CalArts mourns the passing of Robert Blalack (Film/Video MFA 73), a well-known visual effects artist and CalArts alum. Blalack passed away earlier this year from cancer, aged 73. Born in Panama in 1948, he later attended school at St Paul’s School in London, England. After graduating, he came to the U.S. to continue his education at Pomona College where he studied literature and theater. His early experimental film work included Over/Done (1969), Navajo Mountain (1972), and The Words (1973).
In his post-collegiate career, he worked for Crest Film Labs as a night optical engineer and created effects for several low-budget films and commercials. In 1974, Blalack animated sequences for the Oscar-winning documentary Hearts and Minds. Shortly after, he worked with Douglas Trumbull to create a 16mm promo to showcase his studio’s visual effects. Through Trumbull he met John Dykstra, with whom he ended up forming an impactful relationship.
Dyskstra was already working for George Lucas, overseeing the visual effects of the first film of the classic Star Wars franchise. During production, Blalack worked to build the facility that was later known as VistaVision. Most notably, he developed brand-new technology: “photographic optical composite and rotoscope animation pipelines that mass-produced a record-setting total of 365 VFX composites for George Lucas’ sci-fi epic.” (Animation World Network) For these achievements, Blalack received the 1978 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Blalack helped Lucas establish Industrial Light & Magic, which went on to become an entertainment industry leader in visual effects.
Blalack’s extensive work can be seen in films such as Airplane!, The Blues Brothers, Cat People, Robocop, and The Day After. In his later career, he also worked to create a number of theme park attractions, such as Aliens: Ride at the Speed of Fright (where he utilized motion control miniature photography) and a late ’90s Busch Gardens ride, Akbar’s Adventure Tours, in which he directed the live-action sequences. Blalack is survived by his wife, Caroline Charron-Blalack and his son Paul Blalack. The CalArts community mourns his passing and celebrates the importance of his innovative visual effects work.