Center for Visual Music


Excerpt from "Low Tech Effects: The Right Stuff" by Adam Eisenberg


...the earthscapes were produced independently by Jordan Belson, employing an alternate approach he had developed to create a number of more impressionistic views for the Glenn space flight. "Jordan's views are very surrealistic, although they border on realism." Holman noted. "He really makes you feel the earth is alive. It's a very moving, living effect. We tried to make starfields and they looked dead, but he created ones that gave the sense that they were almost breathing."

Just as the staff at USFX had to slowly evolve their techniques, experimental filmmaker Jordan Belson found himself facing new challenges and ideas while working on The Right Stuff. Known primarily for 16mm films such as Music of the Spheres and Samadhi, Belson was asked by Philip Kaufman to provide some unique images to represent the "demon zone" - that area beyond the speed of sound. Other taskings included producing the "fireflies" - strange sparkles of light seen by Glenn outside his cabin window, later determined to be ice crystals - and earthscapes.

"I first wanted to use Jordan years ago when I was working on the first Star Trek movie," Kaufman recalled. "Jordan is a true artist. His studio is like a monastery for film creation. Very few people are ever allowed inside...From there, he creates skies and universes and strange light effects, using his own techniques."

"I don't use liquids or models," said Belson, who has been working for almost three decades creating unique visions in his small San Francisco studio. "I use mechanical and optical effects; and instead of using an animating table, I call my setup an optical bench." Creating his effects for The Right Stuff presented Belson with some unique challenges since he was unaccustomed to creating images that are essentially realistic. While he had allowed some of the footage in his earlier films to be purchased and used in Demon Seed (the computer screen effects) and Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, The Right Stuff was the first time he had been called upon specifically to produce images for many different sequences in a commercial, theatrical film.


Originally published in Cinefex 14 (October 1983).


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