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Here's another vintage interview for you guys. First published in the Fantasy Film Journal volume 1, issue 1 Winter 1977:
supervisor of miniatures and special photographic effects for the space fantasy epic-- Star Wars
Perhaps the best way to introduce John Dykstra to our readers is through his own words, spoken at a seminar at Memphis State University, sponsored by Motion Picture Labs of Memphis the last weekend in July. Dykstra, supervisor of miniatures and special photographic effects on STAR WARS, spoke of his involvement with the project. "Regarding STAR WARS - I'll give you a rough synopsis of what went on. I met George Lucas roughly two years ago; we discussed his script, which at that time was called "THE" STAR WARS, big change, and asked me if I wanted to do the special effects. Being unknown, of course I said YES. We didn't really exactly know what they were going to be. His initial concept was that he wanted something very quick and dirty. He wanted something we could grind out quickly and cheaply. "As we went on discussing and storyboarding the film, he said, 'I see we're not going to be able to do this with men in black suits with models on sticks and we're going to have to make something more sophisticated do.' And that's when we started designing all the cameras and stuff. We set about doing the effects for this show with one piece of film, which was our storyboard, which was the battle sequence at the end of the film. "We had this black and white material that he'd taken off of TV and any place he could get it, of World War II battle footage. 16mm, set up watching a movieola, and look at a P-38 being chased by the enemy and then make the storyboard plotting into a P-38 changed into an X-wing and the enemy plane into a Tie ship. We had 345 of those to start out with. Some shots required more than one board. Anyway, those covered a fair sized wall.
Perhaps the best way to introduce John Dykstra to our readers is through his own words, spoken at a seminar at Memphis State University, sponsored by Motion Picture Labs of Memphis the last weekend in July. Dykstra, supervisor of miniatures and special photographic effects on STAR WARS, spoke of his involvement with the project.
"Regarding STAR WARS - I'll give you a rough synopsis of what went on. I met George Lucas roughly two years ago; we discussed his script, which at that time was called "THE" STAR WARS, big change, and asked me if I wanted to do the special effects. Being unknown, of course I said YES. We didn't really exactly know what they were going to be. His initial concept was that he wanted something very quick and dirty. He wanted something we could grind out quickly and cheaply.
"As we went on discussing and storyboarding the film, he said, 'I see we're not going to be able to do this with men in black suits with models on sticks and we're going to have to make something more sophisticated do.' And that's when we started designing all the cameras and stuff. We set about doing the effects for this show with one piece of film, which was our storyboard, which was the battle sequence at the end of the film.
"We had this black and white material that he'd taken off of TV and any place he could get it, of World War II battle footage. 16mm, set up watching a movieola, and look at a P-38 being chased by the enemy and then make the storyboard plotting into a P-38 changed into an X-wing and the enemy plane into a Tie ship. We had 345 of those to start out with. Some shots required more than one board. Anyway, those covered a fair sized wall."At that point I said, 'This is going to be hard to do in a year, George' and he said, 'I don't care kid, just do it.' So, we did it. I hired people who were young, people who had not really had a lot of industry experience, but were talented people, people that I'd worked with before. And we formed a group that was cooperative and I can't stress that enough - cooperative. People I knew as friends, people I'd worked with that I could talk to, and that was the key to the operation, and they deserve equal credit for what went on there.
Without that kind of cooperation you end up with memo...'Paint the Tie ship blue,' right? That goes through three people's hands and a week later the Tie ship comes out blue. It couldn't be done that way. It had to be a hands-on, face-to- face 'What are we going to do about this problem?’ situation. And that's why a background, a versatile and liberal background is really great because each of the people that I worked with within their specific group, they're great, they're very talented within their specific area, field...but they also know enough about all the other aspects of film-making to be able to cooperate and integrate with the other people they're working with. So...the cameraman doesn't go to the model department and say, 'This ship won't work because you built it wrong', they got together beforehand and said, 'What are the problems you have, what are your needs, what does the model have to look like, and the guy who's taking pictures says, 'Well, it has to be like this, and what can I do to help you? What can I tell you so we don't have changes later?' That's the kind of cooperation you have with that."
