Following the release of RED TAILS on DVD and Blu-ray THN had the chance to speak to Paul Kavanagh, lead animator at Industrial Light & Magic. Sadly it was before the news of Disney’s purchase had gone through, but we still had a bloody good chat:

THN: How was it working with George Lucas and Rick McCallum again on RED TAILS after the STAR WARS prequel trilogy?

PK: It was really great! On STAR WARS George and Rick would come to ILM twice a week to look at the work, but on RED TAILS we would go up to Skywalker ranch. George is very relaxed in his edit suite at the ranch house and the reviews were creative and fun.

Red Tails is a very emotive and powerful story. How was it to recreate 332nd Fighter Groups’ surroundings given the importance of the story?

There is no glamour in war and these guys were living in tents on a makeshift base up to their knees in mud – we wanted to show that side. We had to create a fully CG base with tents, equipment, aircraft and hundreds of people walking in the mud and make it look as real as possible.

How was director Anthony Hemingway to work with?  Did he have a clear vision of how he wanted you to work?

Anthony was a super nice guy, he brought a lot of experience and talent from his gritty TV show THE WIRE.

The air-combat scenes are absolutely awe-inspiring. Was there a particular scene that caused you a headache?

Well, they were all tough to get right but the opening title montage was especially challenging with all of the destruction we had to do. It’s still hard to tear things apart in the computer and we wanted to show a whole squadron of bombers being torn apart.

You’re a Gateshead lad. Do you sometimes have to pinch yourself when you realise where you are, and what you have done in the world of film?

I never take this place for granted that’s for sure! I feel very luckily to work at such a creative company in such a beautiful place!

Your second film was JURASSIC PARK: THE LOST WORLD – how was it working on a Spielberg film?

Spielberg was a hero of mine from an early age. The first Spielberg film I saw at the movies was CLOSE ENCOUNTERS at the age of seven, and having the opportunity to work on one of his movies was amazing. Who doesn’t want to animate a T-rex walking down a street?!

FLUBBER was a game changer – it was the first time most of us had seen actors fully interact with a CG character. What challenges did this present?

There was a huge amount of difficult work on that show. For instance, we had to animate CG models of Robin Williams hands matching into his performance so we could place Flubber in his palm and get the correct lighting and shadows. We had to add and animate inanimate objects that Flubber and Robin interacted with and composite them into the scene. These techniques we take for granted now but it was all new back then.

You’ve worked as animator, lead animator and animation supervisor on various ILM projects for 15 years – what is the toughest film you’ve worked on?

I couldn’t single out one show as they all have their own challenges and even though the technology moves on the complexity of the work gets higher so you’re always trying to create something bigger and better.

As an animator do you prefer directors to have a clear vision of how they want your work to end up, or do you prefer to work more freely?

A little bit of both is good. You want a director who has a clear vision of what they want but you also want to contribute to the creative process.

Which director have you enjoyed working with most?

Working directly for George Lucas has always been an ambition of mine since sitting in the Odeon cinema Newcastle watching STAR WARS when I was seven years old so it’s always nice to work with him. Since becoming a supervisor you work more directly with the director so JJ Abrams and Jim Cameron have been great also.

You’ve worked on the HARRY POTTER films, STAR WARS, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, IRON MAN, TRANSFORMERS, and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies – that is quite the resume. You must be very proud. What do you have coming up?

Well I’m currently working on the new STAR TREK movie with JJ Abrams which is going to be great! I also worked on a Ninja sequence in G.I. JOE 2 which was a lot of fun.

Finally, how was it being nominated for an Oscar for STAR TREK?

Unbelievable! The BAFTA’s and Oscars were amazing. I never thought in my wildest dreams that the shy boy from Gateshead would be sitting at the Oscars! It was a real honor to represent the company and talent people who contributed to the amazing digital effects in the film.

RED TAILS is available on Blu-ray and DVD now