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Dreaming The Next Hollywood : How Five Very Different Creative People are Thinking About What's Next for the Movies

March 24, 1996|Patrick Goldstein | Patrick Goldstein's last story for the magazine was about Elia Kazan and the Hollywood blacklist

For a filmmaker like Cameron, the challenge is staying ahead of his audience, who expect each new film to showcase more dazzling high-tech theatrics. "It's a competitive environment," Cameron says. "You can't sell the same car radio to people you could 10 years ago. And it's the same with movies. They want more.

"As a filmmaker, you have to embrace the future. You've got to surf the wave or you're gonna get hammered by it. If I didn't create Digital Domain and learn how to use it, I'd get smoked by some younger guy who grew up with all that. I don't want to be obsolete, so I'm going to lead the charge."

Mark Dippe: Digital Revolutionary

When Mark Dippe was 5, he persuaded his mother to take him to see the 1958 horror classic "The Fly." For him, the film's most unforgettable scenes were the ones in which the hero, cruelly transformed to half-man, half-fly, disposes of his prey by dragging them into coffins.

"For weeks afterward, I obsessed on it," Dippe recalls. "It showed the emotional power of film. I'd lie awake at night trying to make my mind stop, to feel what it was like to be really dead."

"The Fly's" visual effects convinced Dippe that movies could overwhelm your emotions. At 38, he has already used his magic kit--the process of adding computer-generated images to film--to radically alter the cinematic landscape.

Dippe is one of Industrial Light and Magic's special-effects stars, having created effects in "The Abyss," "Terminator 2" and "Jurassic Park."

Influenced as much by artists like Magritte and Cocteau as by Roger Corman, Dippe talks like a hip-hop rocket scientist, full of supercharged lingo about mediocritized experiences, sensory drugs and tweaked emotions.

The digital dinosaurs that awed audiences in "Jurassic Park" are just the tip of the iceberg. "The battle's already over," says Dippe, clad in hipster black from his leather jacket to his well-worn work boots. "The digital revolution has won. Hollywood can be very moribund. But it's also an animal that's always on the prowl for new ideas and energy. And 'Jurassic Park' just tumbled everything. It wasn't the art--it was the numbers. Everyone in Hollywood started going, 'How in the hell did that movie make so much money?' "

When Dippe picked up his phone one day and found ICM agent Bill Block on the other end, eager to fly up to ILM to meet him, "That's when I really knew Hollywood was going to let digital artists become filmmakers--the walls were tumblin' down," says Dippe, now an ICM client.

Dippe, born in Japan to a Chinese mother and an American father, grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. A self-described problem child, he left home at 17 for college, where he spent most of his time watching the psychedelic western "El Topo" and dabbling in experimental video. Stints in electronic painting, animation and 3-D computer graphics followed. But Dippe was still disenchanted by the commercialization of cinema, and in the mid-1980s, he simply dropped out.

"I lived in the woods, barely made a living," he recalls. "I got into a hole in my life. I just refused to use my ideas to further a stupid culture."

When he returned to work, he joined up with some old friends going to work at ILM in the Bay Area on "The Abyss." Once Dippe saw the images he was creating on film, "the old obsession came back--I fell in love with everything all over again." With digital technology, he has found a way to incorporate his dark side in his work. The first film he's slated to direct, later this year, is "Spawn," a cult comic whose brooding hero is murdered but brought back to life and given a chance to redeem himself.

Eager to explore themes of gender and sexuality, issues that "people shut their eyes to," Dippe probably has more in common with young pop rebels like Trent Reznor and PJ Harvey than with his careerist Hollywood peers. He believes these youth culture concerns are shared by young filmmakers everywhere.

"Our culture is far more global than ever," he says. "I meet people in Tokyo or Madrid that I have more in common with than anyone in San Francisco. We're attracted to the same bands, the same art. We have the same pop culture."

Still, Hollywood will only nurture artists if they can reach a broad audience. And having worked on such Velveeta fare as "The Flintstones," Dippe knows how splashy new effects can be co-opted to serve retro storytelling.

"Most digital technology will eventually be just another Hollywood convention, like car chases and women with large breasts," he acknowledges. "But it also can create places that we can't make, creatures or environments that don't have any physical embodiment."

He rubs his hands together, as if molding wet clay. "In the digital world, you don't have to obey the laws of nature. You're playing God. Animals can jump 50 feet high, trees can fall over in any direction, the sun never has to go down. For someone who loves film, it gives you the ultimate high--it frees your imagination.

"When I go to an art museum, I feel like I'm in the hallowed halls of dead men. When art gets codified and deified, it loses its edge. The dispersal of technology frees things. With digital technology, you have an endless amount of originals. It means, so what if someone manipulates a few hundred thousand copies? There are still plenty more originals."

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