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Bonnie Bing: Former Wichitan coordinated visual effects for ‘The Great Gatsby’

  • Published Sunday, May 5, 2013, at 7:58 a.m.

Barry St. John, 32, was the kid at Robinson Middle School making “little videos.” Today he works on blockbuster movies, including “The Great Gatsby.” He was in Santa Monica, Calif., where he lives, when I interviewed him by phone. He was getting ready to go to New York for the “Gatsby” premiere, then on to Wichita for the May 10 premiere.

You won’t see Barry on the screen next to Leonardo DiCaprio, but you’ll see the result of a lot of his work, as he was the visual effects coordinator.

My first question: What’s the difference between visual effects and special effects?

He explained that visual effects are created on a computer. Giving an example of special effects, he said, “something like pyrotechnics.”

The former Wichitan’s mom, Jennie Becker, still lives here. Needless to say, she is excited to see “The Great Gatsby.”

Barry said he was thrilled when he was contacted by visual effects producer Joyce Cox, who, by the way, is from Derby, to work on the movie.

I was surprised to learn that 90 percent of the movie was shot in Sydney, Australia.

Why there?

“Huge tax breaks. Millions of dollars were saved by shooting there,” he said.

I’ve looked forward to seeing this movie since I saw the first ad, and after talking to Barry, it will be even better. Looking at the list of the crew, I was amazed to see nearly 300 people worked on visual effects alone. What does the visual effects coordinator do?

“I worked directly for Joyce, presenting shots to the director and the editor. When we had a shot coming up, we would see what the director liked and what he didn’t like and then send all the notes to the computer people. There’s a lot of organizing and a lot of complications,” he said, adding, “This movie has more visual effects than ‘Men in Black III.’ ”

I asked if he had a favorite scene in the much-anticipated film.

“The big party scenes are spectacular.”

And what about the fabulous house? Where is that?

He told me the exterior of the house is completely fabricated.

“It is modeled after a real place, but it was done by visual effects.”

Darn, I wanted to go see the place. Some shots were done at a school that director Baz Luhrmann attended.

Barry says the scene where Gatsby and Nick are driving into New York City was one of the most challenging because in real life they were on a blue screen not going anywhere and not in a real car.

“New York is such a gritty, grimy place with all those textures, that re-creating that grime, the old garbage cans and the old brooms and chairs, all those random objects you see, getting that all together to look like they were really there was very difficult,” he said. “There were so many times we looked at the shot and said it looked too much like a video game. It needed to be grounded in the real world because we were designing actual environment.”

He’s loved movies for most of his life, so I asked him what his dream job would be in the industry.

“I’ve been a gaffer, a light man, a lot of different jobs, but I hope my career path is more into producing. As a producer, you get to lend your opinion, and you’re in charge of a big piece of the business.”

He says he likes the idea of creative and noncreative people working as a team.

“Whether you like every person or not, it’s about moving toward the completion of a project. Like being a coach of a basketball team. You’re the leader.”

From now on, I’ll watch the credits closely for the name Barry St. John, who started out by shooting “little videos” in Wichita, a place he says he still calls home.

Reach Bonnie Bing at bingbylines@gmail.com.

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