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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

Visual effects supervisor for ‘Argo’ speaks about career in Hollywood

The School for Extended Learning invited Thomas J. Smith, a visual effects supervisor, to speak at the Wake Campus Saturday about his long career in the filmmaking industry and his experience serving in the army.

“The first time you see your name on that screen and every time after that, it’s a special moment,” said Smith. “All the late nights melt away.”

This talk was a part of the F-Stop Warrior Project, a twelve-week program that introduces veterans to the fundamentals of digital photography for both educational and occupational purposes. 

Founder of the F-Stop Warrior Project Terence Ford said learning digital photography helps to restore veterans. 

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Ford said he hoped Smith would inspire his students.

During Smith’s freshman year of college at Central Michigan University, the draft was underway. Smith said he had worried that his number, 11, was going to be called, interrupting his studies. Instead of waiting, he decided to volunteer. He served in the army from 1972 to 1974.

“It took me out of that environment where I could have gotten stuck and dropped me in the middle of Germany,” Smith said.

It was there that he became interested in photography. He worked in a black and white facility developing pictures he took and learned about the art form from a “grumpy German man.” 

President Nixon declared the war over in 1975 and Smith returned to America where he began working at Industrial Light and Magic. Throughout his career, Smith has worked on numerous films such as “The Chronicles of Riddick,” “Contagion” and “Ocean’s 12.”

Smith famously worked on the movie “Argo,” specifically on the ending scene when police cars chase a plane until it takes off. When showing a clip of this scene during his presentation, the audience gasped when it was revealed that there was not an actual plane, but a CGI plane. 

“To have somebody say ‘I didn’t know there were special effects in that movie,’ is one of the best compliments you can get,” Smith said. 

In 2016, Smith traveled to China to embark on an entirely new journey apart from the work he had been doing in Hollywood. He worked on eight films there and taught visual effects to students in his free time. Smith wanted to share his breadth of knowledge with anyone who was willing to learn.

“Everybody learns from everybody else,” said Smith.

Smith said he believes F-Stop is an important program because it not only gives students an opportunity to learn, but it also provides the equipment. 

“That’s the awesome thing about [City College],” said City College student Will Hahn. “We have gotten grants to have equipment available for students.” 


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