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See you at the Movies!


 

Editor’s Note: When I took over the
EBJI in 1984, formerly known as the Berkeley Judo Club,
there was a handful of dedicated students who stuck with
whatever difficult training I could throw at them from
the earliest years. Since that time, one of these
students, Ken Kokka, graduated from high school, went
away for college, came back to UC Berkeley, got a job in
the area, and has been with us throughout all those years.
We have seen him compete nationally at many tournaments,
taking honors and standing on the medal stand at such
tournaments as the U.S. Youth National Championships and
U.S. Senior Nationals. Ken is one of our outstanding
instructors who in his own quiet and unassuming way is a
strong leader for all the students – young and old alike.
In a recent career move, Ken began working in the area of
movie production, and we thought it would be nice to see
how Judo has helped develop fine young men and women who
can excel in many things other than Judo. Here is his
story, the first plateau in what we hope is a long and
illustrious career in the area.


Over the past 20 years, Northern
California has become reknown worldwide for its
innovation and groundbreaking advances in the realm of
special effects and animation for the film and television
industry, signaled in part by the staggering success of
the Star Wars trilogy. For example, recent films such as
Twister, James and the Giant Peach, and Toy Story were
all products of the Bay Area’s special effects wizards at,
respectively, Marin’s Industrial Light and Magic, Henry
Selick’s SF animation house, formerly known as Skelington,
and Pixar in Richmond. Unbeknownst to many East Bay
residents, although certainly not to the special effects
community, another animation and special effects studio
exists and thrives in Berkeley’s West Side – Tippett
Studio, where I recently began working as a Visual
Effects Production Coordinator.

Founded by Academy Award winning
animator Phil Tippett, famous for his work in animation
and modeling for such films as Star Wars, The Empire
Strikes Back, Robocop, and, more recently, Jurassic Park
and Dragonheart, Tippett Studio has experienced massive
growth in the past year as it tackles one of the most
ambitious computer generated animation projects ever
undertaken, Starship Troopers.

Based on the novel by science fiction
author Robert Heinlein and directed by Paul Verhoeven (director
of Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and Showgirls,
among other films), Starship Troopers is being touted as
one of the major releases of 1997. Trailers for ST began
showing in theaters around the country in November of
1996. Science fiction aficionados everywhere eagerly
await its release in November of this year. Although I
cannot reveal specific details about ST as a condition of
my employment at

Tippett Studio, I am confident that it
will be unlike anything ever seen on screen, and I
anticipate a very strong audience response to this
picture. (One hint about our effects: bugs bugs bugs!!!)

Responsible for over 200 effects shots
in ST, Tippett Studio employs a staff of more than 100
animators, compositors, painters and modelers,
rotoscopers, technical directors, producers, editors,
programmers, systems support, and an in-house Film Input-Output
Department. Our work at the Studio is highly technical,
very creative, and extremely computer-dependent. (The
recent January storms make me shudder at the thought of a
shop wide power outage!)

As a Coordinator, my primary
responsibility is to help the creative staff in whatever
ways I can to finish their assigned shots on schedule. At
present, I am coordinating three separate units (each
consisting of an animator, technical director, compositor,
and rotoscoper) that are working simultaneously on shots
varying in length from just a few frames to several
hundred (there are 24 frames in one second of animation).
A single shot may take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months
to complete, depending on its complexity and the nature
of its animation, so it is imperative that the units stay
on schedule if we are to finish on time and on budget.

Every morning we watch the previous day’s
work in dailies and receive our marching orders from Phil
Tippett and Craig Hayes, our Art Director (and a recent
recipient of an Academy Award for Technical Achievement
for his work on Jurassic Park while at Tippett Studio!).
My job is to make sure that my units understand their
assignments, both for the day and in the context of our
overall schedule, and to provide them with the resources
to accomplish those tasks. It can be a difficult task; as
Production Coordinators, we are continually trying to
balance practical concerns with the aesthetic issues that
consume our creative teams. However, it all becomes
worthwhile with each shot that we final for the movie,
especially when I see our work cut into sequence and I
realize, "Wow, we’re really making an amazing movie!"

Although the work days are long and the
pace sometimes exhausting, the people at Tippett are a
diverse and dynamic lot, and the work, while
painstakingly detail-oriented and frustrating at times,
is extremely gratifying. We have another five or six
months of production ahead of us, but I’m sure that they
will pass just as fast as the last six months. Keep your
eyes peeled for Starship Troopers – opening in theaters
throughout the United States in November!

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