September 28, 2008

Local Guy Has Eye for Movie Work Kenosha Native Rygiel Lighting Up the Screen Behind the Scenes


Kenosha native Jim Rygiel went to New Zealand, and all he came home with were three Oscars for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Well, that and the helmet of a Rohan royal guard.

In truth, he returned with countless memories, like when Andy Serkis, who played Gollum, spooked his "precious" daughter in the craft services line at lunch.

But beyond earning material things and the audiences' gratitude for the landmark films -- directed by Peter Jackson and based on books by J.R.R. Tolkien -- Rygiel, who was visual effects supervisor on them, is like a free agent in sports who can write his own ticket after a stellar season.

His latest film, "Eagle Eye," opened Friday; he's currently doing some "911 help" on an upcoming remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still"; is in preproduction for a "Gulliver's Travels" remake with Jack Black and a new "Chronicles of Narnia" film; and is preparing to co-direct the animated film "Bunyan and the Babe."

On a live-action film such as "Gulliver's Travels," an effects supervisor is often a second-unit director, shooting footage to be incorporated into principal footage being shot by the director.

"He's dealing with the main actors and stuff. If he shoots Jack Black on a green screen, which would be the main visual effect, I would shoot the Lilliputians somewhere else," to be incorporated later into the scene, said Rygiel.

In a fantasy such as "Lord of the Rings," where a creature or a landscape is imaginary, different people have different visions and "you can go all over the place" trying to bring something to life, he said. But in film like "Eagle Eye," where something like a helicopter exists, matching it digitally "is easier because you already know" what it looks like.

While Rygiel served Jackson's vision on "Lord of the Rings," he helped create the aesthetic on "Eagle Eye" with director D.J. Caruso.

"That's the way you would rather do it," he said. "On 'Gulliver,' I'm the first person hired. There's no director of photography. No production designer. I started on Monday, and we're already having meetings on how we're going to make Jack Black 50 feet tall."

While it remains to be seen whether more Oscars are in Rygiel's future, the ones he already has demand constant attention.

"I have to do more polishing and dusting now," he joked.

The Oscars do "make getting jobs a little bit easier . . . (but) you still have to go work for them. And you still get turned down for some."

And while Rygiel "would love to" work on "The Hobbit," the "Lord of the Rings" prequel to be directed by Guillermo del Toro, "it's too soon to tell."

However, one sure thing that the future does hold for Rygiel and his family: They will be spending Thanksgiving in Wisconsin Dells.

Read a review of "'Eagle Eye" at And keep up on the world of movies at Duane Dudek's blog, Dudek on Film:

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