This article is about the real-world company Industrial Light & Magic.
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"The feeling around about the place was that now we were established, that we had a life of our own, so to speak. Instead of thinking we were hired for Empire and would never, ever do another job up there, there was a sense of excitement. And there was a real trust placed in all of us, too, by George [Lucas] and the other filmmakers who would come in. We were allowed to have authorship on our work. We were there because we actually brought something to the work. We weren't just middlemen handing jobs off to a zillion other people. And we were there because our work was appreciated. We loved our crews. We gave them as much authorship as we could. We had our voice and then we were representing the director. And it was a very clean way to work."
Ken Ralston[2]

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) is the visual effects company responsible for much of the visual effects in the Star Wars films. It was founded by George Lucas in 1975, as part of Lucasfilm Limited. ILM has also created the effects for over 300 other films, including the Star Trek films, the Indiana Jones franchise, the Back to the Future trilogy, the Jurassic Park series, the Harry Potter series, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, many films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the 2011 animated film Rango, the 2011 live-action film Super 8, and the 2018 film Ready Player One.



ILM with a model of an AT-ST

After George Lucas made the hit movie American Graffiti, he worked on a space opera he called The Star Wars, which was then purchased by 20th Century Fox. Lucas intended to create special effects that had never been done before.[3] However, Fox's in-house special effects department had been shut down because of costs and the publics interest in more realistic looking films. Lucas then decided to create his own effects company. His first choice was Douglas Trumbull, responsible for the photographical effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey. As Trumbull was doing Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he instead recommended Lucas his assistant, John Dykstra. Dykstra then assembled a crew of 75 college students, artists and engineers. Lucas himself bought old equipment for pennies on the dollar.

Gary Kurtz bough to crew to work on a warehouse in Van Nuys, California. Looking for a name that would disguise the warehouse's function and suggest it was simply in the business of wholesaling electronic components rather than making movies, Lucas came up with Industrial Light and Magic. In July of 1975, the company was born.[4]

Star Wars work[]


The original ILM logo, designed by Drew Struzan

ILM's first film was Star Wars (called The Star Wars at first). Many at the recently founded company (then jokingly nicknamed "The Country Club") were not sure the new groundbreaking special effects would ever work. The working environment was chaotic and unorthodox: when Fox executives visited the crew to see their progress, one of the employees was wearing a fish-head mask, the artists used an improvised slide to plunge into a swimming pool built in a container, and Dykstra threw a refrigerator from the warehouse's roof "because we wanted to know how it would sound." The artists spent their days smoking marijuana and trying to find relief from the hot environment in bathtubs. Most of the $1 million Lucas lent to the company was spent on equipment, such as miniatures and the Dykstraflex motion control camera — a technology later crucial for scenes such as the Battle of Yavin.

When Lucas returned to California after ending principal photography, ILM was in worse shape than ever before. Except for the escape pod being released from Tantive IV, Lucas found all the completed effects to be unsalvageable. Adding this to the troublesome shooting, most doubted Star Wars would ever reach theaters, and Fox nearly terminated production. Lucas decided to take direct control of the company, supervising the effects work daily. The battle scenes were mostly directly copied from dogfights taken from World War II movies such as Tora! Tora! Tora! which Lucas used as reference.

Lucas also brought in some third parties to complete effects, such as Dan O'Bannon, Rick Baker and Phil Tippett.[5][6]

Once the film was completed, most of the crew at ILM decided to stay, but Dykstra brought some of the artists to form his own company, called Apogee.

Although ILM primarily worked on Star Wars projects, they also had a hand in some Star Trek projects, including Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. Mark Hamill, upon discovering this during production of Return of the Jedi, jokingly referred to them as traitors, with Lucas stating that it was a business.[7]

Through the mid 1980s, ILM began to change the entire special effects industry forever by experimenting with Computer Graphics. after the success with Tron, Lucas became interested with computers and saw the potential of the new revolutionary machine. Lucas hired Ed Catmill, a PHD student, whom he would bring more computer scientists, technologists, etc. into the special effects department. along with Catmill's early advancements in computer technology, was the ability to create smooth surfaces and wrap textures around them. this was a pioneering leap in the rudimentary world of computer graphics, known simply as CG.[8][9][10] ILM created the OpenEXR format for high-dynamic-range imaging.[11]

following the massive success of Jurassic Park, Lucas ordered a restructure of ILM. the visual effects studio sold all it's optical equipment to completely convert the equipment to computers. since then, ILM has been a CGI visual effects company ever since.

for Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, the visual effects team used a series of character animation tools and lip-sync refence materials to infuse new digital characters with dead-on accurate dialogue, and dynamic physical behaviors. the film was shot completely on high-definition cameras.

for the first time, Yoda was going to appear in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones digitally. artist Jean Bolte used the films; The Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi as reference material. then she focused on getting Yoda's expression right. first, the Yoda puppet was brought in for the actors to perform with, then, they replace the puppet with their CG Yoda for the films.

