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Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)

Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Special Effects is a reference book that chronicles the first decade of the existence of the visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), spanning the years 1976-1985. The productions ILM worked upon during that period, including Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, served as illustrative backdrops for the texts. Aside from the chapters dealing with the techniques of creating visual effects, profiles of production staffers were also included, many of whom having worked on these Star Trek productions, as well as on future ones.


From the book jacket
You're sitting in the movie theater. The lights dim, the music begins, and suddenly you are transported into a magical world were all things are possible.
A spaceship hurtles toward you out of a vast star-filled universe.
A tree bursts through a child's bedroom window.
A small, fuzzy creature begins to spout philosophy.
A man's face literally melts away.
This is the art of special effects – the work of artists, draftsmen, model makers, and sculptors, whose talents give life to a director's vision... the dazzling wizardry of the technical experts who translate that art work into a film reality.
This lavish, profusely illustrated volume is the story of the organization whose name has become synonymous with state-of-the-art special effects: Industrial Light & Magic – From its early days in a large empty warehouse in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, to its Oscar-winning accomplishments creating special effects for some of the most memorable and highest-grossing movies of all time, including the Star Wars trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestial, Back to the Future, the Star Trek films, Poltergeist, and Cocoon.
Thomas G. Smith, the General Manager of ILM for five years, takes you behind the scenes for a complete analysis of the special effects process: from cinematic design, matte paintings, model construction, and creature development, to miniature photography and optical compositing. He explores ILM's invention of new cameras, lenses, and other devices to help technology keep pace with the Human imagination. And he offers a glimpse into an ever bolder future for ILM through the use of computers in the making of films.
While the machines and technological innovations are fascinating, the heart of ILM is its people-the creative geniuses who take the visions of directors like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and bring them to vivid life on the screen. These pages feature profiles of ILM personnel who have redefined the limits of their craft to gain first place in the world of special effects.
Superbly illustrated with hundreds of photographs, paintings, and frame enlargements, as well as technical black and white illustrations, and featuring a complete glossary of terms and screen credits for all of ILM's film projects, this splendid edition is a fitting testament to the place where all things are possible: the magical world of Industrial Light & Magic.

Excerpts of copyrighted sources are included for review purposes only, without any intention of infringement.


  • Acknowledgements, p. IX
  • Introduction by George Lucas, p. XI
  • Chapter 1: How it started, pp. 1-21
  • Chapter 2: Visual Effects Design, pp. 23-40
  • Chapter 3: Model Construction, pp. 41-63
  • Chapter 4: Creatures at ILM, pp. 65-81
  • Chapter 5: Stop and Go Motion, pp. 83-98
  • Chapter 6: Miniature Photography, pp. 99-127
  • Chapter 7: Matte Painting: From Brush to Film, pp. 129-165
  • Chapter 8: Animation and FX, pp. 167-176
  • Chapter 9: Optical Compositing, pp. 177-195
  • Chapter 10: Digitized Movies: A Scenario for the Future, pp. 197-215
  • Chapter 11: ILM: The First Years, pp. 217-251
  • Glossary, pp. 253-270
  • Bibliography, p. 271
  • Index, pp. 273-278

Background information

  • The author of the book, Thomas G. Smith, who was singularly well suited to write the work, since he served as production supervisor and general manager of the company during most of that period, chose to have the contents organized around the various techniques involving the creation of visual effects. The Art of Visual Effects would have been the more appropriate book title, but the distinction between the two was only just introduced, and the main title and text on the dust jacket – though in the main text of the reprints the proper term was utilized – was exemplary of the confusion that, for the time being, would result from it.
  • The work was presented as a high quality bound hardcover coffee-table book, format 30.7×25.7×3.8 cm, in a dust jacket. The quality was reflected in the production value of the book; high resolution full color pictures (the behind-the-scenes imagery rarely seen afterwards) printed on heavy high gloss paper. Despite its then high price tag attached to it, it was a well-received popular book and saw at least two reprint runs, the UK reprints marketed by Virgin Publishing. At the time, the book has been an influential one, as it was not only the first in-depth specialized title on arguably the most signature visual effects company the motion picture industry had spawned, but since it also served as a template for subsequent works of this kind, dealing with the subject matter of visual effects, the companies that produced them and/or the productions they were used in.
  • A companion tome, Industrial Light & Magic: Into the Digital Realm, spanning the second decade of ILM, followed suit in 1996, and for which Virgin Publishing became the first time UK publisher.