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The Body Electric

Alan McFarland, a Hollywood lighting effects wizard, has worked on many geek favorite films including Spider-Man, Men in Black, Star Trek: First Contact, Speed and The Fifth Element just to name a few.

I was lucky enough to meet Alan when I was visiting Vancouver for my visit to the Watchmen movie set. In fact, the first time I met him he was wearing his crew jacket from Star Trek: First Contact (Alan worked on all of the Borg suit lighting).

In a recent interview, McFarland talked about the “Tron” suit actor Billy Crudup while playing the demi-god super hero Dr. Manhattan.

Billy wore a white spandex suit built by Chris Gilman’s team at Global Effects in North Hollywood; it was covered with blue LEDs and tracking markers that would be used in post production to reconstruct his performance in the computer; there were also markers on his shoes and gloves, and he wore a cap with markers as well. These markers were specially encoded to be readable by the computer directly, so that the computer could tell Billy’s left elbow from his right knee. Billy also had a number of carefully calibrated dots on his face to assist in capturing his expressions and dialog.

McFarland had told me during our time together in Vancouver that Crudup, who sometimes appears a bit snarky to the press in interviews, really put a lot of thought into the character. Crudup even once explained to Alan, in scientific terms, why Dr. Manhattan had that blue glow. In the interview, McFarland expounded on Crudup’s take on the role.

Billy saw Jon Osterman as a very tragic character, and portrayed him as such. I was reminded of a passage from the bible: “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul?” That sums up Dr. Manhattan for me. Billy is an incredibly talented actor, and he nailed the Dr. Manhattan pathos very quickly; rarely did anything go past a few takes. 

So what were some of the most impressive Dr. Manhattan scenes that McFarland witnessed while on set?

Personally, I loved the scene where Dr. Manhattan is at the television station.  Fans of the graphic novel will know what I’m talking about. From the standpoint of the most technically difficult scene to pull of with Dr. M, I recall it being in his laboratory when you see four of him.  You see a glimpse of that in the trailer. We had to have Billy plus three other body doubles in identical mo-cap suits to pull that off, and it was very early in shooting Dr. Manhattan, so we were new to the process. It was a real trial-by-fire on that day.

I really enjoyed meeting Alan and hearing all of his great stories when I was in Vancouver. Hopefully, one day soon, I’ll get a chance to speak with him again.

9.30.08 Source: UGO

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