Political Science Professor Involved In World Peace Awareness Effort

Julia Albarracin

Western Illinois University Associate Political Science Professor Julia Albarracin has undertaken an effort to bring awareness of the issue of world peace to the region.

After coming to campus, Albarracin spearheaded the annual campus celebration of World Peace Day at WIU, which was held for the second time in September.

“There is always an interest in the issue of peace in other parts of the world, but not a lot of awareness in the U.S.,” Albarracin said.

During the first celebration, Albarracin developed a video project that incorporated WIU students, faculty and staff and she worked with Tri-States Public Radio News Director Rich Egger to develop a radio story of world peace issues.

“We hope the celebration will be bigger next year; I hope a lot of people are going to be involved,” she said. “This year faculty and students gathered to discuss ongoing conflicts and possible solutions.”

Visual effects pioneer, Western IL native, Tom G. Smith visits WIU

Thomas G. Smith, Visual Effects Pioneer, spoke at Western Illinois University in Macomb Oct. 17, 2012

Noted filmmaker and Canton, IL, native Thomas G. Smith–renowned for his special effects work on such iconic American films as E.T., Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark–spoke at Western Illinois University Sandburg Theatre in the University Union Oct. 17. His lecture, “Movie Magic–My Thirty Years in Visual Effects,” was illustrated with clips from his film career.

“I tell young people who ask me how to get into filmmaking: ‘Start making some movies.’ And it’s not an unreasonable request. If I said that 40 years ago to someone, that person would have asked: ‘Well, where am I going to get the $5,000 to make even make a short one?’ But nowadays, if you have a computer and a video camera, you can do it.”

This plain-dealing advice came from Thomas G. Smith, someone who knows about making and whose long career in film is anything but plain.

Renowned for his special effects work on such films as George Lucas’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Steven Spielberg’s E.T., Smith, a Canton, IL, native, recently treated students, faculty, and staff to an in-person account of his career in filmmaking and visual effects production. During his two-day tour of Western Illinois University last week, Smith gave students an insider’s insight into filmmaking and the use of visual effects in feature films in his presentations in a couple of introduction to film courses. He also presented “Movie Magic–My Thirty Years in Visual Effects” (on Oct. 17), a University-wide lecture replete with compelling still and video images that illustrated Smith’s long career in both educational and commercial moviemaking.

Smith also took time during his visit to Macomb to visit University Relations, where I had the opportunity to talk to him about his fascinating time working in “big” feature film production, a career that many creative types would consider to be a series of “dream” jobs.

An image slide that was presented in Tom G. Smith's "Movie Magic--My Thirty Years in Visual Effects" presentation at WIU Oct. 17

During his Oct. 17 presentation, “Movie Magic–My Thirty Years in Visual Effects” at WIU, Tom G. Smith showed images and movie clips from his long career in educational and commercial filmmaking. This image is of Smith working on a editing machine in the pre-digital editing software days.

The Move to Making Movie Magic in Marin
Smith’s work as manager of the creative team at George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic (ILM)–a visual effects production house located in Marin County in northern California–began in 1980. Under his direction, ILM created the innumerably breathtaking visual effects on some of the most beloved movies in the American cinema, including: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, E.T., Poltergeist, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Dragonslayer, and two Star Trek films. But before he got to ILM, Smith “paid his dues,” so to speak, working for several years on educational films for Encyclopedia Britannica.

One of his productions for EB, The Solar System, a 1977 film narrated by Richard Basehart, provided the necessary platform for him to step into the visual effects realm of Hollywood feature filmmaking.

Smith: At the time, I had worked in film for Encyclopedia Britannica [near Chicago] making educational films for about 15 to 20 years. And then I was assigned to make a film about the solar system, and since I couldn’t go on location to film it, I had to manufacture it. That’s what got me into that. It was so difficult, so prone to error–you had to do things over again. When I finished that film I told my wife, “I never want to do a visual effects film again.”

But that film was my opening, and George Lucas hired me a few years later to run his Industrial Light and Magic, which is where they make visual effects for his films.

TK: What was it like being interviewed by George Lucas?

