IMAX reveals secrets of movie magic Tricks: Evil alien ships, stampeding elephants and R2D2 invade the Science Center in a vivid film about special effects.

July 16, 1996|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

Like explosions? Space invaders? Three-hundred-pound basketball players?

Your latest special effects blockbuster may feature one or two of the above, but rarely all three.

The Maryland Science Center IMAX's latest presentation, "Special Effects," solves that problem and is the ultimate antidote for special effects fanatics as well as average moviegoers who can't help but think, "How did they do that?"

Such special effects wonders as "Star Wars," "Jumanji" and the recently released "Independence Day" are used as stunning study guides.

Showing how special effects are created is the theme of the movie, for which Baltimore native Kelly Tyler was an associate producer. The panoramic, kaleidoscopic, overpowering film threatens, with dizzying aerial cityscapes and nasty asteroids, to suck you in or knock you out at any moment.

The film presents the art of special effects as a multidimensional skill, requiring artistic ability, proficiency in film history, divine perception, patience, creativity and in the case of explosion experts, a knowledge of chemistry.

Facts on perception, motion and perspective add to the full effect. The way we process information and subconsciously check for reality cues when we view such screen creations enhances appreciation of the skill it takes to create convincing effects. And the potentially ho-hum requisite IMAX educational aspects are conveyed with color and style.

The "Independence Day" mother-of-all-ships really looks like a huge gray cookie; the Millenium Falcon never actually moved; Shaquille O'Neal, shown in clips from his coming movie "Kazaam," pedals an airborne bicycle with computer assistance. These are only a few of the facts that will make you look twice.

Even more fascinating than the effects themselves is the tedious, careful process by which they are produced. A Jumanji elephant goes from observation of a real specimen at the zoo, to a series of computer sketches, to a full-scale, three-dimensional, digital elephant.

Narrated by John Lithgow, the film has an engaging, conversational levity. Various vintage shots of early special effects (conical rockets hanging from wires, stiff-flying superheroes) add a "man, we've come a long way" touch.

The effects artists are screen naturals. Charming mad scientists of sorts, they troll through sets of intricate, mini-skyscrapers, enthusiastically discuss the finer points of the perfect controlled explosion, and transform paint cans and spray bottles into alien communities. They take their unique line of work seriously, and perform it with genius and gusto. They're also quick to tell of the particular movie or effect that turned them on to the profession.

And what special effects anthem would be complete without an homage to "Star Wars"?

Enticing, storm-trooper-saturated previews of the coming 20th anniversary "Star Wars" movie are shown for more "wow" responses, as a scene is constructed layer by layer, from live action to computer. And R2D2 and C3PO take a nostalgic walk through a room full of Star Wars memories

Now, some may worry that actually seeing how those fantastic images are brought to life may rob the movies of their magic.

Not likely. What it does do is remind one of the oft-forgotten magic of human imagination and determination.

Now that's special

What: "Special Effects," a 45-minute film

Where: Maryland Science Center

When: Through Jan. 9; summer hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9 a.m to 7 p.m. Friday-Sunday

Cost: $9 for adults, $7 for children (includes admission)

Pub Date: 7/16/96

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