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Industrial Light & Magic

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Industrial Light & Magic, or ILM, is a visual effects (VFX) company, which over the course of its existence has achieved a near legendary status in the motion picture industry. Founded and owned in May 1975 by George Lucas as part of Lucasfilm Ltd., with the specific intent to provide the VFX for his, what turned out to be, first movie and cornerstone of the hugely successful Star Wars franchise (see: Paramount Pictures: Footnote 7), the company quickly became a renowned and prolific effects house, working on numerous feature films, including several stemming from the Star Trek franchise.

Star TrekEdit

ILM started its longtime association with Star Trek in 1981 when the company was contracted for the VFX for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This came about as Paramount Pictures, the owner and producer of the Star Trek productions, became the production partner of Lucasfilm for the inception of the 1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark movie, the first outing of what was to become the successful Indiana Jones franchise. Paramount awarded ILM the Star Trek commission in order to cement the new relationship with Lucasfilm. For this Paramount was willing to sacrifice its own subsidiary effects house Future General Corporation (FGC), which had successfully provided the effects for the previous Star Trek movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. According to its former operator, Douglas Trumbull, FGC had actually underbid ILM by US$1.5 million for the commission to no avail, as the studio claimed that they wanted to cement the relationship with ILM, and FGC subsequently phased out of existence. (Cinefantastique, Vol 12 #5/6, p. 65)

An efficient and reliable company, ILM's contributions for the three subsequent Star Trek films went off without any noticeable hitches, generally on time and on budget, much to the delight of Paramount, and a far cry from what the studio had to go through with Robert Abel & Associates (before FGC's involvement) on The Motion Picture. And indeed, the producers of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier again wanted to employ the services of the company, but as its director, William Shatner clarified, "Having begun our search for magic at ILM, we were dismayed to find that most of that firm's best technicians, the A team, were already hard at work on the Steven Spielberg/Lucas collaboration Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. At the same time, a good portion of the B team were putting together the effects for Ghostbusters II. We knew that the best ILM could offer simply wasn't their best, and for that reason, we tested the water by asking a number of companies all over Hollywood to audition for the job on Star Trek IV, fronting each of them $10,000 and asking that they do their best to create a striking and unusual image of God. We found our winner in... Hoboken, New Jersey." (Star Trek Movie Memories, 1995, pp. 298-300) A financial and critical failure, the disappointing VFX ILM's replacement, Associates and Ferren, had produced, were cited as one of the most important causes for the poor performance of The Final Frontier. [1]

For the next production, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, ILM was also considered to be dropped as VFX vendor, but for entirely different reasons. A troubled production, struggling with a too tightly set production budget, the movie was facing cancellation if the producers could not come up with cost saving measures. A former "Trekkie", Producer Steven-Charles Jaffe, was so desperate to see the film come to fruition that he even went as far to suggest dropping ILM as the visual effects vendor for the movie, instead going for a cheaper company. However the Associates and Ferren visual effects debacle for the previous movie was still very much fresh on the minds of his colleagues, and no one was willing to go that far. Nevertheless, the planned 110 visual effects cuts were whittled down to just 51 to meet the tight budget. Yet, trimming down the visual effects cuts to 51 turned out to be too ambitious, as 30 of the originally jettisoned effects sequences had to be produced by ILM and inserted after all, in order to make the movie "cut" well. (Cinefantastique, Vol 22 #5, p. 35) It was now that the dedication of veteran ILM staffers to Star Trek came to the fore; While the studio had no budget from new studio models, one was actually constructed as something of a labor of love by ILM staffers John Goodson and Bill George, the SD-103-type. The script had a scene featured which both men felt needed embellishment, and so, out of their own volition, they constructed the model. (Cinefex, issue 49, p. 48) The model went on to later become the Sydney-class. It has made The Undiscovered Country the feature where the least new Star Trek starship designs were featured. George incidentally, turned out to be a stickler for detail; As he was aware that the USS Excelsior had now a new and smaller bridge set, he made the effort to replace the originally larger bridge module on the Excelsior-class filming model with a smaller one, in order to reflect the change. (American Cinematographer, January 1992, pp. 58-59)