Image from slideshow that Thomas G. Smith presented at Western Illinois University Oct. 17, 2012, from his lecture, "Movie Magic--My Thirty Years in Visual Effects"

Tom G. Smith’s presentation (at Western Illinois University Oct. 17) “Movie Magic–My Thirty Years in Visual Effects” included images from his career as the manager of George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic production facility in California. Here, Smith’s photo shows how the team filmed the opening sequence of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

Smith:It was a person who worked at ILM who had seen The Solar System who recommended me. I went through six interviews, and then the last interview was with George Lucas himself. The president of the company talked to me before I met George, and he said, “George is kind of an introvert. He doesn’t talk a lot. Don’t worry if he isn’t very conversational. He’s a very quiet guy.” So I was ready for that, and the day I interviewed, he came in and started talking, and I never got a chance to tell him anything.

During the interview, I remember him telling me, “If you go bankrupt, I’m not going to bail you out. You gotta stand on your own legs.”

I guess he knew I was already hired. We actually got along very well, I think because of my experience with film–he knew I had done a lot of things he had done. So I knew 16-millimeter film and all the cameras used and the sound equipment, and all the problems you can have. So we had sort of a similar background, in that regard. Of course, his background–I mean, he went right to the top with his films, American Graffiti… and Star Wars was a spectacular success.

When I got to ILM, they had already made Star Wars, and they were working on The Empire Strikes Back. There had been a gap between those two films, where they had shut the place down. George [Lucas] said, “I don’t want to do that anymore, I want to continue it as a service to the industry. So when my next Star Wars film comes [which turned out to be Return of the Jedi], we’ll have something going and the continuity of the people.”

So I took over as manager of ILM, and that was the first time that company became an independent service company, rather than just an arm of a production. There we did some very interesting films–E.T., Poltergeist, Star Trek, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. And then we came along to Return of the Jedi. And then the second Indiana Jones movie…

About that time, I was getting a little tired of just doing visual effects and I told George [Lucas], “Nothing against you guys, but I want to make movies.” So he gave me an assignment, because he didn’t want me to leave, and I made two, two-hour long ABC special movies on the Ewoks [The Ewok Adventure and Caravan of Courage]. We did those in northern California.

People often think that ILM must be in Hollywood, but it’s not. It’s north of San Francisco. When I arrived, it had about 100 people working there, all of them very creative, energetic and independent, rebellious… I’m still just amazed when I think of what talent we had there. And many of them have gone to become film directors and to win many Academy Awards in visual effects.

TK: How did your background in educational film prepare you for that?

Tom G. Smith’s presentation (at Western Illinois University Oct. 17) “Movie Magic–My Thirty Years in Visual Effects” included images from his career as the manager of Industrial Light and Magic production facility in California. Here, Smith’s photo shows the miniature version of the house in Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist.

Smith: Because I had worked so much in film, I really understood all of it. I have worked in every area except the developing of the film. I’ve worked as a cameraman, director… everything.

But the trick was–when we started doing work for people on the outside, and for Lucas, too–to stay on budget. That was the main challenge, because creative people tend to want to keep doing it and doing it, until it’s absolutely perfect. And so sometimes you have to have them keep their eyes on what we could afford. And one of the biggest helps was George Lucas, who understood that. I remember asking him, “How do I get these guys to understand that we have to stay on budget?” And he said, “Involve them in it.” So, what we did… we would do a bit on a film, say on E.T. or Poltergeist, and when we were working on it every week, we would sit down and summarize how much we’d spent, how much we had left, and whether we were doing good (in terms of cost) or not. And we would review all the films. We usually did two or three films at once, and then we would review them with all those people. It was a bit of a competition then. “You know, this film is still doing well on budget. Theirs is a little over…” So that helped an awful lot.

But it is a difficult challenge, and as George Lucas said one time: “The visual effects are never done, they are just abandoned.”

TK: What were some of the processes of visual effects like in the pre-digital world?

Smith: The processes actually are no different in principle then when George M?li?s, back at the turn of the century, was making films. It was re-photography of images. So you take an image of a spaceship, say you want it flying toward you. You would suspend it, and the camera would race in on the spaceship–by race in, I mean one frame at a time, very slowly. You would take that image, and then have another image of, let’s say, a star field, and then you would use the first image with the matted background that was blue and then matte out everything and then expose the star field. And that portion of the star field would be covering where the spaceship was, you would matte that out.

