Note: This is part two of a three part series about the life and effects career of digital compositor Colin Campbell, who grew up in Ardmore. Part one of the series originally ran in the Sunday, May 6 edition of the Ardmore and can now be viewed online at ardmoreite.com.

A die-hard fan of classic Universal monsters and giant monster movies and a child of the 70s sci-fi boom, Campbell grew up in Ardmore dreaming of working in film.
In 1993, he was finally where he wanted to be. After starting out as a personal assistant at the then-small animation house Klasky/Csupo, he went on to work as an effects camera operator on feature films. But when Jurassic Park opened that same year, it revolutionized special effects overnight. It was an incredible time to be a moviegoer, but for people like Campbell, who’d dedicated their lives to studying old school film effects, it was chilling.
“It was a real gut punch,” Campbell said. “It just yanked the rug out from under us.”
He didn’t have to worry for long. To borrow an oft-quoted phrase, life found a way.
Fortunately for Campbell, his animation background from his time at Klasky/Csupo gave him an in. He was hired at Kodak for a digital film restoration of Disney’s Snow White, the first of its kind.
“I didn’t know squat, and still don’t really, about computers,” Campbell said. “I didn’t know
Basic from Cobol.”
The project involved transferring the film to a digital format. Campbell’s job was to paint out all the little flaws in the new version that were left over from the original film version.
“Those were shot on three strips of film, the red, the green and the blue, like the old Technicolor process,” Campbell said. “But if there was a piece of dirt or anything on anyone of those layers, you’d get a weird little splotch in the middle of the film.”
He might have lacked a background in programming, but Campbell’s old school effects knowledge and sensibilities turned out to be an asset. His boss on the Snow While restoration project later left to work for Rhythm and Hues, an animation and effects company, and took Campbell with him.
“He knew they were going to need not just computer people, but actual filmmakers to come in and do this work,” Campbell said.
He started in the 2-D animation department, where his first assignment was the 1995 film Babe. He and other animators were tasked with digitally painting footage of the animals in the film so they would mesh with the computer effects.
“A lot of times you’d have the sheep dogs who were prone to panting,” Campbell said. “So you’d just have these huge Gene Simmons-type tongues hanging out and the computer-generated muzzle on top of that, talking.”
It was a difficult process, especially with the technological limitations of the time. Fur, water, fire and other chaotic, detailed surfaces were particularly hard for computers to replicate in the early days of CGI. Campbell said that while the technology has come a long way, computers will always prefer a smooth, predictable surface to a random, asymmetrical one.
“Those are things that just take a lot of computational power and a lot of artistry,” Campbell said. “With water, like in big disaster movies where you see huge waves knocking down buildings, that all has to be computer. You have to have reflections in there as well, otherwise it would just kind of look like blobs.”
Campbell works as a digital compositor. It’s his job to take all the different digital elements in a scene and make sure they mesh with what was shot on film. He said it’s not too dissimilar to the animation work he did, making sure several layers of film combine correctly with perfect timing.
“I look at the shot from the point of view of a filmmaker,” Campbell said. “If I had a camera, what would I be doing here? How would I solve this from a visual standpoint? That way I still feel I’m connected to the image.”
The industry may have changed, but through his line of work, Campbell got to meet the filmmakers he’d grown up admiring, including Harry Walton, who he’s since became good friends with, and Ray Harryhausen, the man whose work inspired Campbell since he was a kid attending Ardmore City Schools.
“In a way, I got to meet my hero,” Campbell said.
The films he’s worked on run the gamut from action to sci-fi to comedy, with a few creature features here and there, like the 1998 Godzilla and 2001 Planet of the Apes remake. Campbell said that while he enjoys what he does, he still misses the old school methods of misdirection.
“You look at the old Star Wars movies, ET and things like that and you know it’s not real, those spaceships and creatures don’t really exist, but you still didn’t really know how they did that. There was a mystery,” Campbell said. “Today, you may not understand the processes, but we’ve been a lot more open. The magician’s revealing their tricks and everybody says, ‘Well, they did it on computers.’ They may not know exactly how Iron Man flies, but there’s  no mystery there. It’s all ones and zeros.”
Pangs of nostalgia aside, visual effects are only becoming more ubiquitous and the art form is continually evolving. Once again, it’s an exciting time to be a filmgoer. But the sheer limitless possibilities of the medium are a source of both great power and great responsibility, something Campbell experienced first hand while working on Avengers: Infinity War.