And very cooperative and friendly was John Dykstra Saturday, July 30, when FANTASY FILM JOURNAL interviewed him. Some of the questions asked in this interview were asked by others standing by during the interview, but for the sake of clarity, all questions are credited from one source.
FFJ: In the opening sequence where the Emperial starship flies over and has their tractor-beam drawing the Rebel blockade runner into it... is the blockade runner a smaller one than first seen on the screen? Are there two different sized runners?
JD: No, actually, it's the big one. The big one is the one drawn in. The opening shot uses a little tiny one, because we couldn't get the big one far enough away to get it small. So we made one that was about twelve inches long for the opening shot...the one that comes in over the camera and zooms away. The Star Destroyer is about three feet long, the one that comes in overhead and the ship that's drawn up into that cavity is about six feet long.
FFJ: Six feet long. So it's just photographically reduced in size to fit up in that cavity.
JD: Yeah, it's just a composite, we...
FFJ: The shadow was so nice on the runner, as it was drawn into that cavity.
JD: Oh yeah, well, the shadow was just a big scrim that we timed out to make sure that the shadow dropped at the time it went in up in under the other ship.
The Rebel blockade runner was originally intended to be the pirate ship. It was to be the protagonist of all the models and as it turned out, George Lucas thought it looked too much like "1999". A very expensive ship for the three shots it was in. I was very pleased with it. When we set about building the model, we decided that we were going to put "practical lighting" in, meaning that we were going to include light in the miniatures so that we wouldn't have to go back at a later date and try to animate light in. Another factor involved is that because we were using continuous motion photography, everything streaks and if you don't have the lights in on the initial pass, that streak will not appear. It will look very, very animated if you try to put it in as an enhancement at a later time.
FFJ: There's one scene in the final battle above the Death Star where an odd shadow seems to appear at the bottom left of the screen just after an X-fighter explodes. What was that?
JD: A bad composite. A bad matte someplace, yes...don't ever see that part again...(laughter) Yeah, if you sit and watch it very carefully, you'll see a lot of flaws in it. There's bad matte lines from time to time...but there's so many composites that have six or seven elements in it and, they're all done in separation and each of those separations and each of the elements require four or five mattes...
FFJ: I must say, having seen it six times, it is one of the few films I've seen with so few flaws. You may know there are flaws there, but...
JD: Yes (laughter)...thank you very much.
FFJ: After six times I still can't see them. In the opening prologue, the type flowing from the bottom of the screen to the top, how did you shoot that?
JD: I just used a wide-angle lens with a tilting lens board. We put the artwork, which was just flat artwork on a light box, on the floor, doesn't really matter where you put it, it was on the floor, and then use the 15mm lens, and a tilting lens board to hold depth-of-field, and just peel the camera up from the bottom of the frame...so it's just forced perspective by use of a wide- angle lens and a tilting lens board. The reason it looked good is because with VistaVision, the wide format, a 15mm lens gives you almost 180 degree field of view diagonally, as opposed to conventional 35, which is more on the order of 110. We used all Nikon lenses and that lens is very sharp and gives incredible depth-of-field.
FFJ: What cameras did you use?
JD: We built the cameras. "Dykstraflex." Read the AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER (July 1977) article, it's all in there.
FFJ: You say you're doing a tv show now, do you foresee any features in the future?
JD: Oh yeah, a lot of them.
FFJ: I mean in the immediate, foreseeable future.
JD: No, I don't have anything in the immediate future, no names.
FFJ: Is there going to be a STAR WARS sequel?
JD: I don't know. It's going to be a movie (laughter). I don't know. They could combine...they could do it before...they could do it after, or they could do the two together. And I think they'd be smart if they did the two together. It should be a serial motion picture.
