Patricia Blau is one of those people responsible for the awesome special effects that are part of "Rocketeer," the new comic-book film currently playing at local theaters.
Blau is with Industrial Light and Magic, a division of LucasArts Entertainment, in Marin County, California.
The 35-year-old has been with Light and Magic for almost 13 years. When she began there, the work force was 32. Today, there are 350 people working for the company.
On the telephone, Blau discussed some of the film's special effects, particularly the dummy that is supposed to be the young pilot who finds a rocket pack that allows him to fly.
Early in the film, the character wears the pack that sends him off into the wild blue, and then is dumped into a lake.
"That was actually an 18-inch high puppet with a miniature skeleton inside, one whose hands were fully articulated down to the last finger," she said. "When the pilot lands in the pond, that is really the puppet being dragged on a wire."
There is also a zeppelin in the film. It's called the Luxemborg but is clearly meant to suggest the Hindenberg, the great airship that caught fire on landing at Lakehurst, N.J. in 1937.
"It was a miniature that was only 34 feet long, one 24th of the actual scale of the Hindenberg," said Blau. "Actually, it could have been any of those airships. There were several in use."
Asked if women have any greater difficulty than men succeeding as visual effects producers, she said she didn't think so. "I think that women are temperamentally inclined to be better producers because they are better at dealing with detail," she said. "It's fun to push the envelope."
She went to Syracuse University where she studied painting. When she joined the Lucas firm, she was in the front office, but before long she was into producing. "It helps to have an aesthetic background," she said.
She is aware that the pilot, wearing the rocket pack in the movie, would, in reality, burn his pants off.
"Yes, of course, he'd be toast," said Blau, but this is, after all, a cartoon."
She worked on all three of the "Back to the Future" films and is pretty sure they won't be doing any more of them. "The special effects crew took great joy in destroying the De Lorean. Of course, they only destroyed one. There were others, but I don't think they'll be doing anymore in the series."
Though successful enough, the third "Back to the Future" installment was the least successful of the trio, and Blau may have the answer.
"The second was dense, confusing and a little dark, and I think that turned some of the audience off on the third, which was the best of the three, in my estimation," she said. "You could follow it, and it had great comic content."
She is aware that George Lucas, founder of Light and Magic, has said that he will do three more films in the "Star Wars" series, but she thinks that is more "pipe dream" than reality. "If he does do them, they are five or six years down the road, and if he does do them, he will probably do all three simultaneously," she said.
"He's talking about that, and it makes sense. If you do one then close shop, you have to rebuild all the props for the next. If you do all three at the same time, you don't have to rebuild."
She says she really loves her work. "It's exhausting, high-energy work, but I love it."
Chuck Rickard, who produced "Maxim Xul" locally, reports that the film is now available on video here and in Canada. Rickard says the videocassette print is different from the print that was given a premiere showing at the Senator Theatre. He says that the film has been tightened, the musical score has been increased from 10 to 38 minutes, the film has been rearranged and is now in sequential order, and that on tape, the movie looks far better than it did on the big screen.
Rickard also reports that the producers, John Halvorfen and Jennu Gambert, are forming a new production company that will be located in Cockeysville where they plan to produce several films, among them, "Maxim Xul, 2."
The 1938 "Adventures of Robin Hood" is doing so well at the Senator that management has decided to extend the engagement to July 10. "Regarding Henry," the new Harrison Ford film, will follow. Errol Flynn stars in this "Robin Hood." Turner Entertainment, which supplied the print, reports that the 53-year old classic is doing excellent business everywhere it is being shown.
A "Phan" of "Phantom of the Opera" wants it known that a scenic device used in the production at the Kennedy Center is really a "travellator" and not a crosswalk, and that the "center cluster" of the proscenium is really called "The Angel." She also wants it known that the sparks that fly out of the "pike" the Phantom is holding ("it is not a cane") were used in both the London and the New York versions. They were not "stolen" from "Shogun," she said, as was reported here some time ago.
Another reader wants to know why the special matinee prices are not so special as they were. They are now up to $4, he says. Not so long ago, they were only $2.