robert E. Secrets of Hollywood Special Effects [WorldCat]

• Vaz, Mark Cotta. The invisible art : the legends of movie matte painting [WorldCat]

• Prince, Stephen. The Emergence of Filmic Artifacts: Cinema and Cinematography in the Digital Era. Film Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 3 (Spring, 2004), pp. 24-33 [JSTOR]

On the Web:

Industrial Light and Magic official website

Bigoraphy of Thomas G. Smith at the Academic Film Archive of North America