Playing A Role
FSTD: What are some of your duties as a visual effects supervisor?
Edlund: As a visual effects supervisor, it’s a complex role. First of
all, you have to figure out what it is that the director wants to see. Then
you have to figure out how to create a shot that will give that effect to
the audience. You also have to figure out how to do it within a budget and
within a time constraint. And then, you have to deal with all the politics
of budget and of interdisciplinary communication. That is, talking to the
costume designer and making sure that someone isn’t wearing a pair of blue
pants when we’re shooting a blue screen. Or talking to the DP about how much
depth-of-field you’re going to need, or what light level he’s going to have
to light for. You have to keep track of a lot of things and make sure that
all this stuff is not gonna fight you when you start putting the shot
together. It was much more complicated and difficult in the photochemical
era. It is so easy to “pixel pound,” as we call it today. That is, going in
and fixing it in post-production, because you can do damn near anything
nowadays. It’s just a matter of time and money. That’s always been the
case. But then, also, you’re dealing with the temperament of the director.
You’re in charge of all these kind of things. Yet today, I lament that the
credit “visual effects supervisor” is not policed. In other words, anybody
can take that credit now, so the credit of visual effects supervisor gets
BOSS Film Studios
FDTD: How did you get involved with running your own company?
Edlund: When I finished "Return Of The Jedi" , ILM was not my cup of
tea. I mean, it was just a different gestalt than I was personally happy
with. I wanted to give a shot to doing my own thing. I made a deal with
myself that I would finish the "Trilogy," then I would leave ILM. When the
"Trilogy" was finished, I was in complex discussions with Ridley Scott on a
movie called "Legend Of Darkness," which ultimately became
Edlund and one of his
original idea on that was to shoot Darby O’Gill-style; using forced
perspective and cheating eye-lines, things like that, which is kind of like
a variation of what they did on "Lord Of The Rings"  in order to get the
people to appear smaller. When I was finishing "Jedi," and starting to pack
up, I was talking to Ridley, but the project went south for me because
[producer] Arnon Milchan was worried about the budget for "Blade Runner"
which didn’t do well at the box office. It was budgeted at about $20 million
and went to $28 million or something like that. He was worried that the same
thing was going to happen on "Legend." He said we’re not gonna do it
Hollywood. We’re going to shoot it in London and we’re gonna use little
people. So that’s what they did. They hired dwarves and midgets to do it
and that picture went away. During that time, I had accidentally herniated a
disc while I was working on my car. I had to go in the hospital to have an
operation, and the project had just fallen out with Ridley. I had already
made a deal with Trumbull to take over his facility, because he wanted to go
off and do something else, so I made a deal with him to take over that
facility based on doing the Scott project.
FSTD: You were caught in a tight spot.
Edlund: Yeah. When "Legend" went away, I was wondering, “what the hell
am I gonna do now?” I had all these great people lined up and ready to go.
And while I was in the hospital, I got a call from Ivan Reitman to do "Ghostbusters." Then, the day after that, a call came from Peter Hyams to do
"2010" . So I put that deal together over the phone, then I had to go
down and negotiate it. And so as soon as I got out of the hospital, I swung
into action. We had the 65mm gear, but I had to build optical printers and
animation stands. My style of effects was completely different from Doug’s,
so I could only treat what was there as sort of like a pile of parts. We had
to reassemble them and build things like optical printers with telecentric
lenses. We built the Super Printer for "Ghostbusters."
FSTD: That was the birth of BOSS Film Studios?
