Tad Leckman began his career in the film industry as a clerk at Video Plus on Hilton Head Island, SC at a time when local video rental stores dominated the home entertainment market and the question “VHS or Beta?” was asked without a hint of irony. Soon after, he also became a projectionist/assistant manager at Park Plaza Cinemas.
Keeping a hand in both video rental and theatrical presentation, Tad saw hundreds of movies between 1985 and 1992 and did not pay for any of them. He also learned a great deal about 35mm and 70mm film, lenses, aspect ratios, audio and video. He also acquired over a thousand Laserdiscs.
He got his first experience working in visual effects as a model maker working for Emmy Award winner Jim Dow in 1987. After building miniatures and painting sets for a number of commercials and print ads, Tad went to Orange Coast College and then to UC Santa Cruz where he earned a degree in English Literature and Film while teaching computer seminars for the university. Tad was also hired as UCSC’s Apple Computer student representative. While doing so, Tad had the honor/horror or publicly demonstrating the Newton Message Pad at Fry’s.
After graduating from UCSC, Tad joined Industrial Light and Magic’s Computer Systems Engineering department in 1995 where he acted as Desktop Systems Manager, and was responsible for supporting all Macintosh and PC computers at ILM. Tad moved back into a creative role when he headed-up the formation and management of the “Rebel Mac Unit,” a subdivision of ILM’s Computer Graphics department. This production unit was created as an alternative production pipeline to create hard-surface, or non-creature elements such as vehicles, robots and architectural environments using off-the-shelf software. This “boutique within the studio” provided elements and final shots for a wide variety of films and commercials including Star Wars: Episodes I and II, Star Trek: First Contact, Men In Black, Galaxy Quest and Planet of the Apes.
Having successfully built the Rebel Mac Unit into a permanent part of the CG department, Tad turned his attention to the fledgeling field of previsualization or animatics. These “moving storyboards” allow ILM’s artists to design shots during the pre-production phase of a feature, exploring camera movement, lens choice, blocking and duration of a shot, creating a detailed template for the production of the actual shot. As visual effects have become more and more complex, directors have found animatics to be an indispensable part of pre-production. Under Tad’s management, ILM’s Previsualization Department grew from one artist to six in the space of a year and a half, and “previz” has since become an integral part of the pre-production process.
In the Fall of 2002, Tad realized a long-time goal and transformed his hobby of teaching, writing and lecturing about visual effects into a full-time career. For four years, Tad was a full-time member of the faculty at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University and was responsible for developing the core curriculum for the School of Animation and Visual Effects.
Tad has also taught two summer sessions of a popular intensive digital filmmaking class at NYU’s Center for Advanced Digital Applications.
In 2006, Tad was hired as Chair of Visual Effects for the School of Film and Digital Media at Savannah College of Art and Design. While there, he managed all aspects of the department including an update of the program, adding new classes, and facilitating collaboration with the Film and Television department.
Tad’s students are working today throughout the visual effects, animation and video game industries at companies including: ILM, Pixar, Dreamworks Animation, Lucasfilm Animation, Digital Domain, Rhythm & Hues, Tippett Studios, Weta, Digital, Blue Sky Studios, Sony Pictures, Laika, Blizzard, Imageworks, Matte World Digital, Radium, DNA Productions, Stargate Digital, Electronic Arts, Shaba Games, and Factor Five.
In 2008, Lucasfilm Singapore hired Tad to be the new studio’s Director of Training, including the development and management of the Jedi Masters Program. Since then, the program has trained over 100 apprentices, most of whom went on to be hired by Lucasfilm. Tad was also responsible for internal training for all animation, visual effects and video game artists, as well as educational outreach for Lucasfilm Singapore.
Tad has held senior learning and development roles at Blizzard Entertainment and Riot Games. Tad is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at UCSC, teaching graduate and undergraduate game development and professional practices classes.
Tad has lectured at the VES Festival of Visual Effects, SIGGRAPH, SIGGRAPH Asia, The Port Townsend Film Festival, The Savannah Film Festival, PSFK Asia, AnimFX NZ, Apple, Game Developers eXchange, The Seoul International Cartoon and Animation Festival, CG Overdrive, The Scriptwriter’s Network, The Singapore Ministry of Education, Digipen Institute of Technology, Tisch School of the Arts Asia, The Laguna College of Art and Design, The National Youth Leadership Forum on Technology, and at the Brooklyn Museum. He has served on Apple Computer’s Customer Advisory Board and is an active member of the Visual Effects Society.
Tad lives in Venice, California with his wife, Rebecca Leckman, their daughter Annika, their rescued dogs, Molly and Doyle. Tad is currently writing a book entitled Understanding Visual Effects: A Practical Approach for Digital Artists.