Sept 28, 01

Two days ago, I came home to find a lovely book-shaped package tucked between the front door and the screen door. This is not an unusual discovery; one-click shopping may not be the literal death of me, but it’s certainly slowly killing my attempts at frugal living. Still, this was another of my famous used purchases from Amazon Marketplace, which cost me barely more than $5 (that’s approximately 2 pence for my English readers).

My personal indulgence this time was a book that I added to my wish list in 2001: The Making of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. I added it to my list not long after I’d seen the movie in the theater. Most geeks don’t like this movie, but I’ve seen it numerous times and have yet to tire of it.

I suppose I could call it one of my guilty pleasures, but I don’t feel all that guilty about loving it as much as I do. I think it’s gorgeous and epic and magnificent. I can’t speak to its source material, since I know nothing of the video games or other bits of media bearing the same name, but the CGI alone still enraptures me in ways that new movies never seem capable of doing. I suppose this is due to a general sensory overload from the glut of BANGZOOMWOW!!!11! special effects that Hollywood keeps dumping on us. Whatever it is, I don’t think I’ve felt as awed by a CGI movie as I was the first time I saw Final Fantasy. This was a level of realism that no one had yet seen from computer graphics. Just take a look at this close-up of Dr. Aki Ross:

It’s probably disturbing how long I can stare at this screen capture, observing all the details there: skin tone and texture, wrinkles, pores, reflections, freckles, eyelashes, eyebrows…I daresay that this could very well pass as a close-up of a real person, even now. True, there were aspects of Ross and other characters that immediately gave away their CGI existence—like how the fingers always looked too rounded or how lips never matched up quite as perfectly as if a real person was speaking—but this was holistically a spectacular feat by all involved…something that each and every one of them should remain proud to have accomplished.

As I settled in to flip through this book (which is in practically perfect condition; yet another win for Amazon Marketplace), I noticed that the pages automatically flipped open to a particular spot. Tucked into the middle of the book was a slip of note card stock, the Sony Pictures logo printed at the top along with the name “Sande Scoredos.” The following note, dated “Sept 28, 01,” had been jotted down in a strong, sweeping cursive hand:

Thank you so much for helping out today with the Digital Studio SPI Overview & Tour. Your presentation was excellent and really helped us show what our facility can do.

Thank you,

The first thing that struck me was the fact that this was written less than a month after the 9/11 attacks here in NYC, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. I know it’s a bizarre and disturbing first thought to have, but I’ve been conditioned to have this exact Pavlovian response to anything pertaining to the year 2001. This note seems antithetical in relation to that time…that things so innocuous as overviews and thank you notes were still happening while the smoke still rose from our gaping wounds.

Life continues to move forward, and we do our best to keep stumbling forward as well.

Then I focused on the name imprinted on the note card: Sande Scoredos. I’d never heard the name before, but was intrigued enough by the presence of a personal note from her, stuck in a book I’d picked up online from a California Goodwill, that I immediately booted up the netbook and Googled her name.

Her accomplishments read like a history of CGI itself: Former executive director of technical training and artist development for Sony Pictures Imageworks for 12 years, she provided training and mentoring to thousands of artists throughout the worlds of animation and visual effects. She helped establish training programs at Sony Pictures Imageworks, with more than 50 courses on life drawing, sculpting, animation, effects, color and lighting, compositing, et cetera. She was involved in the visual effects development of some of Sony’s biggest titles, including all three of Sam Raimi’s Spider-man movies, which sport some pretty spectacular effects.

I learned all this by reading her obituary and a tribute posted by one of her friends and mentees.

Sande Scoredos died on August 14 of this year.

I closed the netbook and looked back at the note card in my hand: 12 short lines scratched out in rollerball blue ink, each line trailing slightly upward toward the ends, the words becoming slightly less precise toward the bottom. Just a quick bit of appreciation jotted down and slipped into the pages of a book that perhaps represented to her an extraordinary peak in a professional lifetime of devotion to these computer-generated universes. Or perhaps it was merely something picked out by an assistant. Perhaps the assistant actually wrote these lines? All assumption at this point, isn’t it?

Whatever the truth, this note has preyed on my mind ever since I found it. I’m not even really sure why. The sad, simple truth is that people die every day, and I’d hate to ever imply that Scoredos’s passing has in some way affected me more simply because I could look her up on IMDb. And yet I find myself now in possession of a book given as a gift by a woman who, it would seem, helped develop, push, and improve a field of entertainment that, throughout the years, has angered, inspired, delighted, frustrated, and mesmerized me. Even without knowing her name, I knew her work well. And, whether or not she made this particular selection herself, her note was found in a book about a movie that has brought me immeasurable happiness.

People do die every day, but what they leave behind can have impacts on people’s lives in the strangest, most unexpected ways.