Nothing has been done on a sequel. I believe there are scripts around, but they haven't gotten into it heavily yet at all.
FFJ: You said earlier you didn't think they were going to use you on a sequel...
JD: I don't know that they will use me. I haven't... I've talked to them, I say, "Listen, you guys want me to do this or not? Cause I'm going to do this... I'm going to produce this tv show if you're not interested in having me do that," and they said, "We don't know what we're going to do."
FFJ: They're crazy if they don't use you.
JD: Well, that's okay, they're crazy. Some of 'em...and maybe I don't want to do it.
FFJ: Well, if you want to do it, then they're crazy if they don't use you because you did a spectacular job.
JD: Thank you.
FFJ: One question concerning the laser guns used to blast everybody away. Were they built around actual firing mechanisms?
JD: Yeah, they were real guns.
FFJ: I was wondering about the difficulty of choreographing such laser battles without some way of indicating the laser weapon had been fired at a particular person at a particular time. I mean, did they yell "Bang, bang, you're dead?" Then suddenly I noticed they fired smoke, and there was a lot of smoke.
JD: They were real guns. I can't remember what the name of the real gun was, but it was an assault weapon. It's an English army assault weapon of some kind, modified. They were modified, I believe they used acetylene...an oxyacetylene flash mechanism. They didn't fire powder.
FFJ: What about the light sabres?
JD: Oh, the sabres. Well, some of those were animated. When Luke was in the pirate ship fighting what they called the "remote", that was animated basically, the sword was, and the little remote was a double exposure, well, not a double exposure, it was matted in. For the most part they were just retro-flective screen, front projection material, on long rods that rotated. Strips of it, so that it gave it a flicker. And then they put a beam splitter in front of the camera that bounced the light off the beam splitter and you have about two hundred times the reflectivity of normal light and so it flares at that point, but you don't see the light on the rest of the shot because of the adjustment.
FFJ: One of the most beautiful shots, to me, was the Millennium Falcon backing out of the Death Star and making that 180 degree turn.
JD: Yeah, wasn't that cute (laughter)?
FFJ: That was one thing about Kubrick's 2001 that bothered me. Many of the ships were so two-dimensional, flat, almost unrealistic in a sense, like cutouts, and it was so nice in STAR WARS to see all sides of a ship at one time...
JD: Wasn't that funny, yeah. Jesus Christ, I hated it...oh.
FFJ: You did?
JD: Yeah, it was hard...hard, but it worked. It's just...it just became a problem to do everything like that, I mean, if you're going to see all sides of the ships, where you gonna hang it?
FFJ: That scene was so beautiful, that when I first saw it, I just sat there and thought, Good Grief, how did he do that? I knew the complexity of such a shot. I was amazed.
JD: We saved him. Lucas wrote himself into a corner on that one. That was funny. He came to me and he goes, "Listen, we've got this problem with the script. Well, we had them drawn in with a tractor beam, right? How they gonna get away? They gonna back out? Right, that doesn't make much sense." Yeah...it worked! Cause we put that little flash there (making a "screeching to a halt" noise), we were hoping it would do it.
FFJ: It added so much realism to it. One other thing - how was the landspeeder done, Luke's craft?
JD: Oh, that was just a mirror. A mirror was mounted directly underneath the flange on the...just above the ground, in fact, most of the time it was touching...
FFJ: It just reflected the ground?
JD: It just reflected the ground back up into it. It wasn't quite as simple as it sounds.
