Linwood G. Dunn

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Linwood G. Dunn, A.S.C.
Born (1904-12-27)December 27, 1904
Brooklyn, New York
Died May 20, 1998(1998-05-20) (aged 93)
Los Angeles
Occupation Special effects, Cinematographer
Title A.S.C.
Board member of
A.S.C. President (1977-1978)

Linwood G. Dunn, A.S.C. (December 27, 1904, Brooklyn, New York – May 20, 1998, Los Angeles) was a pioneer of visual special effects in motion pictures and inventor of related technology. Dunn worked on many films and TV series including the original 1933 King Kong (1933), Citizen Kane (1941), and Star Trek (1966–69).

Career[edit]

Dunn's career began by about 1923 when he worked as a projectionist for the American Motion Picture Picture Corp. Following a relative to Hollywood, he was hired as an assistant by the Pathé company in 1925. Early films and serials he worked on as a cameraman were The Green Archer (1925), Snowed In (1926), Hawk of the Hills (1927), Queen of the Northwoods (1929), Flight (1929, Frank Capra's first sound film), Ringside (1929), The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1930), Danger Lights (1930), an early widescreen film, and Cimarron (1931), an Academy Award-winner for Best Picture.

Special effects[edit]

Dunn rose from shooting title cards to creating in-camera optical effects. He was hired as a special effects technician at RKO Radio Pictures, his tenure there lasting from 1929 to 1958. This early experience led to the World War II development of the first practical commercially manufactured optical printer, a device consisting of cameras and projectors allowing for the accurate compositing of multiple images onto a single piece of film.

Body of work[edit]

It was Dunn who photographed the rotating RKO radio tower trademark used at the beginning of all RKO films.

In the early 30s, Dunn became part of the effects team responsible for the creation of the original King Kong (1933).

Many effects set-ups consisted of miniature Kong models being animated frame-by-frame in front of a rear-screen projected background plate—of either still or live-action elements. As time progressed during animation—when using moving footage as a background—animators might neglect to advance the projected image (on the rear screen) to the next frame as they concentrated on Kong's movements, spoiling the illusion that the animated model and the plate coexisted in reality, requiring time consuming (and expensive) re-takes.

Dunn saved model animators Willis O'Brien and Pete Peterson considerable work whenever possible by photographically compositing images of Fay Wray with model animation footage of Kong after all the best footage of both "elements" had been shot, eliminating the worry of rear-screen maintenance during model animation in many shots. Dunn's work also eliminated the contrast differences inherent in the use of rear-screen projection. Dunn repeated such work for the sequel, Son of Kong, released in December 1933, and did optical/photographic composites for the airplane-wing-dance sequence in the first Astaire-Rodgers musical Flying Down to Rio (1933). The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) and for Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) were other well remembered RKO films on which Dunn worked before America entered the second world war. In Citizen Kane, Dunn's composites open the film and many "deep-focus" shots that film historians wrongly attribute to cinematographer Gregg Toland are actually Dunn's optical composites. For Bringing Up Baby (1938), separate footage of Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and a leopard, were photographically combined by Dunn. Dunn's work became so highly sought after by other studios that he formed his own company, Film Effects of Hollywood, in 1946, working that business at the same time as working at RKO.

Dunn continued to work at RKO after Howard Hughes bought the studio. Production on The Outlaw (1943) was halted owing to a controversy over how much of Jane Russell's bosom would be visible. Dunn resolved the situation by rephotographing Russell's close-ups with a tiny scrim inserted between the projector and camera, so as to soften the line of her cleavage. Dunn gained a technical Oscar (along with machinist Cecil Love) in 1944 for his work.

After RKO had ceased to exist as a film production company, Dunn did the optical composites and title sequence for West Side Story (1961) and the elaborate fire-ladder sequence at the end of Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), which required 21 different all-color elements to be composited into final images.

Other later large-format and/or high-profile films Dunn's company did opticals for are My Fair Lady (1964), The Great Race (1965), Hawaii (1966), The Bible: In the Beginning (1966), Darling Lili (1970), and Airport (1970).

