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Space alien Wak rocks the galaxy as he delights
his friends with a Little Richard impression
complete with an outer space microphone and a
sax solo in Paramount Pictures' new science
Nicholson and his team--which is spearheaded by director of visual effects photography Don Dow, visual effects art director Nilo Rodis, matte painting supervisor Michael Pangrazio, model shop supervisor Ease Owyeung and animation supervisor Bruce Walters--all agree that the most difficult visual in "Explorers" was the creation of an invisible energy force, nicknamed "The Bubble Effect."
"Once the storyboards are drawn, it is up to me to decide what to do with the effects concept," explained director of visual effects photography Dow. "For several scenes, we wanted to create an invisible bubble that could hold an object or a person, an energy force that did not look outlandish or garish, but would be subtle enough to blend with the story. After all, we were dealing with a story about kids in a realistic situation, so the effects couldn't be overpowering."
"How do you picture that which is invisible?" points out art director Rodis, who came up with the concept of the invisible "bubble," tinted slightly bluer than its surrounding space, with a distorted image as background to emphasize the bubble, forming a complete circle of distortion without appearing to be a fake ring around a character floating within.
"At all times," Rodis adds, "we tried to remain faithful to the screenplay and to the director's goals." "What we all appreciated was the challenge Dante gave us when he dropped the script off with us to get our ideas. He did not treat us as an insert factory, but wanted our input on the special effects, including the visualization of the interior of a spaceship." To best stir one's creative juices, Rodis suggests one "close the script and pretend you are in a fun house."
Nicholson has great pride in the work Don Dow did in photographing the various elements for the bubble sequence. Dow notes that special problems were inherent when the bubble had to be photographed in a daylight situation, where it was taken out of a controlled indoor set, that required constant adjustments in volume and color of the bubble. As with all truly great effects, this required painstaking precision.
Besides the innovative bubble visual in "Explorers," Nicholson was supervisor for the effects of three dream sequences, the "zapper" effects and the "spider effects" as well, all of which were in addition to the complex footage of the explorers' spaceship on its galactic adventure.
The "zapper" sequence was the nickname given to a scene where the explorers' spaceship, Thunder Road, enters another ship's interior and in the process goes through a cleansing effect (think of a car going through a car wash, in fast motion). Another sequence involving a gigantic spider (Rob Bottin did the special make-up effects) utilized the stop motion effect, with one frame animated at a time combined with a blue screen showing the children complete with animated shadows, to create the spider's movement. Four separate departments at ILM are involved in each finished visual effect, at all times in constant touch with each other and with director Dante, whom all the ILM personnel found delightful to work with and always receptive to ideas that would enhance the film's impact.