Gorgeous Book Celebrates the Accomplishments of Industrial Light & Magic

Geek Culture

I should know, I've seen some pixels in my time ...I should know, I've seen some pixels in my time ...

In terms of movie magic, there is one company that has done more to help directors suspend reality and create the fantasy lands, unique creatures, and action scenes that simply cannot exist in this world. From the Battle of Yavin in Star Wars to the incredibly complex attack that the Driller makes on Chicago in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, so many truly jaw-dropping cinematic moments have come from Industrial Light & Magic.

For the past three decades, the Lucasfilm-owned company has fooled filmgoers and created the impossible in more than three hundred movies. Now, the book, Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Innovation celebrates the many accomplishments of ILM, while peeling back the curtain and showing readers exactly how many of the most mind-blowing effects were accomplished.

The book begins by quickly reviewing the first two decades of ILM. Many of these films and their effects have been deconstructed elsewhere, so films like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park get a brief consideration of a paragraph or two before moving on to the industry-changing accomplishments in the period from 1995 to the company’s first feature-length animation, Rango, in 2011.

Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Innovation is really an oral history of the company’s accomplishments, with the narrative almost exclusively coming from quotations from the directors, artists, and engineers at ILM. For example, during the filming of the 1996 movie Twister there was an outbreak of nice weather. The crew never saw a tornado. In the words of ILM visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier:

With a movie like this, you’re completely tied to the weather and have no control over it. But with visual effects, we were able to create the atmosphere we needed in the film. So where there were blue skies, we would replace them with gray, and when they were just gray but not stormy enough, we would hang huge storm clouds in there and let the tornadoes come from that.

It is fascinating to read about the challenges that ILM faced during certain scenes, the tools they use, and where the artists turned to for inspiration. However, you should be warned: on more than one occasion, I turned the page to see a photograph of a movie scene that I would have sworn was real, only to learn it was a model or computer generated.

The book collects the memories and inside dirt on 43 different movies, including Titanic, Minority Report, Star Trek, and some technological marvel called Avatar. It’s packed full of truly amazing information like the fact that the Transformers in the first movie collectively contained more than 12 million polygons, leading associate visual effects supervisor, Russel Earl, to recall:

In the original photography, we shot the truck by chasing behind it in a camera car … We knew we had to transform from the live vehicle to the CG truck, because the CG truck would then need to transform into Optimus Prime. So we decided to just paint out the real truck and use an all CG truck. We figured we could match the look of the real truck more easily than trying to blend from the real truck to the CG truck to the CG robot. But Michael [Bay] saw the CG truck, and he was instantly on it: ‘That’s not my truck!’… Sure enough, our tire was maybe an inch wider, or the trailer hitch was slightly off, or the window was slightly rounder – all of these really small details that you wouldn’t notice, but Michael was right on it … It’s great because you have the opportunity to make the change and put the best image up there.

But the book isn’t just war stories from popular films; ILM also detail how they simulate fluid, one of the most difficult movie elements to animate, how they utilize motion capture systems, and there are also bios of a number of artists and supervisors, which explain how they got into the movies and made their way to ILM.

The oversized 360-page book retails for $50, which is a lot, but it is absolutely worth every penny. With more than 500 drool-worthy color photos and fascinating text that will have you turning pages almost faster than you can read them. For movie geeks, Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Innovation is a must-have addition to your coffee table or bookshelf.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this book.

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