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April 2014
Issue: September 1, 2004

VISUAL EFFECTS - SKY CAPTAIN

By: By Adam Remsen

LOS ANGELES - Way back in 1999, George Lucas said that the future of blockbuster motion pictures was in the hands of guys with computers working out of their garages. What Lucas didn't know was that a guy named Kerry Conran had already been making a movie for five years... out of his living room.

Just recently, 37-year-old Conran put the finishing touches on Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, a $70 million movie distributed by Paramount, starring Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie. He is a first-time feature film director with nearly complete creative control and sole writing credit on the film. While something like this happening to a guy like Conran is nearly impossible by Hollywood standards, it is probably the only way this particular film has a realistic chance at success.



Conran did not make the entire movie in his living room; he had the help of over 80 animators, the well-respected Hollywood producer Jon Avnet, animation houses like Industrial Light & Magic and a wheelbarrow of money. But beginning in 1994, Conran was making Sky Captain inside a Mac IIci. Everything, except for human beings, was computer generated by him and him alone. He created nothing short of another world inside an Apple computer that, by today's standards, probably isn't more powerful than a top-of-the-line Palm Pilot. He titled his movie World of Tomorrow - borrowed from the 1939 World's Fair. It was black & white, silent and, after four years of hard work, just six minutes long.

From 1994 to 1998 Conran was devoting all of his spare time to World of Tomorrow. "I kind of disappeared from the face of the Earth," he says. Each night he would send his day's worth of animation to render but was sometimes met with a computer crash the next morning. To solve this problem, he trained himself to wake up every couple of hours and check on the progress. During the day, he would forget to eat in favor of jumping on the computer. Conran's mind was apparently far more involved with the world he was creating than the world surrounding him. "The funny thing is that I wasn't a tech guy, per se," says Conran. "I had always wanted to make films growing up. I was the kid with the Super 8 camera running around in the backyard. The technical side of it was just a tool. It was what enabled this to happen."


Maya and After Effects were the main effects tools on World of Tomorrow.
The money and the manpower arrived after Avnet, producer of such films as Risky Business, George of the Jungle and Inspector Gadget, saw the six minutes and read the script. Jude Law did the same, as did Paltrow and eventually Jolie. All of them sensed something about this homegrown film and put their muscle behind it. "It was different than anything they would have normally seen," says Conran. "It felt a little like a news reel - not in the hokeyness of it, but it had a grittiness and was certainly set in that era. I think some of the imagery I stuck in there is just not stuff you would normally associate with that period and it looked different enough that it was intriguing to them in some regard. They may have also recognized where it came from in terms of the types of films that it was evoking."