Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)

Richard Edlund (born 6 December 1940; age 80), was a multi-award winning and nominated (including several Academy Awards) cinematographer who has specialized in the various aspects of the creation of visual effects (VFX), encompassing the development of equipment with which to produce them with. Inducted into the "American Society of Cinematographers (ASC)", he has had a long and distinguished career in the field of VFX, spanning nearly five decades and resulting in a multitude of highly successful motion pictures, and which has netted him 13 Academy Award, 11 Saturn Award, 1 President's Award, 4 BAFTA Film Award, 2 Emmy Award as well as 1 Sitges Award wins and nominations.

Around 1965, Edlund got his first professional employment through, what became his life-long friend and mentor Joseph Westheimer (who came across Edlund's resumé at the Hollywood unemployment office) at his company The Westheimer Company, where he was enabled to further hone his skills as a VFX technician, title designer, and producing inserts and opticals (a widely used term for VFX at the time). As it so happened the very first project he was assigned to professionally, was Star Trek: The Original Series. Edlund recalled years later what his duties entailed, "Mostly what I was doing was beaming guys in and out, though I did rotoscope the original Enterprise for the opening credits. It was the only Enterprise flyby they had for at least the first season, and they used it over and over – speeding it up, flopping it left for right...Talk about a show with no time or money. That was one of the things that made me uniquely qualified when Star Wars came along." [1]

Though Edlund has downplayed his role somewhat, he did made a noticeable contribution in the form of his design and execution of the Companion effect in the second season episode "Metamorphosis". (Star Trek Encyclopedia) Apart from this, he also "(...) did the original title design for Star Trek, that they now reused in the latest movie – a kind of corny, angular type style." [2] The title fonts were in use for the regular series episodes, and devised after the production of the second pilot.

Edlund stayed in Westheimer's employment until after the start of the third season in 1968, having also worked in the same capacity on the contemporary television shows The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, The Addams Family (for which he also served as hand actor for Thing in the title sequence), Burke's Law, Wild, Wild West, as well as several television commercials Westheimer was involved with.

Early career

Hailing from North Dakota, Edlund was interested from an early age onward in photography, and has acquired a basic knowledge of cinematographic techniques and systems, while serving in the U.S. Navy and subsequently, after he left the service in 1961, during his stint at the University of Southern California. (Cinefex, issue 2, p. 7). Upon graduating from the University, he started his professional career with his contributions to the Original Series.

In 1968 Richard Edlund left Westheimer to work free-lance as a still photographer and promotional filmmaker for a number of prominent rock groups, during which time he developed his first piece of hardware, a portable guitar amplifier he called the "Pignose". In 1974 he joined the new VFX company Robert Abel & Associates (RA&A). While there, he was an integral part of the team that worked on the ground-breaking opticals for the commercials of the era, the company was involved with, among others for the beverage 7-Up and the clothing brand Levis. An artistic difference of opinion with Robert Abel over the acquirement of a sophisticated piece of cinematographic piece of equipment, Paramount Pictures' VistaVision optical printer (last used for The Ten Commandments), made Edlund decide to resign in 1976.

Though Edlund had resigned, he did not leave in animosity toward the head-strong Abel and retained his respect for him as was evidenced in 1978, when Edlund tried to help out Abel. Abel's company was by then deeply involved with the production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but he was not aware that he was running head-long into a fatal confrontation with the Paramount executives, due to the fact that he was spending far too much of the studios time and money designing and building a massive, interlinked and centrally-controlled camera and optical printer combo unit, while trying to re-invent the process as he did so, running massively over budget and over time in the process. Edlund repeatedly tried to make Abel aware of this, "I admonished him to keep it as simple as possible, because when the release date's breathing down your neck something's going to happen – it always does – and the more complex the system the more difficult it's going to be to fix and keep shooting. I don't know if Bob misinterpreted my meaning, but the end result was so overcomplicated it couldn't respond to changes without two days of re-programming, even though the problem might be something as simple as the magazine on the camera needing more clearance to avoid hitting the spacedock model. [3] Edlund's admonishments fell on deaf ears though.

The ILM years

Upon quitting RA&A, Richard Edlund was not long without gainful employment as he was already sounded out, through John Dykstra, whom he had met at RA&A, by George Lucas to work in the fledging VFX company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), becoming one of its fourteen founding members. As part of Dykstra's VFX filming crew, he was partly responsible for beefing out new techniques, such as motion control photography, to be used extensively for that company's first motion picture, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977). The production earned him (and the others of his crew) as well as the company the very first of the many Academy Awards for VFX that were to follow.

Upon completion of Star Wars Edlund continued working for Dykstra on the productions of the pilot of the original Battlestar Galactica series (1978, earning him and Dystra their first Emmy Award) as well as the movies The Manitou (1978) and The China Syndrome (1979). Helping Dykstra to form his own VFX company, Apogee, Inc. during their tenure on Galactica, he decided not to remain (therefore missing out on The Motion Picture, when it was shotly thereafter offered the commission), but instead opted to heed George Lucas' invitation to rejoin ILM, for the production of the second Star Wars installment, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Promoted to visual effects supervisor, an important responsibility for him entailed the restructure and rebuild of the nearly dismantled company.

