"Alameda Artist's Oscar Opens Doors"

by Leslie Fulbright, Oakland Tribune, 25 March 1999

Joel Hynek has a new pal.

He drives with him to the office each morning and then returns home with him at night.

His name is Oscar, and Hynek, of Manex Entertainment, inherited him Sunday night when he won the Academy Award for Visual Effects.

"I was nervous as hell when I was accepting the award," Hynek said. "And then I locked eyes with Steven Spielberg. He beamed me a smile and made me feel quite at ease. I was then able to talk like a normal human."

Hynek created the moving oil painting effects in "What Dreams May Come," the romantic fantasy starring Robin Williams.

"It is a departure for visual effects to not blow things up or make spaceships and creatures," said Dale Skaggs, Manex's vice president of Operations and Studios. "Joel beautifully enhanced something that was real."

On the way to the awards show, Hynek's wife spotted a couple of friends in another limo. After a failed attempt at rolling down the window, they opened up the sunroof and stood up to wave at their friends. "The crowd went crazy and started screaming," Hynek said. "They didn't even know who we were but thought we were famous."

After the show, Hynek and his wife mingled with the stars at the governors ball and the Vanity Fair party. "When we pulled up to the party at Mortons, a man asked for our parking pass," Hynek recalled. "But I just stuck my Oscar out the window and told him my name."

All of a sudden, the attendant was yelling, "Make way for Mr. Hynek, make way for Mr. Hynek."

"It really does open doors," a chuckling Hynek said.

Manex has been in operation at Alameda Point for about a year. With 250,000 square feet of space, including old hangars and Navy offices, the studio works on as many as three projects at a time and is constantly developing new techniques.

The studio's latest film project, "The Matrix," opens Wednesday.

"The Matrix" is a futuristic science fiction film in which the human race is overtaken by the dominant race — a machine class. After the machine world realizes that man is a threat, he is put in a pod chamber.

In the pod, man is grown for energy while constantly being fed a virtual reality dream to keep him passive.

"Manex used ground-breaking techniques to create several of the scenes, including the creatures and all of the virtual reality," said visual effects supervisor John Gaeta.

One new process, called flo-mo, extracts a virtual reality-style background using a photographed environment. Several still photographs are taken and put into a computer model so that it appears to be the exact same place.

"'The Matrix' combines those computer graphics with live-action photography," said Kim Libreri, who supervised the virtual cinematography method. "This gives us more flexibility and allows us not to be constrained by cameras.

"We used the core technology that we developed for 'What Dreams May Come.' Once we had the ability for motion, we could altar and enhance it."

The total budget for the film was about $80 million and Manex "got a sizable percent of that." The studio has a variety of up-and-coming feature films including "Deep Blue Sea," which will be released this summer.

Skaggs had nearly 30 employees at his home to watch the Academy Awards. And when Hynek was announced as the winner, he "thought the roof would come off the house."

"It was very exciting," he said. "We had all worked so closely together that we had a strong belief that it would win."

Hynek also was nominated 11 years ago for his work in "The Predator."

©1999 Oakland Tribune

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