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Movie Magician

Remember the lift-off scene in Apollo 13, when the rocket rumbles on the launch pad, the vapor spills down its sides, the ice falls off, and the engine explodes into action? As real as it looked, it was all done by model makers and computer-effects specialists -- among them Mike Kanfer '80, who supervised digital compositing for the film.

"That entire launch sequence was created from scratch," he says. "There was no stock footage, not one single frame of NASA footage in the entire movie. The vapor, the ice, the engine blast -- all of that was computer generated. Our goal was total photo realism, creating a seamless image that cut perfectly into the rest of the footage."

Most moviegoers would agree that they succeeded admirably. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences thought so, too: Kanfer and two of his co-workers at Digital Domain in Venice, California, were nominated for this year's Oscar for achievement in visual effects. Come Oscar night, however, they were beaten out by a piglet when the award went instead to their sole competitor, the special-effects team for Babe. "It was a real letdown," Kanfer confesses. "I really felt that our work was better than Babe--but who knows?"

He takes consolation in the British equivalent of the Oscar (awarded by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts) that his team won a month later. But even more than that, "the work is what means the most to me. I'm just really proud of it," he concludes.

The work, at Digital Domain, amounts to "80 people working long hours on the project for a year or more. Toward the end it becomes insane -- seven-days-a-week insane," he says.

Kanfer was one of the first people to join the company in 1993, when it was founded by director James Cameron, Stan Winston (known for his work in makeup and animatronics), and Scott Ross (who formerly ran Industrial Light and Magic).

A fine-arts major at Rochester, Kanfer minored in photography and film animation. He went to work after graduation at a company called Charlex in New York City, specializing in visual effects for TV commercials and music videos. After this, he says, "for a short stint I got involved with print imaging, working on retouching very high-resolution images. And shortly after that, the motion-picture business acquired the technology to manipulate such images digitally, the way they could in print. Once that happened, I knew that's the kind of work I had to be doing."

Upon joining Digital Domain, Kanfer worked on Interview with the Vampire starring Tom Cruise. Then came Apollo 13 -- and now he's in pre-production on James Cameron's upcoming release, The Titanic. "It's a total recreation of the 1912 disaster, and it will involve every trick known to the effects industry. There's also a love story woven into it," he says -- and then catches himself. "I can't really talk about this. I'll get my head sliced off.

"Just say that this is Jim Cameron's tribute to director David Lean. He plans on it being an epic movie. Which means big. Which equals lots of hard work for all of us."

Sunrise Industry

"Upjohn finally makes it to the big leagues," touted a Business Week headline that ran last fall over a story subheaded "How CEO Zabriskie engineered the Pharmacia merger."

CEO Zabriskie is alumnus John Zabriskie, who received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1966 and joined the pharmaceutical concern Merck and Co. as a chemist. Then, as Business Week says, he hit the fast track, rising to executive vice president before moving to Upjohn in 1994 as chairman and CEO -- 56 years old and only the second non-family member to run that company.

"This is a sunrise industry," Zabriskie says over the phone from his office in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (A CEO's job requires plenty of travel--it's not easy to catch Zabriskie at his desk.) "Cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's, depression -- there's plenty of work in research and development for innovative pharmaceutical companies. Our mission is to improve the quality of life for the sick. And this is a terribly interesting place to be."

Upjohn, under Zabriskie's leadership, merged last year with the Swedish pharmaceutical firm Pharmacia. The merger was what insiders call a "merger of equals" financed by a tax-free stock swap. "What we've done is to take two medium-sized companies, rated 19th and 20th in the world in size, and merged them to make the ninth largest pharmaceutical concern in the world, the third largest in Europe, and one of the top 15 in the United States."

That merger of equals, Zabriskie explains, meant that neither company had to borrow money for the action. No one owes anything or has anything to pay back. The savings are available to them for further investment. "We have one of the best-looking balance sheets in the industry," he notes with some pride.

