June 15, 2014

Taking a Risk to Create the Impossible: The Story of VFX Studio Industrial Light & Magic

Earlier in the week, we talked about how Industrial Light and Magic changed the cinematic world when they developed CGI and used it in Jurassic Park. Those computer generated dinosaurs marked the beginning of a creative revolution where filmmakers could actually take what was in their heads and put them into their films (and with as much or as little realism as they desired). ILM's contribution to the filmmaking community is huge, and if you're curious to see how the visual effects company came to be, as well as a view inside how they've advanced cinematic technology, then you should check out this documentary directed by Leslie Iwerks, with interviews with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and many, many others.

The story of ILM is an inspiring one -- one where a visionary director essentially went full Field of Dreams (before that movie ever came out!) and decided to make a film requiring technology that hadn't been invented yet. That director was George Lucas and that movie was Star Wars.

With Fox on board to produce Lucas' film, the director decided to buy tons of equipment from the underutilized special effects departments of the major studios and start ILM -- mainly for the purpose of developing the technology required to make Star Wars. However, after the film had been made and became a huge success, the team at ILM knew that they had a new opportunity to become a viable business producing visual effects for other filmmakers, which they did notably on Young Sherlock Holmes and The Abyss.

The story of ILM is really an amazing story, but I'll let the documentary tell it from here:

The documentary shares a lot of information about the growth and cinematic contribution of ILM, but I think the big takeaway from this, other than sheer historical value, is learning from all of these effects artists, as well as George Lucas, that bringing your vision to life is worth the risk of failure/losing money/etc. When Lucas realized that he had something great and innovative to share with the world, he simply went for it -- he took a risk and won. Now, no one can promise you success like that, but that's just a part of the adventure. The important thing is that you're taking risks.

[Lede image courtesy of Vanity Fair]

[via Cinetropolis]

Your Comment

12 Comments

Wow, that is quite impressive. I don't know whether I should be thankful to live in an age in which a sixteen-year old can do the same effect digitally what a whole group of experts would have done practically 20 years ago, or sad because digital visual effects have largely killed the beauty and the science behind some of those old models and techniques. They both definitely have their own appeal and place in this world. I do think that digital effects have opened the doors to a lot of people who previously would never have had a chance in this industry.

June 15, 2014 at 6:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Robert van Barlingen

I don't think digital effects have killed anything.

June 15, 2014 at 8:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Coty

The old techniques still live on.

June 15, 2014 at 10:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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James Calinaya

+1 And they'll only get better.

June 16, 2014 at 12:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Coty

And you are kidding yourself. I recently saw a docu where all the super stars of puppet effects ADI, Legacy aka Stan Winston studios etc. spoke about the way how they and their craft is treated, and they are heavily pissed. Nowadays it is common to do something with puppets only to replace them with CGI later on, with much worse CGI, just to be clear. And if real models were doing so well, why was the model shop (kerner opticals) of ilm sold, then? And why did they go bankrupt just a few years later? No, puppet and model effects are doing worse and worse.

June 16, 2014 at 2:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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mariano

Let's all stay nice to each other. Hey we're all filmmakers here. Let's use this opportunity to respect each other and learn from each other. :)
But I must say that I am leaning towards Mariano's view. The ability to use real-life models hasn't diminished at all. Like Coty said, 3D printing has even greatly enhanced the ability to produce clean, crisp models. And I'm sure there is still a dedicated group of filmmakers out there who swear by the old practical effects. But the reality of the matter is that is simplicity of digital has greatly decreased the use of practical effects by big studios.
You can compare it with how the internet is 'killing' tv. The internet provides so many benefits over the tv, it is only natural that a lot of people are making the switch. But just as is the case with practical effects, there will always be the die-hard group of people who watch their favorite show at 2 o'clock saturday, just because they like the flair of tv.

June 16, 2014 at 8:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Robert van Barlingen

I'm not kidding myself about anything. Paradigms are shifting. More filmmakers are starting to understand the merit of utilizing practical effects. And I watched the same video you did, and I agree with the Studio ADI guys who said that if we want practical effects to continue on then we should support the efforts of studios and productions that want to prominently feature them. There are more and more people who are dedicating themselves to learning the craft of practical effects and puppetry and those same dedicated people are working on pushing the boundaries of the craft. I don't know if you saw it but recently an effects artist created a mask of Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy and it was indistinguishable from the CG version (and I mean that as a positive). It's getting better and better so long as there are artists out there continuing to hone their craft in the medium and filmmakers who see the merit of using them (and that number, especially in the number of indie filmmakers, is growing). In my opinion, the future of effects is the marriage of practical effects and CG with the line blurred and the illusion preserved.

June 16, 2014 at 1:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Coty

I think all in all that this was so inspiring and getting the cog wheels moving in thinking how one can create that next leap in VFX. After seeing all the things that have been done there is still something else to come after this. I appreciate the road that they have paid and the software that have created to let us be able to accomplish some of the same effects. People like Andrew Kramer from Video Copilot and Nick Campbell from Greyscale Gorilla and others have pushed creators in ways of thinking for themselves and creating that next effect that hasn't been done or animation that was unthinkable. This is a real exiting time to be a creator and where the pay is really being hammered now I think we will have some better quality work not based on a salary but based on people who are doing it cause they love to do it, that passion behind it.

June 16, 2014 at 4:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I think that the main role in the whole set was the spread of the 15 minutes footage on dinosaurs.that's how much CGI on Dinosaurs it have in the entire set. that's pretty impressive to get the right time and place to use each frame.
stunning

June 16, 2014 at 5:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Bleron

Dreams are still dreams, whether you're a person now or 50 years ago. The great thing that the computer age has brought is how quickly you can bring your dreams to the screen. Times have changed so dramatically just in my lifetime. I remember being awed at The Wizard of Oz when I was a kid. The tools available today are just awesome and exciting, only as limited as our minds can go!

June 18, 2014 at 2:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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"only as limited as our minds can go!" - Yes, but you forgot to add Only limited as far as our Pocketbooks can go. Because the operative word today (in this "Modern" World) is FREE.
Don't forget ,both Copernicus & Henry Ford thought they were operating on the "Cutting Edge" also.

June 20, 2014 at 9:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dheep'

You're being cheated. CGI looks like crap. If you don't think so, then you're not paying attention.

July 12, 2014 at 3:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Glenn Anzalone