It was 1977. I had started working in the motion picture industry 4 years prior. I was volunteering for educational organization called est, which stood for Erhard Seminars Training. One of my co workers was a man named Paul Roth (who is an amazing coach). One day Paul came up to me and verified that I had film experience and told me he might have a job for me. I was unemployed at the time so I said sure, whenever and whatever. Six weeks later he invited me to be hired on for a small, science fantasy movie he and a bunch of other CalArts grads were working on called “Star Wars”.
I came in and met the man who would be my department head and supervisor, Robbie Blalack, also an Academy Award and Emmy winner. My job was called “Optical Line Up”. (My screen credit reads “Assistant Optical Cameraman”). I showed up, six days a week, for eleven hours a day at a warehouse in Van Nuys California. I was working in the same room with the optical printer which did the effects for the original “Ten Commandments” starring Charlton Heston. It was heaven.
The place was cavernous and inhabited by all young people. We watched old WWII dogfight footage, which was edited into the work print in place of the x-wing and tie-fighter footage that we hadn’t created yet. It was a young small raggedy crew of college misfits who didn’t think anything couldn’t be done. They believed they could do anything. In order to get to my work area I had to pass through a vacuum chamber to remove the dust from my shoes and outer clothing.
For every shot there was twelve to sixteen (and sometimes more) film elements . Three different film elements for the red, green, and blue registers. Hold out mattes to give the models solidity, engines, lasers, planets, and stars! Miles and miles of stars moving this way and that to give the ships motion. Every single effect had it’s own set of film elements. My job was to conform each element and “line it up” in relation to the other concurrent elements and then to draw a road map for the camera operator to follow.
It was like playing three-dimensional Chinese checkers! I would sit down at 7 a.m. and look up hours later with no track of time passing. I loved it! Every now and then I would bump into a little bearded guy around the coffee machine. He never spoke much but I’d always say “g’mornin” to George Lucas and he always nodded back and smiled. It was during this time when I first started taking pictures. I asked the two guys there who looked most like experts because the were always on the stage shooting the models. Both John Dykstra and Richard Edlund were always open and available to me. They started me on a Nikon path, which I followed for the next 37 years. (I now shoot with an Sony A7 mirrorless camera) I bought my first manual film camera used, (Nikkormat EL that I was told belonged to Sonny Bono) and shot everything and everyone I could. This is a picture of Richard Edlund working his way toward his first of FOUR Academy Awards. Yep, He’s won FOUR of them.
These are all the B&W pictures I took of the original Star Wars models. Taken on Kodak Tri-X Pan film. The original photos were of the models alone. The wonderful and expert compositing was done by my good friend and mentor A.D.Wheeler who specializes in Travel Photography, “Abandonescapes” and “The Art of Decay“. Please appreciate his artistry at www.explorographer.com.
These prints are one-of-a-kind originals. Available for purchase and download by clicking on any of them.
They are available with or without compositing and in a couple of different background configurations, in multiple sizes, and can be signed in the limited edition per request. These are truly one-of-a-kind. Feel free to reach out to me from the “contact” button at the bottom of the page.
I’ll close here by saying that I live a blessed life. I have seen all my rock and roll heroes, from the Beatles and Rolling Stones to Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. In late 1977 I got hired to work on a small campy science fantasy movie that not only became the most successful movie in history, but a cultural phenomenon that changed the face of the movie making business forever, and influenced generations of young people to reach for their dreams. I am honored and humbled to count myself among the people who made that happen.