By KENESHA R. BEHELER
News Staff Reporter
MOUNT VERNON — Kevin Willmering grew up in Mount Vernon never thinking he would one day be creating visual effects for popular mainstream movies.
Graduating from Mount Vernon High School in 1972, Willmering went on to complete his bachelor’s degree in music education from Capital University in 1976. In 1979, he earned a master’s degree in music performance at Yale University. He followed his passion for music to California to pursue a career as a freelance musician and several years later started working for the San Francisco Opera House as the orchestra manager.
“While I was there I met my wife (Janet Healy) because she was a big opera fan,” he said.
When they first met, Healy was working as the senior special effects producer for Industrial Light and Magic, a division of Lucasfilm Ltd.
“When I met her she had just finished working on the special effects for Jim Cameron’s movie “Terminator 2,” having produced the effects for the melting chrome guy,” he said. “She thought my opera job was really cool and I thought her movie job was really cool.”
When Healy started to work on her next project creating computer-generated dinosaurs for the movie “Jurassic Park,” Willmering was further intrigued by the development of technology and visual graphics.
“I got really excited seeing the test work she was doing and decided I wanted to get into the business,” he said.
His fascination with computers stemmed from his computer interest during the early years of the personal computer. Most of what he learned was from hands-on experience and he had taught himself some computer programming from books.
“At that time the computer graphics work in films was just getting going and it was extremely difficult. The machinery wasn’t nearly as powerful as it is today, the hard drives weren’t nearly as big, and everything was much more expensive,” Willmering said. “But as I was investigating the work that was going on by ILM, I thought that I might be successful because I had some understanding of how the software worked. And looking at the problems that they needed to solve, I had some sense on how you might possibly be able to accomplish it.”
“Following ‘Jurassic Park’, Janet had to staff a very big crew for ‘Casper’ and there was an opportunity for me to get started in the business.”
In 1993, Willmering started working at ILM as a computer graphic artist on the movies “Forest Gump” and “Casper.”
As the computer graphics revolution took off, Willmering got involved in other major productions such as “American President,” “Mission Impossible,” “Jungle to Jungle,” “Flubber,” “102 Dalmatians” and “Mission to Mars,” as well the animated films “Dinosaur,” “Spirit” and “Shark Tale.”
“It was really interesting to be able to follow the development of the use of computer graphics in cinema, and watch these highly skilled and extremely talented people figure out how to do all these amazing things as they went along. And after being involved, I knew I really wanted to stay in the business,” he said.
Willmering has truly enjoyed working with companies like ILM, Warner Brothers, Disney and DreamWorks.
He now lives in Paris, France, and works on projects for the French animation studio MacGuff Ligne, which creates the actual animation work for the Los Angeles-based company Illumination Entertainment. Illumination is a new production company that is producing both live-action and animated family films for Universal Studios.
His latest project was the animated film “Despicable Me.”
“I think it’s a great movie,” he said. “I had a great time making it. It’s goofy and over the top. It’s probably the funniest movie I had the chance to work on. It was also great to be able to work with the terrific group of artists at MacGuff. The icing on the cake is that my wife is the producer, so I knew it was being managed by one of the best in the world. I think the quality shows and I’m looking forward to starting up on the next project which is ‘The Lorax,’ based on a Dr. Seuss story.”