FFJ: How about the scene where it went from the camera to the horizon into Mos Eisley and then through the streets of Mos Eisley? JD: Where you saw all around it. Oh, that was roto...it had to be rotoed (rotoscoped). But look, they went to Tunisia, right? They said, okay, we need the landspeeder coming in here, and it's a little Reliant, a little English car...three wheeler. And they've got this little English car bouncing along, okay, now...first of all, it's bad enough that they didn't make it a locked-off shot, it's a pan, okay. Secondly, they've got people walking in front of it, the foreground. Alright, thirdly, it has to go against a light grey background. So, how are you going to deal with that? So we ended up with a piece of film that we had to fix. "Here, fix this!" Aw, okay, sure! FFJ: I guess you had a lot of that? JD: Well, not too much. They were very good about what they did and the English crews were great. They were really cooperative and helpful. FFJ: Was there ever any other ending planned, other than the one used? It just seemed to end so suddenly, all at once, with "sequel" written all over it. JD: Well, it's a serial ending, right, but it's not... FFJ: Was that intended because of a sequel? JD: Well, I..yes and no. I mean, basically what he (Lucas) wanted was a Buck Rogers feel, and that had a Buck Rogers feel to it. You watch the first eight episodes of Buck Rogers, and then there's nothing else that happens. It's like any other ending, it's like there's...they end the movie and they leave you hanging. FFJ: It seemed as though there should be another five minutes, a little more dialogue. JD: Another five minutes, are you kidding me (looking incredulous)? FFJ: Well, you wanted another two hours. JD: COULD YOU GIVE ME ANOTHER FIVE MINUTES? Why SURE, what do you want them to do? FFJ: Why, anything... JD: You want to know what happens? Luke turns gay, which is okay because C-3P0 was always the same (laughter all around.) No, I agree, it left you hanging, that was the point of the thing. FFJ: I liked it like that, really. It left you with such an exhilarating feeling. It left you feeling so good. JD: Gee whiz...no, you're right. I liked it too. I only saw it once. I didn't see that much of it. I saw all of the effects, of course, MILLIONS OF TIMES, but I had not seen any edited material. What I loved about it...it was totally unpretentious. It never takes itself seriously, but it's still a fantasy, an adventure. Errol Flynn in space. I love it, I mean, it's like the old pirate movies you used to watch. FFJ: It's everything you wanted as a kid, EVERYTHING. JD: The good guys have a hard time, but they're ingenious and they win and somehow they never got killed. FFJ: Yes, realistically they should have been killed at the beginning of the film.
FFJ: How about the scene where it went from the camera to the horizon into Mos Eisley and then through the streets of Mos Eisley?
JD: Where you saw all around it. Oh, that was roto...it had to be rotoed (rotoscoped). But look, they went to Tunisia, right? They said, okay, we need the landspeeder coming in here, and it's a little Reliant, a little English car...three wheeler. And they've got this little English car bouncing along, okay, now...first of all, it's bad enough that they didn't make it a locked-off shot, it's a pan, okay. Secondly, they've got people walking in front of it, the foreground. Alright, thirdly, it has to go against a light grey background. So, how are you going to deal with that? So we ended up with a piece of film that we had to fix. "Here, fix this!" Aw, okay, sure!
FFJ: I guess you had a lot of that?
JD: Well, not too much. They were very good about what they did and the English crews were great. They were really cooperative and helpful.
FFJ: Was there ever any other ending planned, other than the one used? It just seemed to end so suddenly, all at once, with "sequel" written all over it.
JD: Well, it's a serial ending, right, but it's not...
FFJ: Was that intended because of a sequel?
JD: Well, I..yes and no. I mean, basically what he (Lucas) wanted was a Buck Rogers feel, and that had a Buck Rogers feel to it. You watch the first eight episodes of Buck Rogers, and then there's nothing else that happens. It's like any other ending, it's like there's...they end the movie and they leave you hanging.
FFJ: It seemed as though there should be another five minutes, a little more dialogue.
JD: Another five minutes, are you kidding me (looking incredulous)?
FFJ: Well, you wanted another two hours.
JD: COULD YOU GIVE ME ANOTHER FIVE MINUTES? Why SURE, what do you want them to do?
FFJ: Why, anything...
