INSIDE ILM: TALKING WITH DAVID WEITZBERG – HE BLOWS THINGS UP IN STAR WARS
THE COMPUTER GRAPHICS SUPERVISOR ON HIS EARLY INSPIRATIONS, WORKING ON STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, AND MORE.
Inside ILM is a feature in which StarWars.com talks to the gifted folks — many unsung — at Lucasfilm’s legendary visual effects house Industrial Light & Magic. Here, we’ll discuss their career paths, experience, and unique contributions to a galaxy far, far away and film in general.
As a young kid growing up in Potomac, Maryland, David Weitzberg was interested in computers and photography, but it was Star Wars that really drew him into the world of special effects. Years later while studying computer science at MIT, Weitzberg traveled across the country to California to start an internship with the company whose work had captivated him. Fast forward, and Weitzberg is now a 19-year veteran of Industrial Light & Magic, living in San Francisco with his wife and three children. StarWars.com sat down with Weitzberg to discuss his start at ILM, his contributions to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the newest additions to the missions in Star Tours, and most importantly, explosions.
(Note: Weitzberg often refers to films as “shows.” That’s how we talk in the biz!)
StarWars.com: Let’s start with a brief history of how you came to ILM. What drew you to the movie industry and ILM specifically?
David Weitzberg: Like a lot of people here, I grew up liking Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Amblin movies, and those kinds of things. I was always into computers and photography and it was really in high school when Jurassic Park and Terminator came out that I saw this path of being able to do it [special effects] and got excited and kept learning more about it. I was always into “behind-the-scenes” as a kid. My parents recorded Star Wars off the TV with an hour “Making Of” special, and I used to watch the beginning of the movie because it was exciting, skip through the middle with the slow dialogue parts, and then watch the final battle and the “Making Of,” over and over again. I started reading and learning a lot more of the making of visual effects and found it was something that I really wanted to do. I went to MIT for computer science, to get a technical background. While I was there I came to ILM for an internship. There’s a lot of us interns that came back and stayed. I was here in ’96 and I worked on Mars Attacks, went back to school, got my degree, turned back around and came right back.
StarWars.com: What was your internship for?
David Weitzberg: It was an introduction to visual effects, I learned how to work within the ILM pipeline to create shots that went into the finished movie. I worked directly with [Star Wars: The Force Awakens visual effects supervisor] Roger Guyett, who was Mars Attacks’ computer graphics supervisor. I helped out and learned as much as I could. And it was very cool as a college student to be able to see my work in a movie.
StarWars.com: What did you start out as when you came back full-time?
David Weitzberg: I was an assistant technical director, now called “pipeline technical director”, where I assisted the CG supervisor and helped with the day-to-day running of the show. We wrote scripts and tools and fixed any technical problems that artists had. Anything that’s not working, you figure out how to fix.
StarWars.com: Your title right now is supervising technical director — what does that mean?
David Weitzberg: My title varies from show to show. Mostly, I’m a computer graphics [CG] supervisor, which means I’m in charge of all the technical aspects of the show. The visual effects supervisor is the creative lead and she/he is responsible for getting the right images to the client. As a CG supervisor, you figure out technically how to do all of that and make sure that we have enough disk space, enough processors, and a lot of things that you don’t really think about but are necessary to get the job done.
StarWars.com: So the prequels were announced in ’94, and you started in ’96. Was that kind of a driving force for you for wanting to come back to ILM?
David Weitzberg: Absolutely. When I was an intern, they were shooting the Special Editions at ILM. I still remember seeing the actors in costume walking around and the filming call sheets. There was just something really magical about being here and seeing a Star Wars call sheet. At the time, too, just when I was finishing up school, I could have stayed in school and focused more on graphics research but the prequels were coming and at the time the technology in the industry was moving much faster, and I wanted to get in as soon as I could. I came back here and worked on Episode I — I think it was the second or third movie I worked on when I got back.