There is no question just how important special effects have
become in the world of entertainment, as they are an essential
filmmaking tool. Yet for all the publicity actors get, when
audience members rave about effects they rarely know who is behind
the magic.

Film Reviews
Look guys, I just came to drop my ballot off. (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

One of the leading visual effects supervisors working today is
University alum John “DJ” Desjardin, who has an
impressive list of credits that stretches back nearly 20 years.
Currently, Desjardin’s work can be seen in the football drama
“Friday Night Lights” in which he filled the stadiums
with crowds in the movie. Desjardin returned to his alma mater and
sat down with The Michigan Daily to talk about his work.

A native of Grand Rapids, Desjardin attended the University as a
film and video studies major. Growing up, he was inspired by
several science-fiction films heavy on effects such as “2001:
A Space Odyssey,” “Close Encounters of the Third
Kind” and “Blade Runner,” which Desjardin cites
as “the greatest optical effects film of all time.” He
also has fond memories of seeing Ridley Scott’s cult classic
when he was a Wolverine. “I remember the movie (having a
premiere) in Angell Hall, and waiting in line for it. When it
ended, people left the auditorium asking ‘What was that
about?’”

Following graduation, Desjardin headed off to Los Angeles with a
former roommate. He got his start pretty quickly on
less-than-memorable films doing graphics work. Even though digital
effects are now just about everywhere in the filmmaking process,
the tech guru reflected that in the past “they were confined
to post production.”

Not every moviegoer knows his name, but Desjardin’s
presence within films has been constant. He did impressive work
through the groundbreaking “Matrix” sequels as a the
visual effects supervisors.

Desjardin spent several years working with the Wachowski
brothers, who wrote and directed the successful trilogy. He
acknowledges that the brothers “are private people, but they
have a really strong design sense.” Desjardin is quick to
dispel rumors about the brothers, saying he had a great
relationship with them and they bonded over their love of comic
books. The talented visual effects supervisor helped shepherd the
sequels early on in pre-production right through the end of
post-production, and also collaborated on the videogame
“Enter The Matrix.”

Yet for all the major effects films Desjardin has done, he has
also worked on films that don’t rely heavily on special
visuals. As a computer graphics supervisor on Cameron Crowe’s
Oscar-winning “Almost Famous,” Desjardin was involved
with the Stillwater concert scenes and “changed signs to
reflect the period (of the ’70s).” Crowe approached him
to create a shot to be used in one of the film’s most
memorable scenes — when the members of Stillwater confront
one another on an airplane caught in heavy turbulence. The pricey
shot took about six weeks to complete, and involved exterior shots
of the airplane flying through a stormy sky. When the shot was
completed, Crowe approached Desjardin about taking the shot out
since it “ruined the timing and flow of the scene.”
Desjardin was disappointed, but easily forgave Crowe since the
writer-director admitted that it was his first time using visual
effects in a film.

For all the behind-the-scenes work he’s done, does
Desjardin have any desire to make the leap to directing a la other
visual effects supervisors? The special effects whiz used to direct
his own movies growing up, but he’s more than happy to stay
on the technical side of things. “I like to work with
directors and help them complete their vision, but I’m not
opposed to directing if the right project came along.” In
fact, one almost did — toward the end of production on
“The Matrix” sequels the Wachowski brothers approached
him about directing a film, but the plans fell through.

When it comes to the future of visual effects, Desjardin sees it
as a very bright field that’s only going to get better.
“I believe Kerry Conran’s ‘Sky Captain and the
World of Tomorrow’ (which was done entirely with blue
screen), makes a more powerful statement than George Lucas’
‘Star Wars’ prequels in showing where we are now with
visual effects.” Desjardin is also amazed at what filmmaker
Robert Rodriguez has done and how his efficient, low-budget style
has utilized special effects well and has changed people’s
perceptions.

As far as the films he’s most proud of, Desjardin says
that “’TimeCop’ is still fun to look back and
watch” but the two “Matrix” sequels remain his
favorite despite the polarized response to them. Nonetheless,
it’s all about the work for this talented man. “If the
audience is impressed by something or can’t tell the
difference between what’s real and what’s fake, then
I’ve done my job,” he says.

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