Visual effects producer and supervisor Dan Curry is synonymous with the Star Trek television series from the 1980s through the mid-2000s. It was a time in which VFX progressed from practical builds, miniatures and optical effects through to all things digital (although practical solutions certainly remained a key part of the way the show’s effects would be brought to life).
John McTiernan’s Predator is perhaps most fondly remembered for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line, ‘Get to the chopper!’ But it also featured some incredibly memorable optical effects, crafted by R/Greenberg Associates and overseen by visual effects supervisor Joel Hynek.
These included a distinctive camouflage effect wielded by the alien Predator creature (appearing also in a monster suit designed and built by Stan Winston Studio), a heat vision-inspired Predator POV look, and several other optical effects.
Despite the challenging nature of the shots, and the challenging jungle shoot, the work culminated in an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects (the nominees were Joel Hynek, Robert M. Greenberg, Richard Greenberg and Stan Winston).
In this interview, Hynek details the optical compositing tests that led to the eventual camouflage effect, the ill-fated red-suit-in-the-jungle approach to obtaining plates, and the almost ill-fated attempt at using a thermal camera for the Predator POV shots.
It was the end of 1996, I had just finished high school and was discovering visual effects – in particular, the coverage of vfx in Cinefex – and then, Star Trek: First Contact came out.
There are some incredible vfx shots in the film. The opening pull-back from Captain Picard. The ship to ship battles. The Borg cube. But there is one single stunner of a shot by ILM – the assembly of the Borg queen – that blew me away. It wasn’t until reading more about ILM’s work on the shot on Todd Vaziri’s VFX HQ and then in Cinefex that I could really appreciate just how much work went into it, but in the cinema I knew the sequence was something special from a vfx perspective.
Why, though? In some ways it was not groundbreaking character animation/rendering, or any other kind of brand new tech. The reason, I think, is that the shot is just such a classic trick shot and a brilliant combination of clever practical photography, some CG and plenty of paint/clean-up and compositing – but without being over the top. It was exactly what the new digital tools and techniques just gaining prominence should have been used for at the time (and not always were).
On one of the DVD releases, visual effects supervisor John Knoll describes in detail how the scene was film and how the vfx was achieved. Check it out below.
Michael Jackson’s Black or White had a HUGE influence on my interest in visual effects. So it was an absolute blast asking former PDI crew members about working on the morphing sequence, for this article at Cartoon Brew.
Here’s my in-depth Cartoon Brew story on 4Ward’s visual effects for the amazing nuclear nightmare sequence in Terminator 2, which is now 25 years old. Talking to Robert Skotak was such a great experience.