Washington County's laser wizards sparkle in 'Oblivion'
A combat drone bathes Tom Cruise's face with bluish laser light inside a post-apocalyptic New York City Public Library in “Oblivion,” a Universal Pictures science fiction film officially released on Friday.
Behind the movie's laser special effects is Lightwave International, a Washington County company recognized as one of the world's best at what it does.
“What is unique about this movie is that we are using real lasers to create the effects that you see on the screen,” said company president and CEO George Dodworth, 38. “When you see the drones attacking, probing and scanning, that's us.”
Dodworth started Lightwave about two decades ago while still a student at Penn State University. The company today has about 20 employees with operations based in Eighty Four and offices in Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Las Vegas and London.
“Oblivion” marks Lightwave's third major motion picture. The company also provided laser special effects for 2011's “Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon” and “Cowboys & Aliens.” Much of Lightwave's work focuses on concerts and festivals, music videos and, increasingly, television commercials.
Its lasers are featured in a new L'Oreal commercial with Glee actress Lea Michele and were used at the recent SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas, for a show with Public Enemy, Ice Cube and LL Cool J. The company worked on an episode of “X-Factor” and “Global Rainbow, After the Storm,” a laser-light display in New York following last year's Hurricane Sandy, which shot lasers from Manhattan, across Brooklyn and past Long Island.
In 2012, Lightwave won eight awards from the International Laser Display Association.
“It just floored me that there is this amazing group of talented people based here,” said Gary Gardiner, manager of entertainment and education initiatives with the Idea Foundry, an Oakland nonprofit that invests in area tech startups. “They've got great expansion opportunities. Already the demand for their work is through the roof.”
Locally, Lightwave provided laser effects for the Penguins 2013 home opener and the University of Pittsburgh's 2012 homecoming event at the Cathedral of Learning. The company's lasers also illuminated the bat signal on Fifth Avenue Place, Downtown, for the cast arrival in 2011 to film “The Dark Knight Rises,” the latest Batman film by director Christopher Nolan.
It was important for “Oblivion” director Joseph Kosinski to have real lasers in the film instead of computer-generated effects added later, Dodworth said.
“It's in the take,” he said. “There's something organic about it.”
Lightwave laser artist Mike Dunn and laser technician Derek Abbott spent months last year working on the film outside of New Orleans, with Dodworth joining as a second laser technician.
Lightwave is one of about 100 entertainment technology companies in Western Pennsylvania, said Dawn Keezer, president of the Pittsburgh Film Office.
“They've been really successful, and it's nice to see,” Keezer said. “We're really fortunate that they are located here.”
Dodworth said his company could be located anywhere, but it is important to him to stay in his native Western Pennsylvania.
“We want to do more. We want to do bigger and better,” he said. “And we want people to be proud it's a local company.”
Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Police release video believed to show missing AGH nurse
- Brawls erupt at Monroeville Mall
- Western Pa. counties won’t slap fee on drivers for infrastructure repairs
- Small nonprofits rein in costs, expand reach with shared CFOs
- Public vs. private interests at play in Allegheny County judge’s ruling on access to online docket
- E-reader app co-created by CMU grad could limit devices’ impact on sleep
- Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign nearly $400,000 short of its goal