"There's been a lot of change in the industry, change that is driven by the marketplace," he says. "Traditionally the pharmaceuticals market was driven by physicians. Now the focus is on institutions -- insurance companies, HMOs. Their size gives them a lot of buying power and there is pressure for discounts. Companies need to have broad product lines, and this puts pressure on the industry to consolidate. Eleven of the top 13 companies have entered into some kind of merger, whether horizontal or vertical .

"There has been a revolution in the marketplace in the way health benefits are provided. Fifty percent of the United States population is currently enrolled in managed care. If that trend continues, by the turn of the century that figure will rise to 80 to 85 percent.

"In other countries, many of the health care systems are managed, but usually it's the governments that manage them and control pharmaceutical prices. We have been able to deal with that. However, I don't see the U.S. government intruding on the pharmaceutical industry in this way for the next ten years. The government will encourage managed care, but I don't think we'll see it taking over the system."

The future of the pharmaceutical industry lies in increased research and development, Zabriskie says. "In the 1980s, the strategy was to match other companies' products. In the 1990s, success means finding products that fill unmet medical needs.

"The merger with Pharmacia greatly increases our research and development capability. We'll be spending over a billion dollars a year just on R&D."

And, adds this organic chemist, "That's as good as any science gets, anywhere."

Surviving the Pulitzer

After George Walker '56 (DMA), '57E (DMA) won the Pulitzer Prize for music this spring, the cards, phone calls, and visits didn't let up for days.

"I really did not anticipate the fact that, within a couple of hours after the announcement, there would be three different media crews in my living room, and the block would be covered with vans and cars," he told the Review, still incredulous a month after receiving the award.

All in all, however, the attention has been wonderful, he concludes--"other than that for three or four days I couldn't plan when I was going to have my next meal."

Walker, who holds two doctorates from Eastman, in education and in composition, won the Pulitzer for "Lilacs," a piece for voice and orchestra commissioned by the Boston Symphony. The 16-minute work -- based on Walt Whitman's eulogy for Lincoln, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" -- premiered at a February concert celebrating black tenor Roland Hayes. The Pulitzer jury praised the work as both "rigorous" and "masterly."

Walker mulls over the role that chance (and timing) played in the award: "If the Boston Symphony had not broadcast the concert locally here in New Jersey where I live -- which made it easy to tape it -- I'm pretty confident that I would not have been able to get a recording in time to submit it for the committee's deadline," he says. Which would have killed his chances of winning, since the piece would have been ineligible for the following year's Pulitzer.

Walker is the first living black composer to win the prize for music since the award was established in 1943. (Scott Joplin received it posthumously in 1976 for his opera, Treemonisha.) The recognition caps a long and distinguished career as a composer, pianist, and music educator. (The New York Times recognized this fact in the headline for its story on Walker: "A Pulitzer Winner's Overnight Success of 60 Years.")

The 74-year-old composer has written more than 70 published works, among them commissions from the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Kennedy Center. His works and piano interpretations have been recorded on three recent CDs on the Albany label: "George Walker: A Portrait," "George Walker in Recital," and "George Walker."

After graduating from Oberlin at 18 and studying at Curtis with Rudolf Serkin, Walker began a career as a concert pianist. He debuted at Town Hall in 1945 and then performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy -- but because of his race, he couldn't get bookings. His father, a physician, finally told him, "They're not going to give you what you deserve. You're going to have to teach."

After earning his two Eastman doctorates, Walker studied in France with Nadia Boulanger and then, in 1961, began teaching at Smith College and the University of Colorado. In 1969 he joined the faculty at Rutgers, where he became chair of the music department. He retired in 1992.

Speaking of "Lilacs," Walker says, "The interesting thing is that the title of the piece has struck so many persons" -- people who love the flower or who have fond memories of it growing near their childhood home.

Tenor Roland Hayes, in whose honor the work was composed, probably would have appreciated the name, too, Walker notes. "After the work premiered, I learned that his wife was always wanting him to retire from the concert stage to 'smell the lilacs.' "

Walker himself, however, isn't about to sit back and enjoy the aroma. Right now he's at work on some organ pieces commissioned by the American Guild of Organists, and after that there's an orchestral work for the New Jersey Symphony. Lilac-sniffing will have to wait.

