John Dykstra - Writer

Special Effects Supervisor. Nationality: American. Born: Long Beach, California, 3 June 1947. Education: Attended Long Beach State University. Career: 1971—first film, Silent Running ; 1973—left film to work for Berkeley's Institute of Urban Development; 1975—returned to movies as first head of George Lucas's special-effects lab, Industrial Light and Magic; 1977—special-effects supervisor on Star Wars ; 1978—left ILM to form his own effects company, Apogee, which produced visual effects for television's Battlestar: Galactica , served as visual-effects supervisor and producer of first five episodes; 1979—received Academy Award nomination for work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture ; 1982—dismantled Apogee Productions commercial division; 1995—pioneered use of computergenerated images as special-effects supervisor on Batman Forever . Awards: Academy Awards for best visual effects, and scientific/technical special Academy Award for invention of the Dykstraflex motion-control computerized camera system, both for Star Wars , 1977.

Films as Special Effects Crew:


Silent Running (Trumbull); The Andromeda Strain (Wise)


Star Wars (Lucas) (special photographic effects supervisor)


Battlestar: Galactica (Colla) (effects-unit supervisor, co-pr)


Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise) (special photographic effects supervisor); Avalanche Express (Robson)


Firefox (Eastwood) (supervisor)


Lifeforce (Hooper) (supervisor)


Invaders from Mars (Hooper) (supervisor)


My Stepmother Is an Alien (Benjamin) (supervisor); The Unholy (Vila)


Batman Forever (Schumacher) (visual effects supervisor)


Batman & Robin (Schumacher) (visual effects)


Stuart Little (Minkoff) (senior visual effects supervisor)




By DYKSTRA: article—

"Directing Effects," in Back Stage (Hollywood), 19 April 1985.

" My Stepmother is an Alien Sci-fi comedy. Full Array of Tricks for Stepmother ," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), December 1988.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), July 1995.

"Digitizing the Dynamic Duo," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), December 1997.

On DYKSTRA: articles—

Back Stage-Shoot (Hollywood), 16 October 1992.

Clark, Michael, on Batman Forever , in Shoot (Hollywood), 14 July 1995.

Reid, C., "John Dykstra Effects Supervisor," in Cinefantastique (Forest Park), vol. 29, no. 1, 1997.

Vaz, M.C., "Freeze Frames," in Cinefex (Riverside), September 1997.

* * *

John Dykstra is arguably the most respected and sought after special effects supervisor working in Hollywood. He has built a deservedly stellar reputation for ingenuity, organizational skill, and thorough preproduction planning. In the 1970s, he set the visual-effects standard for both the Star Wars trilogy and the Star Trek films, two of Hollywood's most popular science-fiction film series. Dykstra is also a pioneer in the use of computer technology for visual effects, from the computer-controlled Dykstraflex camera system developed for Star Wars , to the extensive use of computer-generated image animation in Batman Forever .

Dykstra started his career studying at Long Beach State as an industrial designer. According to Star Wars promotional material, he was kicked out of school before earning a degree. He began working with Douglas Trumbull, a veteran effects director (whose work included effects for Victor Fleming's Wizard of Oz and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey ), as part of the effects crew on Trumbull's science-fiction thriller Silent Running . From Trumbull, he learned techniques on matte filming and miniature work, skills he would put to great use throughout his career. Following his apprenticeship with Trumbull, Dykstra joined Berkeley's Institute of Urban Development, where he was involved in a sophisticated project coupling cinematography and visual effects with the construction of miniature cityscape models. Here, he further honed his skills with miniatures and camera effects. In June 1975, George Lucas and Gary Kurtz asked him to handle visual effects for a film they were working on called Star Wars . As a result, Dykstra became the first head of Lucas's new special effects studio, Industrial Light and Magic.

Industrial Light and Magic would evolve into the premier Hollywood special-effects studio, doing the effects for all three Star Wars films as well as Terminator II and Jurassic Park , among other films. Dykstra won two Academy Awards in 1977 for his work on Star Wars . The first award was for best visual effects, while the second was a scientific/technical special award for his invention and development of the Dykstraflex motion-control camera system. The innovation of combining computer programing with camera work would be an essential link to the computer-generated imaging currently being utilized by Hollywood's special-effects producers.

In 1978, Dykstra left ILM to form Apogee, his own special-effects company. Through Apogee, he produced the first five episodes of the television series Battlestar: Galactica . He also supervised the special effects for the motion-picture version of Battlestar: Galactica . Later, he worked with director Robert Wise on the first motion picture version of an older television science-fiction phenomenon, Star Trek . In 1979, Dykstra earned another Academy Award nomination for his work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture .

Dykstra dismantled Apogee in the fall of 1982, due to the lack of commercial work, the company's primary source of clientele. This turned out to be only a minor setback. Over the next decade, he would work with esteemed directors Clint Eastwood (on Firefox ), Tobe Hooper ( Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars ), and Richard Benjamin ( My Stepmother Is an Alien ). Though none of these movies was a blockbuster, he continued to innovate, maintaining his reputation for creativity and organization.

This reputation resulted in a job as visual-effects supervisor on Batman Forever . Dykstra's work here proved worthy of his reputation: Batman Forever was the top box-office draw for 1995, largely due to the special effects as well as Jim Carrey's over-the-top performance as the Riddler. The effects called for by director Joel Schumacher and the script were more than a single effects studio could deliver on its own, thus Dykstra decided to subcontract with many different effects labs.

Much of the organization of this picture was deciding what to do with real actors and sets, what to do in miniature, and what to do in computer-generated images, or CGI. Dykstra determined that the stunts called for were too dangerous for a human stuntman to perform. As a result, many of the film's stunts were "performed" by high-end computer-generated animation. These animated segments were compiled by Dykstra at his Warner Bros. office in Burbank, where he was linked with the firms via real-time digital fiber, letting him judge the quality of each shot as it was being crafted. Dykstra and his crew combined computer imaging from the many subcontracted firms, each firm responsible for a different element (such as lighting, blurring motion, background matte paintings, etc.) of the final composite.

John Dykstra's contribution to cinema is substantial: from the Dykstraflex motion-control camera system utilized in Star Wars , to the computer-generated image animation of Batman Forever , Dykstra has proved himself to be an organized supervisor and an innovative special effects visionary.

—Mark Johnson

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