Americanheritage.com recently posted an expansive article on the era of pre-digital special effects, featuring an interview with ex-ILMer Richard Edlund. The article spans the founding of Industrial Light & Magic two years before Star Wars’ release in 1977 through the end of the decade, when Star Trek – The Motion Picture defined how not to do a special effects movie. Here’s an excerpt:
The storyboards described the movie starting with an enormous “Imperial Star Destroyer” pursuing a much smaller spacecraft into the frame right over the audience’s head, hauling them into the adventure. “We knew how important this was,” Edlund explains. “If the audience didn’t buy that shot right away, they might not buy into what follows, but the only Star Destroyer we had was barely three feet long. We’d discussed plans to build a huge model that would stretch out along the side of the building, talking endlessly about how we’d light and shoot it while we kept banging away on the easier shots, always pushing that massive opening shot off, until eventually we started running out of stuff to shoot. By then the money was getting thin, and time was pretty much up.” And so, just as they’d always done, Edlund and John Dykstra, the movie’s visual-effects supervisor, and their crew at the fledgling visual-effects house Industrial Light & Magic, tackled this latest problem with sheer inventive pluck.
Before you head over, grab a snack and a beverage – it’s a long ride, but well worth the trip!