Sunday, September 25, 2016

Preserving VFX Equipment and Techniques

I've had some discussions with a few people about the need to try preserve some of the pre-Digital visual effects equipment (optical printers, animation stands, motion control systems, etc) as well as archiving images and other material. This would also apply to miniatures and models.

Much of this has historical purpose and is still instrumental in learning visual effects even now.
Seeing older films for their visual effects, learning how it was done and how that influenced the visual effects techniques and designs of today, is worthwhile for anyone who wants to be a professional in this industry. It helps to put things in perspective.

Recently there was a twitter discussion about the manual motion tracking of getting the tauntaun in Empire to track to a background.

The VES has an archive committee who has some items in it's possession, including the Bob Abel slide archive.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also has groups dealing with historical materials and devices. Some of which will go into the museum that's currently under construction.

I'm not involved in either of these committees so I'm not sure of the status of either although it is an issue to get funding and storage for any type of material, especially if there's some restoration and maintenance required.

We are fortunate there is a Ray and Diane Harryhausen Foundation to preserve his legacy, including models and artwork.

A few machines remain on display at different facilities (ILM, Disney, etc) but many have been sold and resold. In some cases they've been sent to scrap much like many beautiful steam locomotives of the past.

A few thoughts:

Cinefex might consider putting together a book/booklet based on their archives of photos and articles over the years. Possibly one for equipment and one for models.

Someone might setup a Facebook page or website dedicated to this specific issue (maybe there already is) This would document the various pieces of equipment and where they are located. People who possess photos or knowledge of the devices or techniques could submit to the page.

There are Facebook pages for a number of visual effects companies (including ones long gone) along with a few such as: Visual Effects Before CGI, Miniatures in Movies, The Lydecker Brothers, When Jim Danforth Ruled the Earth, The Fantastic World of Ray Harryhausen and I'm sure there are plenty of others. Links to all of these would be great to add to any page for this archiving.

Many of the people who designed, built and used this equipment are still around (but won't be forever) so interviews about equipment, techniques and other information from those involved would be a great addition and record.  I know the VES has done some interviews in the past.

Hopefully these various groups can work in tandem to document and archive.

Someone who has offered to assist in this issue is Francois de Ronzier. Francois has obtained the ILM Mooseflex motion control camera and is looking for a place to display in Switzerland.

Those interested in assisting setting up some type of website, page or process should go ahead and contact Francois at  sirap91 at

Longer term there should also be archiving of key developments and stages in the digital era of visual effects as well. We can't assume the various magazines or organizations of the past will always be around.

Thank you,

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