JD: You want to know what happens? Luke turns gay, which is okay because C-3P0 was always the same (laughter all around.) No, I agree, it left you hanging, that was the point of the thing.
FFJ: I liked it like that, really. It left you with such an exhilarating feeling. It left you feeling so good.
JD: Gee whiz...no, you're right. I liked it too. I only saw it once. I didn't see that much of it. I saw all of the effects, of course, MILLIONS OF TIMES, but I had not seen any edited material. What I loved about it...it was totally unpretentious. It never takes itself seriously, but it's still a fantasy, an adventure. Errol Flynn in space. I love it, I mean, it's like the old pirate movies you used to watch.
FFJ: It's everything you wanted as a kid, EVERYTHING.
JD: The good guys have a hard time, but they're ingenious and they win and somehow they never got killed.
FFJ: Yes, realistically they should have been killed at the beginning of the film.
JD: The bloody remains of C-3P0 lying across the dead stormtrooper in the opening shot, right?
FFJ: It seems as though it was made specifically for science fiction and fantasy fans.
JD: It was made for kids. It was made for twelve year olds, in fact.
FFJ: Well, a lot of them are science fiction fans and there's a kid in all of us.
JD: I know, that's obvious and that's a marketing plan, right? That's beautiful. Absolute broad appeal. Appealing to the kid in all of us is what it was designed to do. And that's okay, because you don't feel so bad about spending your money after you go see it. It's called getting your money's worth.
FFJ: It's like SF fans and kids gave Lucas a list of exactly what we've always wanted to see...
JD: Well, he borrowed so effectively from almost all science fiction, nobody can bust him too bad for everything. He did cover a lot of things. It's going to be very hard to do a space series without getting into a STAR WARS syndrome...what're you going to do? Oh, there WAS another ending to the film. Originally, Luke had a hand-to- hand battle with Darth Vader. That wasn't used.
FFJ: That was saved for a sequel?
JD: No, It would have been the same kind of thing, Vader probably would have escaped, somehow.
FFJ: FILM COMMENT criticized the film for building the light sabres up for some monumental duel to come and then Luke didn't even use his.
JD: That film had so much stuff in it, that if you want to go through it, pick a spot, you can find fault with almost every part of it. You can do that with almost every shot, if you look carefully frame by frame. And I'm not knocking FILM COMMENT for what they said, because I agree, that would have improved it, but the point is...
FFJ: He's nit-picking.
JD: Sure he's nit-picking. What else is he going to do?
FFJ: There's so much good about STAR WARS, one would have to nit-pick to find something bad.
JD: It's so difficult to find fault with the film as a total.
FFJ: What I'm hoping for now is, in the second or third film, having established that Darth Vader killed Luke's father, a knock-down, drag out light sabre duel between Luke and Vader, to the death.
JD: One of the problems is that it is hard to choreograph light sabre duels because if you get the sabres fifteen degrees off axis to the light, they disappear. It becomes a problem.
FFJ: No, the viewer accepts that as an inherent problem with a light sabre!
JD: (Laughter) Due to their gyroscopic action they can only...once you start swinging, you can only swing in that one plane. That's particularly good. Makes it difficult to parry.
FFJ: As Lucas says, it's his own universe, he can do anything he wants.
JD: Oh yeah, and he did, too, right? Yeah...space craft had wings and made noise, I love it.
FFJ: Who cared? It was exciting! That's what he wanted and that's what he got. Did you ever think STAR WARS was going to be as big a success as it has become?
JD: Half way through the film I knew it was going to be a success. It's true, I really thought it was going to be good. If figured it was going to make its money back and as far as I was concerned that made it a success.
FFJ: But $53 million in six weeks?
JD: I don't know, right? I mean, it's always a crap-shoot, there's no way of saying. It was a relatively unusual film, but I liked it and I liked the concept of it and I liked the way it was being put together. I think Lucas did a good job. I mean, what it boils down to, whatever the property, if you have a team of good people, even a bad property can be put together so it's good. And the greatest property in the world can be put together so it's crap, because it only takes one or two people to screw it up. We had a good crew of people, a good team.