ILM has one of the largest render farms (named Death Star). It is a cluster computer originally built by SGI. Since then, it has been converted into a Linux system built by RackSaver (now Verari Systems) with AMD processors.[12] The system originally had 1,500 processors in 750 nodes, this figure was doubled for Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. ILM tends to be quiet about their supercomputer, so its current configuration is not known.

In 2005, Industrial Light and Magic moved from Kerner Optical to the Presidio of San Francisco.


Older logo

In 2010, ILM allowed the show The Amazing Race to film at their complex. They set up a challenge for the contestants on the show, which involved the characters of Ponds, Cody, and Padmé Amidala from The Clone Wars.

In October 2012, Disney bought ILM's parent company, Lucasfilm, acquiring ILM in the process.[13][14][15][16]

ILM TV, launched in 2018, is a branch of ILM that focuses on episodic and streaming television. It collaborates with the ILM Experience Lab, and worked on the live action Star Wars series The Mandalorian. Aside from The Mandalorian, it will also help create the second season of Krypton on SyFy. Their headquarters is located at ILM's London studio.[17]

in 2019, ILM introduced StageCraft.[18][19] Also known as "The Volume", it uses high-definition LED video walls to generate virtual sceneries, all of this was done using the graphically impressive video game engine; Unreal Engine 5. it was first used in The Mandalorian (2019-present).[20][21]

Notable artists[]


Notes and references[]

  1. Lucasfilm Visual Effects on Lucasfilm.com (backup link)
  2. SWInsider "Here We Go Again" — Star Wars Insider 221
  3. StarWars Industrial Light & Magic: History on StarWars.com (July 15, 1999) (content now obsolete; backup link)
  4. YouTube Interviewing Return of the Jedi Lucasfilm VFX Editor Bill Kimberlin - Rule of Two on the Wars Theory @StarWarsTheory YouTube channel (backup link)
  5. StarWars We Meet Again At Last: ILM Veterans Reunite To Celebrate 40 Years Of Star Wars on StarWars.com (June 14, 2017) (backup link)
  6. StarWars From Space Battles To StageCraft: The Legends Of ILM Discuss Half A Century Of Movie Magic on StarWars.com (August 18, 2022) (backup link)
  7. The Making of Return of the Jedi
  8. 1970's - School of Computer Science - Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science on www.cs.cmu.edu (archived from the original on August 15, 2023)
  9. The Empire of Effects: Industrial Light and Magic and the Rendering of Realism by Julie A. Turnock on University of Texas Press (June 14, 2022) (archived from the original on September 7, 2023)
  10. Pixar Animation Studios on Pixar Animation Studios (archived from the original on September 11, 2023)
  11. About OpenEXR on ILM (content now obsolete; archived from the original on July 3, 2006)
  12. ILM death star render farm on www.linuxjournal.com (archived from the original on March 30, 2023)
  13. Disney Buys LucasFilm, New 'Star Wars' Planned on Variety (October 30, 2012) (archived from the original on April 15, 2023)
  14. UPDATE: BREAKING: 'Star Wars' Returns – 'Episode 7' Slated For 2015 And More Movies Planned As Disney Buys Lucasfilm on Deadline Hollywood (October 30, 2022) (archived from the original on July 16, 2023)
  15. Disney to acquire Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion on Los Angeles Times (October 30, 2012) (archived from the original on June 19, 2023)
  16. Disney buying Lucasfilm, prepping new 'Star Wars' movies for 2015 and beyond -- VIDEO on Entertainment Weekly (October 30, 2012) (archived from the original on December 5, 2022)
  17. Industrial Light & Magic opens TV division just in time for Disney's new Star Wars show by Bishop, Bryan on The Verge (November 7, 2018) (archived from the original on April 23, 2020)
  18. How ILM's Stagecraft Team Is Pushing The Boundaries Of VFX And "Moving The Tech Forward Right Now" on Deadline Hollywood (July 8, 2021) (archived from the original on December 26, 2022)
  19. The Evolution of ICVFX: ILM Stagecraft and Dimension on postPerspective (July 20, 2022) (archived from the original on July 22, 2022)
  20. How ILM's Volume Technology Reinvents Visual Effects (And What It Means For The Future) on /Film (August 7, 2022) (archived from the original on September 12, 2023)
  21. Industrial Light & Magic's Digital StageCraft Technology: What We Know About the Volume on Collider (August 14, 2022) (archived from the original on May 19, 2023)

External links[]