If you asked the average moviegoer to name George Lucas' biggest influence on the film industry, they'd probably say "Star Wars." But while there's no arguing with the massive cultural and artistic impact of that film and its five sequels, a better answer might well be Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic.
To be sure, "Star Wars" and ILM are not unrelated--Lucas started ILM to create the visual effects for his groundbreaking movie. But the visual effects house has gone on to do a great deal more, and today is probably responsible for the look and feel of more movies than any other institution.
And while there are other prominent visual effects companies that frequently get top billing on movies like "Avatar," houses like Digital Domain, Peter Jackson's Weta Digital , Sony's Imageworks , and others, there's little doubt ILM has achieved more in its history than most of its competitors combined.
All told ILM has worked on almost 300 films including all six "Star Wars" movies, "Out of Africa," "Cocoon," "Ghost," "Forrest Gump," "The Mask," "Jurassic Park," "Saving Private Ryan," the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, "Wall-E," 2009's "Star Trek," and "Transformers," among many, many others. And along the way, it has earned 40 Oscar nominations, winning 15 times, for efforts that sometimes make its peers' jaws drop.
While ILM has been earning kudos for 35 years, it may be known by many for its recent work on the 'Iron Man' franchise, as well as on other hit franchises like the 'Star Trek,' 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' and 'Transformers' films.
Industrial Light & Magic
For example, many in the industry were stunned by ILM's work on "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" in 2006, especially the computer graphics on that film's Davy Jones character, which to the naked eye looked entirely realistic.
"Davy Jones was 100 percent CGI," Aaron Muszalski, a Bay Area visual effects instructor and multimedia artist, said at the time of ILM's Oscar nomination for "Pirates." "True, the animations were derived, at least in part, from the tracked data of the actor's performance, but the resulting imagery was totally synthetic. It's simply amazing, really. "
This year, ILM turns 35 years old, and to celebrate, the Encore cable TV network commissioned Oscar- and Emmy-winning director Leslie Iwerks to make a 60-minute documentary, "Industrial Light & Magic: Creating the Impossible," which will air on November 14, about the VFX house.
Featuring plenty of archival material and interviews with Hollywood luminaries like Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Robin Williams, John Lasseter, Samuel L. Jackson, and others, Iwerks said her film paints a picture of a group of people who have been brought in again and again to pull off visual effects no one had ever done before.