Mystery Malady

Maybe this has happened to you. The subject of a talk show, magazine story, or coffee-break conversation focuses on a detailed depiction of a physical disorder -- anything from mononucleosis to cancer. As you watch or listen, you take a silent inventory of your own aches and pains: The headache, the sore knee, the skin rash -- all take on a menacing importance. Could this be the disease, you wonder.

For most of us, the thought passes, maybe after a reassuring visit to the doctor. The backache or rash gets put into its proper perspective and we go on with our lives. For hypochondriacs, this momentary concern spirals into an obsession.

"Everyone worries about their health, even intensely at times," says free-lance journalist Carla Cantor '76, co-author, with Dr. Brian A. Fallon, of the recently published Phantom Illness: Shattering the Myth of Hypochondria (Houghton Mifflin). The difference, she explains, is that for most people the anxiety is transitory, and symptoms fade quickly.

"To be diagnosed with hypochondria serious enough to be considered a psychiatric condition," she says, "one must suffer from the unwarranted fear of or belief in illness for at least six months and with marked distress."

Cantor was one of those people with unwarranted fear about her health, a fear so overpowering it colored every aspect of her life. Although, in her own words, she was a "highly functioning" adult, a hypochondriacal episode would occasionally and unpredictably flare up, taking all of her emotional resources.

After a particularly serious episode, Cantor finally confronted her problem when she came upon a New York Times article on people who obsess about their health, and "something clicked for me."

"Once I recognized hypochondria in myself, the journalist in me took over. I found a lot of material out there. But most of it was written for the medical community, not the lay public."

Cantor called Brian Fallon, a doctor at Columbia who is conducting a study on the effects on hypochondria of the antidepressant Prozac. "I just decided it was time to try something new. For me, Prozac was terribly effective," she says. "It alleviated the obsession and the underlying depression. That was a turning point and allowed me to write this book."

In our society, the disease of hypochondria has a stigma attached to it that dates back, Cantor says, to Freud. "But why, in this day and age, when we can and do talk openly about eating and throwing up, or about incest, why is the obsessive thought of death -- hypochondria -- considered taboo?"

Cantor herself has been talking about it, a lot. She has been interviewed by Katie Couric on the "Today" show, been the subject of a photo shoot for USA Today, and seen her book excerpted in Ladies Home Journal and reviewed by countless publications.

Cantor points out that hypochondriacal behavior costs the U.S. health care system $20 to $30 billion a year. Hypochondriacs and "somatizers" (people who express emotional discomfort as physical symptoms or pain) consult doctors four times more often and have medical bills more than 10 times higher than the national average. Six to 10 percent of people who visit physicians, she says, exhibit some degree of hypochondria and many more are in physicians' offices primarily because of psychological and social stress, not medical illness.

"I wrote Phantom Illness," she says, "in an attempt to get people to face up to their own hypochondriacal tendencies. Once it is recognized and explained, people may be more accepting of the problem in themselves or in loved ones. This is often the first step toward overcoming it. I wanted them to know they are not alone."

Country Doctor

Well I may not sound like Willie.
But Willie don't play this club.
Willie makes too much money
To hang out at a country pub. . . .

So sings Arthur Schlosser '72M (MD) -- stage name Dean Dobbins -- in one of his foot-stomping tunes, "Me and the Boys," backed by a fiddle and a steel guitar.

Matter of fact, he does sound like Willie Nelson -- but beyond that, the two country-music singers lead vastly different lives. Willie is on the road, most likely, when he's not on stage, while Schlosser/Dobbins works as a pediatrician in the emergency room at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Panorama City, California.

"I really enjoy practicing medicine, interacting with the children. It's a great pleasure for me," he says of his two lives. "But on a personal level, I need to express my own feelings and perspectives on things. Working in the hospital I don't have the opportunity to do that."

