INDUSTRY INSIDER Lorne Peterson
Lorne Peterson talks with Hina Pandya about models and their importance in film and VFX
The ILM chief model maker talks creating effects for Indiana Jones and George Lucas
Visual effects all started with models – actual models that were welded, crafted, sculpted and sometimes hammered together and Lorne Peterson is possibly the most skilled having worked on more than 42 movies in his career, taking scripts and devising ways to enable the story to come to life in the most realistic ways possible.
Although Lorne began his career on his knees applying small pieces of tape to the Death Star for Star Wars – A
New Hope, he explains that there are many times in a movie you may not see or even are aware that the skill of the highly talented model shop is involved on a shot – it’s that realistic. Take for example Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, in it is a shot of a small airplane clipping the top of a snowy mountain with its landing gear – you may not be able to see it but the airplane is on two wires. The wingspan of the airplane stretches to just under a metre and it weighs very little.
If the wheel actually did hit the snow it would jiggle and ruin the shot and “look oddball”, says Peterson, and explains that a solution needed to be found to enable the clipping in the snow.
Sketching out the solutions to share with fellow creators, he came up with a balloon illustrated very clearly in the drawing. “There’s an escape shoot and an arrow down, so if the balloon just blew up it would blow the snow and look like an explosion happened,” he explains, but that’s not what the shot required, “the wheel barely hits so we needed just a little puff of snow.”
In order to get the puff of snow the majority of air, the simple drawing belies a mini complex chain reaction; when the balloon pops because a sewing needle is attached to the wheel, the needle goes into the snow.
“It pierces the balloon and the majority of puff of the balloon pressure released goes down a little but goes up which is the way it’s supposed to work,” so the airplane wheel actually goes through a puff of light snow but without actually hitting the snow because it punctures the balloon ever so slightly a fraction of a second before the wheel hits – preventing the awful jiggle.
As Peterson affirms, “You’re doing the shot, it is a lovely aeroplane, but that’s not the object, the object is to get a good shot and make it work right.” It’s one of the things a model maker does, he says, not simply sitting at a desk, handing over the model, it’s actually a whole process, planning for every eventuality.
In every movie Lorne has ever worked on the preparation is paramount to cost, timing and crew, “No-one ever sits there and claps and says ‘wow that was a brilliant idea!’ if things go wrong that would be a big deal, if things go right everybody goes onto the next shot.”
It is far more likely that the films out there have much more going on than just CG.
JOB TITLE Chief model maker Location San Francisco, CaliforniaWebsiteIlm.comBiography Lorne Peterson is an Oscar and BAFTA award-winning model maker. Starting in visual effects on the first Star Wars movies in 1975 he was pivotal in the growth and development of ILM Model Shop, and has pioneered many processes to enable the best visual effects to appear on our screens for more than four decades. Portfolio highlights• Star Wars: Episode IV – ANew Hope, 1977• Star Wars: Episode V – TheEmpire Strikes Back, 1980• Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1980 • Star Wars: Episode VI– Return Of The Jedi, 1983• Jumanji, 1995• Men In Black, 1997• Star Wars: Episode I – ThePhantom Menace, 1999• Star Wars: Episode II – AttackOf The Clones, 2002• Mission Impossible III – 2006 • Pirates Of The Caribbean: AtWorld’s End, 2007