Visions of heaven and hell unveiled to moviegoers nationwide last week were conceived in a corner of the former Alameda Naval Air Station being reincarnated as a film studio of Hollywood quality.
The nirvana created by Joel Hynek and his special effects team at Manex Entertainment at Alameda Point is the colorful paint paradise of the Robin Williams character in the movie "What Dreams May Come."
"The allure of special effects is the opportunity to create a new world," Hynek said as he gestured to the Dreams photographs spread on a table in a conference room of the old runway control tower opposite Hangar 11. "You can create beauty never seen before."
The only parts of Dreams that weren't done in Alameda were scenes shot at Glacier National Park in Montana and some of the hell scenes, shot on Treasure Island. The lake, mountain and valley scenes filmed in Montana metamorphosed into heavenly vistas at the hands of Hynek and art director Josh Rosen, a San Francisco native whose talents combine fine arts and computer technology.
"Josh brought to it the palette and composition we ended up with," Hynek said.
Dreams director Vincent Ward had commissioned artist Syd Dutton to paint Williams' heaven in the style of 19th century romanticism. The influence for the scene was a Caspar David Friedrich painting called "Two Men Contemplating the Moon."
Hynek and Rosen used computers to blend aspects of the painting with the footage from Glacier National Park. Manex specialists developed "tracking software" that made the rich hues applied to plants and trees move naturally with the strong winds.
The lighting for the scene was obscured in a style called "mysterious luminescence" to indicate that Williams' character was refusing to see the truth, represented by the light.
"We used stained-glass colors because, in a church, you see the rich color of the glass but not the light source," Hynek said.
"Our aim was Monet in the foreground and Friedrich in the background. Impressionism in the foreground and 19th Century romanticism in the background."
Williams' house in heaven was built in a Manex studio.
"The heaven house was gorgeous enough to live in," said Rob Bobo, Manex director of operations.
"After they finished the heaven scenes, they walked in with torches, burned it, tilted it on its side and used it as the wife's house in hell," Hynek said.
In a macabre twist, Williams' slide into the bowels of hell was made on what served as the vaulted ceiling of the cathedral in which his wedding scene was filmed. The film crew inverted the church ceiling and darkened it. Underwater scenes were shot in the gym swimming pool at Alameda Point.
Hynek won an Oscar for his science and technical contribution to the camouflage effect created in the movie "Predator." Hynek was nominated for an Oscar for the overall special effects in the same movie.
"The word is that Joel will get an Oscar nomination for 'What Dreams May Come,'" Bobo said. "The effects in the movie are fantastic."
Hynek was an electrical engineer drawn to photography during the radical days of the 1960s. He was lured into working in film, where his artistic bent and technical training were a natural combination for special effects.
Manex is converting the Alameda Point control tower into administrative offices for the entertainment company and its parent company, which bears the Manex name and provides financial services.
The 120-year-old financial services company out of Massachusetts had bought a studio in a remote part of that state. Manex consolidated its film business in Alameda earlier this year after buying Mass Illusions, a special effects company that came to Alameda Point in April 1997.
"When we looked at the space and land on the base and the proximity to the technical talent in Silicon Valley, and that there were no places to film here, we were enthusiastic about moving here," Bobo said. "There has been tremendous support here. Alameda has been super to us."
Studios at Manex were used to replicate the interior of San Quentin Prison and a gasoline station during the recent filming of "True Crimes," starring Clint Eastwood. Manex's special effects resume includes work on such movies as "Eraser," "Die Hard With a Vengeance," "Predator," "Starship Troopers," "Judge Dredd" and "The Scarlet Letter."
Manex is now working on "Matrix," a Warner Brothers science fiction film starring Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne, which is being filmed in Australia and is due for release next summer.
Bobo said the company's goal is to build a film studio lot on a par with those in Hollywood and to make its own movies as well as lease space to other film companies.
"We have everything we need to start making movies tomorrow we just don't have the time," Bobo said. "We have film ideas lined up."
Manex moved its special effects staff and equipment into a neighboring hangar last weekend and is converting Hangar 11 into film studios. Windows of the building are being blacked out and a soundproof curtain system installed.
Manex has the option to use up to 500,000 square feet of space on the base under a staggered lease arrangement. As it grows, the company is taking each of the leases for the maximum time span, 10 years.
"We would like to stay here permanently," Bobo said. "A lot of people want to film in the Bay Area but go to Los Angeles because of a lack of studio space for them here."
Bobo sees as one of Manex's strengths the financial discipline instilled by its parent company.
"Hollywood can be a place of very frivolous spending," Bobo said. "Everyone here knows the value of a dollar."
As movies grow increasingly special-effects oriented, the demand for the skills Hynek and his team offer is growing, Bobo said. In "Matrix," special effects artists have perfected a camera angle spin so fast that they call it the "bullet time effect."
"Now, when there is something in a scene that a director wants to get rid of, they just leave it in and have us take it out technically," Hynek said. "We can make anything look real."
©1998 Oakland Tribune