VES Awards: Honoree John Dykstra on What Makes Effects 'Good'

What Makes Effects Good John Dykstra - H 2014

What Makes Effects Good John Dykstra - H 2014

This story first appeared in the Feb. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When the Visual Effects Society gathers Feb. 12 for its 12th annual VES Awards, Alfonso Cuaron can expect to spend a lot of time at the winner's podium. Gravity leads in the feature film competition with eight nominations, and the director is set to receive the group's Visionary Award.

Meanwhile, renowned visual effects pioneer John Dykstra will be recognized with VES' Lifetime Achievement Award. Dykstra played a key role in the startup of George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic. His work led to developments in motion-control and bluescreen technologies, and he won Oscars for Star Wars and Spider-Man 2 and an Emmy for Battlestar GalacticaTHR caught up with the VFX visionary, who recently completed Legendary's upcoming Seventh Son.

PHOTOS: The Making of 'Gravity' With Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

How do you see visual effects evolving?

The content -- meaning the story -- is going to be the thing that determines what is considered "bad visual effects" and "good visual effects." By virtue of the fact that we can now do anything, it comes down to choosing to do something that is evocative. We were much more originated toward the technical side of filmmaking when we started -- we used miniatures, high-speed photography, chemistry. Now it's about integrating VFX into the emotional content of the movie.

This year, VES nominated Gravity's Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock, for best animated character. Do you see a change in the way Hollywood thinks about animated characters?

No question, it's changing. I think the key is that an animated character -- if it is not based on an actor -- is the persona of the animation director. But that character has to come from one person's brain or that character starts to become dissolute. Then it's really hard to invest in them. In Sandra Bullock's case, it's her performance, and she is the driving force that gives that character life. I don't consider her an animated character.

How can VFX companies fix their troubled business model?

There's no answer. It's not a profit center. To maintain the agility and depth of invention, you have to maintain really smart people who command fairly high wages, and you have to figure out how to keep that resource constantly engaged. For me, the successful business model is more along the lines of a facility that has a benefactor.ILM was that with George Lucas in its days when it was nascent. I think the companies that don't have that benefit have trouble getting through the lean times.

VES Awards, February 12, The Beverly Hilton