When Hollywood producers need to make Bruce Willis look 30 years younger, they call on Jeff Kleiser and Diana Walczak.

The Williamstown couple’s visual effects and computer animation firm, Synthespian Studios, produced more than 250 sequences in the new sci-fi flick “Surrogates,” which premiered in theaters on Friday.

The Disney action thriller is set in the future in a world where humans remain at home and interact solely through robots. When several humans and their robots are killed, a cop (Willis) goes on a mission to unravel a conspiracy behind the crimes.

Kleiser and Walczak’s job was to make Willis’ lookalike robot look much younger than the 54-year-old actor.

“We call it “youth-anizing,’ ” Walczak said. “It’s something new for our company, but it’s really exciting.”

The couple’s firm, formerly called Kleiser-Walczak Construction Co., has studios based in Williamstown, in North Adams at Mass MoCA, and in North Hollywood.

They’ve worked on visual effects for movies such as “X-Men,” “Fantastic Four,” and “Exorcist: The Beginning.” They employ anywhere from a handful of freelance computer and graphics experts up to dozens, depending on the size of the project, which can range from a few shots in a motion picture, to a commercial, to video games, to the conception of a theme park ride.

Kleiser, 55, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a Colgate University graduate, first got into the business in the late 1970s. One of the first films he worked on was “Tron.” Since then, he’s seen computer animation technology expand exponentially to the point where there’s virtually no limits.

“It’s happening because of the audience’s appetite for visual effects,” he said. “That’s what gets people out of their living rooms and into the theaters.”

When he first started, there were about four companies that produced visual effects for films. Now, there are close to 80.

Whereas Kleiser is out from behind the computer and now forges the firm’s marketing and creative path, Walczak, 48, is still producing many of the effects firsthand.

With “Surrogates,” Walczak worked with scenes that were already shot and used programs like PhotoShop to add layers of colors and effects.

In one scene, a human-like face is peeled back to reveal robotic circuitry underneath.

“We use illusions, tricks,” she said. “A lot of it is design oriented. We take images from scenes and recreate them, add layers to them.”

The couple, who have three children, met in 1985 at a computer graphics convention. They moved here in 1992 when they came to work for Lenox’ Douglas Trumbull, a pioneer in the visual effects field.

“We thought this was a much better place to bring up kids than Hollywood, so we stayed,” Kleiser said.

Kleiser flies to Hollywood about once a month to meet with industry executives and get the word out on what his firm is doing, like being able to replace Willis’ head with a digital, more youthful version.



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