When the Star Trek television franchise was relaunched in 1986 with Star Trek: The Next Generation, Producer Robert Justman put out bids to several VFX companies for the build of two new, differently sized, USS Enterprise-D hero Galaxy-class studio models, including ILM, not really expecting them to be able to make an offer on a television budget. However, Justman lucked out, as the company tendered a bid that was below par as the company was between jobs, "What they decided was to make a bare-bones bid, enough to keep their doors open and keep everyone on that they needed. Oh, it was a tremendous bid. I couldn´t believe it was so cheap! But it was ILM, you know? The best in the business!", an overjoyed Justman exclaimed. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 2003, p. 12) As the build of the models progressed, ILM was subsequently able to secure an additional commission to shoot a library of effects sequences that consisted of 69 shots with some 300 elements. (The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine, issue 2, pp. 28-29, 38-39) Having only worked on the pilot episode of the new series, "Encounter at Farpoint", the fact that their VFX footage had been used as stock-footage throughout the entire run of the series, warranted ILM the "Industrial Light & Magic, A Division of Lucasfilm Ltd." credit in the end credit roll of all seven seasons.

Another unexpected contribution ILM made for the television franchise, occurred when key staffer John Knoll, working on the post-production of Star Trek Generations at the time, was approached for the CGI build of the Bajoran lightship, to be featured in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's third season episode "Explorers", which he dutifully performed, but for which neither he nor his company received any credit. Very shortly thereafter he, again uncredited, contributed to the renewed title sequence for Deep Space Nine, shown from "The Way of the Warrior" onward, which consisted of a combination of motion control photography and CGI elements. At the time still a time intensive production method, Knoll pitched in with the CGI work out of courtesy, "I made about half a dozen little bits and pieces [rem: work bees and the welders on the pylons] for the sequence, including a generic alien ship with blue glowy engines." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 335)

While ILM has enjoyed a relative VFX monopoly during the production of the Original Crew movies, things started to change in the early 1990s with the advent of digital techniques of producing them, most conspicuously CGI. Somewhat counter-intuitively, as the classic methods of producing VFX were traditionally considered labor-intensive, the exponentially progressive sophistication of the digital techniques warranted an ever growing number of specialized VFX staffers to such an extent that ILM already needed additional help from other VFX companies while they were involved with the The Next Generation movies. By the time the two alternate universe movies went into production, the size of the VFX staff had truly exploded, and ILM had become just one of several companies who were working on the VFX of Star Trek movies (even loosing its lead position to Pixomondo for Star Trek Into Darkness), or of any other motion picture production with a heavy VFX outlay for that matter.


Over the course of its existence, ILM has provided visual effects sequences for the following Star Trek productions:

Additionally, many Star Trek films and television episodes featured stock footage from these projects, done by ILM, including:

Star Trek: The Next Generation crewEdit

For "Encounter at Farpoint" none of the ILM staffers received an individual credit, instead all their contributions were lumped together under the company name.

The Wrath of Khan crewEdit

The Search for Spock crewEdit

The Voyage Home crewEdit

The Undiscovered Country crewEdit

Generations crewEdit

First Contact crew Edit

According to the Internet Movie Database, Aaron Haye was a modelmaker for ILM on First Contact. This has not been verified, however; if he was involved in the production, he was not credited.

Star Trek (2009) crewEdit

Star Trek Into Darkness crewEdit

On the movie Star Trek Into Darkness, the following ILM staffers worked on the visual effects.

General historyEdit

ILM has provided "special visual effects" (an intermediate term they themselves invented in the mid-1980s to begin discriminating between visual effects and special effects) for over three hundred films and television series. In addition to the Star Trek films listed above and the six Star Wars films, their motion picture credits include Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Poltergeist, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Cocoon, Back to the Future and its sequels (starring Christopher Lloyd), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (also starring Christopher Lloyd), Field of Dreams, Ghostbusters II, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Abyss, The Hunt for Red October, Total Recall, Die Hard 2, Ghost, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Jurassic Park and its sequels, Forrest Gump, Twister, Mission: Impossible, Men in Black and its sequel, Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, Galaxy Quest, The Mummy, Pearl Harbor, The Bourne Identity, Minority Report, all of the Harry Potter movies, all three Pirates of the Caribbean films, The Day After Tomorrow, The Bourne Supremacy, and the J.J. Abrams-directed Mission: Impossible III. Follow-up projects included Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Iron Man for Paramount as well as Speed Racer and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for Warner Bros. Pictures.

