DQI turns fanciful into run-of-the-mill

Effects house sees banner 1997

HOLLYWOOD — Smashing the giant guitar at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel, creating an elephant that behaves like a dog, invoking a newer, buffer Mighty Joe Young — it’s all in a day’s work for Dream Quest Images.

Nearly 19 years old, the effects house has concocted more than its share of movie magic, but 1997 was an especially proud year for the Simi Valley-based facility: Two of its films — “Con Air” and “George of the Jungle” — jumped past the $100 million dollar mark.

And like the famous gorilla Dream Quest has resurrected for next year’s Ron Underwood-directed film, the coming year promises to be equally immense.

The success, says executive VP Abdi Sami, hails from the facility’s use of traditional sleight of hand and cutting-edge digital tools. For exam-ple, ” ‘Con Air’ was a great marriage of traditional effects — model miniatures, pryo, stage photography — and computer graphics,” he says.

DQI completed 64 shots for “Con Air,” including the fa-mous Hard Rock catastrophe. That sequence required an 18-foot replica of the 90-foot Fender Stratocaster incorpo-rating over 500 pieces of miniature neon tubing.

For “George of the Jungle,” DQI’s Tim Landry was re-sponsible for the computer-generated version of Shep, an elephant convinced he’s a dog. “George was really the first project that got us heavily into character animation,” says Sami. “It allowed us to do a lot of research and development, and really put us on the path to do ‘Mighty Joe Young.’ ”

“Mighty Joe Young” is cur-rently the burden of senior visual effects supervisor Hoyt Yeatman, who helped found DQI in 1979 after gathering experience on “Close Encoun-ters of the Third Kind” and the first “Star Trek” feature. For the remake, Yeatman created a computer-generated Joe and matched it to a gorilla suit designed by character-design expert Rick Baker.

For certain shots of the enormous ape, he employed forced perspective, in an appli-cation Yeatman dubs “Darby O’Gill in reverse.” A number of shots also called for Dream Quest’s blue screen, which stands at about 50 feet by 250 feet. “There’s a lot of strength in having a large toolbox, where you have stages, a machine shop, electronics department, digital models, basically the whole works,” he says. “I think that’s the best way — to have a hybrid of technologies.”

For Dream Quest, this “toolbox” amounts to about 230 employees, close to 100,000 square feet of space, a computer animation depart-ment, model shop and three stages.

Due out next summer from Disney (which acquired DQI in 1996) is “Armageddon,” the second film to team DQI with director Michael Bay, whose vision they enhanced on “The Rock.” It’s also the fourth partnership with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, following “The Rock,” “Con Air,” and “Crimson Tide.”

Also scheduled for release next year is “Deep Rising,” which will pick up on DQI’s present trend. “In that film,” promises Sami, “you’ll see some new character anima-tion.”

While Dream Quest is rid-ing high, Sami is cautious not to overhype the tricks of his trade. “This past summer, there was a lot of criticism of films that failed because of (poor) visuals. The community forgets that movies are based on good stories, not on good visuals. Certain films have led filmmakers to assume that with tremendous amounts of effects, the film is going to succeed, and that doesn’t always happen.”

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