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35 years of 'impossible' ILM visual effects (photos)

Over 35 years, George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic has worked on nearly 300 films, earning 15 Oscars in the process.

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Daniel Terdiman
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Star Wars motion control

This year marks the 35th anniversary of George Lucas' famed visual effects house Industrial Light & Magic. To celebrate the occasion, Encore has produced a new 60-minute documentary on the studio, directed by Oscar- and Emmy-winning filmmaker Leslie Iwerks.

In this gallery are a series of images showcasing many of the nearly 300 films that ILM has worked on, earning 15 Oscars in the process and a total of 40 Academy Award nominations.

ILM got its start in 1975 when Lucas needed a visual effects department to work on "Star Wars." According to ILM, "The young team at ILM pioneered the use of computers to control and move motion picture cameras. The invention, named the Dysktraflex, in honor of its primary inventor, John Dykstra, allowed camera moves to be programmed and repeated time and time again giving effects artists the ability to shoot multiple registered passes of miniatures such as the Millennium Falcon, which would later be optically composited together into a single shot."

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Star Wars

"Star Wars" earned ILM its first Oscar for special effects.
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Star Trek 2

In 1982, ILM and the Lucasfilm Computer Division--which had been set up in 1979--co-created what was called the "Genesis Effect" for "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." According to ILM, this was the first-ever entirely CGI sequence in a feature film. Just four years later, Lucas sold the part of the computer division that worked on developing rendering software. That group later became a company that you might have heard of: Pixar Animation Studios.
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Wrath of Khan

An image of a special effect from "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."
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Young Sherlock Holmes

In 1985, ILM developed the first completely CGI character in a feature film, the stained-glass knight for "Young Sherlock Holmes."
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Artists at work

Artists working on the effects for "Young Sherlock Holmes."
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Willow

For director Ron Howard's 1988 film "Willow," ILM broke new ground by developing the first-ever morphing sequence in a feature film.
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Morf

ILM won a technical achievement award for Morf, graphics software that enabled the "fluid, onscreen transformation of one object to another," according to the studio.
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The Abyss

For James Cameron's 1989 "The Abyss," ILM created the first CGI 3D fluid-based character, the "pseudopod."
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Pseudopod

The "pseudopod" from "The Abyss."
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Terminator 2

For "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," ILM developed another feature film first: the first CGI main character, the T-1000.
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Terminator 2 sketch

A sketch of the same scene from "Terminator 2." For its work on the film, ILM won the best visual effects Oscar.
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Jurassic Park

ILM won another Oscar for its visual effects on Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park." It got the Academy Award for its work on the film's CGI dinosaurs.
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Jurassic Park artists

According to ILM, on "Jurassic Park," "For the first time, digital technology was used to create a living, breathing character with skin, muscles, texture, and attitude."
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Advanced filmmaking techniques

The innovations of "Jurassic Park" became yet another major arrow in filmmakers' quivers: one that allowed directors to forever change the way they told stories in movies, according to ILM.
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Twister

For 1996's "Twister," ILM created tornadoes that were 100 percent CGI, and which were made using ILM's particle system animation software.
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Episode I

Ninety percent of Lucas' 1999 "Star Wars" prequel, "Episode I: The Phantom Menace" contained digital effects shots, and for the film, ILM developed a brand-new way of making movies. "Scenes that are fully computer-generated, featuring synthetic environments and digital terrain generation, computer graphic lead characters and thousands of digital extras are but some of the accomplishments, which are rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for best achievement in visual effects," according to ILM.
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The Perfect Storm

2000's "The Perfect Storm" earned an Oscar nomination for visual effects for ILM's work creating the film's signature digital waves and weather.
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Yoda

With 2002's "Episode II: Attack of the Clones," Lucas became the first filmmaker to shoot entirely using digital high-definition video. ILM completed more than 2,000 visual effects shots, "featuring digital environments, synthetic human characters, and a computer graphics Yoda."
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Davy Jones

For "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," ILM created Imocap, a new image-based motion-capture system. The all CGI characters, such as Davy Jones, stunned the industry.
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Photorealistic water

According to ILM, the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" film set a new standard for photorealistic digitally created water.
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Transformers

For Michael Bay's 2007 film "Transformers," single characters sometimes required 10,000 individual pieces.
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Dynamic Rigging

As a result, ILM built a system for "Transformers" known as Dynamic Rigging, which was geared toward creating those incredibly complex CGI characters.
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Indiana Jones

With Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," ILM created CGI jungles designed to blend perfectly with location footage.
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Temple destruction scene

ILM developed an all-new software system that can create computer models that could be divided into the thousands of small pieces needed for the new "Indiana Jones" film's climatic temple destruction scene.
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Iron Man

For "Iron Man," ILM developed the title character's famous photorealistic armor.
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Avatar

Though Weta Digital was the lead visual effects house on James Cameron's "Avatar," for which it won an Oscar, ILM also created several shots, including the film's opening sequence, the attack of the Home Tree, and the movie's final battle sequence.
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Iron Man 2

For "Iron Man 2," ILM broke new ground with photorealistic digital armor for the title character.

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