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Visual Effects Wizard Richard Edlund Receives ASC Tribute

Richard Edlund, ASC will receive the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Presidents Award in recognition of the contributions he has made to the art and craft of filmmaking. Edlund will be feted by his peers during the 22nd Annual ASC Outstanding Achievement Awards celebration here at the Hollywood & Highland Grand Ballroom on January 26, 2008.

Edlund has earned four Academy Awards® for his visual effects work on Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Return of the Jedi (1984), and six additional nominations for Poltergeist, 2010, Ghostbusters, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, Die Hard and Alien 3. He has also earned three Scientific and Engineering Awards. Earlier this year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented the coveted John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation to Edlund in recognition of his significant contributions to the organization.

“If the film industry was Camelot, Richard Edlund would be Merlin,” says Russ Alsobrook, ASC, chairman of the organization‘s Awards Committee. “Richard is an innovative artist who created magical visual effects for many memorable motion pictures.”

Edlund has also earned an Emmy® for creating visual effects for the original television miniseries Battlestar Galactica, and an additional nomination for Mike Nichols‘ Angels in America. He has created seamless visual effects for such memorable films as Fright Night, Solarbabies, Ghost, Species, Multiplicity and Air Force One.

“Visual effects artists generally don‘t get the recognition they deserve because the illusions they create, if successful, are transparent,” says ASC President Daryn Okada. “Richard Edlund is an ASC member who continues to contribute to the progress of visual effects from purely photographic methods to today‘s digital techniques. He uses his cinematographer‘s eye in the creation of his work. He has earned the respect of our members for his artistic achievements, role in developing new technologies, generosity with knowledge, and collaborative spirit.”

Edlund joins a diverse and distinguished group of recipients of the ASC Presidents Award. They include actor Robert Duvall; visual effects pioneers Linwood Dunn, ASC, Hans F. Koenekamp, ASC, Douglas Trumbull and Howard Anderson, Jr., ASC; Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown; Panavision camera designers Tak Miyagishima and Albert Mayer, Sr.; documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles; archivist and ASC historian Kemp Niver; and cinematographers William Clothier, ASC, Charles Wheeler, ASC, Guy Green, BSC, Ralph Woolsey, ASC, Richard Moore, ASC, Woody Omens, ASC, and Gerald Hirschfeld, ASC.

Edlund was born in Fargo, North Dakota. He spent much of his youth in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and Montebello, Califorina, where his father was in the truck body business. A high school teacher taught Edlund how to take still pictures. By the time he was 15, his high school sports photos were regularly published by the Los Angeles Examiner.

He enlisted in the U.S. Navy after completing his high school education. After training at the Naval Photography School, in Pensacola, Florida, Edlund was assigned to a base in Japan. His interest in cinematography was sparked when he discovered a Mitchell high-speed movie camera in a storeroom at the naval base. A Marine sergeant took Edlund under his wing and trained him to shoot high-speed motion pictures.

“The experience I got in the Navy was my basic education in filmmaking,” Edlund says. “The sergeant advised me to apply to the film school at the University of Southern California (USC) after I completed my tour of duty in 1961. I took his advice and enrolled at USC.”

After completing a grueling three-year program at USC night school in two years, Edlund went to work for Joe Westheimer, ASC, a pioneer in the visual effects industry. The Westheimer Company was an optical house, which provided visual effects services.

“I spent five years with Joe Westheimer,” Edlund recalls. “He was brilliant and more than willing to teach me everything he knew. It was also an opportunity for me to meet many great cinematographers, who taught me how important it is for visual effects to be invisible to the audience.”

In 1968, Edlund became a rock-and-roll photographer, shooting many groups for publicity and posters, including at least 15 record album covers. Between photo assignments, he shot experimental films and invented Pignose, an amplifier used by guitars players. Then Robert Abel lured Edlund back to Los Angeles in 1973 to work with him while he was pioneering the use of motion control technology to create television commercials.

“We did everything in-camera,” Edlund recalls. “It wasn‘t unusual for us to run the same negative back and forth through the camera 150 times. We were able to create very dense, rich-looking images. Bob Abel changed the state of the art.”

In 1975, John Dykstra recruited Edlund to join the special effects team that he was assembling for a new, Los Angeles-based special effects company called Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Their mission was to create visual effects for Star Wars.

“I remember reading the words ‘trust in the force‘ in the script for the first time, and worrying, trying to visualize how we could help George make the audience feel what that meant. It was like learning to think in a new language with infinite possibilities. I learned there aren‘t any unbreakable rules. You have to trust your instincts. That‘s what makes it an art.”

Edlund became an ASC member in 1981, on the recommendations of Westheimer, Linwood Dunn, ASC and Harry Wolf, ASC. “It‘s an honor I hope to live up to,” he says.

Edlund subsequently moved with ILM to Marin County, in Northern California. He was supervisor of visual effects for the next two Stars Wars films, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Poltergeist. He decided to move back to Los Angeles and had a meeting with Trumbull at an industry luncheon in 1983. On Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Trumbull had established Entertainment Effects Group (EEG), a cutting-edge visual effects company in Marina del Rey, but he was ready to move on to another venture. Edlund agreed to take over and completely rebuild the 65 mm visual effects facility, and subsequently renamed it Boss Film Studios.

Boss got off to a flying start in 1984 with Edlund earning visual effects nominations for two hit films, Ghostbusters and 2010. The new facility pioneered the evolution of hybrid visual effects in 2010 by integrating digital images of Jupiter taken by a NASA space probe into a scene of a spaceship approaching the planet.

Under Edlund‘s leadership, Boss Films Studios created visual effects for another 40 major motion pictures through 1997, including Legal Eagles, Masters of the Universe, Cliffhanger, Batman Returns, Last Action Hero, Waterworld, Heat and Starship Troopers. Since 1998, Edlund has concentrated on creating visual effects for pictures he believes in one at a time. The journey continues. He‘s working again with Nichols on Charlie Wilson‘s War, which is slated for release in December.

The ASC was chartered in 1919. The primary purpose of the organization is to advance the art and craft of filmmaking. There are some 290 members today with roots in many different countries, and 150 associate members who work in ancillary sectors of the industry. For more information on the ASC Awards, visit