Science Fiction Filme.) First of all, I would like to thank you for your 8me doing this Interview. I think you´re a busy man and I don´t want to interrupt while you’re working just for an interview with a little fella who loves good ol´ eﬀects. So thank you again.
Could you please tell us something what you did before you come into ﬁlm business? Why have you chosen the way of being into SFX/ VFX? What was your ﬁrst job in this business and how did you get it?
Scott Squires) I decided to get into VFX while in high school. I like Ray Harryhausen ﬁlms and other ﬁlms with visual eﬀects, I liked working with models, I like animation and it seemed like an interesting job. I worked as theater projectionist and newspaper photographer and darkroom processor while going to school to learn more. I had purchased a Super-8 camera a couple years earlier and then bought a 16mm camera.
I came out to Los Angeles after graduated high school and knocked on doors. Someone suggested I see Doug Trumbull because he might have a project coming up. I met with Doug Dec 1975 and showed him my photos, art, models. He hired me in January when the project was approved. That was called WATCH THE SKIES. It later became known as CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THRID KIND.
The ﬁrst day on the job I was told they need to make cloud for this movie. They had thought about special smoke mixtures but those were poisonous and didn’t have the density. When Doug pour cream in his coﬀee it looked like a cloud. So I was handed $20 in pay cash and a 20 gallon aquarium to see if I could create clouds in a liquid that they could shoot. By the end of the week I worked out the process of layer of salt water and top layer fresh water with liquid tempura paints injected. They then built a 7 x 7 x 4 foot tank (2000 gallons). This process and tank was later used for Indiana Jones and a number of other ﬁlms.
SFF) Is there anyone or any movie or event or tv-series or whatever which made you think: “Alright, I want to do the same thing.” Do you have any personal idols in your business?
S.S.) Ray Harryhausen was one of the inspira8ons. I also like Star Trek and other visual eﬀects ﬁlms/TV shows.
SFF) One of your ﬁrst jobs was for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. You were employed by EEG at that 8me. Although you may have done this more than once, but could you please explain the exact development of the CLOUD - EFFECTS again. As far as I know they were made in a tank. You took 20 US dollar and experimented with liquids in a 75 liter aquarium. Is it true that you used milk, whipped cream and paint? With milk and alcohol and salt water you are said to have created the intensity that we see in the ﬁlm. Were these the components?
S.S.) EEG came later. At that 8me I was employed by Future General. This was a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures that Doug had set up. I tested a number of this including those items. By combining milk with alcohol I was able to get it to get it to sort of ﬂoat in the water but that gave the idea of using speciﬁc gravity to achieve the results. I talked it over with Wayne Smith and others at Doug’s shop. So made a batch of salt water and then very carefully adding fresh water as the top layer without disturbing the heavy salt water below. Then injec8ng tempura paint into the fresh water layer carefully, the paint would seAle on the top of the salt layer just like real clouds at an al8tude. So in the end it’s simply salt water and fresh water with a water based white paint for the clouds.
Here’s a detailed blog post I did:
SFF.) Based on this success you procured a tank that could hold 7570 litres. These barrels then had salt water on the one hand and fresh water on the other hand. Fiberglass pipes then pumped the mixture into the tanks. The whole thing was ﬁlmed with anamorphic lenses so that the clouds looked oval and they were illuminated from above. So the whole thing already looked like a UFO coming through the clouds. Is that true?
S.S.) We used 2 wood vats (hot tub/wine vats) That were ﬁltered constantly to remove particles. I think the piping was PVC tubing.
We ﬁlmed the initial test on 35mm with an anamorphic lens. This made the ﬁber optic light appear as an oval and looked great as a ﬁrst test. But the actual production was shot on 65mm with spherical (non-anamorphic lenses)
We used light inside the clouds from the ﬁber optic to give a glow and for other shots that you see a UFO, those are done with models composited with the clouds.
SFF.) In my interview with Mr. Rocco Gioﬀre, he told me that together with you and Hoyt Yeatman, he started Dream Quest Images in a small garage and later moved to Culver City. What made you decide to take this path to independence? How do you feel about that time in retrospect?
S.S.) All of us had worked on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, BUCK ROGERS and STAR TREK. We had been approached for special projects (such as a time lapse camera drive). There was typically a down time between projects so we decided we’d give starting a company a go since we had lots of ideas. I was 23 and we were all of course naive. So Rocco, Hoyt and myself rented a house based on the fact it had a 2 1/2 car garage. We insulated the garage and painted the inside black. We set up our motion control which we had designed and built. I wrote all the software and designed most of the electronics with Fred Iguchi. Fred, Bob Hollister and Tom Hollister were the other founders. We did Caddy Shack and First Family matte paintings in the garage along with the model CGI for ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. I also wrote special lighting software for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS special edition. Doug was starting up BLADE RUNNER and suggested us to do some of the auxiliary work. So we leased a 7500 sq S building and did a wide range of ﬁlm, TV and commercials.