Inventions and innovations[edit]

Dunn produced the lightning-electrocution scene at the end of The Thing from Another World (1951) by scratching the lightning, frame-by-frame, on a strip of black film and then compositing the best of that footage with live action footage of the monster burning and shrinking (done by Dunn via pulling back the camera on a track while filming the monster image element against a black background), with those two elements then photographically combined with the unmoving image of the floor and walls that surround the creature in the final composite. During the brief 3-D craze and the more permanent shift to widescreen processes such as CinemaScope, Dunn pioneered the use of optical composites using these developments, inventing and refining new equipment to achieve it.

Dunn worked for Desilu Productions, founded by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, their TV production required the occasional use of optical effects, especially for increasingly elaborate title sequences, and Dunn was one of several optical houses that supplied them.

From 1965, Dunn became one of four optical houses that supplied visual effects for the company's (later Paramount) Star Trek TV series. It was mostly Dunn who photographed the 11-foot large Starship Enterprise model,[1] designed by series creator Gene Roddenberry and Matt Jefferies and built by Dick Datin, Mel Keys, Venon Sion, and Volmer Jensen at Production Model Shop in Burbank, California. Dunn also generated footage that could be used by the three other optical houses involved with Star Trek - the Howard Anderson Company, Westhemier Company, and Van Der Veer Photo Effects - all necessary due to the large number of effects shots and tight weekly production schedule. Dunn continued to work on the series until its cancellation in 1969.

Dunn also specialized in optical work for special and large format films, creating the equipment necessary to do the jobs. Dunn did optical composite for several special 70mm films shown at World's Fairs, including the multi-panel tour-de-force film, A Place To Stand made for Expo 67. It was Dunn who did what his associates said was impossible, cleanly blowing up 16mm negative to 70mm prints for George Harrison's Concert For Bangladesh concert film. Dunn's company later became the first facility in Hollywood that could do optical composites in the ultra-large Imax film format.

He co-wrote (with George Turner) a book on his career and the history of visual effects, The ASC Treasury of Visual Effects published in 1983. In 1985, Dunn sold his Film Effects of Hollywood company to Francis Ford Coppola and retired from active effects work. The Hollywood office of Fuji Film occupies Film Effects' old building.

In the 1990s, while in his 90s, Dunn joined with Japanese engineers in the development of a 3-D television system that used electronic virtual-reality-type glasses that auto-synched to the TV image, to create the most clear and deep 3-D images ever produced. The system was built for hospitals; surgeons in many facilities are now using the system as a key aid in sorting out the nerve-endings during micro-neurosurgery. The system was profiled on an episode of Alan Alda's Scientific American Frontiers TV series. Always keenly interested in technology, Dunn participated in the development of digital projection for theaters.

Honors and awards[edit]

Dunn was the recipient of the Golden Hugo from the 8th Annual Chicago International Film Festival and has been given an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by the San Francisco Art Institute and received several similar awards from various arts and technical colleges, and other technical organizations.

Dunn shared an Oscar win for special effects in 1949 for his work in collaboration with Willis O'Brien for the original Mighty Joe Young. In 1984, he received the Gordon E. Sawyer award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as being awarded Honorary Membership in The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers—their highest honor.[1]

Twice elected President of the American Society of Cinematographers, he was also elected a Governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in two different branches, and was instrumental in the formation of the Academy's Visual Effects branch.

The Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood was named in honor of Dunn and his innovations and contributions to the Motion Picture industry. The 286-seat state-of-the-art theater at the AMPAS' Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study on Vine Street is The Academy's newest screening facility.

After winning two final special achievement Oscars in 1979 and 1985, Dunn lived in his North Hollywood home until his death in 1998 at age 93.

Academy Awards[edit]

1944 (17th) for the Acme-Dunn Optical Printer

1949 (22nd) for Mighty Joe Young - RKO Productions

1978 (51st) in appreciation for outstanding service and dedication in upholding the high standards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

1980 (53rd) for the concept, engineering and development of the Acme-Dunn Optical Printer for motion picture special effects.

1984 (57th) Gordon E. Sawyer award

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Original Starship Enterprise Model from the Star Trek TV Show". Visitor Information. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved 29 July 2009.