(written from a Production point of view)
John Charles Dyksta, ASC (born 3 June 1947; age 75) is a visual effects (VFX) artist who served as (what was then still called) Special Photographic Effects Supervisor on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, garnering an Academy Award nomination and a Saturn Award win for "Best Special Effects", as VFX were still being referred to at those times.
While working on his classic Battlestar Galactica commission (during which he had formed his Apogee, Inc. company), Dykstra had actually already been approached by Paul Rabwin as one of the VFX companies sought out after the October 1977 decision to upgrade the television series Star Trek: Phase II into the theatrical feature The Motion Picture. However, he had already committed himself and his new company to a follow-up project, the 1980 movie Altered States, so he had to decline on that occasion. (Return to Tomorrow - The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, pp. 46-47)
He was again offered a VFX commission on the movie directly after the February 1979 VFX debacle by his former mentor and just appointed Motion Picture VFX Director Douglas Trumbull. Trumbull was faced with the gargantuan task of recreating all the VFX from scratch for the movie at the eleventh hour, and suggested the company of his former protégé in order to get a head start on VFX production, as he needed time to revitalize his own near dismantled VFX company. At that particular point in time though, Dykstra had to decline again as he and his company were still working on Altered States. However, less than a month later, the movie was taken away from his company and, with no other projects in the pipeline, Dykstra was able to offer the services of his company to a relieved Trumbull after all. (Cinefex, issue 2, p. 51; Return to Tomorrow - The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, pp. 372-374) Dykstra and his team subsequently provided signature contributions for the movie. (see: The Motion Picture: Visual Effects)
Already famed for his contributions to the first Star Wars movie, his arrival on the production was met with enthusiasm by another Motion Piction production staffer, Brick Price of Brick Price Movie Miniatures, "One thing that we all owe Dykstra for is that he gave special effects people star status. I've been doing this kind of work for about 14 years, but only recently have people begun to know who I am. Only rarely have they showed credits for special effects. The thinking was always the argument I got, "We want people to believe. We don't want them to know it was trickery done with mirrors and miniatures and whatever." That's hogwash and it doesn't give much credit to the viewers. They can suspend their reality. Special effects are not phony, and there's only a handful of people in the world who can do them properly." (Return to Tomorrow - The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, pp. 372-373)
An Industrial Design graduate of the California State University, Dykstra started out in the motion picture industry in Douglas Trumbull's VFX film crew on the production of Silent Running (1972), filming studio model effects, being taken under Trumbull's wings. Afterwards, he worked for a short spell at Robert Abel & Associates on their visually groundbreaking commercials.
However, he first achieved fame for his photographic effects work at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) on the original Star Wars movie, having been brought to the attention of George Lucas by Trumbull, and for which he won an Academy Award in 1978. He also earned a special Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy that same year for his development of the first computer-controlled camera system, known as "Dykstraflex", an influential piece of VFX filming equipment, as it became the basis of modern motion control photography, successfully applied for the first time on the Star Wars movie, as well as all the Star Trek films, including The Motion Picture, that have followed suit, until CGI superseded the technique in the late-1990s. Dykstra, along with Don Trumbull, Grant McCune, Bill Shourt, and Richard Edlund, were members of ILM's "Original Twelve" founding VFX staff, who sported prior or later Star Trek production affiliation. (The Making of Star Wars, pp. 51-52, ISBN 1781311900)
After Star Wars, he left ILM, and worked as special effects coordinator and producer for Universal Studios on the pilot movie and its three subsequent regular series episodes of the 1978 original Battlestar Galactica series, winning him an Emmy Award, shared with employee and former Star Trek: The Original Series effects staffer, Richard Edlund. During his tenure on Galactica, he founded his own company, Apogee, Inc., which he operated for fourteen years. It was Apogee, Inc., that Trumbull turned to, in order to help out with the troublesome production of The Motion Picture. With the industry award nomination and win earned for this production as well, Dykstra became a laureate of three major science fiction franchises in only as many years.
While operating his company Dykstra has worked on productions like Caddyshack (1980, with Ted Knight), Firefox (1982), Lifeforce (1985, with Patrick Stewart), and My Stepmother is an Alien (1988, with Tony Jay, Suzie Plakson, Earl Boen and cinematography by Richard H. Kline). In the closing months of 1992, Dykstra closed down his company, turning some of its inventory and the lease of the property over to long-time associate Grant McCune, and started working again on personal title.
Since then Dykstra has worked on the VFX for Batman Forever (1995, with Rene Auberjonois and Ed Begley, Jr.), and Batman & Robin (1997, with John Glover), Stuart Little (1999) and two Spider-Man films (2002 and 2004, both starring Kirsten Dunst and the second featuring Donna Murphy and Daniel Dae Kim), earning Academy Award nominations for all three. After these productions Dykstra changed career direction from producing/supervising VFX to designing them, and as such has garnered more recent credits that included, Hancock (2008), the Quentin Tarantino feature Inglourious Basterds (2009), X-Men: First Class (2011) as well as a second Tarantino movie, Django Unchained (2012).
Star Trek awards
Dykstra has received the following awards and nominations in the various Special/Visual Effects categories:
- 1980 Academy Award nomination for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, shared with Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich, Robert Swarthe, David K. Stewart, and Grant McCune
- 1980 Saturn Award win for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, shared with Douglas Trumbull, and Richard Yuricich
Star Trek interviews
- "The Very Special Effects For Star Trek The Motion Picture" (interview), Herb A. Lightman, American Cinematographer, February 1980, pp. 144-145, 174-175, 193-197
- "Star Trekking at Apogee with John Dykstra", Don Shay, Cinefex, issue 2, August 1980, pp. 50-71
- Return to Tomorrow - The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, December 2014