Edlund: Yeah. I ran BOSS for fifteen years and it was quite a
project. And it was a company I had to start. I’m not a businessman. I have
no formal business background. My background is all photographic and art
oriented. But when I left ILM, and in those days in order to do what I
wanted to do, I had to have all this fancy photographic paraphernalia. I had
no choice but to open up a company. And so I did that, then I aquired and
bootstrapped it basically. When the digital thing started happening in the
late-’80s/early-’90s, then I had to get into that. And we started with a
couple of personal SGI Iris’s. Then we bought an IBM PVS, which was the
first parallel processing super computer. That was a million dollars. And it
was supposed to be backed up by Wavefront and Alias and all the software we
had trouble getting. But the business changed dramatically. And by ’93, I
think "Alien 3"  was the last movie I did completely photographically. It had
computer graphics elements. Jim Rygiel was there; CG generated shadows and
things like that for the character of the creature. On "Cliffhanger"
, we did
our last photographic composite. Within about a year, the photographic
process was dead and the optical printer got turned off, and it was never
turned back on. And then I had to get into all these leases and I had 60 SGI
workstations. I had to cash flow a quarter of a million dollars a week in
order to keep the doors open. This was a lot of pressure as an independent,
because there are limited numbers of shows, and the studios know where
you’re at and they grind you.
FSTD: You were doing a lot of films, yet it was surprising to hear
that BOSS was closing its doors.
Edlund: It’s real hard to make a profit in the effects business. And
so I decided at a certain point, looking at the horizon, looking at what was
out there and looking at what I might want to do, I decided to close it
gracefully. I didn’t want to wait until they put a padlock on the door. So I
closed it. That was about four years ago. And now I have been working on
developing movie projects, and I have another technology project going; a
digital movie studio.
Visual Effects In 65mm And The ZAP
FSTD: What is the job of an optical printer in visual effects?
Edlund: In the “old days,” the optical printer was the most valuable
tool you had in visual effects. Because by means of an optical printer, and
creating photographic mattes, you can put multiple scenes together in one
final composite. There are scenes in "Ghostbusters," for example, where
there’s a matte painting, there’s a bluescreen, and the three actors, Danny
[Aykroyd] and Bill [Murray] and Harold [Ramis] in the foreground in bluescreen. In the background, you have a matte painting and you’ve got a
miniature of the Marshmallow Man
Some of Edlund's
walking down the street. Plus, you’ve got
animation of the neutrona wands and then perhaps an additional scene of
cloud tank sky. All of those scenes shot at radically different scales are
composited together in one shot. By using mattes and multiple passes on the
printer, you print one element with the mattes to hold out latent the area
for the other elements.
FSTD: And this is all done in 65mm?
Edlund: All of the elements are shot in 65mm. Let’s say the front
projector would have the scene, and the back projector would have the mattes
running on it. Between those two projectors is a camera with an anamorphic
lens that reduces the 65mm to 35mm anamorphic. What you wind up with is a
35mm anamorphic composite where all these elements, which were shot in 65mm,
are reduced down to 35mm. The quality of our composites was so high, we had
to degrade them in order to match the live-action footage sometimes.
FSTD: No kidding?
Edlund: Yeah. When we were running dailies for "Ghostbusters" in New
York, they had the Magno Screening Room on 57th Street building that the DGA
is in. We would run the 65mm dailies, and then they would do a changeover to
the 35mm dailies. Everybody would sigh over the regular dailies. 70mm is
just so magnificent.
FSTD: Did you take that composite of 35mm anamorphic negative and
then put that into the original negative?
Edlund: Yes, that just intercuts with the original.
FSTD: Would you take that entire 35mm negative and make 70mm prints
release prints from that?
Edlund: Yes. The lab would take the original negative, which would be
timed, and they would make a 65mm blow-up interpositive [IP] and contact
internegative [IN]. Then they would make 70mm prints. And, of course, the
reason that the camera is 65mm and the prints are 70mm is because of the
soundtrack. They had an extra 2 1/2 millimeters on each side for the mag
FSTD: Do you think the projects that you worked on looked better in
form as a 70mm blow-up, or in 35mm?
