Messenger - Vol. 4, No. 2, Page 8
Computer wizardry from 'Forrest Gump' to 'Jurassic Park'

     In his short career in movies, John Schlag, Delaware '81, has
played roles in Terminator II, Star Trek VI, Death Becomes Her,
Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump and Star Trek Generations.You have to sit
through the screen credits to know that Schlag is part of a
production. His face never appears in the movies he helps make, but
his performances are often eye-popping.
     Schlag creates computerized special effects-and supervises the
work of other computer graphic artists-for Industrial Light & Magic
(ILM), a company owned by Star Wars creator George Lucas. During his
four years at ILM, Schlag's been involved with many big-screen hits.
     "When I'm looking at pictures on my computer monitor that I know
will be shown on 50-foot movie screens all over the world, it's
exciting," says Schlag, whose voice becomes as animated as the scenes
into which he breathes life. "But, that puts pressure on me to make
things really good."
     Schlag, who graduated from Delaware with an electrical
engineering degree, worked on Forrest Gump from February through May
1994. He supervised the computerized special effects for crowd scenes
at a football stadium; a war rally in Washington, D.C.; and a Ping-
Pong tournament.
     As a computer graphics sequence supervisor for Gump, Schlag
ensured that production went smoothly for animators and technical
directors. He also was responsible for ensuring that the methods being
used worked and that the shots were completed before the final
     "We have hard and fast final deadlines, and there are no
questions about slipping," he says.
     In addition to his supervisory work, Schlag composited some Gump
shots himself: the opening shot and two others in the football
sequence, and a long shot near the end of the movie in which Gump
walks away from Jenny's grave.
     As a technical director for Jurassic Park, Schlag worked on two
shots in a stampede sequence, including the one where the T-Rex
attacks the Gallimimus, and two shots in the Rotunda sequence where
the T-Rex battles the raptors.
     "These were especially challenging because we knew we'd have a
huge audience, many of whom would be dinosaur nuts, and we had to
create completely believable, breathing, stomping and chomping
creatures," Schlag says.
     "It is definitely fun," he says of his job. "The people at ILM
are the most talented and interesting I've ever worked with. And, it
is fun for the families back East to look at the credits."
     Another aspect he likes about his job is that shows come and go
rather quickly.
     "There are new challenges coming in all the time. Shows run from
a few weeks or a month to as much as six months. I don't get stuck
doing any one thing for terribly long," says Schlag, who worked as a
computer graphics supervisor on Star Trek Generations through October.
     But, his job satisfaction carries a high price tag. There are
many drawbacks: Ten-hour workdays. Longer days when things go wrong.
Tight deadlines and intense pressure because missed deadlines cost
film studios millions of dollars. And, the knowledge that special
effects help fuel ticket sales.
     "If we do a good job, people go to see the movie. And, that's
where the money comes from," Schlag says.
     When asked about his goals, his talk turns personal.
     "My goals? I have a wife and a 2-year-old. My goal is to spend
more time at home with them," Schlag says, emphatically. He lives with
his wife, Marla Camp, and daughter, Indira, in San Rafael, Calif.,
near San Francisco.
     Schlag took off on a motorcycle for California in 1986 after
working for two and a half years at the New York Institute of
Technology Computer Graphics Lab on Long Island. He first became
interested in computer graphics as a graduate student in electrical
engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. There, he
studied computer vision, a process in which a computer is hooked to a
television camera and taught to interpret what it sees.
     Once in California, Schlag worked for 11 months as a software
programmer for a small company called Island Graphics. He left there
to join Macromind, a company now called Macromedia. There, he led the
team that created Macromind Three-D, an animation system that runs on
Macintosh computers.
     A computer buff since his days at Delaware, Schlag started as a
software programmer at ILM, the largest special-effects studio in the
country, in 1990. He was promoted to technical director, responsible
for doing everything to pull a shot together, and then promoted again
to computer graphics supervisor.
     "The great thing about ILM is that you get to do a lot of
different things if you express an interest in doing so," he says.
     ILM's creative leeway varies from production to production, from
director to director. Because effects are exorbitantly expensive, they
are planned out carefully in advance. For films that require
prodigious amounts of special effects, ILM is called into the process
early to hash out with film directors how the shots should look. As a
computer graphics supervisor, Schlag sits in on some of those
     "I feel that my engineering education at Delaware was a great
start," he says. "It definitely put me in good stead for this sort of
                                         -Marylee Sauder, Delaware '83