I guess I’m not really into blockbuster sci-fi (probably because I don’t understand the scientific part of it) and I prefer the special effects to be of a more subtle persuasion. Hey, don’t get me wrong – I loved the spaceships, light-sabres, the jump into hyperspace and that amazing one-take shot of Alderaan being blown up by the Death Star in the original Star Wars movie, but all of those things appealed to me because the story itself had heart and was more fantasy than actual sci-fi. The idea of one all-powerful force controlling everything, and good triumphing over evil... Well, that’s the ultimate fantasy, isn’t it?
But what I really want to talk about here is the company that was created to do the special effects for that movie: Industrial Light and Magic. Once upon a time I had a dream to run away from high school, stow away on a ship to America, hitchhike to California and throw myself at the feet of George Lucas, show him my art portfolio and beg him to give me a job building models and creating galaxies at ILM.
I didn’t, of course, but several years later – when I had been a working girl for some years – I bought a beautiful book on the first ten years of ILM, with glossy, double-page fold out photos of some of their most memorable creations. What a feast it was! Unfortunately it turned into a feast of another kind when a colony of termites ate their way up through the floor in my subterranean cottage and gobbled up two thirds of the bottom shelf of one of my bookcases, but that’s another story...
Perhaps one of the most fascinatingly subtle things I ever saw, with regard to ILM, was a documentary on the making of Robert Zemeckis’ 1988 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Among many other subjects touched on in the doccie were the before and after shots of the first time we see Jessica Rabbit singing in the nightclub.
Like the rest of that movie, the scene was animation mixed with live action. The first shot showed the animated Jessica in her sexy dress, as she moved about the stage, captivating her audience – in particular the Toon-hating character played by actor Bob Hoskins. That original scene was fine as it was, but what captivated me the most was the same shot after ILM had done their stuff on her. Subtle as the wave of a fairy godmother’s wand, Jessica’s skin gained the lustre of live flesh, just as her dress and hair acquired a gleam and a sparkling sheen that had been absent before. Suddenly she was a fully-rounded, fleshed-out character who dazzled the eyes of all who watched her, to the exclusion of all else.
Now that’s what I want in my writing – a dusting of light and magic!
Someone once said that it takes hard writing to create easy reading, and I am certainly finding that to be true. Like the unseen heroes of ILM, it can take a writer months of industry to build up an effect that is over in a moment, but hopefully remains forever etched in the memory.
In Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft he mentions two desirable concepts that all writers should strive for in their work: page-turn-ability and resonance. The first keeps the reader involved while they’re actually reading, but the other stays in their memory after the book is finished, and encourages them to buy the next book by that author.
Not since the invention of Guttenberg’s printing press has it been this easy for just anyone to write and publish a book. In this day of easily downloadable e-books, anyone can get their first book read by someone. The real test is whether that someone comes back to buy the second one.
Ah well, back to the writing. Now where can I find that magic ILM wand?