VFX Artist Alan Markowitz talks Jaws 3D

While maligned amongst the mainstream, since its release 39 years ago, Jaws 3D has amassed a cult following online.

Bloody Flicks caught up with Alan Markowitz, who worked on VFX for the film.

Tell us how you got involved with Jaws 3D?

I was working at a VFX facility, in California, called Private Stock Effects (PSE), on a variety of film projects when the company was awarded the project.

Was the project a 3D film by the time you signed on?

JAWS 3D was always penned, to be a 3D film, as far as I am aware of.

Were you familiar with the franchise beforehand?
Who wasn’t? 😉

Tell us what sort of visual effects you worked on during filming?

Like most of the crew, we wore many hats, but on the onset, I was assigned to one of the smoke room, where we shots virtually all of the miniatures that appeared underwater, in the film. The technique is known as, Dry-for-wet photography.

What was your working experience like?

It was intense, in that I was still learning some of the tricks of the trade while working with more seasoned industry vets, but my vast experience in post-production VFX processes was a huge help to me, in grasping some of the trickier “live” production methodologies. I learned a great deal from the Skotak brothers and our VFX DP, Christopher Nibley. The Studio had several mini shooting stages set up containing a various cameras and motion-control rigs, where I was able to observe many filming techniques on a daily basis.

Which was the best sequence to work on?

I don’t have a “best” sequence to offer you, but each of the dry-for-wet backgrounds we created had its own, unique lighting conditions, which would make the environment credible, as an underwater location. We built custom lighting apparatus to simulate the underwater shimmer effect, which is caused by direct sunlight beaming into the surface of the water, above the ocean floor. The rig designs were simple, yet genius. I provided a snapshot of our DFW shooting crew, with one of the mechanical sharks. You can see the overhead plexiglass tray, that we filled with water (we may have added glycerin, to add to the viscosity, which would slow its movement, when shaken) and shined a bright light through it, to produce the shimmer effect.

Did you have any interactions with director Joe Alves and the producers?

After Private Stock completed their work on the project, I was hired on, by Alan Landsburg Prods., to work with a special 3D Unit, which was brought back onto the JAWS3D production to shoot hyper-stereo pickup shots. After one of the Producer screenings, it was deemed that there wasn’t enough 3D in the movie, so they asked PSE if they would recommend a Stereographer to join the unit, and they selected me. During the VFX production, at PSE, I was fortunate enough to work closely with one of the Founders & owners, Ken Jones, who previously worked at JPL. He was brilliant, and I learned a great deal about the science of 3D from him, especially how it related to the miniature work we were producing in the smoke room. I believe, it was Ken who referred me to Alan Landsburg’s 3D camera unit, where I worked with Joe Alves and the D.P., directly.

Was Jaws 3D the opportunity to capitalise on the popularity of 3D or was there considerations about taking the franchise in this direction?

Good question. I believe, it truly was a great opportunity to capitalize on that aspect, but unfortunately, I think it was mistake. Without getting into the deep details, I think the technology got in the way of the story, which in itself was lacking. Some of the approaches to the VFX was still a bit speculative at the time, considering the amount of restrictions that were placed on the filmmakers at that time. I have my own thoughts on 3D technology, especially when it comes to movies that were made using photo-chemical methods (i.e., film), and back in the 80’s, it was more like a reboot of the technology that had began to diminish over the years, since its arrival in the 50’s. There were many 3D films that failed, during the reboot, and I firmly believe it was due to the fact that the 3D aspect was still being used as a “fad”, rather than an embellishment of the story and viewing experience. The process had many faults, and there were many who did completely understand the process. Those who did, were able to produce watchable films, where the 3D enhanced the product and made it experiential. It wasn’t until the digital boom, where 3D reared its once ugly head, but this time around, we were able to utilize and enhance its usage because of the advanced digital technology at our disposal.

How did this compare to your work on blockbusters like the Star Trek films, Commando and Aliens?

My participation in the the films you mentioned revolved more around post-production processes. For the STAR TREK films, I provided animation FX, title photography. The same for COMMANDO, except there was some 2nd-unit photography, where I shot background plates that would eventually be married with animation on my optical printer. My work on ALIENS provided me the opportunity to supervise and shoot product at our Los Angeles facility, as well as Pinewood Studios, in England. At Pinewood, I was overseeing some of the plate photography, which would later be used in optical composites, executed at a variety of VFX houses in England.

We have heard that Jaws the Revenge director Joe Sargent briefly considered that being a 3D project; if so do you think you would have got a call to return?

I didn’t expect to hear from the folks producing the next JAWS instalment to contact me, considering the lack of rave reviews JAWS3D received, but apparently, that didn’t happen 😉

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