FFJ: What did you do on ANDROMEDA STRAIN and SILENT RUNNING?
JD: ANDROMEDA STRAIN - I worked on one shot. In SILENT RUNNING I did the majority of the special effects photography, all of the stuff for the ship, and I worked on the design of the space ship. I was one of several people who worked on the design of the space ship.
FFJ: Then should it have been SILENT RUNNING starring John Dykstra?
JD: No, not at all, not at all. No, listen, that was the first movie I worked on. That's one of the things that gets real hard, cause if you get into it too heavy on that level you end up cutting your own throat. People expect miracles, and then if you can't perform them you lose your "star" status real quick.
FFJ: In such a film the real star is often the effects, but on STAR WARS there was just SO much you couldn't point the finger at the effects, or any one certain effect, and call it the true star of the film. There was so much to go around.
JD: Yeah, there was. He (Lucas) threw so much away. He threw it away in the sense that he put a lot of material on the screen that other directors might have left on the screen for twice or three times as long because it took so bloody much for the shot. But the way he worked it out, he just tossed it away. I mean, every time you go see it there's something going on in the background and that's one of the things I wanted to do was to make sure it had motion in the background all the time. There was always something realistic that added perspective to it and gave you a foreground piece to deal with and something else that made it so you knew your eye was attracted to what was going on in the foreground.
FFJ: How much did each of the models (X-fighters, etc.) cost?
JD: Well, we built the facility, we built the models, we did injection molding machines and vacuum forming machines and all that technology was put to all of the models. I think they were insured for $30,000 apiece. That's probably what it would cost to build one from scratch, if you sat down to build an X-wing with some plastic and model kits. That's probably pretty reasonable, too. They had a lot of articulation and they had little motors that made the wings X in the scene where the wings opened and they had an air umbilical that went into them to provide for the lights and the engines in the back and all that stuff, so, they were pretty articulate little beauties.
FFJ: How big was the Death Star?
JD: It came in a variety of sizes...king size (laughter). No, there were a whole bunch of different ones. Some of the surfaces were photographs applied to a big flat board thing with forced perspective. Some of them were the model itself that was a large scale...the trench-like...the portion you saw in the trench. The trench was sixty feet long, about four feet deep and three feet wide.
FFJ: That was an incredible shot where the camera zoomed across the surface of the Death Star, turned and dove into the trench and sped along it, all in one continuous shot.
JD: That was a neat shot, that started out by photographing a move into the trench and it wasn't from high enough up because we didn't have enough material to cover the frame. So then what we did was we moved back in an animation sense off of a ... took the first frame of the shot that was usable in motion off the eight perf, and then blew that up and used the swings and tilts on an enlarger to force the perspective of the print to match exactly the angle that we wanted to see going in and then set that up on a flat artwork on a board and backed away from that and matched the speeds of the two, up by trial and error, to where we got a smooth transition and we still had to put that flash in there. I mean, it didn't quite work. It was close though. I was amazed. That was one of the shots Disney was very upset about. They couldn't figure out how we did it. I told them but they didn't believe me. You tell people but they don't believe you. It was all done with mirrors.
FFJ: Concerning the explosions. You had to overcrank because of the use of miniatures. How much overcranking did you do?
JD: There's a pretty simple ratio for that. In a real sense, theoretically what you should do if the explosion...we tried to make slow explosions but slow explosions are really burning and when you get into burning you make smoke, so you have to use a fast explosion to get away from the smoke. Let's assume for the moment the explosion you use, is equivalent in speed to a real-sized explosion. The proportion is really simple. If you are at one-tenth scale, but the explosion is travelling the same speed as real time, you've got to overcrank ten times. Ten times is fast, now that's hard, so what you do is fake it. And you overcrank to 150, It's the best you can get. We used a VistaVision high-speed camera, what a relic, what a beautiful relic. I wanted to cast it in acrylic and have it for a coffee table. It ran 100 frames a second...it was a marvel, it was incredible. We hung it from wires and slung it down, rode it down over the Death Star. We took it and ran it every conceivable way and it ran beautifully. It was just a beautiful piece of equipment.
