I Am Number Four: Special FX Supervisor Bill George Talks with TMRZoo.com

In a “Virtual Roundtable” with Industrial Light and Magic Visual Effects Supervisor, Bill George, I and other critics got to chat with Bill online for two hours on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at noon, Eastern time.

Unlike the in-person roundtable interviews with Jodie Foster and Michael Moore, I don’t know if I am (or was) #4, #5 or 007! …but here is some of the interview along with a review of the terrific DVD release of I AM NUMBER FOUR.

Joe Viglione: Having worked on films with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest), Alfonso Cuaron (Prisoner of Azkaban), Richard Donner and others, are you left to your own devices or does each director have a different need and make different demands?

Bill George: We don’t work in a vacuum here at ILM. We always adjust our shot style to match whichever director we are working with. Our goal is to have our work fit seamlessly into third film without standing out.

Joe Viglione: With a sequel planned, did you have a variety of different effects that you wanted to keep in reserve for the next film?

Bill George: Nope. We went all out on this one. However, I was very excited about the idea of flashbacks where we get to see the destruction of Lorian. That was in the first script I read but was omitted. That is something I would love to see!

We’ll get to the film adaption after I digress about the first I AM NUMBER FOUR novel (of what is scheduled to be six in the series) by Pittacus Lore – allegedly the nom-de-plume of James Frey and Jobie Huges (think sci fi writer Eando Binder, the combined names of the late brothers Earl Andrew Binder and Otto Binder – thus, the “E” and “O” Binder – of the Adam Link robot series.) Readers of TMRZoo probably recall the author “Penelope Ashe” who wrote Naked Came The Stranger…a racy book written by about 24 writers under one name…well…I’ve not read this book, but the film I AM NUMBER FOUR is good science fiction with superb special effects. It comes in a very slick package a la the Back To The Future series (though not as lavish, of course, being one – not three – motion pictures), and the story line and splashy, colorful illusions, courtesy of Bill George, hold up very well on smaller screens.

The project is as impressively filmed as Duncan Jones’ Source Code on a similar production budget of about 60 million according to Box Office Mojo.com – that site also noting that the film brought in about 144 million worldwide, a tidy profit for a cast of virtual unknowns (save, maybe, Timothy Olyphant.) Alex Pettyfer is in the star role and does a fine job, the modern day equivalent of 1984’s The Last Starfighter featuring Lance Guest. Now Guest appeared to – but didn’t quite – vanish and has had steady TV work (with talk of The Last Starfighter getting a sequel sometime soon…he certainly didn’t end up like George Lazenby (the lost James Bond from Her Majesty’s Secret Service or poor Roger Herren whose career was imploded after Myra Breckinrdge – so Pettyfer can take hear that this film’s return should ensure him a nice repeated paycheck – maybe not on a level of Harry Potter, but certainly enough to launch him into a substantial film career. I like that the series is being taken seriously…and that there is none of the tongue-in-cheek approach that marred both the Back To The Future series and Last Starfighter – which was supposed to bring in a new wave of Star Wars type films, but didn’t quite do the trick…Lance Guest ending up in Jaws: The Revenge in 1987…the fourth film in that saga! There is an audience for solid science fiction…something the SyFy Channel has yet to find a budget for…and something the Twilight Series has opened Hollywood’s eyes to: that the teen market will embrace an approach more appealing than the slashing in “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”

What’s also interesting is that the aforementioned Last Starfighter was one of the first films to use extensive CGI. One of the critics asked Bill George about the technique in the roundtable concerning I AM NUMBER FOUR:
Q – How did you work through some challenges of CGI to make sure that the characters were always real?

A – Bill George: When we are working on our CG creature shots, they usually take a few weeks to create. During that time, our entire team views them daily as they progress. Everyone is welcome to offer their view of what is working and what needs improvement. This method really helps us to get a realist result. It’s all about observation and refinement.

It was a treat to be able to interact with one of the master’s of the genre…his work on I AM NUMBER FOUR is superb and a reason that I believe the film will have additional staying power.

Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He was a film critic for Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com and produces and hosts Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a fifteen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed John Lennon’s Uncle Charlie, Margaret Cho, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere, Marty Balin, Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.