Posts From August 2007

August 3, 2007

Exploding cake, student filmmakers help ILM spinoff celebrate

By Paul Liberatore
Friday, August 3, 2007

It isn't every company that celebrates its first year in business by blowing up a birthday cake.

But then Kerner Optical, despite its deliberately innocuous name, is literally quite special, creating the special effects for movies like the current summer blockbuster "Transformers."

"We love to blow things up," said company spokeswoman Rose Duignan.

The exploding cake - inflatable and covered with whipped cream - was the climax of a movie the company shot Thursday with 50 teenagers dressed in clown suits from the Oxbow School summer art camp in Napa.

Twenty-five of the company's employees volunteered their time for the student film as part of Kerner Optical's new community outreach program.

"Today was special because we learned what it's like to work with professionals on a movie, to see how it's really done," said 17-year-old James Kieckhefer of Mill Valley, who has been making home movies since he was 11.

"They're teaching kids what it's really like to be a filmmaker," said Oxbow instructor Todd Pickering of Forest Knolls. "It was really generous of them."

For 30 years, Kerner Optical was the name on the front door of the Industrial Light and Magic visual effects studio in San Rafael's Canal neighborhood. It allowed the famous company to remain anonymous so it wouldn't be overrun by "Star Wars" fans.

When ILM moved to the new Lucasfilm campus in San Francisco's Presidio, it left its shops, stages, camera, models, pyrotechnical equipment, creatures, sets and giant sound stages behind for a spinoff company that kept the code name Kerner Optical in homage to its ILM legacy.

"When ILM was here, it was all hush-hush," said Kerner Optical CEO Mark Anderson of Fairfax, who had worked for ILM for 18 years before forming the new company with other ILM veterans. "We have a different approach. We want everyone to know we're here so we can get more involved with the youth of the community. The secret is no more."

The primary focus of the new company is on 3-D entertainment and technology - 3-D feature films, video games, mobile theaters, cameras, TV sets.

"3-D is like when black and white went to color," Anderson said. "It's a whole new way to see the world."

Kerner Optical still does many of the things that ILM was famous for, including the special effects for all three "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.

"We built a lake that held 250,000 gallons of water, put six scale-model pirate ships on it and blew them up," Anderson said with some delight.

If you ever wondered where the Energizer Bunny lives, it's at Kerner. Several pink remote-control bunnies sit silently in a shop at the huge facility, waiting for their next commercial.

"You name it and we can build it," Anderson said, standing beside a larger-than-life anatomic wild boar that stars in an upcoming horror movie.

"It's an exciting time."

Editor’s Note: For additional information contact Pam Hunter- 707-258-1699 x 15 or

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