Since the early 1990s, veteran VFX supervisor John Gajdecki (pronounced gah-des-key, in case you were curious) has made an art of bringing the bombast of the big screen to the small. Starting with Friday the 13th: The Series (1988-1990) and War of the Worlds (1988-1990), before taking whatever the writers threw at him on the first season of mind-mangling SF anthology The Outer Limits (1995), John proved he could overcome the typical TV challenges of time, budget and technology to bring the unreal to life. Most recently, he satisfied fans of the Warner Bros comic canon on the first season of The CW’s Superman and Lois.
Way back in summer 2020 when The Companion first launched in the darkened doldrums of lockdown, Barney Nield caught up with John for a conversation about his tenure on Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. He only worked on the first four and three (or three and two, depending on how you count SGA ‘Rising’ and SG-1 ‘ Children of the Gods’) episodes of each, but for him, it was all about planting his flag atop the creative peak of each show, conjuring up the VFX solutions that would steer his successors through a decade of puddle-jumping.
You can hear to the full interview right here, but while you’re listening enjoy these rare behind-the-scenes photos from the hard drive of the Gatebuilder himself.
1. Getting the Point
When the team started work on Stargate SG-1, MGM opened their archives for the crew and found one or two impressive artifacts 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 John 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. Meat the Crew
Sometimes, effects sequences require to pinpoint accuracy. Days, weeks, months spent laboring 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!”
5. 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 7. 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.
6. 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.”
Editors Note: 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 sharing the photos.
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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