Edlund: I think they looked better in 70mm. The reason for 70mm was
two-fold: one was to get more light on a big screen, because the 70mm houses
had bigger screens. So if you got more light, obviously, through a 70mm port
than a 35mm port, you’d get 15-foot candles on the screen. But probably even
more than that, from a distribution standpoint, was the six-track sound that
you could get on 70mm prints. That was a very complicated process. You had
to make your timed 65mm interpositive, then from that timed interpositive,
you had to make 65mm internegatives. From the 65mm internegatives, you’d
make 70mm prints without sound on them. Then you would have to take the 70mm
prints to another facility, which would put mag-stripe on them. And then you
would take the print that has a mag-stripe on it back to the sound facility
and have the soundtrack transferred onto that print. When you’re dealing
with moving, expensive prints that have to remain pristine from
facility-to-facility, you’d have the potential of screw-ups in the
mag-striping process and the potential of not getting the picture in sync.
And occasionally, the mag-striping would peel off. There were all these
“snipers in the trees” in a process like that.
FSTD: Do you feel now that they have 70mm-DTS capability that it is a
lot easier (and cheaper) to make 70mm prints?
Edlund: Well, it does, but here’s the thing; Kodak came out with
5244, which is a magnificent dupe stock. I mean, it’s just unbelievable.
"Die Hard" is a good example of what I mean. I would see first generation
dailies, right, so you get used to seeing first generation 70mm dupes. The
70mm elements-to-35mm anamorphic dupes always looked better than the
original. Then they would take that and with 5243, which is the old dupe
stock, they would make a dupe. When I’d see it in the theatre, it was a
tremendous disappointment because so much of the image went away. Then Kodak
came out with the 5244, which was after the death of the optical printer,
unfortunately. If we had that stock when we were doing our work back then,
it would’ve even looked better! When 5244 came out, at the same time,
compatible six-track digital sound on film came out. That basically just
spelled the doom of 70mm, because the 35mm dupes were all of the sudden so
great and you could get six-track digital sound. 65mm for theatrical release
is a goner. It’s unfortunate. Coinciding with that was that Panavision had
built two 65mm Panaflex cameras, which were magnificent. I used the first
one on "Alien 3" for all the plates. And then ARRI came out with an unbelievable
camera that would run 120 frames-a-second. It was a 65mm camera that was
quiet at sound speed. Ron Howard did "Far And Away" , which looked fabulous.
BOSS did the titles and opticals for it, because we had 70mm printers. We
had one printer that was set up for doing composite work, which is the Super
Printer. That had the 35mm reduction lens to the camera. Then we had an
element printer, which had a zoom lens on it. That was an outrageous
machine. It cost about a million dollars. And it was the best 70mm optical
printer ever built; maybe the best optical printer ever built. Fantastic
FSTD: Was that the one you got a technical award on?
Edlund: I did get a Scientific Engineering Award for that machine.
That’s all surplus now. What happens to that kind of stuff is when you need
it it’s invaluable, but when it becomes obsolete, you know it’s just nuts
FSTD: With all the digital technology available now, has it replaced
or rendered 65mm origination for visual effect obsolete?
Edlund: Pretty much. Going back to "Multiplicity," there’s a whole
raft of composites with Michael [Keaton] playing dramatic and comedic
situations with himself. For the film, we shot all the plates in 35mm
anamorphic. I didn’t shoot any 70mm on that. So at BOSS, we had our own
proprietary scanning and recording systems. The quality of the dupes had to
be such that you wouldn’t see a difference between intercutting the
live-action footage and the
Edlund and a Star
composite. And Laszlo Kovacs, who’s one of my
best buddies in the cinemagraphic area, and Jack De Govia was the production
designer. We had just a great group—I mean it was a fabulous group. Harold
Ramis directed the movie. One time, Laszlo was coming over and watching all
the dailies and would have his comments about the look of the scene we were
doing. He’d say, “Well, let’s change the contrast here.” And one of my
favorite lines of his was, “Can you just add an imperceptible amount of
About Other Projects…
FSTD: Can you talk about "The Judas Project," a film a lot of people
may not know about?