In retrospect it was a great education. On CLOSE ENCOUNTERS I worked in every dept (matte camera, model shop, animation camera and motion control) I was self taught in photography, electronics and programming. By doing it on our own we were able to make faster strides and get far more experience than most people working for other companies doing a single job. Each week we had plenty of creative, technical and business challenges. Also gives a certain amount of conﬁdence after having gone through that.
SFF.) What do you think about CGI it comparing to “old school”- ﬁlms back in the days?
S.S.) The great thing about digital (since I think of CGI as 3D models) is you have precise control over everything. You also have instant or at least quick feedback. Old School meant that doing things like opticals was a bit of voodoo magic since minor ﬂuctuations would be a problem and you just had to do the best you could. And you’d have to get it the shot into the lab in time to have the lab process it and you wouldn’t know how it turned out until the next day. And it was even more diﬃcult to determine how mul8ple elements would work together until it was further down the pipeline.
The great thing about old school you had a variety of diﬀerent things. Tangible things like models and cameras. And the best part was being inventive that dealt with photography, light, motion, physics, mechanical and sometimes chemical. How can you do a speciﬁc shot wasn’t always an easy answer. Was it to be a model, matte painting or as in the case of the clouds something totally new. With the mother ship we tied in a slit scan type of rig to trigger a shutter. This taught you to think outside the box or to look at all the options open to you.
Digital means that the eﬀect can be achieved. You just have to get the pixels to match what you want. So many times the solution is the standard digital tools with some specially written software. Still inventive but in a diﬀerent way and not quite as fun usually.
SFF.) Can you please explain what INPUT SCANNING means? You have received an Academy Technical Award for this technology.
S.S.) Input Scanning - For years all images were shot on ﬁlm but to work on them with a computer requires them to be digital (data values of red, green and blue). So ILM built one of the ﬁrst input scanners in the world. I worked with Kodak, who had developed high resolution linear ccd sensors, and our team at ILM. Think of it as a color xerox machine but for movie ﬁlm. Television had telecine machines which did so but in a very low quality way. For YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES they had a contractor build a laser scanner that could record the image but the quality and repeatability was not up to what it needed. So by developing an input scanner we could start to do digital eﬀects on movies. This one developed meant it was possible for all the future digital eﬀects and 3D graphics to be combined with ﬁlmed scenes. It also opened up the door for digital color timing (color correcting) of movies. Most movies are now shot on high resolution digital cameras but for decades the ﬁlm scanner was used and even today they’re used for any movie shot on ﬁlm.
SFF.) Do you have certain favorite eﬀects that you especially like to work on?
S.S.) Challenging eﬀects. I ‘d rather not do the same thing I’ve already done or that had been done endless by others.
SFF.) Could you please explain what your short ﬁlm LITTLE FINGER is all about?
S.S.) Panasonic came out with the ﬁrst digital video camera that could shoot at 24fps (like ﬁlm cameras) instead of 30 or 60fps. With video in the past you had to deal with interlacing. Standard video would show all the odd lines and then all the even lines. This made working on video painful and didn’t provide the best look. 24fps meant the look of ﬁlm and the ability to work on a frame without interlacing.
So I made LITTLE FINGER short ﬁlm just as a test to see how rotoscoping and working with this new camera would work.
The concept is the phrase "I’ve got more whatever in my little ﬁnger than..”
So the girl (my daughter) makes that claim on the phone that she has more talent in her little ﬁnger than this other person has in their whole body. At night we see her ﬁnger engaging in creative activities (art, writing, piano) while the girl sleeps. But the girl wakes up before the ﬁnger returns and discovers she’s missing her little ﬁnger.
SFF.) If you compare the wide range of products for creating eﬀects from the past and today, how do you feel about them? Did people improvise more often in the past than today, because there were fewer possibilities to create certain eﬀects?
S.S.) You did tend to improvise in the past because you’d have to build most of it from scratch (such as models) or work out a technique. You still have to build models (in CG now) but for a lot of work you don’t have to come up with new techniques. Spaceships, super hero, etc have basic approaches for majority of shots. But you do get the chance to do more ongoing design improvising with digital. If you want to add or change something it’s much interactive.
SFF.) What was the biggest challenge in creating THE MASK?
S.S.) The transitions to and from the mask to make it work for the audience. Also the stretching o the skin as he pulls the mask oﬀ.
SFF.) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
S.S.) I think there’s a lot of great books and stories out there still to be done. I’d like to see vfx used to create new and interesting worlds rather than focus on the destruction of planets and cities. I’d like to good ﬁlms that use vfx creatively.
AMELIE is an example - she expresses her expressions at times by vfx eﬀects.
SFF.) I held up with the most important question for everyone to the end: What was the most diﬃcult eﬀect you were working on and why?
S.S.) That’s a hard one. It’s like choosing a favorite child. They’ve all been challenging. You also tend to forget about the amount of work and pain some projects take once you’re completed them. I think DRAGONHEART was one of the most fulﬁlling in terms of overseeing the whole ﬁlm and get the range that we did at the time.
SFF) Dear Mr. Squires. Thanks for your time doing this interview and I wish you all the best for the future.