So you would put it together in re-photography. But you didn’t always succeed. Every morning we would review what we did. Very often there would be a mistake, and we’d have to do it over again, sending small pieces of film to the lab because what we worked with were just little pieces. It was tedious. It is tedious now digitally, but tedious in a different way.

Industrial Light and Magic: The Art of Special Effects by Thomas G. Smith

The year Smith left ILM, his book Industrial Light and Magic: The Art of Special Effects (1986) was published. A classic in the field, it went through a dozen printings, selling 100,000 copies, and helped to give Smith an international reputation. The original manuscript for that work and other materials are part of the Western Illinois University Libraries’ Thomas G. Smith Collection, which reflects the filmmaker’s achievement. Contact WIU Archives and Special Collections at (309) 298-2717 (or via email at malpass-archives@wiu.edu) for more info. about this collection.

TK: You also worked for Disney, right?

Smith: Yes, in 1986. I was sent there by George Lucas, because he was working on Captain EO with Michael Jackson, and they were having big trouble with the movie, because the visual effects were very difficult to do.

When I was through with that movie, Jeffrey Katzenberg asked me to come work for Disney, and I still wanted to make movies, so I went to Disney and then consulted on some of the theme-park visual effects production work. But then I was the executive producer of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. It was almost all visual effects and was a great idea for a movie. I did some other things while I was at Disney, too.

[Smith produced the visual effects for this high-budget, Disney theme-park 3D production, Captain EO, starring Jackson, which opened at Disney venues in California, Florida, France, and Japan. It is still showing as a theme park attraction after 26 years. Partly as a result of that acclaimed production, Smith was invited to join Walt Disney Studios as a feature film producer. His Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) won a BAFTA (British Academy Award) for outstanding special effects.]

Smith: While I was Disney, Jim Henson was going to a 3D theme park film for them. At that point, I sort of became “Mr. 3D”–before Captain EO I had never done it. So I produced Jim Henson’s movie, Muppet Vision 3D. He died while we were doing it–it was quite a shock… He was only 53 years old.

[In 1995, Smith left Disney to produce the science fiction film The Arrival starring Charlie Sheen. In 1999, he worked on the visual effects and directed second unit on the Jim Henson Co. film Muppets from Space. In 2001, he produced the Jim Henson Company/CBS’s, Jack and the Beanstalk , a four-hour movie of the week running in two parts on two successive CBS nights. His last feature film was as the visual effects producer and second unit director for Ted Turner’s Civil War epic, Gods and Generals (2003). The year he finished work on Gods and Generals, Tom wrote and published the civil war novel, Massacre At Baxter Springs (2004).]

Smith: I wrote a book on the Civil War, which after Gods and Generals I became more intimate with–I learned more about what it must of have been like to be a Civil War soldier. So I began thinking about my great grandfather, who died in Kansas in the Civil War, and I did a lot research on that. That is what the book is about… about his experience. He was about 17 years old , and he died about six weeks after he enlisted in Wisconsin. It is interesting what you can find out if you really dig. I actually got down to a handwritten description about what happened during the battle in which he died.

Gods and Generals was the very last feature film I worked on. After that, I went back and resurrected a film I worked on when I was working in 16 millimeter, which involves the geographic region of Western Illinois, the film Spoon River Anthology. It was pretty successful in 16 mm, but I wanted to do a bigger film, so I expanded the one I had, and it’s now being released by Phoenix [out of St. Louis]. It’s now around 90 minutes interactive–I designed it on the DVD so you can see the Spoon River part, or you can see a section on Edgar Lee Masters.

That project actually is what brought me in contact with WIU, because [Western Illinois University Distinguished Professor Emeritus] John Hallwas had written the introduction to the Spoon River Anthology book that came out, and he seemed to know a lot about it. So when I was expanding the project, I contacted him and interviewed him, and we’ve kept in contact ever since.


These days, Smith continues to write. Recently, he wrote the introduction to the new Oxford University Press book about educational movies, Learning with the Lights Off (2011), and he is currently writing a series of film history articles for “Insider” magazine.

