Making The Stargate … Kawoosh!

Stargate "kawoosh"

Stargate SG-1: “Forever in a Day”

There’s probably no visual that is more uniquely Stargate than the KAWOOSH – that unstable energy vortex that “flushes sideways” (to quote Samantha Carter) to establish a stable wormhole between two planets.

It was a visual centerpiece of Ronald Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s 1994 film, but when it came time to adapt the concept for television the movie team wasn’t involved … so a completely new team of visual effects artists had to figure out how to reproduce the signature visual for themselves. Then came the “puddle pass” – the CG work for painting out an actor in parts as they crossed the gate’s event horizon.

Enter James Tichenor, who worked as Stargate SG-1‘s visual effects supervisor and producer off and on throughout most of the show’s run. Like the feature film, the effects team achieved the unstable vortex by blasting air into a large tank of water.

“It was always a practical water effect,” Tichenor explains. “We had set up … this big tank of water and we would fire air cannons into the water, and we would shoot it from all these different angles.” Getting different angles on the water allowed the effects team to then match with several different angles on the gate filmed on set — then blend the practical element with the computer-generated puddle.

Tichenor talked about his work on the show, the VFX challenges, and reproducing the kawoosh in a conversation with “Dial the Gate.” Check out this clip from the conversation:

Tichenor relished the challenges of creating ambitious visual effects for sci-fi television. But he said that certain episodes — like the gravity-altered “A Matter of Time” in SG-1‘s second season — proved particularly difficult to achieve the director’s vision.

“The early years were the toughest,” he said, “because we were really trying to figure stuff out then. And I was trying to figure stuff out — I was young. I was in my mid-twenties and I was doing this job that I was learning on the go, because Brad [Wright, executive producer] had so much confidence in me — which was incredible that he did.

“So I was reading my Cinefex magazines every night, thinking, ‘How are they doing it in the movies? How can we adapt that to a TV show?’ We didn’t have YouTube — there was none of this. Nowadays the reference is just enormous. … and you have all of the control with the CG stuff … whereas what we were doing was no reference (or mind reference) and then you’re trying to do it based on shooting elements.”

Head over to “Dial the Gate” on YouTube to find the full interview with James Tichenor. While you’re there, subscribe to GateWorld’s YouTube channel for more Stargate content!

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