Robert Blalack, a key figure in the world of visual effects, died on Wednesday. His wife Caroline Charron-Blalack confirmed the news to Deadline. He was 73 years old.
Blalack said he specialized in “solving the visual effects requirements of ‘impossible-to-do’ film productions.” He proved this statement to be true on his second film project, a 1977 space opera by the name of star wars.
At 29, he designs and oversees the star wars VistaVision Composite Optical production pipeline, which enabled all of the groundbreaking 365 VistaVision VFX plans in star wars. Much of what he created for the film was built on a (relative) small budget. With a VFX budget of just $1.6 million for the film, Blalack used outdated VistaVision optical composite equipment from Hollywood’s Golden Years that could be used for a song.
“My task was to scavenge Hollywood junkyards for any VistaVision Composite Optical mechanics,” he wrote, “figure out how to upgrade these relics with custom cutting-edge optics, design a photographic process to produce en masse the 365 VistaVision Composites, then train and oversee the Star Wars Composite Optical team.
The result was what he called: “This Rube Goldberg assemblage of old composite printing equipment, state-of-the-art optics and mass-production blue-screen color-difference composite techniques were the backbone of the system. celluloid…subsequently used on all ILM VistaVision VFX composite optics.
Blalack was part of the team that founded Industrial Light and Magic, and again the effort was driven by necessity.
George Lucas wanted state-of-the-art effects for Star Wars, but found that the studio, 20th Century Fox, effectively had no VFX department. So Lucas created his own. He hired John Dykstra and an assemblage of students, engineers and artists, including Robert Blalack.
“We found that building ILM from scratch during production was like jumping out of an airplane and stitching the parachute back together during free fall,” Blalack said at a recent meeting of ILM veterans who worked on star wars.
“We all changed the direction of cinema,” he told the rally. “Thanks to you, visions that were once completely impossible are now within reach.”
The reward was not just creative satisfaction and box office wealth, but a visual effects Oscar for Blalack, Dykstra, John Stears, Richard Edlund and Grant McCune in 1978.
In 1983 Blalack added an Emmy to his trophy case for his work on ABC The next day, a television movie about a nuclear holocaust that captured the public imagination thanks in large part to its visual effects. It has been seen by 100 million people in the United States
His other credits would include a career they would be proud of. They include effects on Carl Sagan’s acclaimed PBS series, Cosmos; transformational visions in Modified states, Wolfen, cat people and RoboCop; and FX serving comedy classics such as Airplane and The Blues Brothers.
Beyond film and television, Blalack has done commercials, theme park rides, multimedia conversations at festivals and universities, and his own Living Paintingswhich were photographic journeys to ancient temples and churches around the world.
Blalack was born in Panama in 1948, attended Pomona College and Cal-Arts.
He is survived by his wife Caroline and his son Paul.
ILM and the Star Wars franchise each posted the same tribute to their Twitter accounts, which read, “We are saddened to learn of the passing of Robert Blalack, founding member of @ILMVFX and key architect of our optical compositing workflow, used for the first time in Star Wars: Episode IV (1977). Robbie’s friendship will be deeply missed and our thoughts are with his wife and son.
It is with sadness that we learned of the death of Robert Blalack, founding member of @ILMVFX and the key architect of our optical compositing workflow, first used on @Star Wars: Episode IV (1977). Robbie’s friendship will be deeply missed and our thoughts are with his wife and son. pic.twitter.com/oPh3z3zbfS
— Industrial Light and Magic (@ILMVFX) February 8, 2022