Edlund remained in the employ of ILM until 1984, and while the company in those years had produced the VFX for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Edlund was not part of either production team, having worked instead on the concurrent productions of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Poltergeist (1982), and Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983).

Forming Boss Film Studios

Boss Film Studios

Though Richard Edlund "(...) never wanted to become a businessman", he decided to go into business for himself, because he "(...)got into movies because I was a creative person. In order to do the visual effects I wanted to do, I had no choice than to become a businessman." [4] He left ILM in 1983, after the completion of Return of the Jedi, to found his own company, initially called Boss Film Corporation, which, much like ILM, specialized in the production of VFX, the building and filming of studio models in particular. The company's first contributions were for productions like Ghostbusters, 2010 (both 1984), Fright Night (1985) and Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986). In order to kick-start his company into higher gear, Edlund acquired Douglas Trumbull's VFX company, Entertainment Effects Group (with whom he had already co-supplied the VFX for Ghostbusters, 2010 and Fright Night) in 1984, taking over its facility in Marina del Rey and incorporating it into his company to formally become Boss Film Studios (or Boss Films for short) in 1985.

For the next decade-and-a-half, Boss Films became a prolific VFX company that has provided the effects for many motion pictures, quite a few of them blockbusters, such as Die Hard (1988), Ghost (1990), Batman Returns (1992), and Starship Troopers (1997), to name but a few. As visual effects supervisor, Edlund himself was intimately involved with most of his company's 35+ productions. During this era Boss Films became a competitor of note to Edlund's former employer ILM.

While the company was never contracted to work for the Star Trek franchise, many production staffers, especially model makers, who had worked previously on Star Trek (like Bruce MacRae), or would later on work for the franchise (like John Eaves), have at one time or another worked for Boss Films. Most of Gregory Jein, Inc.'s staff, for example have done so, including Greg Jein himself, most notably for the 1990 feature The Hunt for Red October. One of Boss Film's earliest employees was later Star Trek visual effects supervisor Ronald B. Moore, who had already joined the company one month after its inception.

Nevertheless, in 1996, input of the company was required for one isolated incident. During production of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations", Doug Drexler discovered that the Deep Space Station K-7 model made a slow rotating motion in The Original Series episode "The Trouble with Tribbles". The eleventh hour discovery necessitated the hiring of Boss Film's Larry DeUnger to replicate the rotating motion. (The Magic of Tribbles: The Making of Trials and Tribble-ations, pp. 44-45)

Despite having provided the VFX for many successful movies, Edlund announced on 26 August, 1997, the closure of his company, having stated, "We're averaging about $20 million [in revenue] a year, and it's not enough to pay the lease, pay the staff and still make a profit." [5], having added later, "I had to make $300,000/week to keep the company going, which meant big projects footstep after footstep. Whenever I missed a step my reserves would be eaten up quickly. It was a precarious business, but creatively exciting. I kept it going for 15 years and In 1997 I closed the company gracefully." While the competitive environment undoubtedly played its role, it should also be noted that Boss Films adhered to the traditional way of producing VFX, and did not made the transition to newer techniques, most notably computer generated imagery, the way ILM did. Edlund had wanted to, but as he has stated, "It was difficult monetarily to get into the CGI. The sad part was that this photochemical system that I had boot strapped and was worth $10-$12 million, suddenly dropped to 1/10 of its value, while I had to again invest millions in workstations and software. In those days each workstation had to have a 9 gig stack, which cost $30,000 at that time. Now every little hobby camera has 9 gig. You basically had to amortize everything over a 10 month period. You couldn't keep up with it and by 1997 I got out." [6]

Post-Boss Film Studios years

Upon closure of Boss Films, Richard Edlund, continued working for awhile on personal title as a VFX supervisor on projects such as Bedazzled (2000), The Stepford Wives (2004), Anamorph and Charlie Wilson's War (both 2007), as well as on the mini-television series Angels in America (2003). Not in the least discouraged by his experience with Boss Films, he co-founded with Helena Packer-Burnson (with whom he had worked on the latter four productions) in 2011 his second company "duMonde Visual Effects" operating out of New Orleans, Louisiana (located there for the advantageous taxation climate [7]), having produced the VFX for 21 Jump Street and Bullet to the Head (both 2012) since then.

A respected cinematographer, Edlund has served as Member of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Visual Effects Branch) for sixteen years as well as having served on the boards of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), and the Visual Effects Society (VES).

Throughout his long career Edlund not only produced VFX, but also made contribution to the development of the technological equipment with which to produce these, and two of his Academy Awards were "Scientific and Engineering" awards.

External links

Community content is available under CC-BY-NC unless otherwise noted.