The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science will pay tribute this evening to Adam Beckett, an animator and visual effects artist who was little known during his lifetime but whose work endures in pop culture through his contributions to the original "Star Wars."
The overlooked artist, who died in a house fire 30 years ago at age 29, was "a unique talent," says his friend and co-worker Richard Winn Taylor ("Tron"), a visual effects artist who is co-hosting the retrospective this evening at the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood.
"His brief interaction with all of us moved film forward in many outstanding ways," says Taylor. "He had a brief moment in the sun. He was such a kind of bigger-than-life guy. He was like a big bright-eye bear."
"He was a very unique person, sort of a march-to-a-different-kind-of-drummer person," adds his biographer, animator and animation professor Pamela Turner, who is also hosting the tribute.
A student at Jules Engel's then-new experimental animation program at CalArts between 1970 and '75, Beckett turned out half a dozen seminal animated films. Of those, "Dear Janice," "Heavy-Light," "Flesh Flows" and "Life Like in the Atom," which was unfinished at the time of his death, are slated to be screened.
"His primary drive in life was to make his own films," says Taylor.
"He was really a driven, creative soul, this guy. He just began his films. He never knew when one of his films was going to end. He just began drawing, and it would just keep going and going and going."
After completing the drawings, he would go into a dark room and put these animated pieces into the optical printer -- a device that features one or more film projectors mechanically linked to a movie camera that allows filmmakers to re-photograph one or more strips of film.
"He would spend days in there sometimes doing 200 passes through the printer," says Taylor. "He would turn a simple piece of animation into this flowing liquid fire by doing these optical tricks."
Taylor hired Beckett in the mid-1970s to work with him on commercials, then he went to work for John Dykstra to do animation effects on "Star Wars."
"He did primarily the laser fire, the photon torpedoes and the electricity when R2D2 got zapped," says Taylor, adding that the two were about to work together on "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" when Beckett died in the fire in his small house in Agoura.
Besides screening his films, the program will feature an onstage panel of friends and colleagues including Oscar-winning visual effects artists David Berry and Richard Edlund, animator Chris Casady and filmmakers Beth Block, Roberta Friedman and Pat O'Neill.
What: The work of Adam Beckett
Where: Linwood Dunn Theater, 1313 Vine St., Hollywood
When: 8 tonight
Price: $5; $3 for academy members and students with I.D.
Contact: (310) 247-3600 or go to www.oscars.org