The force comes to Lakeland with visual effects presentation


As a wide-eyed 7-year-old, Beth D’Amato hugged her bucket of popcorn and settled into an oversized movie theater seat to watch “Stars Wars: A New Hope,” and it was not long before the lightsabers’ glow beckoned her to master the art of such weaponry.

Today, D’Amato works at the special effects company of Industrial Light and Magic as a digital paint and roto supervisor, and with a filmography that includes the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy, it is safe to say there is no style of lightsaber combat that her artistic skills have not mastered.

On Sept. 30, D’Amato visited Lakeland’s Bradley Theatre on invitation from the dean of the college, Meg Albrinck, to talk to the students and faculty about how special effects work.

A Milwaukee native, D’Amato graduated from Marquette University with a desire to work on special effects for Hollywood movies. While at Marquette, she roomed with and befriended Albrinck.

As D’Amato worked her way through college, she secured numerous internships at television stations that helped her become more familiar with the art of movies. She was also a producer of a television show in California.

Eventually, D’Amato applied to and was interviewed for film director George Lucas’ company of Industrial Light and Magic, a special effects company based out of San Francisco, where she secured her current position.

Her job consists of filling in the background of movie sets with things that cannot be created in a Hollywood sound stage. She also colors in “blood” to make gunshot wounds more realistic.

D’Amato calls such techniques “invisible paint.” She must color by hand around the actors and props and hide the green screen used to make such effects possible.

“If I do my job well, you have no idea I did anything at all,” said D’Amato.

With a computer and screen handy, D’Amato showed an intrigued Lakeland audience how she creates special effects around the performers and props.

“I thought this convocation was great,” said Bill Weidner, associate professor of art. “Rarely do we have a convocation on the Bradley stage that is related to art. It kept the students engaged and helped them learn.”

While D’Amato has an impressive filmography that includes box office hits such as “Avatar,” “Men in Black” and “Transformers,” the “Star Wars” episodes are still her favorite projects.

She realized her childhood dream of making the lightsabers glow their neon colors and then some. In “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace,” she brought to life the entire scene of the villain, Darth Maul, getting sliced in half, which is her proudest accomplishment.

She even has a cameo in “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” at the funeral of one of the main characters, Padme Amidala.

“If you do well in George Lucas’ movies, he lets you be in them!” said D’Amato.

D’Amato explained that she would not be where she is today if she had not worked hard at pursuing her dream.

“Nobody told me I couldn’t go from Milwaukee to Hollywood,” said D’Amato with a smirk.

She encourages students to keep pursuing their dreams and even donated $3,000 to the Lakeland College art department, perhaps to help a few creative students on their journey from Sheboygan cornfields to George Lucas’ movie set.