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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 April 2007, 06:40 GMT 07:40 UK
The talent behind the visual effects
By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Roger Guyett
Roger Guyett is visual effects supervisor on Pirates 3

The BBC News website speaks to two leading special effects professionals at the world famous Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) firm in San Francisco.

Earlier this year ILM picked up a visual effects Oscar for the work done on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

For animation supervisor Hal Hickle, who picked up the award, it was the fulfilment of a boyhood dream, which began after he saw Star Wars in 1977.

He says: "When I was 13, I'd heard they were making a second Star Wars film; this was in 1978. I sent off an idea for the film."

The script idea was returned with a letter, that said: "Our legal counsel has advised us to return all unsolicited sequel ideas unread.

"The sequel is being written without the use of any outside contributions. Getting into movies requires a certain combination of talent and luck and is usually done through an agent in Hollywood."

Attack of the Clones - first major film shot entirely in HD
Application of sub-surface scattering - making digital skin more realistic
Developed Open EXR - open source high definition picture file format
Worked alongside Stanford University to simulate the ocean in Poseidon
Pioneering motion capture technology to blur the line between live action and post-production

He may have abandoned his screenwriting hopes, but Mr Hickle kept that letter - which is now in a frame on his office wall - and showed it to director George Lucas 21 years later when working together on The Phantom Menace.

Lucas circled the words "talent and luck", wrote "you have both" and signed the letter.

Mr Hickle picked up the Oscar alongside John Knoll, who has worked at ILM for 21 years - and also co-developed groundbreaking program Photoshop.

It is a measure of the kind of staff that Industrial Light and Magic employs.

Mr Hickle transferred to ILM from Pixar, where he had worked on Toy Story, just for the chance to work on the Star Wars prequels.

Industrial Light and Magic was founded by George Lucas in 1975 when he needed specialised effects for Star Wars and learned that 20th Century Fox had shut down its own visual effects team.

The firm made its name by developing motion capture cameras, which made realistic and epic space battles possible on the big screen for the first time.

Since then, the company has become synonymous with innovation in visual effects - from the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park to the computer generated tentacles and barnacles on Davy Jones' face in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

Not content to bask in the glory of Pirates 2, the animators and technical staff are busy finishing the visual effects for the third film in the series.

Eye patch

The office walls at ILM are covered in flags sporting the Jolly Roger and even LucasFilm icons such as Yoda have been co-opted - one model in the building now wears an eye-patch.

Pirates 3 visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett says ILM has always prided itself on pushing the envelope.

"We are doing about 800 visual effects shots on Pirates 3. It's a huge movie and we are definitely pushing it even further.

"ILM has been doing this for a long time and are still at the forefront of the visual effects business and the kinds of projects they get mean they are always at the cutting edge of the spectrum.

"You are always being challenged creatively and technically."


Mr Guyett says that the scale of ILM has allowed it to spend more time and money on research and development.

"Often we take on projects like Davy Jones from Pirates 2, the wave in Poseidon - the stuff that other companies can't deal with."

Miles Perkins, director of marketing and communications at LucasFilm, says Industrial Light and Magic has developed its reputation for "breaking new ground with projects and delivering them on time and on budget".

'Physical simulation'

"In terms of the technology and ideas we use it's amazing how much software we have developed for Pirates 3," explains Mr Guyett.

"A lot of that is based on physical simulation. We have really smart people at Stanford (University) who help us."

My Guyett says film-makers will increasingly turn to visual effects firms to create digital landscapes and digital actors.

"If you look at Mission Impossible 3 the idea of going to Shanghai and filming stuff was appealing but a lot of stuff in the film was created with digital environments."

George Lucas, who owns the company, has really supported the work that is done here
Roger Guyett

If director JJ Abrams had wanted to film in Shanghai he would have faced obstacles such as heavy smog, a ban on helicopter flight and the fact that lights in city are switched off after 10pm.

Although ILM has pioneered completely CGI characters - such as The Hulk and Yoda - Mr Guyett says there is little appetite among the public for lead roles given over to digital personas.

"People are worried about synthetic actors," says Mr Guyett, "but I don't know if people want to see that."

"But if it means you can do stuff that otherwise endangered people, then it's a good idea," he adds.

Thirty two years after it was founded and George Lucas is still helping lead the firm, explains Mr Guyett.

"George Lucas, who owns the company, has really supported the work that is done here. He hasn't seen it as a company just to make money.

"He's very interested in this business."

A guided tour around Industrial Light and Magic

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