“For more than 40 years, the hardworking talents behind the curtain at Industrial Light & Magic have been conjuring worlds and rewriting the rules of cinematic storytelling. During Sunday’s Star Wars Celebration Chicago panel, host David W. Collins was joined by legendary modelmaker Lorne Peterson, model makers Bill George, Jean Bolte, and John Goodson, and visual effects supervisor John Knoll as they recounted their decades of experience helping to forge the Lucasfilm legacy. Here are some of the most exciting moments from their discussion. […]
3. ILM models contain some hilarious Easter eggs. The practical model of the Naboo capital, Theed, was a massive 40-by-60-foot affair with lots of artificial grass; as a joke, Goodson snuck a model lawn mower and gas can into the miniature set.
4. Mustafar was a trial by fire for the ILM Model Shop. Slightly larger than half a tennis court, according to Peterson, the main miniature used for Mustafar could be tilted to direct the flow of “lava” along its many rivers of flame. The model was used for about 400 shots during photography on Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, requiring several large crews to manage things like the pumps that generated the lava effect. Theed and the Boonta Eve podracing track were comparable in size, Knoll noted, if not complexity. […]
6. Some CGI shots have surprisingly humble beginnings. Those thousands of spectators at the Boonta Eve podrace in The Phantom Menace? Those are all Q-tips; they’ve just had their white tips painted various colors to create the illusion of crowded stands brimming with life. Some shots have a bit of light digital editing to hide anything that might give the trick away, but there are wide shots of the track where the audience is looking at the original Q-tips themselves. ILM achieved the waterfall shots in The Phantom Menace using granular sugar and salt. (They switched to salt because ants took a liking to the sugar!)
7. According to Knoll, the feature-length documentary The Beginning is perhaps the most authentic window behind the scenes at ILM and Lucasfilm. George Lucas wanted a film crew present at almost every major Episode I meeting, Knoll said, so cameras were a frequent sight. ILM got so used to them being around, they eventually stopped noticing; the result is an incredibly authentic look at the magic of moviemaking. The Beginning “tells a very truthful story,” Knoll added.
8. The advent of computer graphics caused the Model Shop a lot of anxiety in the ’90s. Bolte recalled being one of the first of ILM’s model makers to make the leap to the realm of CGI, and as a result, she feels the best visual-effects artists are typically the ones who understand the strengths and limitations of both methodologies. The best CGI artists, Knoll agreed, are generally ones who started with some form of practical effects. […]”