“Spaz” is an ordinary documentary with an extraordinary subject, and it’s one that every movie lover needs to see. Director Scott Leberecht tells the story of the rise and fall of visionary VFX pioneer Steve “Spaz” Williams, a man who was a genius with computer animation and changed the landscape of Hollywood forever. Steve’s story isn’t a happy one, but it certainly is compelling.
From the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park” to the water creature in “The Abyss” to the iconic T-1000 in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” Steve has forever left his mark on some of the world’s most beloved movies. His work was well-respected in film circles, especially during his time spent at Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic in the early 1990s, even if he had an unfavorable reputation for being outspoken and rebellious to a fault.
Leberecht includes archival footage and interviews (featuring Phil Tippett, Robert Patrick, Stefen Fangmeier, and other big names in the field), including incredible footage of the computer animation process, but the most compelling parts of the documentary are when Spaz speaks for himself. You can hear the see the regret that his self-destructive behavior caused, including his immaturity, arrogance, and struggle with alcohol. Steve was considered a rebel by many in the industry (both in his professional and personal life) because he refused to play the Hollywood game. It’s sad when he asks “What happened?” to a man who, in his own words, “had it all, and it all went away.”
Bridging the two stories of Steve’s breakthrough contribution to the film industry with his personal struggles and eventual downfall doesn’t quite work as smoothly as it could’ve, but “Spaz” is a documentary that gives a fascinating look at one of the most important figures in the world of cinematic visual effects.