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updated: 2/24/2013 7:25 AM

Suburban Oscar ties to 'Snow White,' 'Lincoln' and more

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  • Carol Stream native Andy Arnett said the troll in "Snow White and the Huntsman" was one of the best visual effects he supervised as director of animation on the Oscar-nominated movie.

      Carol Stream native Andy Arnett said the troll in "Snow White and the Huntsman" was one of the best visual effects he supervised as director of animation on the Oscar-nominated movie.

  • Chris Hemsworth and Kristen Stewart flee from menacing visual effects in "Snow White and the Huntsman." Carol Stream native Andy Arnett served as director of animation on the Oscar-nominated movie.

      Chris Hemsworth and Kristen Stewart flee from menacing visual effects in "Snow White and the Huntsman." Carol Stream native Andy Arnett served as director of animation on the Oscar-nominated movie.

  • Kristen Stewart flees from menacing visual effects in "Snow White and the Huntsman." Carol Stream native Andy Arnett served as director of animation on the Oscar-nominated movie.

      Kristen Stewart flees from menacing visual effects in "Snow White and the Huntsman." Carol Stream native Andy Arnett served as director of animation on the Oscar-nominated movie.

 
 

Andy Arnett knew he and his team of animators had accomplished something special when their bosses saw a close-up shot of a white stag in "Snow White and the Huntsman" -- and assumed they had painted a horse's muzzle white to create the effect.

"Nope," said Arnett, a graduate of Glenbard North High School in Carol Stream. "It was all created by animation in a computer."

The supervisors weren't the only ones impressed with the work in "Snow White." It's up for an Academy Award tonight for best visual effects. That makes Arnett one of a handful of suburban natives who helped create nominated films like "Lincoln" and "The Avengers."

"It won't win," Arnett predicted of "Snow White." "But 'Life of Pi' will, and that's OK."

Rhythm & Hues, the effects company Arnett works for, supplied visual effects to both "Life of Pi" and "Snow White," so animators there win either way.

Arnett served as the director of animation on "Snow White." He's particularly proud of the monstrous troll that menaces star Kristen Stewart.

"Everyone was really impressed with the troll. He looked fantastic!" Arnett said. "We rendered him with a high level of detail, a high degree of muscle animation with little twitches in the face. Tiny details for the close-ups. The animators really knocked themselves out making that.

"You won't probably come away thinking, 'Oh, wasn't that great how his muscle twitched around his eye!' But those are the small things that give it life and a level of believability."

A lot has happened to Arnett since he worked the 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift at the Daily Herald back in 1991.

Then, his job was to cut out printed news articles, put them through a waxer, then fit and paste the stories on a large paper grid to be photographed and placed on Daily Herald presses. Old school stuff by today's standards.

"Thanks to 'Star Wars,' I've had a lifelong interest in filmmaking and this is my chance to get involved in it," he admitted. "Some of my fondest memories are of going to the Woodfield Theaters 1 and 2 in Schaumburg back in the '80s to see all those great movies.

"I remember watching 'The Empire Strikes Back' there, waiting in lines that stretched around the block. 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' 'Return of the Jedi.' 'E.T.' All those movies really had an impact on me, especially the science fiction films."

Arnett was born in Washington state to a U.S. Army father, Ron Arnett, and his wife, Marilyn. (His parents still live in Libertyville.) His family bounced around the country for several years before moving to Carol Stream, where he went to elementary school, junior high school and high school. He earned a media studies degree at the University of Illinois in Champaign.

"Back in the day, most of the movie posters were hand-drawn works of art," he said. "I decided I wanted to do that."

Then the Photoshop process came along and killed off hand-drawn posters. So, Arnett embarked on an odyssey of jobs, at the Daily Herald and other places, before finding his way to show business.

Arnett learned the essentials of 3-D animation at Disney World's studio. That led to a job at Big Idea, the Chicago company that produced the "Veggie Tales" videos and features.

In 2003, he joined Rhythm & Hues, which, despite its recent filing for bankruptcy, remains a contender in the visual effects world.

Tonight, Arnett and his animators will find out if their work is worthy of an Oscar. Even if "Snow White" wins, their names won't be on the trophy. (Only four are allowed, and they will be the supervising animators working directly from the studio.)

Arnett said he hopes the voters appreciate one of the most difficult effects in "Snow White": the stag.

"The white stag was mostly stoic, holding to one position for a long time," he said. "We had to convince people he was alive and breathing, not just standing there. It's one of the hardest things to do.

"If a character is running around, the action sells the character. Standing still? Not doing a lot? It's easy to fail."

Arnett is not the only local person with a connection to the Oscars. Others include:

• Gary Rydstrom from Elmhurst. He's part of a team nominated for best sound mixing on Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," up for 12 Oscars.

• Brothers Colin and Greg Strause of Waukegan, who both worked as visual effects supervisors on "The Avengers." That film is up against Arnett's for the visual effects Oscar. But like Arnett, they're part of a bigger team and won't hear their names called should the film win.

• Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who played John Williams' Oscar-nominated score to "Lincoln."

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