Edlund: Well, that came at a very good time for us. Jim Nelson, who’s
kind of my “godfather,” whom I met when I was a hippie, actually helped me
set up BOSS. He helped me negotiate the deals, because he knew a lot of
production people. I think it was in ’87 or ’88, and, the Writer’s Guild went on
strike. All of the sudden, movie production dried up. I mean, it was a
nightmare. During that time, I did three movies that we wouldn’t normally
have taken. One was called "Leonard Part 6" , which was probably the
worst script I had ever read! Another movie was called "Vibes" , which
I kind of liked. And then there was "The Judas Project" . Jim Nelson
had this buddy who was a music publisher, or something like that. He made a
lot of money in the music field. "The Judas Project" had a pretty healthy
budget for visual effects. It was like this kind of modern day Jesus movie.
But it was going to be roadshowed; basically take it out and rent theatres
and run it. I guess they did okay with it. It was not a standard type of
release, but because the Director’s Guild strike was going on, it wasn’t
affected by the DGA somehow. It wasn’t affected by the Writer’s Guild,
FSTD: Did you shoot 65mm effects?
Edlund: Yeah, 65mm, and it was an anamorphic movie. Very good looking
movie. It had lots of good effects in it.
FSTD: A few years earlier, you did "Masters Of The Universe"
FSTD: And you chose also to use 65mm on that film, even though the
aspect ratio was going to be 1.85:1?
FSTD: Why was that?
Edlund: At that time, our whole system was set up in 65mm. We had no
choice. And "Masters" was another one that had some pretty good effects in
it, considering the budget…considering dealing with [producer] Menahem
Golan. Jesus, what a character!
FSTD: And "Fright Night?"
Edlund: On "Fright Night,"  we had an outrageous crew. It may have
been the last movie that John DeCuir did. He is one of the great art
directors of all-time. I mean, he did "Cleopatra" . He did "Hello, Dolly!"
designed the MGM Grand Hotel. He was an unbelievable character. He would sit
on the plane with a ream of typing paper. He’d be drawing lines like crazy
on this and making sketches. And then he’d put it down and then he’d get
another sheet, you know. He was a real kind of charismatic guy. And when we
got to New York, he’d start pinning these drawings up, like a checkerboard.
He’d put one up, then the next, and the next, and then time for the next row
and the next row. At the end, it was a detailed perspective drawing of an
entire set. It was like eight or ten feet wide.
FSTD: No kidding?
Edlund: You know, pieced together with proper vanishing point. I mean
the guy was a phenomenal talent. If you look at "Fright Night," the art
direction is fabulous. And he brought his son, John Jr., to kind of give him
a credit. But John Sr. did the set-up of the movie. It starred Chris
Sarandon and Roddy McDowell, who was a really sweet guy and he was on the
Academy Board of Governors for a really long time. He died tragically of
cancer. We were good friends.
A Poltergeist Story
FSTD: Do you ever sit down with a paying audience and watch some of
Edlund: One that was really fun for me to watch was when I went back
to New York to see "Poltergeist"  released. I was in the very back of the theatre. I was with [producers]
Frank Marshall and Kathy Kennedy and ["E.T." screenwriter] Melissa Mathison,
who was Harrison Ford’s wife [at the time]. I can’t remember if Harrison was
there or not that night. He might have been. We’re sitting in the very back
of the theatre, and in front of us was John Simon, the film critic. It was
great to watch it, because the audience jumped and freaked out at all the
points they were supposed to. It worked like a champ. They were just eating
it up. John Simon, however, sat there. I mean it was like he was sculpted
out of stone, sitting there, not moving.
FSTD: I guess you can’t please everybody. But films like
"Poltergeist" pleased the people who count most—the audience. You’ve had
quite a career so far. I’m sure audiences will look forward to future
projects from you. Thanks, Richard.
Edlund: You’re welcome. Thanks for your interest!
Special Thanks to Richard Edlund and Kim Doyle
This interview was originally in 2002 posted at
Photos by William Kallay (2002)