This article was originally published way back in October, which in internet years is approximately a decade. Since then we’ve run a ton of great Stargate articles, including world exclusive video AMA livestreams with co-creator Brad Wright and star Amanda Tapping, which has brought in a legion of new members who might have no idea that this showcase of John Gajdecki’s photos even existed. So guys, this one’s for you!
It’s only with a little bit of time and perspective can we get the full story. And with 25 years, three series and over 300 episodes (so far…), what a perspective, right?
We caught up with VFX veteran John Gajdecki right at the beginning of lockdown for what turned out to be a mammoth two-hour conversation about his work on Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis. In the process of talking to John, we watched him rummage around to find a dusty external hard drive absolutely rammed with unique behind-the-scenes photos which had gone unseen for over a decade. We’re excited to present seven of them to you here, along with some incredible memories from The Companion’s exclusive interview with John, more on which is coming very soon.
(You know why there’s seven right? Like, seven chevrons? Oh, you got it, don’t mind me.)
1. Getting the Point
When the team started work on SG-1, MGM opened their archives for the crew and found one or two impressive artefacts from Roland Emmerich’s 1994 movie to hand over. “When we started,” recalls John, “one of the things they brought us, and, God, I don’t know how they found it, was one of the original pyramid models from the movie! It was amazing.” And if you’ve ever wondered how to get a pyramid across a parking lot… they do it Costco style!
2. Gate Expectations
Here’s a handy Gate that you can take away with you! When the production headed out on location they still needed key elements of practical effects. John explained: “This was a set-piece that traveled. You can see there’s some power going into it, there’s a door in the back where you’d crawl in to wire everything up. The art department would have to go in the day before and set this up and we’d go in and we’d film.”
3. Set the Kawoosh Loose
Arguably the biggest task for Gajdecki and his team was to work out how you recreate the movie’s amazing kawoosh effect on a TV budget and schedule? Well, as with so many things, the answer turned out to be trial and error. “We ordered a special [tank] for the show, and it was one meter by one meter by one meter… that’s the definition of one metric ton. We set up an air cannon above [but] we didn’t know how much air pressure to use. We set the camera up, we set the lights up, we shot some tests, then we set the pressure at 50 pounds. So, we roll the camera at 120 frames per second, the water is as flat as we can make it, you push the button and it lets the air go down the tube right into the water. Well, as it turns out, [the movie] used about five pounds or ten pounds, so 50 pounds just emptied the tank everywhere! It was spectacularly cool! But okay, fill it back up, everybody dry off, and we’re going to try it again.”
4. Home Away from Home
Production studios and offices often look like normal houses. You don’t want anyone on the street just walking into your office and getting a sneak peek of a celebrity or secrets to a new film or TV show. Whether you’re in LA or London, NY or Vancouver, you never know, you might live next door or just walk by the office of someone famous. In fact, The Companion’s base – obviously not during lockdown, we’re all working from home – was Kate Moss’s old office. This is the same for John’s Vancouver office. His company was primarily based in Toronto but once he got the gig for SG-1, he needed a second office in Vancouver pictured here. This ordinary-looking suburban home was actually the former recording studio of four-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter K. D. Lang.
5. Meat the Crew
Sometimes, effects sequences require pin-point accuracy. Days, weeks, months spent labouring behind a computer. Sometimes, you’ve just got to get messy. When it comes to blowing up Reetou, the latter option is preferable. John explains: “We filmed these meat explosions in our alleyway, we set up this huge set-up and we just blew up bags of meat! And that’s what we used for the explosion!”
6. The FX-Men
James Tichenor, Tom Turnbull and John at an awards ceremony. He doesn’t remember which one specifically, but given the show was nominated for eight Emmy Awards for Outstanding Visual Effects alone that’s understandable. John only worked on the first two seasons of SG-1, and after his departure, James became VFX supervisor and stayed on the show until Season Seven. Outside of Stargate, James Tichenor worked on Smallville and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010). Tom Turnbull worked with John at his company in Toronto but isn’t an SG-1 alum. He has had an incredible career in his own right, working on two Resident Evil movies, Hannibal, The Expanse, and the pilots of Fringe and Warehouse 13.
7. Goa’uld Standard
The epic destruction of two Goa’uld motherships had an Oscar-winning assist. As John and his team set up two enormous models in a field with a view to knocking apart like pyrotechnic piñatas, they found themselves sharing the space with a ship being shot for one of Oliver Stone’s projects. This was possibly The Corruptor (1999) or Savior (1998), both produced by Stone with filming taking place in Canada around the same time. “They had lights that were so big that we didn’t need to use many of ours,” recalls John. “But of course we were blowing stuff up which would mess with their sound and they were lighting some things that were messing with our shots, so we went over to talk to them and said, ‘Listen, we’ll call you when we’re about to shoot.’ So when we came to blow something up they’d stop shooting and come and watch from the side of their ship, then when we were done they would go back to filming whatever important project they were on.”
All photographs courtesy John Gajdecki, so if you love his work then please respect his copyright and feel free to share this page with your buds, rather than the photos 🙂
Shoutouts: A huge thanks to Robin Hill, Trix, and Erik Winther Paisley, three of our Kickstarter backers who made The Companion possible!
James Hoare is editor of The Companion. He has been “working in publishing” since the early 1990s when he made his own Doctor Who fanzine to sell in the school playground.
You can find him on Twitter @JDHoare
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