Sci-Friday #122 – Back to the Future Visual Effects

Here’s why you want to know more about the visual effects in Back to the Future. You might have asked yourself: how did they get the hoverboards to hover? Did they use CGI to make a DeLorean to fly? How many people were involved in helping Doc Brown achieve temporal displacement? Kick back and watch this Part 1 of 2 episode where VFXCool breaks down the visual effects used in making the Back to the Future trilogy.

This of course is near to my heart – I spent several teenage years as an utter BTTF nerd. I stopped counting how many times I’d re-watched the movies and re-read the silly novelizations. I still have an OUTATIME license plate somewhere in my closet and pictures of me next to the production DeLorean from Universal Studios. Robert Zemeckis is a genius storyteller, and he re-wrote the scifi genre in 1985 when he produced a silly movie about a lonely kid, a mad scientist and a funny looking car that only needed to reach 88Mph to take us to a new universe.

The deeper you go into the VFX history of Back to the Future, the more you learn. For example, Michael Fink was a small contributor to BTTF, but made a huge impact. “I was in the art department one day in a conversation with Robert Zemeckis, Larry Paull, and Todd Hallowell — who was an art director at that time, and we were talking about the Flux Capacitor — where would it go, how big, and what would be best for the story. Robert said ‘I just need a better name for this prop. An actor’s got to be able to say it, an actor can’t say these words and sell it. It needs a better name.’

“I had worked on China Syndrome  which is about a nuclear reactor melting down, and I had learned a little about nuclear energy.  I said, ‘In a nuclear reactor, there is a term called ‘neutron flux’. It could be…’  I got that far, and Robert and I both said at the same time, ‘flux capacitor.’  Robert said, ‘That’s it… flux capacitor!’  So that is how it got its name — Robert blending neutron flux and temporal field capacitor into ‘Flux Capacitor’.  It got named through that conversation about that device in the art department.”

So even though this Sci-Friday is about the visual effects in Back to the Future, something bears repeating. Scifi makes the right kids feel heard, and seen. That’s important for young people that feel like no one understands them. I’ll talk more about that later. In the meantime, have a great weekend, and watch out for that Biff Tannen. I hear he’s trouble.