HOLLYWOOD - FEBRUARY 27: Visual Effects editor John Dykstra attends the Governors Ball with his Oscar for Achievement in visual effects for "Spiderman 2" after the 77th Annual Academy Awards at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel on February 27, 2005 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
If there’s a short list of pioneering film artists to be thanked for the moviemaking revolution that resulted in the special effects spectaculars audiences enjoying today, John Dykstra’s name is right near the top.
Dykstra essentially rewrote the rules of how to film models for special effects sequences when he was recruited by George Lucas to head up the FX team for “Star Wars,” and in the earliest days of what would become Industrial Light & Magic, Dykstra kick-started the use of computer controlled cameras that ultimately led to today’s digital dominance. He’d go on to creating similarly eye-popping effects for memorable projects including the original “Battlestar Galactica,” “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” “Caddyshack,” “Firefox” and “Stuart Little,” and digitally defined modern-day superhero action with his work on the first two “Spider-Man” films.
With the Blu-Ray debuts of one of Dykstra’s earliest works – “Star Wars: The Complete Saga" – and his most recent – “X-Men: First Class” – Dykstra tells PopcornBiz how the job of making the fantastic seem realistic has evolved over the years.
“The way that it's radically different is when we used to have put a subject in front of a camera and take a picture of it to create an element, you spent much more time with the hardware side of things,” says Dykstra. “It was much more time on how you were going to do it, and although you spent plenty amount of time on what it was you were limited significantly by how.”
“With advent of digital imaging the bar has been raised because we can do so much more,” Dykstra continues, “but also you're free to spend much more time thinking about how the visual FX that you're creating integrates into the telling of the story, and how it influences the character in the story around the character. So that's a huge difference. The part that's the same is that they always want to see something unlike they've ever seen before, and that gets harder and harder to do as more and movies come out.”
“The things that I don't like is that we're getting to a point where it's like using curse words too frequently and they lose their impact,” he suggests. “I think the scope and grandeur has to a certain extent in some cases replaced story and character. I think that's what distinguished 'X-Men: First Class.’ There was much more story, much more character development and depth than a lot of other films that are out there.”
The FX guru says that even after all of his experience, he still faces seemingly impossible tasks with every new film, and “X-Men: First Class” was no exception. “The movie itself was a challenge, just because it was so many characters that had to have powers,” he says, “and they had to be different from one another, they had to be the same or similar to ones that had appeared to in other films and they had to be unique enough that you felt like you were seeing a new event or a new interpretation of the same power.”
“The fleet in the ocean off Cuba and how central a component the telling of the story that is in the third act was a real challenge,” he recalls. “That was really a concern because it had to look real. It had to have the right water and smoke, and all that stuff is really hard to do in CG, especially when you're doing such a large quantity of it.”
"Star Wars: The Complete Saga" arrives on Blu-ray today. "X-Men: First Class" is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.