FFJ: What about the jump into "hyperspace"?
JD: That's streak photography. Basically it was real simple. That was one of the few shots that was done by hand, basically. You open the shutter and you move the camera forward, thereby streaking the stars on the film. Alright, each time you advance it a little bit further, so that on the succeeding frame, the streak is a little longer. Eventually the streak extends all the way to the edge of the film. That's done simply by taking the camera, opening the shutter and moving it in, closing the shutter, then stopping. Then backing it up, going to the next frame, moving a little bit further this time, and then stopping, backing it up...it's very tedious, very time consuming and very simple. It wasn't particularly innovative, but everybody likes it for some reason.
FFJ: Did you have much to do with the ABC special on "THE MAKING OF STAR WARS" due to air September 16?
JD: It hasn't even been shot yet (July 30). They're supposed to shoot on the eighth. No, it hasn't been done yet, but they always do that with tv stuff.
FFJ: How does Universal, your current employer, feel about STAR WARS, since they initially turned it down?
JD: I am working for Universal now, and that's -one of the big jokes around there, "That's the one we turned down." I thought they were real clever with KING KONG though, getting a percentage of the Paramount film. Not doing their own and raking in profits, although it was rated as a failure at the box office.
FFJ: How did you get started? Where were you trained?
JD: I learned from Doug Trumbull. Photographic stuff I was interested in when I was in school and I did a lot of still photography and I was playing at that time with separations and posterizations and solarizations, and so that background gave me a good lead-in to doing stuff for SILENT RUNNING, which Doug basically turned over to me. And having worked with him on various things I started to get the idea. But basically it's like anything else, you just have to be innovative, you've got to know mechanics, you've got to know film, and on down the line.
FFJ: What was it like to work for Doug Trumbull?
JD: Oh, he's a nice guy. He's my friend. He's great. He's got a real good attitude. He's not a weirdo or anything. He's a good man and is free with his knowledge, he's not stingy with the things he knows.
FFJ: Do you think his new film, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND will be a lot of razzle-dazzle?
JD: It's going to be a good movie. There's not so many miniatures, there's an awful lot of matte art and an awful lot of streak photography, but it'll be unusual. It'll be different from STAR WARS in many ways, in a vast number of ways. It'll be good.
FFJ: What about your tv series?
JD: I'm producing the series. It's space ... space stuff, but there's no script yet. The pilot should be out in January. We've got six months to do the scripts, and shoot the effects and do all the live-action. It wouldn't be bad for a regular tv series, but it's very tight to do something that's going to have so much in special effects.
FFJ: Do you believe the success of STAR WARS will lead to better quality science fiction films?
JD: I would hope so. I'll tell you what, the thing that scares me the most about this is that it's such a phenomenon that there are going to be twenty million people coming up with effects movies. And those movies are going to be made by people who will make them for whatever dollars they can make them for, alright? I think what you're going to find is that there's going to be a real rash of grade B special effects movies. My fear is, that because of that, you're going to end up with a general degradation of that whole area and a hesitancy on the part of people with money to back another big special effects show. Because if bad stuff comes out, people are going to stop going to see them, and that's what I'm scared of. I see high quality special effects films coming out but I see so many B movies coming out that It scares me, in fact, that's one of the reasons that I'm very selective about the things that I choose to do and I know Doug (Trumbull) is the same way because we don't want to work on stuff we don't believe in, and I'm not a philosopher, but, it's really true, you have to like the property and feel it's entertaining and you have to feel people are going to enjoy it before you can settle down to working on it, otherwise you're going to have just real bad stuff out.