View Smith’s Internet Movie Database (IMDb) bio at www.imdb.com/name/nm0810147/

Editor’ s Note: Notes from John Hallwas were used to help provide background information about Thomas G. Smith’s career. More information about Smith is also available in the University Relations’ press release that was disseminated prior to Smith’s Oct. 17 lecture at WIU.

Decker’s “The Suck” makes Live Strong’s list for most extreme fitness tests in America

Joe Decker, World's Fittest Man and WIU Alumnus

Back-to-back champion of the annual Spartan Death Race and Western Illinois University alumnus Joe Decker (pictured here in black, wearing hat, during a visit to his alma mater) recently designed and sponsored “The Suck” at his family’s farm near Cuba, IL. The 36-hour race was held Sept. 14-16, and on Oct. 15, it was listed on Live Strong’s website as one of the “most extreme fitness tests in America.”

You wouldn’t expect any less from the World’s Fittest Man and two-time winner of the Spartan DEATH Race, now would you?

In 2000, Western Illinois University alumnus Joe Decker–a Cuba (IL) native who owns and founded the San Diego-based boot camp Gut Check Fitness–made his mark on the fitness world by breaking the Guinness Book of World Records’ 24-Hour Fitness Challenge, giving him the right to claim the title of “World’s Fittest Man.” In 2011, Decker became the Spartan Death Race’s first-ever two-time winner.

The physical fitness fanatic recently shared his brand of fitness philosophy (which typically includes grueling physical activities) in his hometown area with a 36-hour race called “The Suck.”

On Monday (Oct. 15), the Live Strong website posted a list of the “the most extreme fitness tests in America,” and not only did the Spartan Race make it on to that list (it is called the “death” race after all), but so did Decker’s “The Suck.” (To see the entire slideshow of the most extreme fitness tests, visit www.livestrong.com/slideshow/558095-the-most-extreme-fitness-tests-in-america/.)

WIU students and faculty helped with Decker's "The Suck" in Cuba, IL, Sept. 14-16.

WIU students and faculty helped with Decker’s “The Suck” in Cuba, IL, Sept. 14-16.

For the event, Decker called on his fellow Leathernecks to help out (see photo). And for those at WIU who were brave enough to test their mettle in “The Suck,” Decker provided a shorter option (12 hours) and a $50 entry fee to take on that “easier” challenge. (Ha!)

The Live Strong list compiled by Pete Wilson states about “The Suck”: “Challenges combine farm chores with military boot camp, trail running, and survival skills. Knowing how to fire a shotgun, bale hay, and dig holes is recommended and required gear includes an ax, headlamp, ruck sack, two sandbags (50 pounds for guys, 30 for gals), and an old car tire. Your base camp is a tent in a hayfield, though sleep is not permitted. If it all sounds like it sucks, that’s the point.”

Way to go, Joe!

Learn more about The Suck at www.facebook.com/pages/The-SUCK/118764908252636.

Former WIU Student Up for Cosmo’s Bachelor of the Year 2012

Eric Anerino – Illinois Bachelor of the Year 2012 as selected by Cosmopolitan magazine

Former Leatherneck track and field athlete Eric Anerino, of Naperville, IL, is participating in Cosmopolitan magazine’s annual hunt for the country’s most eligible bachelor to be crowned Bachelor of the Year 2012.

A man from each state is chosen and eligible to win the title and $10,000. A picture and brief biography is provided for online voters.

Anerino, currently a high school English teacher, graduated from Western Illinois University in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in English. While at Western, Anerino was involved in WIU academically as well as athletically. He was named the 2010 Department Scholar in English, and he was also active in Western’s track and field team, serving as captain and helping to host the Shaymus Relays, a fundraiser for WIU women’s soccer coach Tony Guinn’s son, who is battling Ewing’s Sarcoma. He was also a conference champion and regional qualifier on the team.

To find out more information about Anerino’s run for Bachelor of the Year, or to vote for Anerino, visit http://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/bachelors-2012/bachelors-2012-illinois.

WIU Graduate Subject of New Book About Ethics

Western Illinois University graduate Patrick Kuhse is the subject of a new book about ethics.

MACOMB, IL ? A Western Illinois University graduate who received his degree while incarcerated is the topic of a new book about ethics.

