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About The Visual Effects
Director Joe Johnston is no stranger to visual effects in films. The veteran director has helmed a number of films that required a large number of visual-effects shots (including "Jurassic Park III” and "Jumanji”). In addition, before he became a director, Johnston won an Oscar® for his work in creating the visual effects for the classic "Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But Johnston, also the director of the more intimate drama "October Sky,” was determined that "Hidalgo” would blend the best of both worlds. With his experience on "Raiders,” Johnston was determined to shoot "practicals” whenever possible – and rely on visual effects only for those shots that required them. Johnston originally planned only 70 effects shots for the film, and though that number would triple in the end, it would still mean that "Hidalgo” had less than half the number of visual effects shots of most action films and one-tenth as many as a visualeffects- heavy film. For those elements, the filmmakers turned to Industrial Light & Magic's Tim Alexander, who served as visual effects supervisor.

"In pre-production meetings with Tim, I gave him an unusual directive: I didn't want anyone coming out of the theater saying what great visual effects they'd just seen,” says Johnston. "Tim knew exactly what I meant. The best visual effects are the invisible ones, effects that blend seamlessly with reality.”

"What I'm proud of is that out of 215 shots, there's less than 20 that you might notice as being CG – the sandstorm, the locusts, the leopards – and even those, hopefully, don't stick out like a sore thumb,” says Alexander. "The rest are composites and bluescreens, and if we're doing our job right, you won't even notice that those shots have been worked on at all.”

"A large part of ILM's work in ‘Hidalgo' was in helping the desert become a character in the film,” says Johnston. "One reason I wanted to shoot the film in a widescreen format was to surround the characters with the terrible beauty of the desert landscape. The desert is always there, reminding us of the hostile environment of the race. But unfortunately, in moving an army that speaks five languages, it's difficult to control all the troops. One of the biggest effects jobs in the film is making the desert pristine and unscarred, using computers to remove tire tracks, distant trucks, tents and horses, even contrails from passing planes.”

Alexander's job began during production, when he was able to use daily film footage and still photography to show Johnston what certain shots might look like after they were completed months down the line. "We could take video from the video tap – they were using mini-DV tapes – and I could just import that to my Mac. I could actually get moving footage of what we actually shot on my computer and mock things up that way. Other times, we would go out on a scout, and we would take still photos and come back and show Joe the still photos. In general, it made us really wellprepared,” Alexander says.

Upon returning to ILM, Alexander and his team – Sylvia Wong, Robert Weaver and Eddie Pasquarello – turned their attention to the film's three major visual-effects sequences – the sandstorm, the locusts, and the leopard chase. "At first, we didn't know what we wanted the sandstorm to look like,” he says. "But then, there we were in Morocco, and we went through quite a few real sandstorms. It turns out that in real life, they're very amorphous – there's no edge to them; you just get foggy-looking and the light blooms out. At first, that was our original concept for the sequence, but Joe made the decision that it wouldn't work for the storytelling that way – he said, rightly, that it would be better for the story if the storm came in like a wave, rather than a shapeless blob. Still, we wanted to do something different, so we latched onto the idea that we would see the internal motion of the wave, giving the idea that the sto


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