William Shourt (Camera and Mechanical design)

Wiliam Shourt
Camera and mechanical design (A New Hope)
Interview: June 2010

How did you get started in the movie business? And what triggered your interest in special effects?

I got started by doing electronics assembly for Doug Trumbull.

In the mid seventies you joined ILM. I’m interested how you joined them?

I worked with John Dykstra at Doug Trumbull and when Star Wars came up I had just finished working on Jaws and thought that it would be good to work near home for a while.

At ILM you got to work on Star Wars. Can you tell in your own words what you exactly had to do for Star Wars and which models you worked on?

I designed and built the motion control equipment and cameras along with several other people. Besides this I also designed and built the armatures and mechanicals for most of the large models and most of the model mounts.

The atmosphere at ILM those days is often described as relaxed, almost hippie-like. How would you describe those days?

Lucas called it the “country club atmosphere” and in some ways he was not far off the mark. We all got on very well.

What did you see as the biggest differences between working on Star Wars at ILM and all the other movies you worked on before, like Silent Running?

It wasn’t that different, It was just a much larger scope of work and we had to design and build the motion control and camera equipment as well as the electronics before we could start shooting.

George Lucas had spent a lot of his budget on effects, but it took quite some time before ILM had produced an effect that was usable. I read that at one moment the pressure became really high. How did you experience this?

We thought that the way we were going about the process was the right way, but it did take a long time before we could really start pumping out scenes.

In the book The Making of Star Wars there is a photo of you working on a model of the Millennium Falcon, possibly the most popular starship ever. Can you share some memories regarding working on that model?

We had finished the original Falcon which ended up as…slips my mind now, it was amazing but they didn’t like it so we had to rush to the new one which we called the pork burger. I never liked it as much as the first one.

What was your impression of Gary Kurtz, the producer and George Lucas, the director?

I thought that both Gary and George were really great. We re shot several scenes out in the desert with small crews the way you would on a low budget movie and they both dug in with the rest of the crew, probably not the same on the next Star Wars movies.

After Star Wars you left ILM and joined Apogee, the new company of John Dykstra who also left ILM. Why did you leave ILM?

We decided we were not really the major studio type of people so we started our own company and had a really good run no regrets. I am sort of retired now. I am still involved with some model making, but I think that it is just about a lost cause.