Patrick Kuhse, of Carlsbad, CA, is a 2000 graduate of Western with a Board of Trustees Bachelor of Arts degree (now known as general studies).

Kuhse served a four-year term in federal prison for having “greed goggles” on while he worked as a stockbroker and investment adviser and illegally bumping up his commission. Prior to his arrest he spent four years in Costa Rica hiding from the FBI and federal government before turning himself in.

Kuhse’s story is the basis for a new book, which was released Sept. 26, titled, “Seduced By Success.”

The book is written by Jeanette Magdalene, who has been Kuhse’s life and business coach for several years. Kuhse said it was Magdalene’s idea to write the book.

While in prison, Kuhse participated in a program where students from the Pepperdine University MBA program would visit the prison to hear from white-collar offenders.

“I started talking to this group and realized I had something to say. I wanted to share it with as many people as possible in hopes they would not make the same mistakes I had,” he said.

Kuhse decided to get his bachelor’s degree while in prison and said he chose Western because it was the only program at an “established brick and mortar institution.”

With no access to telephone or computer, Kuhse degree came through self-study and questions sent to him through the mail.

“Then I had to find a guard who was qualified to give me the exams,” he said.

Now out of prison for 12 years, Kuhse has devoted his life to speaking nationwide about ethics.

For more information about Kuhse, visit speakingofethics.com/index.php?pid=about. For more information about the new book, visit amazon.com.

WIU Professor Completes 1,000th Skydive

Larry Andrew, left, completed his 1000th skydive on Sept. 15 accompanied by two friends, Dennis Jensen and Joe Miller.

Western Illinois University Assistant Computer Science Professor Larry Andrew recently completed his 1000th skydiving jump.

Andrew, 60-year-old cancer survivor, completed his 999th, 1,000th and 1001st jumps on Saturday, Sept. 15 in the Quad Cities area.

Andrew said he and his sister have been flying since they were young because his father was a pilot who owned several airplanes. He added skydiving to his passions in 1974when his sister called him while he was in college and the pair jumped together in Orange, Ma.

“I made 7 jumps that summer, but due to work schedules, logistics and life in general I did not jump again for 23 years,” he said. “In 1999 I moved to Macomb and discovered a drop zone here at the Smith Airfield on the east side of town. So I started again and this time I stayed with it. Along the way I earned all four skydiving licenses offered by the U.S. Parachute Association and an instructor’s rating.”

Besides jumping from small aircraft, Andrew has also completed jumps from high altitudes that required oxygen as well as helicopters, a DC-9 airplane, a Russian WWII biplane and a hot air balloon.
“I am also the current co-holder of the unofficial high altitude record for sport skydiving in Illinois,” Andrew said. “I intend to continue skydiving as long as I can do so safely, along with my other hobbies of paragliding, rock climbing, and spelunking. I also would like to get back into scuba again if the opportunity presents itself.”

For the last two years, Andrew has completed about 20 jumps per year.

WIU Student Wins Texaco Country Showdown Illinois Final

Alyssa Page, of Macomb, IL and a WIU alumna, is gearing up for the Midwest Regional Final at the Northern Lights Casino in Walker, MN after winning the Illinois State Final Texaco Country Showdown.

Page, representing Macomb radio station WLMD, was awarded the state title and $1,000 at the 31st annual Texaco Country Showdown Illinois State Final, held at the Cowden Pioneer Days in Cowden, IL.

“Music has always been a big part of my family, and I started singing with my mom and four aunts when I was 5 years old,” Page said. “My aunt would hold the microphone in front of me while I sang ‘Bye Bye Love’ and ‘Jose Cuervo.'”

In the annual competition, more than 450 radio stations across the country sponsor local contestants in a competition open to vocal and/or instrumental performers. Page is now off to the regional finals, and she will have a chance to compete in the national final in Nashville, TN. The national winner is awarded the coveted title, “Best New Act in Country Music,” $100,000 and will be listed among previous winning artists such as, Martina McBride, Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert, Neal McCoy, Sara Evans, Brad Paisley and Billy Ray Cyrus.

You can listen to Page’s song and learn more about her and America’s largest country music talent search at texacocountryshowdown.com.