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The breakaway D7 class studio model prepared at Abel's.jpg The breakaway D7 class studio model set for destruction.jpg work on the D7 breakaway models at Astra in 1978

Joseph "Joe" William Viskocil (21 December 195211 August 2014; age 61) was an Academy Award winning Hollywood Special Effects (SFX) artist, specialized in the field of pyrotechnics, and who has predominantly worked on theatrical features only as an independent contractor.

Officially, Viskocil has only one Star Trek production credit to his name as "Lead Pyro Technician" for the 2002 film Star Trek Nemesis while employed by its lead visual effects (VFX) company, Digital Domain.

However, he had already worked as such over two decades earlier on the very first Star Trek film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In 1978, he was contracted by Astra Image Corporation, the VFX subsidiary of Robert Abel & Associates (RA&A) – the initial lead VFX company for the film – tasked with the on-screen destruction of the Klingon D7-class vessels as was at that time still envisioned for the film, before the sequence was redesigned by Astra's successor, Apogee, Inc. Model shop supervisor Jim Dow, whose Magicam company created the D7 class breakaway models for Viskocil to destroy, remembered Viskocil's contribution as follows: "Joe Viskocil experimented with a lot of ways of imploding them. He was going to explode them and then Abel was going to do some photographic tricks. Richard Taylor's concept for the experiments was to explode the Klingons, creating a ball of gases, and then implode that.'" (Return to Tomorrow - The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, p. 290)

Not only that, Viskocil also served as a SFX coordinator, known to have worked as such on the Yellowstone National Park site that stood in for the planet Vulcan. (The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, p. 173, and the only known official film reference ever made to Viskocil)

Because of the very troubled relationship RA&A had with the studio, and the fact that the originally-intended destruction sequence was completely re-imagined, both Viskocil and his employer were effectively written out of official Star Trek history after the company was let go pursuant the February 1979 VFX debacle, causing his contributions to that film to become all but forgotten. (See also: main article)

Having been called "the kingpin of model explosion" by VFX colleague and proprietor of Astra's successor Apogee, John Dykstra, (Star Trek: The Motion Picture (The Director's Edition) DVD, audio commentary) Viskocil – albeit unidentified – had, his snubbing notwithstanding, been featured at work in the 1979 promotional documentary The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, though in it he did not provide any spoken commentary himself.


Described by a friend as an amiable and fun character, [1] Joe Viskocil grew up in Covina, California, where his stay at South Hills High School formed his only formal education before he set out to seek a career in Hollywood as a SFX artist, [2] and where the 1974 science fantasy porn spoof Flesh Gordon became his first recorded credit as effects technician, serving alongside studio model maker Gregory Jein. Jein also worked on The Motion Picture, but after Viskocil was let go. However, in a sense both men had worked together again, as the D7 breakaway models were cast from the molds Jein had constructed for the film's immediate predecessor, Star Trek: Phase II.

Learning the trade as he went along, and his less than auspicious stint on The Motion Picture notwithstanding, Viskocil's career had already taken off when he was hired by Industrial Light & Magic for the first Star Wars film outing (1977), the same film that had actually led to the Motion Picture and where the destruction of the Death Star at that film's conclusion had been his most memorable contribution. He was re-hired for its 1980 follow-up, The Empire Strikes Back .

From there on end, Viskocil's skills as a pyrotechnics technician remained in high demand, and he has almost uninterrupted worked on a multitude of films where such skills where required, many of them in the science fiction genre, and many of them becoming blockbusters, including several from director James Cameron. A selection included Ghostbusters and The Terminator (1984), The Return of the Living Dead (1985), the 1986 films Critters and House, the 1988 films The Blob and Remote Control, The Abyss (1989), the 1991 films Barton Fink and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the 1992 films Batman Returns (in the employ of Stetson Visual Services, the company of his former The Motion Picture co-worker Mark Stetson) and Toys (in the employ of Dream Quest Images, co-founded by Hoyt Yeatman and other former Future General Corporation employees, the Motion Picture VFX company that took over from RA&A), Matinee (1993), the 1994 films True Lies and Interview with the Vampire (in the employ of Digital Domain), the 1995 films Johnny Mnemonic and Apollo 13 (in the employ of Digital Domain), the 1997 films Volcano and Alien: Resurrection (along with several Star Trek-affiliated contributors), the 1998 films Godzilla and Armageddon (in the employ of Digital Domain), the 2000 films Scream 3, Reindeer Games, and Battlefield Earth, Panic Room (2002), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), and Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008).

Aside from the various special features on home video releases, Viskocil and his work was also featured on three occasions in the long running Discovery Channel documentary series Movie Magic, "Miniature Pyrotechnics: Baby Blasts" (S01E04, 1994), "Train Wrecks: Crash Course" (S03E08, 1995), and "Prehistoric Creatures and Volcanoes: Cities Under Siege" (S05E06, 1997).

The 1996 science fiction blockbuster Independence Day (featuring Brent Spiner, Bill Smitrovich, Frank Novak, Leland Orser, Raphael Sbarge, Carlos LaCamara, Tim Kelleher, Robert Pine, Randy Oglesby, Erick Avari, and Tracey Walter) turned out to be the highlight of his career. Not only did Viscocil provided the equally memorable destruction of the White House (for which he was ironically not credited as such), but it was for this film that he (co-)received five industry awards nominations of which he won three, including the Academy Award for "Best Effects, Visual Effects", and all of which shared with Doug Smith and Clay Pinney, the former a co-worker from The Motion Picture, whereas the latter became a later Star Trek production contributor.

All in all, Viskocil garnered over eighty motion picture credits to his name, including his three rare television series ones, or as he had put it on his Facebook page, "Been in the movie business for 38 years. But don't hold that against me! I've loved every minute of it. And I'm very lucky to say that!"

In 2014, Viscocil died in a Los Angeles hospital from complications of liver and kidney failure. [3] At the time of his passing, Viscocil was working on the horror film The Prey, posthumously released in 2018.

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