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The Man Behind the Fancy Camera

Scott Billups, one of Hollywood's most respected digital producers, says he has always been a cameraman--he just uses computers now.


The day the Vietnam draft ended, Scott Billups left college, drove from his upstate New York home to Hollywood, knocked on the door of cinematographer James Wong Howe and asked for a job. Howe, famous for work on films such as "The Rose Tattoo" and "Hud," let Billups sign on as an apprentice.

That started Billups on what has been a 22-year, strange trip through cinematography, documentary and commercial filmmaking, advertising and computer graphics. Now Billups is one of the most respected and requested digital producers and special-effects conjurers in the entertainment business. He runs his primary company, Electric Sandbox Inc., out of his canyon-side home in Pacific Palisades. He's a sought-after second unit director and effects-sequences expert who works on 10 to 15 movies a year, as well as other gigs such as creating tiles for television shows and CD-ROMs.

"I've always been a cinematographer," Billups says. "I just use computers now, and they're really just fancy cameras: You've got your lighting, sets, blocking, characters."

What does Billups say to the people who think special effects are ruining the movies, replacing the art of storytelling with explosions and flames and ever more vivid images of dismemberment and destruction?

"I agree wholeheartedly," Billups responds immediately. "We're starting to rely on effects like a drunk relies on a lamppost--using it for support rather than illumination. So few people use effects well--that's why I'm going to start directing."

Billups is in talks with a couple of motion picture companies for his directorial debut.


Technicity (tek-NIS-i-tee) noun. 1. Technical quality or character; the extent to which a people, culture, etc., has technical skills. 2. A new biweekly column examining how people use technology of all kinds.

Freelance writer Paul Karon can be reached at


Scott Billups

Age: 47

Profession: Director of digital productions and filmmaker

Personal computers: About a dozen Apple Macintoshes, four Silicon Graphics (SGI) workstations and four Windows-based PCs. The computers have an average of about 600 megabytes of RAM each, and altogether a terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) of disk storage.

Favorite software packages: Adobe AfterEffects and Photoshop, Electric Image Corp.'s Electric Image 3D rendering package, Wavefront

Hottest computer: The new Apple Macintosh PCI 9500, a new class of Macs that Billups says is revolutionizing the digital-effects industry: "My SGI machines are just sort of expensive doorstops now."

Grooviest gadget: The Microscribe from Immersion Corp. A fusion of a virtual reality headset and a pen-based drawing stylus in an articulated robot arm that lets the user draw three-dimensional computer-generated objects in real time.

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