A quick history lesson: Before Industrial Light & Magic’s inception in 1975, the technology required to bring the Star Wars universe to life simply didn’t exist. But since then, the techniques they invented and visual effects mastery they achieved, are for all to see in movies beyond just the Star Wars franchise. Pixar & Photoshop were created by the geniuses at ILM -- something that not many people know.
The visual effects that Industrial Light & Magic’s talented bunch of cinematographers, engineers and artists created literally rocked the visual effects world and beyond. It was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before at the time, which is a testament to ILM’s legacy. They were pioneers in every sense of the word!
Here are some pivotal scenes that wouldn’t have been possible without ILM -- they helped create movie magic on an epic, previously unprecedented scale.
1) The classic opening shot of Star Wars: A New Hope
This epic shot which shows a giant Imperial Star Destroyer entering into the screen from the top of the frame and completely engulfing it was possible due to a revolutionary technique of mounting Vista Vision cameras on a smooth, multi-axis for multiple types of digitally controlled motion -- the system was called Dykstraflex, after its primary developer, John Dykstra of ILM.
2) Animating the AT-AT Walkers in The Empire Strikes Back
The Battle Of Hoth sequence is one of the most epic fight sequences from the second Star Wars movie released in 1980, and digitally animating the massive, elephantine AT-AT Walkers was achieved by another revolutionary technique called Go Motion -- which was co developed by Phil Tippett of ILM -- involving painstakingly shot single frames of models without a green screen, and introducing a sense of digital motion blur as an after effect during post production. That’s why despite being miniatures, the AT-AT Walkers look so amazingly realistic in the Star Wars movie.
3) Jabba The Hutt - A pain in the proverbial ILM VFX artist's butt!
Bringing the most hedonistic piece of galactic slime to life was a herculean task for the VFX team at ILM which was breaking new ground at the time. Not only did Jabba need three able bodied men to control everything from its arms to its lip-synced jaw movement and tongue flicks, animating him on the VFX stage was difficult, too.
Especially the sequences when you see him for the first time, talking to Han Solo as they both walk side by side in a single frame for a good few seconds. That’s movie magic right there, never seen or created before!
4) Creating the first fully animated movie star -- Jar Jar Binks
Nope, Gollum wasn’t the first walking, talking computer generated film star. It was Jar Jar Binks from The Phantom Menace. Unfortunately, the character in the movie was vehemently disliked by Star Wars fans all over the world, but that doesn’t take away the feather in ILM’s cap given the monumental task they achieved. Jar Jar Binks may have been a flop as a character, but from a VFX perspective he was undoubtedly the pinnacle of technical prowess and digital animation at the time. And that time when Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson and Jar Jar Binks are in the same frame, talking with each other, it was simply movie magic!
But the magic of ILM goes beyond just Star Wars. These are some of the other record-breaking scenes and technical achievements in ILM’s cap, going beyond Star Wars!
5) First ever fully computer generated movie character was achieved in 1985
This stained glass knight who jumps out of the window and picks a swordfight with a priest (or monk?) from the film Young Sherlock Holmes, is the first time ever in the history of cinema that a fully computer generated character was animated, thanks to ILM’s ingenious effort!
6) First partially computer generated movie character in a villainous role
Remember, the shape-shifting cyborg from the future in Terminator 2: Judgement Day? T-1000, yeah, that guy -- he was computer generated by the wizards at ILM in 1991.
7) All the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park!
That’s right. Every single dinosaur you see in Steven Spielberg’s 1992 movie on these extinct monsters was the very first time digital technology was used to create a completely detailed, living and breathing creature on screen -- including the villainous T-Rex!
8) Casper, the friendly ghost
Remember Capser? That cute little, friendly ghost was the first time ever in the history of motion pictures that a fully synthetic, computer-generated character with a human personality and emotion, took to the screens in a leading role. All thanks to ILM, once again!
9) The animals in Jumanji also have a silver screen record!
Remember the huge ass lion and those pain in the butt monkeys that are summoned while playing the game in 1995’s epic movie, Jumanji? Both those instances showcase the first time ever that computer generated hair or fur was displayed on the silver screen -- ever -- all down to ILM's movie magic!
What's the ultimate legacy of a perfectly executed VFX shot? That it stands the scrutiny of time, even when technological advances on the hardware and software side have gone light years ahead of what ILM achieved throughout the late 1970s to ‘90s, some of their most iconic shots have aged magnificently -- which means the VFX studio did ultimately create movie magic!