Quickshots: It’s 40 years since ‘Close Encounters’, but you can see it on the big screen again

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Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the other big sci-film of 1977. In a year without Star Wars, the film’s effects practitioners would likely have won the visual effects Oscar (they were, of course, nominated).

That’s because Close Encounters managed to use miniatures, motion control, optical compositing and even cloud tanks to tell a sci-fi story in an incredibly grounded way, paving the future for the kinds of effects that became so integral in Hollywood storytelling.

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Cloud tank plates from Close Encounters – the cloud tank was literally a glass tank that, when liquid or ink was properly injected, would provide suitable swirling cloud-like imagery that would be composited into the final scenes.

If you haven’t seen Close Encounters at the cinema, Sony Pictures is releasing a 4K re-mastered version on September 1st to celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary.

I’ve recently been able to cover the old-school effects in the film, twice. For Masters of FX, I talked to special photographic effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull. And for a VFX Vault article in VFX Voice magazine from earlier this year, Scott Squires dived into his cloud tank innovations and other work on the film (his story about being given “$20 in petty cash and asked to experiment with liquids in a 20 gallon aquarium” is pretty cool).

It’s so great to see these classic effects films have a new life, especially on the big screen where they were designed to be seen.