back to article Industrial Light & Magic: 40 years of Lucas's pioneering FX-wing

In the 40 years since the release of the original Star Wars, special effects have changed beyond recognition. Computers – critical to today's generation of Star Wars successors – were relatively rare during the mid 1970s. Expensive and huge, they were the preserve of governments, universities and big corporations. Personal …

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  2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  3. Denarius Silver badge


    Thought it was done well and I am not a SW fan. Graphics were excellent. However reference to Rouge 1 did remind me of a reddit reference. I'll get my coat

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Rogue1

      "However reference to Rouge 1 did remind me of a reddit reference."

      Ditto. The number of people who can't spell Rogue and confuse it with ladies facial make-up is astounding.

      1. David 132 Silver badge

        Re: Rogue1

        Ditto. The number of people who can't spell Rogue and confuse it with ladies facial make-up is astounding.

        Yeah, red faces all round.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Rogue1

          Which is surely better than faces which go AWOL?

      2. GeneralDisaster

        Re: Rogue1

        As a kid I was always confused by rouge trooper being blue. I assumed he should be red.

  4. TRT Silver badge

    You forgot...

    the great debt that Lucas owes to Gerry Anderson's effects team, Derek Meddings and Brian Johnson, in shaping the look and feel of space miniatures work. Johnson was supposedly approached to go and work for Lucas on Star Wars, but declined the offer until he eventually went over to the dark side for Empire. I understand that the studios collaborated unofficially to solve some of the problems ILM were having.

    1. Mike Richards

      Re: You forgot...

      Apparently George Lucas toured the Anderson studios when they were on pre-production work for Space 1999 and was hugely influenced by the gritty look and feel of the models. Without Gerry Anderson's talent incubator we probably wouldn't have had the incredible model work in 2001, Star Wars or Alien.

      I wish they'd bring back the models for some movies. I don't know what it is but they look more 'real' than almost all CG.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: You forgot...

        I would happily advise you go and watch the film SpaceStation 76 which is showing on SciFi channel fairly regularly. Absolutely superb pastiche of 70s/80s Sci-Fi sets and models. Beautifully detailed.

    2. MyffyW Silver badge

      As a famous smuggler once said....

      "you can type this shit, but you can't say it"

      Can someone help me fire up the "fully 3D Eulerian solver with volume ray-marching renderer"

  5. Dave 126 Silver badge

    > Sixteen years later, and by the time of The Phantom Menace computers had long become mainstream. The film introduced us to a Star Wars universe almost completely realised using CGI

    It looks that way, doesn't it? However, there were a lot of physical effects in Phantom Menace, including huge miniature (yeah, I know) sets. The waterfalls on one planet were actually falling salt.

    1. Grumpyrocker

      Yup. Good article. But the bit about Phantom Menace relying on CGI is just plain wrong. The film is full of models - not just for vehicles, but also sets.

      For example the long shots of the Pod Racing stadium has Qtips/Earbuds for members of the crowd. Much of the city of Theed relied on some gorgeous models.

  6. DrXym Silver badge

    Still didn't escape uncanny valley

    The CG Peter Cushing / Moff Tarkin was surprisingly poor considering the budget. The lips and facial expressions were off, the performance lacked any nuance, the head bobbed around like a chicken and it simply didn't blend in.

    This video demonstrates it all too well:

    The Carrie Fisher / Leia was somewhat better but perhaps only by virtue of the intense artificial lighting in the scene and the fact it was only there for a brief moment.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Still didn't escape uncanny valley

      You a being a bit unfair. Only a bit.

      New Hope was filmed using very "sharp" lighting throughout most of the Death Star studio set - you can see the reflections of that off Peter Cushing's forehead, etc. As a result the mimics, emotions, etc are much clearer.

      Rogue 1 Death Star and most of other indoor sets are filmed with a much fuzzier lighting and are darker overall.

      The intention was probably to make it scarier and spookier and it became possible with modern lighting technology. You simply could not do that level of background lighting in the days when everything had to be done using halogens. You can now. You can stick as many leds as you want in a set, your limit is only your budget, not the technology as such. As a result the Rogue 1 team has gone a bit overboard on that in places. The ability to adjust exposure in a very arbitrary manner while filming digitally also helps.

      They are not the only ones - if you compare any movie done 40 years ago to a movie done now, the indoor scenes are exactly like the New Hope ones - sharp, clear with lots of reflections of people and objects. Natural result of using those 1kw + halogen lights.

      So there is some of that too - especially in the sequences shown in that youtube video.

      By the way, if you have never seen the original Moff, the CGI Moff did not look very wrong. Now, Leya, that was so obviously artificial, it was not even funny - they did not get the lighting reflections on her face anywhere near right (despite this being modeled into oblivion in both films and games).

    2. Unicornpiss
      Thumb Up

      Re: Still didn't escape uncanny valley

      Somehow I found the Leia rendering more off-mark and creepy, perhaps due to the more recent death of Carrie Fisher, but overall, an impressive effort.