FFJ: Is your warehouse (Industrial Light and Magic Corporation) still in existence?
JD: Yes. It's full of slot cars. It's still in Van Nuys, we'll use it on the tv show probably.
FFJ: What was the budget for the special effects?
JD: I would guess roughly $2.2 million was spent on the effects. The reason I say that is that is what I budgeted it at initially, and I was told they'd never go for it, so we dropped the budget, and then later “YOU WENT OVER BUDGET" but that's what I said before, so it was about that. $2.2 to $2.5 million, total show costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million.
FFJ: How do you feel about FLASH GORDON and BUCK ROGERS saying STAR WARS owes it all to them? I agree that you have a worry that some lower class material could damage what you've done, how do you feel about FLASH GORDON and BUCK ROGERS saying "We're coming back and are going to flood the market"? Does that bother you?
JD: FLASH GORDON and BUCK ROGERS are owned by, one of them is owned by Universal, so I mean, basically, if Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers could embody themselves here and point their finger at me, I might worry about it, but I don't see that as a problem. It stands on its own merit. I've given up worrying about that politic, okay? I don't care what I owe to them. I owe what I know to everybody I've ever encountered, but then again, I can't go giving those credits. Seriously, my life is a result of my background knowledge that came from the people that I've worked with and met, so I say fine, I agree, in fact, Lucas says that he did that.
He borrowed so heavily from so many of the science fiction stories, book, film, otherwise, that is around, that it makes it impossible to fault him for borrowing, because he's done so much of it, but it works! And it is put together in a unique way. I'm not worrying about FLASH GORDON and BUCK ROGERS coming back because they can only, if they're done well, and I think that concept is what we're talking about, not actually Buster Crabbe, or the people who were Buck Rogers or that shape of ship, it's that idea of not so much the serial, but an action-packed adventure movie, and that's really what STAR WARS was. That's really what BUCK ROGERS was and that's really what Errol Flynn was when he was a pirate, right? Things that you can sit down and watch and become involved in, root for the good guys, or the bad guys if you're weird, and enjoy. I think that's what I think we're going to have. I don't think FLASH GORDON or BUCK ROGERS is going to change that. I think if they bring them back out and they're good, they're just going to enhance it. I mean, I like those better than something new, something like BARBARELLA. Not that that's new, but that was new then, and boy was it bad.
FFJ: Mr. Dykstra, I thank you for this interview and your time.
JD: Sure, any time. My pleasure.
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Thanks for the post, this is a nice look into the tensions post SW. Dykstra's loyalties to Trumbell and Universal against the allegiances with ILM and Lucas. Dykstra lays out his apprehension towards the type of film he just worked on. Silent Runnings had a larger moral while SW was this feel fun fest. Also possibly viewed as the harder Sci-Fi verse Fantasy conflict. Nowadays that whole middle quarrel would never have made print. Great to see full transcripts.
The shooting date of the Making of SW special is good to know.
Identifying similaries between the separations from the LFL camp by Dykstra and Kurtz might make for a good article. Both have money as the over arching factor, but their comments could point to some other issue.
going through Dkystra's wiki entry, now know that all of the American Cinematographer SW articles are online:
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I usually refrain from knowing too much about how special effects were done, because I don't want to spoil the illusion for myself, but I have to admit it is very impressive to think how much they were able to accomplish with what was available. While it's true that the effects of Star Wars do have some flaws, on the whole they're so damn good I still feel they have yet to be matched in many ways. It's truly incomprehensible to me that Lucas can only ever see them with disappointment and believe them not to be good enough. It seems he can't distance himself enough from the making of the film to be able to see the merit of what's actually there, instead of what isn't.
Dykstra was right about there being a wave of 'b' science fiction movies after Star Wars. Most of them don't even come close to matching it in terms of visual brilliance or artistic value, and the effects nearly always look utterly fake in comparison.