John Knoll is one of the leading members of ILM. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's visual effects coordinator Judy Elkins worked at ILM as an animator on films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Poltergeist. Other past and present members of ILM who worked on Star Trek include Martin Brenneis, Loren Carpenter, Sean Casey, Ed Catmull, Brian Chin, Bob Diepenbrock, John Duncan, Scott Farrar, John Goodson, Mike Fulmer, Steve Gawley, Bill George, Alex Jaeger, Stewart Lew, Jeff Mann, Mark S. Miller, Steve Sanders, and Larry Tan.

ILM was, and is, arguably the most influential VFX company the motion picture industry has ever spawned. From its very inception in 1975 and by being a vigorously pioneering company, ILM continuously pushed the technological possibilities in creating VFX (both produced in the traditional methods, as well as later on in the computerized methods) to their outermost boundaries, either by developing the technologies (computerized motion control photography) themselves, or by making the fullest use as pioneers of new technologies (CGI), developed by others.

In 2005, ILM moved their digital effects departments from Kerner Blvd. in San Rafael, California, to the Presidio in San Francisco. In that year Lucasfilm, Inc. made the conscious decision to split off the traditional visual effects departments from the CGI effects departments, as it decided to concentrate on the latter. The departments responsible for the physical aspects of ILM's visual effects (models and miniatures, pyrotechnics, etc.) remained in the original San Rafael facility and became their own independent company, Kerner Optical. ILM has a non-exclusive agreement with Kerner Optical which allows the two companies to work together on projects, including 2009's Star Trek. [2]

In 2012, ILM, as part of Lucasfilm Ltd., was acquired by the The Walt Disney Company in the process reuniting the company with Pixar. [3] Pixar started out as the former Lucasfilm company "The Graphics Group", the company that was responsible for the creation of the very first full-textured CGI effect ever shown in the motion picture industry, the Genesis Device effect in The Wrath of Khan.


See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Cinefantastique, "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan", Kay Anderson, Vol 12 #5/6, 1982, pp. 50-55, 57-61, 63-68, 70-74
  • American Cinematographer, October 1982
    • "Warp Speed and Beyond", Jim Veilleux, pp. 1030-1034, 1054-1058
    • "Mama Eel and the Nebulae", Ken Ralston, pp. 1035-1037, 1052
    • "The Genesis Demo", Alvy Ray Smith, pp. 1038-1039, 1048-1050
  • "The Last Voyage of the Starship 'Enterprise'", Brad Munson, Cinefex, Issue 18, August 1984, pp. 42-68
  • ""Star Trek III: The Search for Spock", Nora Lee, American Cinematographer, August/September 1984, pp. 54-63
  • "Blue Skies and Starfields", Ron Magid, American Cinematographer, December 1986, pp. 62-74
  • Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Special Effects, 1986
  • Cinefantastique, Vol 17 #3/4, 1987
    • "Special Effects; Industrial Light & Magic", Ron Magid, pp. 40-47
    • "Star Trek's ILM Look", Allen Malmquist, pp. 64-67
  • "Humpback to Future", Jody Duncan Shay, Cinefex, Issue 29, February 1987, pp. 4-31
  • "Creating Special Effects for Star Trek: The Next Generation", David Hutchison, The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine, Vol. 2, December 1987, pp. 26-41
  • "Special Effects The Next Generation", Glenn Campbell & Donna Trotter, Cinefex, Issue 37, February 1989, pp. 4-21
  • "ILM Gets 'Piece of the Action'", Ron Magid, American Cinematographer, January 1992, pp. 58-65
  • "Letting Slip the Dogs of Wars", Kevin H. Martin, Cinefex, Issue 49, February 1992, pp. 38-60
  • "Kirk Out", Kevin H. Martin, Cinefex, Issue 61, March 1995, pp. 62-77
  • "ILM Creates New Universe of Effects for Star Trek: Generations", Ron Magid, American Cinematographer, April 1995, pp. 78-88
  • Industrial Light & Magic: Into the Digital Realm, 1996
  • "Phoenix Rising", Kevin H. Martin, Cinefex, Issue 69, March 1997, pp. 98-119

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