After studying industrial design at California State University Dykstra landed a job working with Douglas Trumbull on Silent Running (1972) filming model effects.
When George Lucas was recruiting people for the special effects work on Star Wars, he approached Trumbull (who was working on Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind), who pointed him towards Dykstra. Dykstra led the development at Industrial Light & Magic of the Dykstraflex motion-controlled camera, which was responsible for many of the film’s groundbreaking effects. The system was made possible by the availability of off-the-shelf integrated-circuit RAM at relatively low cost and second-hand Vision Vision cameras.
However, there was tension between Dykstra and Lucas, who later complained that too much of the special effects budget was spent on developing the camera systems and that the effects team did not deliver all the shots that he had wanted. These tensions would reportedly culminate with Dykstra’s dismissal from ILM following Lucas’ return from principal photography in Tunisia. Regardless, following the release of Star Wars, Dykstra secured his status in the industry with Academy Awards for best special effects and special technical achievement, and having completed a number of scenes which appeared in the final edit.
Dykstra had a Production credit for the television series Battlestar Galactica (1978), and contributed to the series’ effects. Around the same time, Dykstra was a target of Lucas’ legal ire. His fledgling visual effects house, Apogee, Inc., consisted of several ILM employees who did not want to relocate to San Francisco from Van Nuys, and used whatever equipment Lucas had left behind. Lucas attempted to get an injunction against Apogee to prevent the company from using what he considered to be his equipment to work on a project that was in direct competition to the Star Wars films. Several members of Apogee, including Richard Edlund and Dennis Muren, would return to ILM.
Dykstra also worked on the effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), with some of his effects being recycled in subsequent films. Dykstra’s next major achievement was the effects work on the Clint Eastwood movie, Firefox (1982). Here, he took on the same challenge that Lucas had set with The Empire Strikes Back of combining miniature effects with actual backgrounds and matte work on white backgrounds using reverse bluescreen. The film secured further awards but was only a modest box office hit.
Dykstra was worked on the effects crew for Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985), and Invaders from Mars (1986) before becoming supervisor for the special effects on My Stepmother is an Alien (1988), Batman Forever (1995), and Batman & Robin (1997). He was also Senior Visual Effects Supervisor for Stuart Little (1999). Dykstra was Visual Effects Designer on the first two Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man films, and was rewarded with an Oscar for Best Visual Effects for his efforts on Spider-Man 2 (2004).
He also acted as Visual Effects Designer on Hancock (2008), Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) and X-Men: First Class (2011).
Check out this excellent article HERE from 1977, written by Dykstra for American Cinematographer.