Computer science grad makes Hollywood magic

It was the fall of 1962: Television viewers laughed at the antics of The Beverly Hillbillies, kids did "The Loco-Motion," the Yankees squared off against the Giants in a fall-classic showdown. And, with considerably more at stake, the United States and the Soviet Union went to the brink of war over missiles in Cuba.

It all happened 15 years before Bill La Barge was born. But the Cuban Missile Crisis became a focal point for the 23-year-old La Barge who worked for eight months on animation and 3-D visual effects for the movie Thirteen Days, which chronicles the tense days when the world's two superpowers faced off to determine who would blink first.

La Barge, a 2001 computer science graduate, created scenes of computer-generated aircraft, such as F-8 and F-101 fighter jets and a U2 spy plane, and computer-generated smoke and afterburners for surface-to-air missiles and jets depicted in the movie. The opportunity resulted from co-op and full-time technical-director positions La Barge held with Cinesite Visual Effects, owned by Eastman Kodak Co., in Hollywood. The Lewisburg, Pa., native receives on-screen credit at the end of the movie.

"It's very exciting for me to see my work on the big screen and know that millions of people have seen my work," La Barge says. "It makes me feel even better when people tell me they didn't see any visual effects in the movie. That's exactly our goal: To make it look so real no one could tell otherwise."

While at Cinesite for parts of 1999 and 2000, La Barge also wrote software used in the production of the movies, Red Planet and X-Men. "It was a great experience," La Barge says.

So good, in fact, that La Barge returned to Los Angeles after finishing classes to accept a job offer with the company. He'll be a 3D technical director at Cinesite.

The University Magazine, Fall 2001