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Extra and special effects wiz Dan Smiczek – Page 4

Dan Smiczek talks about moving into the special effects biz...

READERSVOICE.COM: What sort of work do you do in the visual effects industry and how did you get started?
DAN SMICZEK: I’ve been very fortunate in the opportunities that I have had in the industry working in many different departments.
My background is one of the more interesting paths. I actually have a degree in Aerospace Engineering. Right after college I spent three years working at various NASA locations (Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena). As soon as I started working in Aerospace I knew it wasn’t for me.
I already had an interest in getting into Visual Effects so I channeled my efforts toward that end. I took a bunch of film classes at UCLA but in the end it really had to do with timing and my technical background. In the beginning of 2000 I was offered an entry level job at Rhythm & Hues Studios doing matchmoving. At the time R&H was best known for winning an academy award for their work on ‘Babe’. There was large need for fast learners and technical people to work on two movies they had in house: “Dr. Dolittle 2′ and ‘Cats & Dogs’.

Matchmoving is basically taking a computer model of one of the animals and matching it in 3D space to what is happening in the actual film plate. That way the animals mouths can be completely replaced and a digital one is added to make it look like they are talking.
I had a lot of success working on ‘Dr. Dolittle 2’ and got placed into a new department for ‘Cats & Dogs’ dealing with fur dynamics and a realistic muscle structure to deform the skin on the fully computer generated animals.
After that project I helped set up a muscle structure on Norbert the dragon for the first ‘Harry Potter’ movie which led to me becoming the lead muscle technical director on ‘Scooby Doo’.
Unfortunately due to September 11th and an ‘almost’ actor strike film production was almost non-existent last summer which meant massive layoffs in the visual effects industry.
But it actually turned out to be in my benefit because I got a job being an animator for ‘Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ at Weta Digital in Wellington, New Zealand. I spent 6 months there having the time of my life!
I highly recommend visiting New Zealand. It is an absolutely gorgeous country. I was offered an opportunity to stay and work on the third film but I needed to get back to the LA industry.

In the end I ended up coming back to Rhythm & Hues to work in the FX department. Basically we are the guys that make stuff blow up. A lot of smoke, fire, debris, tornadoes, etc. This year has been very busy working on ‘Xmen 2’, ‘Elf’, and ‘Cat in the Hat’. Currently I’m doing some crowd simulation work on ‘Around the World in 80 Days’.
Rhythm & Hues has now become one of the largest visual effects houses in the United States, also currently working on ‘Scooby Doo 2’ and ‘Garfield’. There really is no set path to get into this industry…..everyone has a different story which makes for a very diverse working environment.
RV: What are your future plans?
DS: Future plans? That disturbingly sounds like making goals! What fun is that? I’ve found it best to see where the wind blows. You never know what may be right around the corner!
Check out Dan Smiczek’s website at www.adventuresofdan.com