It's the 35th anniversary of Industrial Light & Magic, the company George Lucas founded to help create Star Wars' ambitious special effects, and there's a new documentary. You may never have appreciated how much ILM changed the look of movies.

Encore commissioned a one-hour documentary about ILM, made by Oscar- and Emmy-winning director Leslie Iwerks, which is airing on Nov. 14.


In the meantime, CNet's Daniel Terdiman has a fantastic feature on the history of ILM, including the Dykstraflex, a device invented by John Dykstra that allowed cameras to make the same moves over and over again, so a miniature of the Millennium Falcon (above) could be filmed in multiple passes, for a combined shot. The feature also includes a giant gallery showing the incredible range of effects breakthroughs ILM worked on — not just the Star Wars films, but also Star Trek II's Genesis Effect, early character-morphing effects, Terminator 2's liquid metal Terminator, Jurassic Park's dinosaurs, the super-complex natural elements in Twister and The Perfect Storm, Pirates Of The Caribbean's mo-cap/CG Davy Jones, Transformers' super-complex CG characters and Iron Man's armor. ILM also created the very first all-CG character in a movie, the stained-glass knight in Young Sherlock Holmes:

Terdiman's article talks about the painful transition that ILM's staff went through, around the time of Jurassic Park, when they had to move over from analog modeling to mostly digital effects. The practical model-makers had to learn digital effects, or their careers would be over. Iwerks tells Terdiman:

The art department had to adjust and learn computers, and it was a scary time... They could see the writing on the wall if they were a model maker...That was an interesting time to document and talk to people about because it was scary and painful.


Here's a rare shot of the behind-the-scenes creation of the pseudopod from James Cameron's The Abyss:


According to Terdiman's article, the computer rendering division of ILM, which created the Genesis Effect in Wrath Of Khan, got spun off and sold — and that group later became a company that eventually turned into Pixar Animation Studios. More pics and info at the link. [CNet]