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VENTURA COUNTY FOCUS | THOUSAND OAKS

Dad, Son Have Effects-ionate Relationship

January 09, 1998|ROBERT GAMMON

Imagine this list of things to do:

1. Go to Mexico for a year.

2. Help construct a small city in about 100 days.

3. Build the biggest movie-replica ship in history (longer than two football fields and weighing nearly 2 million pounds).

4. Sink it.

For Thomas "Tommy" Fisher, 56, of Thousand Oaks and his 30-year-old son Scott, who lives in Simi Valley, the mission was to work their special effects magic on director James Cameron's current box-office smash "Titanic."

"Just the size of everything in 'Titanic' was amazing," said Tommy Fisher, who has worked in special effects for more than three decades and was nominated two years ago for an Academy Award for another Cameron film, "True Lies."

"It's the only time I ever worked on a movie where we had to build everything from the ground up, including a studio, before making the movie."

The result is 3 1/2 hours of eye-popping special effects, including a 90-minute climactic sequence that ends with stunt actors plunging 100 feet as the last of the giant ship dives into the sea.

Some of the movie's effects were created by sexy new computer-generated enhancements currently in vogue in Hollywood. But the Fishers toil in the "old art" of physical effects.

Working in Rosarita, Mexico, where much of "Titanic" was filmed, the father-and-son team coordinated crews and built a massive studio that housed up to 1,500 people at a time.

And they constructed the skeleton replica, 90% of scale, of the 825-foot "unsinkable" ocean liner that was sunk by an iceberg in the North Atlantic more than 85 years ago.

"Tommy's about the best there is, as far as making up the biggest rigs that have never been done before," said Rob Legato, who as visual effects supervisor coordinated the computer enhancements for "Titanic."

Legato, who also works for Digital Domain in Santa Monica, added that the Fishers' expertise and attention to detail--from devising a set that sinks on cue to engineering a 70-foot poop deck that rises to a 90-degree angle--made it easier for his computer-graphics team.

"It's pretty staggering what [the Fishers] have been able to do," said Legato, who also worked on the blockbuster "Apollo 13."

These engineering feats are helping generate box office receipts for the most expensive film ever made, Legato said. In just its first three weeks of release, the film grossed more than $150 million nationwide. Still to come are international revenues and video sales.

Spending a year in Mexico, about 50 miles south of Tijuana, wasn't bad for the Fishers, especially since Tommy Fisher's wife, Paula, also worked on the project, keeping track of financial records.

"We really got along pretty good," said Paula Fisher, standing in their two-story Thousands Oaks home. "We have a good relationship."

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