Colin Campbell '84

Colin Campbell, from Oklahoma to Hollywood via Trinity 
by Susie P. Gonzalez

Colin Campbell ’84 recalls being captivated at age 11 by the concept of animation, the cinematic practice of manipulating film rapidly, one frame at a time to create a flowing movie image. Even at that early age, he knew his future would be in film. His journey from Ardmore, Okla., to Hollywood would bring him to Trinity.

At the time, there were no degree programs in visual effects. “You learned either by the ‘folklore’ method, or you made it up as you went,” Campbell says. “A career in visual effects was something you felt driven to do – a calling, like running away to join the circus.” At Trinity, he had the latitude to shape his courses around his interests without having to conform to rigid, pre-planned assignments. “It was a great time to be at Trinity,” Campbell recalls. “I was surrounded by my fellow students who had similar goals of joining the film industry, many of whom remain lifetime friends. We all fed off of each other, working on each other’s projects. Creatively, it was a very fulfilling environment.” 

After graduating, he returned to Oklahoma but soon realized that he was too far from the hub of filmmaking to be ready for work at a moment’s notice. “This is not an easy field to get into,” he says, adding that Hollywood hopefuls often rely upon informal job networks, making their own opportunities.

In 1987, Campbell began taking on a patchwork of jobs – as a sound reader and camera operator for a small animation house called Klasky/Csupo, where his credits include shooting backlit graphics for movie trailers, and later shooting animated glows and contrails at a now-defunct shop for the “The Abyss.” At Boss Films, he shot animated effects for “Hunt for Red October,” “Solar Crisis,” and “Alien 3.” During slow times, he found himself at Industrial Light & Magic, the award-winning special effects company founded by film magnate George Lucas. 

His first digital job was in the restoration of “Snow White & the Seven Dwarves,” but he says it was far from exciting. It meant days of “dust busting,” or individually cleaning dust off each frame of film. He later landed a position as a compositor at Rhythm & Hues, where he worked on “Babe,” “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls,” and “Nutty Professor.” After stints at other companies and films, he is now back at ILM, where he has worked on such blockbusters as “Men in Black 2,” “Hulk,” “Master and Commander,” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” the last of which is nominated for an Academy Award in visual effects. He is currently working on the next “Star Wars” film.