      For me, the movie was very well done, especially the way the poignant end scenes captured the hopelessness when sometimes the partisan underdog does lose the game, wrongfully. Lots of resonances with our current times and political situations too.

      I fully expected anything new from George Lucas to be cheesy and just another gratuitous showing off of effects "because we can", but I was very pleasantly surprised.

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: Still didn't escape uncanny valley

        I thought the Carrie Fisher touch at the end of Rogue 1 was perfect, made all the more poignant by her recent passing. I'm happy to overlook a few imperfections for a good story.

  7. Haku

    Ugh, that's what I forgot to do yesterday, watch Star Wars

    The edited hd blu-ray version that someone restored back to the theatrical cut & spread it online. If you're thinking 'pirate!' I have the original trilogy theatrical cut on laserdisc, 3 different copies... the French release, German release & the US definitive release.

    At least I remembered to feed my brother's cat ;)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ugh, that's what I forgot to do yesterday, watch Star Wars

      Unfortunatly have sympathy for you.

      I bought the "original" Star Wars trilogy only to find it was the awful Special Editions..Seems you can no longer buy the proper versions.

      1. ooSag

        Re: Ugh, that's what I forgot to do yesterday, watch Star Wars

        For the sheer amount of Star Wars merchandise out there - and for all the differing releases / Special Editions, and it being the 40th anniversary and all... it's still a case of 'Original 1977, 1980 & 1983 versions not included. Not sold separately'...

        There's a a small band of rebels trying to remedy that...

      2. Blake St. Claire

        Re: Ugh, that's what I forgot to do yesterday, watch Star Wars

        > I bought the "original" Star Wars trilogy only to find it was the awful Special Editions..

        > Seems you can no longer buy the proper versions.

        Look for Team Negative1's Star Wars Silver Screen Edition mp4. It's transferred from an original 1977 35mm theater print someone discovered in a closet somewhere and then digitally restored. Apparently they even did a Blu-Ray disc.

        I can't help you with episodes V and VI though.

        1. DaddyHoggy

          Re: Ugh, that's what I forgot to do yesterday, watch Star Wars

          I seen that, it's a complete nostalgia-fest - I watched it in the dark, projected onto a 10ft screen, not quite fully cinematic but I sat much closer to the screen than I did when I was six and saw New Hope for the first time at my local Odeon.

  8. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Sometimes it's like modern games, too much time spend tarting it up and forgetting the actual game play. Which, I reckon, is why retro games are in vogue, the game play is good even if the graphics aren't.

    Movie makers should remember that !!

  9. Duffy Moon

    And still no official HD release

    The pioneering work on the Original Trilogy is part of film history. Apart from anything else, the lack of a restored, HD release is an insult to those technical wizards.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: And still no official HD release

      Lucas does not want to allow its release and he owns the rights.

      Anything else aside, it just shows how crap are both his pre-quels and the vandalism he did to the original.

      1. Aladdin Sane

        Re: And still no official HD release

        He doesn't own the rights, Disney does. Lucas sold them everything.

  10. Mooseman Silver badge

    OK so my comment about spelling Rogue wrong was deleted by a moderator yet another post mentioning it is allowed to stand? Seriously?

    Two things -

    One - running a spell checker wont pick up words that are spelled incorrectly if the wrong word is also a proper word.

    Two - deleting a post that mentions is it sad. It wasn't even a rude comment, just gently taking the piss.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Industrial Light & Magic

    Officially the best named corporation ever.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese

      Re: Industrial Light & Magic

      Officially the best named corporation ever.

      Even better than AnalTech?

      1. Haku

        Re: Industrial Light & Magic

        Or Pen Island?

        1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

          Re: Industrial Light & Magic

          Or even the old spoof hoax one (allegedly) of Powergen Italia that was around for a while...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Industrial Light & Magic

          I used to often visit the Expert Sex Change site.

          Of course, now they've added a dash in the middle to confuse people.

          1. Unicornpiss

            Re: Industrial Light & Magic

            Still doesn't beat the old Research In Motion recruiting site: ""

    2. Rattus Rattus

      Re: Industrial Light & Magic

      General Atomics has to have come pretty close though.

  12. Peter2 Silver badge

    The use of Frank Oz and his puppets to populate the planet of Dagobah and bring Yoda to life was another practical old-school technique that arguably gave the Jedi master more gravitas than the somersaulting CGI goblin of the prequels.

    Much to learn they still have. Watch this again:-

    Yoda was popular as a character not because of his looks alone, but because much of what he says to Luke is actually both wise, and said to the viewer as much as the character. When Luke gives up because something is too much of a struggle for him to keep trying, he decides he can't do it and then goes and sulks, that's something human relatable as is the lesson that it could be done if he hadn't given up.