As a singer and songwriter -- sporting a beard and 10-gallon hat and playing with his four-piece band -- this pediatrician has appeared at all the major clubs in the L.A. area and has opened for stars like Tammy Wynette. (During a break at one concert, a man came up to him and marveled, "You won't believe this, but you look just like my son's doctor!")

He's made seven recordings and earned four awards from the California Country Music Association: song of the year and band of the year in 1990, male vocalist of the year in 1989, and songwriter of the year in 1988. His first album, "Me and the Boys," was reviewed and highly recommended by Billboard.

"You can say a lot in a country song," he says. "I don't like very raucous songs. I like to write something personal, to say something more than just 'Oooh, baby I love you.'" He also appreciates "the opportunity to inject humor" into his writing. A song entitled "She's Been Runnin' Around with the Man Next Door," for example, was inspired by his wife, who used to jog with the next-door neighbor.

These days, he's paying more attention to composing and less to performing. The "Big Earthquake of '94" is one of the fundamental reasons: After their home was destroyed, he and his family -- wife Charlotte, teenage daughter Nadia, seven dogs, four cats, and rabbits -- spent two years living in an RV. "We bought a 15-year-old RV, thinking we were going to live there for just six months, and we wound up arguing with our insurance company for a year and a half."

With that and other changes in his life, he says, "the band has had to take a back seat." Besides, "I've spent a lot of time on the freeways and I don't want to do that anymore." He continues to perform at parties and to work at selling his songs, but he no longer does the club circuit.

Which means that, for the near future at least, this country boy is staying home. As he sings in one of his songs, it's "just what the doctor ordered."

Hanging In There

"It feels like nothing you can imagine," says C. J. Sturtevant '69. "You're out there, in the air, in control. You look around, you see some birds, you join them. You're flying through the air, looking for updrafts. It's like all your dreams of flying -- only better, because it's real."

Sturtevant, an elementary school teacher in North Bend, Washington, competed in this year's Women's World Hang Gliding Championships in Australia as part of a six-member U.S. team. About fifty pilots from all over the globe participated. Although she did not do as well as she had hoped, "it was majorly fun," she reports.

For anyone who doesn't know, hang gliding involves strapping on a technically designed set of "wings" and jumping off a cliff. The wind carries the pilot, wings and all, through the air. Flight is controlled by shifting one's body weight. In competition, participants are judged both on getting to an appointed goal and the speed with which they get there .

She began her gliding career in the early 1980s: "I was teaching a section on flight to my sixth graders, and I thought, Hey, I'd like to try sky diving. But then a friend mentioned hang gliding, so I tried that instead. And I was addicted."

Sturtevant's husband, George, also hang glides, but not competitively. ("It's perfect to have someone who loves you on the ground looking out for you," she says.)

Both of them used to do mountain climbing. "But, as my husband says, why go to all the work of climbing up a mountain when you can glide over it and get an even better view? You launch off the side of a mountain, float over Alpine lakes, look down on beautiful blueberry bushes -- and it's almost no effort."

Sturtevant also used to engage in such physically demanding sports as scuba diving, caving, and rock climbing. "We even rappelled off the side of Strong Auditorium when I was at Rochester," she says, "although you might not want to mention that." (Okay, forget we did.) But now, she says, aside from the hang gliding -- and NordicTrack to keep in shape -- she's more into needlepoint and her collection of 300 teddy bears.

Sturtevant called herself the "old lady" at the world competition ("most of the women there were half my age"), but she doesn't see any reason why folks of any age couldn't try the sport. "The footage you see on television of people sliding down the hill on their backends with their gliders strapped on behind is outdated," she assures. "Equipment for the sport has come a long way since the 1970s and '80s."

Although she has suffered a couple of injuries, a dislocated elbow and the like, hang gliding is relatively safe, she declares. "You can really keep on with it as long as you want. There are smaller, lighter gliders now. We see people in their 70s still enjoying the sport."

Sturtevant herself, we predict, will probably still be hanging around up in the sky at that age, and more.

Contributed by Denise Bolger Kovnat and Kathy Quinn Thomas

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Last updated 9-9-1996      (jc)