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Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)
Magicam logo

Magicam, Inc. was a relatively short-lived visual effects (VFX) company, specialized in building miniatures that was located on North Las Palmas Avenue in Los Angeles (Hollywood), California. The company, headed amongst by Robert C. King, Joe Matza and vice-president Carey Melcher, was a full subsidiary of Paramount Pictures, who created the company to maintain full control over filming models. Contracted at the start of September 1977 for providing all the VFX of the upcoming television project Star Trek: Phase II, the company started work with the construction of the studio models for the project. "Even though we were a Paramount company, we had to submit bids just like any outsiders. We were expensive, because we're a[n] union shop, but they knew we could do the work.", Melcher clarified. (Starlog, issue 27, p. 26) To help out with the construction work, Magicam sub-contracted Gregory Jein for the build of the three-foot D7-Class studio model (and already filming destruction scenes, as scripted), as well as Brick Price Movie Miniatures for the build of the hero-model, the six-foot Enterprise studio model.

However, already three months later, late December 1977, the commission of Magicam was rescinded when Paramount decided to upgrade Phase II to the movie project, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, for which they brought in Robert Abel & Associates (RA&A) at the start of the new year, deemed more capable to handle the VFX requirements for the production of VFX of a big screen production. Yet, Magicam was retained as model company, its model shop headed by Chief Modeler Jim Dow, especially when RA&A's Art Director Richard Taylor and the director of the feature film Robert Wise, both decided that the models already built or in the process of being built, were unsuitable for big screen requirements. All Phase II studio models were scrapped (with the exception of the D7-Class model, which Jein retained) and Magicam had to rebuild the models to higher standards. (Star Trek: Creating the Enterprise, p. 46) The most notable of these was the larger eight-foot refit-Enterprise studio model, the build of which having been reverted to Magicam from Price, whose partially completed model was likewise scrapped. Magicam worked in close cooperation with Astra Image Corporation, the visual effects shop of RA&A.

Upon completion of the bulk of the construction work on the models, a number of model builders legally moved over, as did the models, as model handlers to the respective effects houses, firstly Astra and subsequently Entertainment Effects Group (EEG), the company that took over the VFX work from RA&A in March 1979. They also continued with detail work on the the models, mostly additional painting and applying further refined lighting and redesigned elements, usually requested by Douglas Trumbull, EEG's visual effects supervisor.

The company was in existence from 13 February 1974 [1] until 1982, when the shop was closed down and Paramount began using Industrial Light & Magic for the pre-production of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, though, as of 2010, the essentially empty shell company was still listed as one of the subsidiaries of current holding company Viacom. [2]

Prior their involvement with Star Trek, Magicam worked on the effcets for the television shows The Space-Watch Murders and The UFO Incident (both 1975). The only credits of the company after The Motion Picture were Carl Sagan's Cosmos (1980, and that earned the company three Emmy Awards) and the The Greatest American Hero (1981) television shows. Upon closure of the company, several employees moved over to Apogee, Inc., that was also one of companies that worked on the visual effects of The Motion Picture.

Staff

Magicam's modelshop staff
Part of Magicam's modelshop team.jpg

Part of the modelshop team; L-R (top), Swansea, Elliot, Gress, (bottom) Stetson, Schultz, Simpson and Andy Probert (visitor)

Part of the modelshop team; L-R (top), Swansea, Elliot, Gress, (bottom) Stetson, Schultz, Simpson and Andy Probert (visitor)
Part of Magicam's modelshop team working on several studio models of Star Trek The Motion Picture.jpg

Busy day at Magicam; L-R, Stetson, Simpson, Scott Farrar (visitor), Ron Gress, Gregg, and Bishop in the lower right

Busy day at Magicam; L-R, Stetson, Simpson, Scott Farrar (visitor), Ron Gress, Gregg, and Bishop in the lower right
Magicam production staff advertisment.jpg

The advertisement Dow took out

The advertisement Dow took out

Model Shop Supervisor Jim Dow has always been proud of his team of model makers, impressed by their abilities to perform under pressure, especially when the Phase II models were discarded and they had to do the work all over again. He has expressed his appreciation on several occasions in print publications. When Dow submitted his piece he wrote about his company's involvement with the Motion Picture to the magazine American Cinematographer, he made the rather unusual gesture by taking it up a notch, when he took out an advertisement in the same magazine at his own expanse to thank his team for all their efforts. Magicam model makers employed at the time of The Motion Picture were:

  • Larry Albright - Sub-contractor
  • Peter Anderson - Consultant
  • David Asher
  • Bruce Bishop
  • Brad Bluth
  • Bob Buckner
  • Chris Crump
  • Jim Dow - Model Shop Supervisor
  • Chris Elliot
  • Nick Esposet
  • Lee Ettleman - Machine Shop Lathe Operator
  • Joe Garlington
  • Kriss Gregg
  • Gregory Jein - Sub-contractor
  • Paul Olsen - Enterprise painter
  • Rick Gutierrez
  • Dann Linck
  • Carey Melcher - Vice President
  • Chris Miller
  • Tom Pahk
  • Richard Raynis
  • Chris Ross - Model Maker
  • Dennis Schultz
  • Russ Simpson
  • Dick Singleton
  • Mark Stetson - Model Maker
  • Zuzana Swansea
  • Rick Thompson
  • Chris Tietz
  • George Trimmer
  • Paul Turner - Model Electronics
  • Steve Wilson

Documentary

Further reading

  • "The Magical Techniques of Movie and TV Special Effects, Part IV: Magicam", David Houston, Starlog issue 9, October 1977, pp. 62-69
  • "The Model Makers at Magicam", David Houston, Starlog, issue 27, pp. 26-30
  • "The Magicam Miniatures Constructed For Star Trek The Motion Picture", James Dow, American Cinematographer, February 1980, pp. 152-155, 178-179, 186
  • Star Trek: Creating the Enterprise, 2012

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