Craig Barron (born April 6, 1961) is an American visual effects artist, currently Creative Director at Magnopus, a Los Angeles media company that produces augmented and virtual-reality experiences.
Over the course of his career, Barron has become a film historian, author, lecturer and University educator with a focus on the history of visual effects produced in classic films, before and after the digital age.
Visual effects supervisor
Industrial Light & Magic
Barron began working at ILM in 1979, hired at age 18 by Richard Edlund to work with Neil Krepela and Ralph McQuarrie in the matte painting department. Then the youngest person at the studio, he eventually worked in the camera department, compositing matte-painted effects for scenes in landmark visual-effects films including The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. From 1984 to 1988 he was matte photography supervisor, working to combine matte paintings and miniatures with live-action photography. This included going on far-away locations often with matte painters Michael Pangrazio or Chris Evans to design and photograph matte shots requested by various productions. On Willow (1988), Barron's last film at ILM, he was credited as director of matte photography.
Matte World Digital
Barron co-founded Matte World with Michael Pangrazio and executive producer Krystyna Demkowicz in 1988. The company, based in Novato, California, produced seamless matte-painting effects for film and television productions. Soon after formation, Barron and Pangrazio's work won an Emmy for Outstanding Visual Effects for HBO's By Dawn's Early Light (1990). Barron and his crew initially worked on traditional effects shots with matte paintings on glass and received an Academy Award nomination
for Best Visual Effects for Batman Returns in 1992.
While heading Matte World Digital, Barron co-produced and directed the science-fiction short, The Utilizer, broadcast on Syfy (then called the Sci-Fi Channel) in 1996. The film won the best special effects award at the Chicago International Film Festival.
Growing up watching classic films, Barron was inspired by and curious about how special effects were created. He sought out and interviewed retired Hollywood studio-era visual-effects cameramen and matte painters who revealed the formerly secretive world of visual-effects techniques used in films such as Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz. This oral history of movie-making, along with a growing collection of visual-effects film clips, movie stills, and behind-the-scenes photographs, led Barron to co-write with Mark Cotta Vaz the first comprehensive history book of matte painting, The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting, published by Chronicle Books.The New York Times called the book "eye-opening...increas[ing] our wonder at this heretofore 'invisible art.'"
As a public-programs lecturer for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), Barron presents public screenings showcasing the art and technique of visual effects in classic studio films. Often partnering with sound designer Ben Burtt, the duo have also guest-hosted on the TCM Network. The pair have done extensive research to find the hidden history of classic film production. For a presentation on Gunga Din (1939), they visited the Lone Pine, California Alabama Hills location where the film was shot, and found pieces of the set buried there. Using camera drones, they then recreated the film's locations as CGI environments. In addition, Barron is an adjunct professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. His "World of Visual Effects" course focuses on the history of visual effects in film and how visual effects have influenced narrative in filmmaking from its inception to today.
Techno Chaplin - Modern Times (1936) with Ben Burtt and John Bengstson, 2008, Hollywood/San Rafael, CA - Digitally restored 35mm print with behind-the-scenes photos and multimedia tour showing how Chaplin used mattes, process shots, miniatures and rear projection within industrial settings of 1930s Los Angeles.
Mysteries of the Krell: Making Forbidden Planet (1956) with Ben Burtt, 2011/12, Hollywood/San Rafael, CA - Breakdown of the film's visual effects and innovative sound design alongside collection of rare miniatures, production designs, props and analog source tapes from the electronic soundtrack, featuring the original Robby the Robot.
Hollywood Takes to the Air - Lilac Time (1928) with Ben Burtt, 2014, Hollywood, CA - Model-plane miniatures and rare 1920s stunt-flight footage compiled by flier Dick Grace, featuring Grace's stunt work, crashing the plane on mark for the camera.
2016 TCM Classic Film Festival featured Barron and Burtt demonstrating the Oscar-winning visual effects of George Pal in The War of the Worlds.
Barron is featured in interviews demonstrating 3D effects in a number of Criterion's Blu-ray documentary supplements for classic films.
Selected documentary filmography
Modern Times (1936) / A Bucket of Water and a Glass Matte (2010) - Barron and Burtt demonstrate Chaplin's use of miniatures and sound effects in the film's factory and roller-skating scenes.
City Lights (1931) / Chaplin Studios: Creative Freedom by Design (2013) - Interview with Barron about Chaplin's studio and the large sets he created to give the illusion of outdoor locations.
Rebecca (1940) / Constructing the Eerie World of Rebecca (2017) - Barron demonstrates the large-scale Manderlay miniature that Hitchcock's crew built and filmed onset, which included a miniature car and destruction by fire.
A Matter of Life and Death (1946) / Documentary supplement (2018) - A detailed account and 3D rendering of how Michael Powell conceived of and carried out the seemingly endless "stairway to heaven" scene with the use of set design, miniatures and camera angles.
Barron was a visual effects supervisor at Tippett Studio in 2013, where he developed digital environments for film and commercial productions alongside his former ILM co-worker Phil Tippett.
In 2014 Barron became creative director at Magnopus--a visual research and development company based in downtown Los Angeles, where he specializes in virtual and augmented reality experiences created for new media platforms. At Magnopus, Barron directed the VR tie-in to 2017's Blade Runner 2049. Entitled Blade Runner 2049: Memory Lab, the 30-minute VR production is set in the world of the film where users act as replicant android hunters. A review in UploadVR said the experience, "...manages to contribute somewhat to 2049's story without stepping on it, shedding more light on one of the film's central characters that gives the entire piece an even deeper sense of purpose."Memory Lab was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Original Interactive Program in 2018.
Matte World Digital was the first in the industry to apply radiosity rendering to film in Martin Scorsese's Casino. Collaborating with software company, LightScape, the MWD crew was able to simulate reflective effect of millions of neon lights from the 1970s-era Las Vegas strip. Radiosity rendering provided a true simulation of bounce-light reflectivity in a computer-generated environment.
Another 1970s-era film, David Fincher's Zodiac, needed shots to establish the grittier San Francisco of that era. Barron shot digital images of existing city-building textures and then added painted period details in the computer. One such shot features the Embarcadero Freeway alongside the Ferry Building and San Francisco Bay. The freeway had been demolished after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake so MWD digitally rebuilt the structure, viewed from an overhead computer-generated "helicopter-shot" to introduce the City and timeframe. CG lighting techniques were applied for an sped-up animated sequence showing the Transamerica Pyramid being built, establishing the passage of time. Barron researched archival photographs and architectural drawings for the shot.
Barron worked with Fincher again to build several digital matte and CGI environments for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The interior of the film's New Orleans train station had to change and deteriorate throughout 29 shots representing different eras. MWD built one CGI station model using Next Limit's Maxwell rendering software--software that was generally used as an architectural visualization and product-design tool. MWD revamped it to mimic real-world lighting as seen from multiple angles and light sources.
The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting, with Mark Cotta Vaz - Theatre Library Association of New York Outstanding Book on Film Award, 2003; Theatre Technology Golden Pen Book Award, 2004
Greece: Secrets of the Past - VES Award nomination for Outstanding Visual Effects in a special venue project, 2006
Zodiac - VES Award nomination for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Motion Picture, 2007