Visual effects alumna offers insight into film industry

By Gus Bode

Liz Ralston’s career has been built on creating big-budget artificial realities, but this past week she shifted her focus to real-world advice.

Ralston, now a visual effects producer in hollywood, spoke to students, faculty and staff Friday about her 25 years in the film industry, specifically her work with visual effects. Since graduating from SIU in 1986 with a bachelor’s in film production, Ralston has taken on the title of visual effects producer for a number of Hollywood blockbusters including “Babe,” “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Behind Enemy Lines” and “Armageddon.”

Upon college graduation, Ralston said her intentions were focused on the music video industry. She said music videos were at their peak in the mid-1980s, and the combination of music, graphics and video sparked her interest.


After she moved to California, Ralston said her varied background allowed her to explore other  film industry opportunities. She attributed much of her early cinematic skill to her time at SIU. It was her student production, a small feature film that used a form of animation, called rotoscoping, that served as her calling card and landed the artist her first job.

“It’s continual; I keep finding things that influenced me while at SIU,” Ralston said. “The hands-on experience I got here allowed me to walk onto that set and offer to do more work than (the director) was asking me to do.”

Despite the array of production classes she took during college, Ralston said many of her favorites focused on critical thinking and film theory, a rarity amongst most film school curriculums.

Lilly Boruszkowski, an associate professor in the department of cinema and photography, said returning alumni are tremendously beneficial to the betterment of the university.

“It’s important for current students to know people who studied similar classes, who were sitting in (their) seats, who had a lot of the same faculty and see what their career trajectory has been and that they’ve been very successful in a lot of instances,” Boruszkowski said.

Though Ralston’s lecture focused on specific industry experiences, Brouzkoski said she also offered general, professional advice, namely stressing the importance of punctuality, going above and beyond, and strong relationships, a point the professor said was particularly important.

“There are a number of students that have worked together on projects here and who then went into their careers and continued to work together,” Boruszkowski said. “College provides the meeting grounds for a lot of that.”


Ralston said it was her ability to network and form bonds with coworkers that helped her progress in the industry.

She said there’s no way of knowing how successful a film will be from just reading a script, which she said she realized after she had turned down job offers to work on projects that turned out to be quite profitable, namely HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Ralston said past relationships and connections primarily influence the projects she decides to take on.

Ben Romang, a junior from Springfield studying cinema and photography, said the lecture helped him understand the relationship between visual effects and film.

“I always thought of visual effects as a post-production thing, after the movie’s done, but (Ralston) showed that it’s very involved in every process of filmmaking,” Romang said.

Ralston said she’s excited about the future of filmmaking and the visual effects industry. Although she said Hollywood continues to produce what she describes as ride films — movies where visual effects supersede characters in the story — she said she’s hopeful that the standard formula, a great story supported by equally astounding visuals, remains.