    Not for nothing are quotes from Yoda such as "Luke: "I don't believe it!" Yoda: "And *THAT* is why you fail." found in motivational courses and quote books.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Except Marvel did it better..

      The recreations of Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing was, to me, to low point of the film just because it was un-canny valley. It looked like computer game characters stuck into a film. Which was weird because if you look at the "made young" effects in Winter Soldier or Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 Disney does have the tech to do it scarily well.

    2. Long John Brass

      Sorry, but most of Yoda's advice is utter crap

      Do or do NOT; There is no try

      What a shitty piece of advice; If you can't do it first attempt, don't bother. There is no try? Bullshit, there is ONLY try, and if you fail try again, and again until you figure it out.


      Permission to fail is an important concept; Time more people learned that. We are where we a as a species as a civilisation because of our failures, we screw up, we learn from out mistakes, we get better at things.


      1. Terje

        What a shitty piece of advice; If you can't do it first attempt, don't bother. There is no try? Bullshit, there is ONLY try, and if you fail try again, and again until you figure it out.

        What you miss here is that at least the way I read it is, you should not go into a task with the mindset to try to do it, but go into it with the mindset to do it. You may well have to make many attempts but if you start out with an attitude of I will TRY to do this rather then I WILL do this you are more likely to fail in the end.

  13. strum

    I'm going to make enemies here. I saw the original SW, first run - and wasn't impressed by its (what we've come to know as) SFX.

    Thing is - before SW, 'special effects' were supposed to allow the viewer to suspend disbelief, quickly enough to get back to the story. The film-maker showed you a glimpse of a model/matte/whatever, in action. Then he showed it to you more slowly, meanwhile telling you "It's a gobblewhinger". So, the viewer told himself "OK, it's a gobblewhinger" and got on with the movie. It didn't really matter how 'accurate' it was.

    But Lucas broke this, by making the SFX a star in its own right, displaying stuff long enough to show that it wasn't real, but that lots of money had been spent on it. Ever since, SFX has been lauded as if it deserves an Oscar of its own. But, if you're aware its a special effect, it isn't really effective, is it?

    1. jeffdyer

      I was 11 and on summer holidays when Star Wars Episode IV hit West Wales, and I saw it three times that summer. It was fantastic.

      For the first time, the space ships used used and worn, instead of pristine. Fantastic.

  14. macjules Silver badge

    Exactly spot-on!

    Well done El Reg.

    Such a change to read an article about ILM that is properly researched and well written. Of course you could have mentioned such schisms as BFTR (Banned From The Ranch), Digital Domain, that Pixar began essentially, as an ILM internal investigation or that Photoshop was invented, in part, by an ILM employee tinkering with programming in his time away from work,

    Oh, and that little project began life as "Adventures of Luke Starkiller, as Taken From the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars"

    1. David 132 Silver badge

      Re: Exactly spot-on!

      Oh, and that little project began life as "Adventures of Luke Starkiller, as Taken From the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars"

      What an amazingly catchy title. Why on earth did he change it? /s

      Also a must-see: "The Escapades of Indiana Johnson, As Related To His Chiropodist, Installment 1: The Temple Of Deadly Doom"

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    IT Angle

    It's interesting how the little things matter

    Computer controlled camera motion --> tighter ability to overlay different films (effectively the visual equivalent of "multi tracking" on audio tape) as each camera path exactly the same.

    Higher resolution cameras --> Reduce graininess.

    Between them these opened up a whole range of options for the film makers. Although it would have been nice to get some idea what qualifications you need to get into the industry today compared with them.

    CGI still remains problematical. As the prequels showed just because you can create 1000s of robot "extras" unrolling across the background there are times when you shouldn't.

  16. Ivan Headache


    I have a recollection of reading that certain optical tricks used in the original film were developed at Harrow Technical College (now Westminster Uni).

    Am I remembering correctly or not?

    It does seem possible seeing that Elstree is not much more than a stone'S throw from Harrow.

  17. mix

    Han shot first.

    Interesting that I can't see the third trilogy getting amended. The prequel trilogy needed to have some of the Lucas "magic" removed to make it more enjoyable but getting hold of these mystical fan edits is very tricky.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
  18. Peter Clarke 1

    Original 'Original Trilogy'

    To see the theatre releases you need the 2008 6 dvd set with the Skywalker/Vader sabre fight in blue

  19. Chas

    ILM were definitely badass

    There was a story circulating, possibly apocryphal, about a bunch of union reps turning up to the studio where ILM were working on shooting with the Dykstraflex. They were complaining that the camera was being operated by a non-union member. During the robust discussion, one of the techs surreptitiously programmed a series of moves into the Dykstraflex. Suddenly, the camera rears up off the floor, performed a complex series of pirouettes in the air and came to rest inches off the face of the lead union guy.

    The ILM guy then said, "Show me a cameraman who can do that, and repeat it perfectly time after time, and I'll hire him!"

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