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John Dykstra (born 3 June 1947) was a producer and Visual Effects Supervisor on the original Battlestar Galactica. Prior to Galactica, he is well known for his work on Star Wars: A New Hope, and later for his work in 2002's Spider-Man.
One of the leading figures in modern film special visual effects, John Dykstra may be most important for his contribution to the unprecedented level of "realism" achieved in such 1970s sci-fi landmarks as Silent Running (1971) and Star Wars (1977). He learned much of his craft collaborating with the legendary Douglas Trumbull at his Trumbull Film Effects. Dykstra was a special effects cameraman and industrial designer working on the intricate space stations required for Trumbull's Silent Running. After a hiatus from entertainment projects, he re-teamed with Trumbull, at the latter's Future General Company, to work on various projects including commercials, theme park attractions and experiments in three-dimensional film-making effects.
Dykstra subsequently served as the first head of Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas's FX company, supervising visual effects photography for Star Wars. Dykstra demonstrated a distinctive flair for designing and photographing complex models and miniatures with such painstaking attention to scale that he could create a convincing illusion of great size and mass.
The memorable opening images of Star Wars, in which immense and multifaceted ships pass over the camera, qualifies as classic Dykstra. He shared a richly deserved Oscar for Best Visual Effects for his efforts (beating out the FX team headed by his mentor Trumbull on Close Encounters Of The Third Kind). Dykstra received another memento from the Academy that year–a Class II Academy Technical Award for the invention and development of the Dystraflex Camera, an important tool in the craft of motion control photography.
Dykstra re-teamed with Trumbull to design the elaborate FX for the artistically problematic but hugely successful Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).
He has since complained that the special effects team got involved in the project so late that director Robert Wise had to film long sequences in which the befuddled actors were shot reacting to special effects that had not even been conceptualized. In addition to undermining the performances, this poor planning served to make the effects stand out rather than blend into the dramatic whole.
Typically, for big special effects-oriented productions, the visual effects coordinator is brought aboard quite early in the production-often before there is even a finalized screenplay–to collaborate with the producer, director, art director, costume designer, director of photography and other behind-the-scenes personnel. Nonetheless, Trumbull and Dykstra shared an Oscar nomination for their collaboration.
Around 1979, Dykstra left ILM to form his own state-of-the-art FX company, Apogee, Inc.
Dykstra's first major project with Apogee was the original Battlestar Galactica, in which he also served as producer. Six months before any actors signed to do "Saga of a Star World", and later the series, Dykstra and his team began working on the series, creating 45 space craft, the Muffit costume, the Ovions, as well as optic effects for the Vipers and Galactica herself. For "Saga of a Star World", over 300 separate FX sequences were created, beating out the number of FX sequences for Star Wars: A New Hope by 15%, prior to their re-mastering by George Lucas. Many of these effects saw multiple reuses through the entire series run.
Apogee has subsequently provided FX for a variety of TV-movies and miniseries including Alice in Wonderland (CBS, 1985), Out On A Limb (ABC, 1987), from Shirley MacLaine's spacey memoir, and Amerika (ABC, 1987). The latter, set ten years after a hypothetical Soviet takeover of the US, featured a memorable sequence–courtesy of Dykstra and Company–in which the US Capitol is bombed.
Dykstra has lent his talents to such diverse film fare as Caddyshack (1980), Clint Eastwood's Firefox (1982), Tobe Hooper's remake of Invaders from Mars (1986), the comedy My Stepmother Is An Alien (1988), two of the "Batman" franchise: Batman Forever (1995) and Batman and Robin (1997); and Stuart Little (1999).
Spider-Man (2002) represented the biggest hit with which he has been associated since the halcyon days of Star Wars.
Dykstra has one daughter, Chloe, also an actress.