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Star Trek & JJ Abrams Featured In ILM Documentary Airing Sunday on Encore

This Sunday the Encore Channel will be airing a documentary all about effects house Industrial Light and Magic. The doc will feature discussions of some of the Star Trek films as well as interview clips with Star Trek 2009 director JJ Abrams. More info and a trailer below.


ILM documentary on Stars This week

Star Trek has a long relationship with effects house Industrial Light and Magic. This began in the early 80s with ILM’s first digital effect, made for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and has lasted until the 2009 Star Trek movie. In all ILM made the effects for seven Star Trek feature films, as well as the pilot of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And this weekend Encore is airing the documentary “Industrial Light & Magic: Creating the Impossible”, which will go inside ILM, including discussing Trek and featuring clips with JJ Abrams. 


press release


Tom Cruise Narrates Doc Premiering November 14, 2010
Marathon of Five ILM-Effects Films on Encore

Beverly Hills, CA., September 14, 2010 – Since its founding 35 years ago, Industrial Light & Magic has been the movie industry’s undisputed leader in groundbreaking visual effects, thrilling audiences and making hits into blockbusters. On Sunday, November 14 at 8:00 p.m. (et/pt), Encore presents an original documentary celebrating that legacy. “Industrial Light & Magic: Creating the Impossible” is directed by Academy Award® and Emmy® nominated director Leslie Iwerks and is narrated by Tom Cruise. Encore will also present five ILM-effects films starting at 2:00 p.m. with Jumanji, followed by Hook, Jurassic Park III, Twister and Starship Troopers.

The hour-long special has interviews with filmmakers George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, J.J. Abrams and Jon Favreau, actors Samuel L. Jackson and Robin Williams, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and John Lasseter, the chief creative officer at Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios. Film and television shows featured in the special include The Abyss, Avatar, Forrest Gump, Jumanji, Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Robot Chicken, Star Trek (2009), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Transformers, Twister, Young Sherlock Holmes and The War of the Worlds (2005), which starred narrator Cruise.

Leslie Iwerks’ documentary takes audiences behind the scenes at ILM with in depth interviews with some of the company’s top talent and showcases never before seen footage highlighting many of their pioneering milestones. From creating the first ever computer generated character in a feature film to the latest advancements in visual effects for film franchises like Transformers and Iron Man, ILM has created some of the most memorable movie moments in recent history.

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) is a division of Lucasfilm Ltd. and was founded by George Lucas in 1975 to create the visual effects for his space epic Star Wars. The studio originated in Van Nuys, California but moved to San Rafael, California to work on The Empire Strikes Back and is now headquartered at the Letterman Digital Arts Center in the Presidio of San Francisco with a sister studio in Singapore.

ILM has worked on nearly 300 films in its 35 year history and has largely been the driving force behind the evolution of modern visual effects. From the liquid metal man in Terminator 2: Judgment Day to the lifelike digital dinosaurs in Jurassic park, ILM has created some of the most iconic moments in cinematic history.

ILM has received 15 Best Visual Effects Oscars® and 25 additional nominations. It has also received 23 Scientific and Technical Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in recognition of the critical role the company’s advances in technology have played in the filmmaking process. ILM is also the only entertainment company to be recognized with the National Medal of Technology.


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Wish I had cable/sat…

I don’t understand why people never get that ILM did have a part in creating the special effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Apogee Inc., the company that did the effects, was a subsidiary of ILM at the time; its teams were made up of effects technicians originally from Industrial Light & Magic.

But that’s beside the point. The point is, ILM’s done some amazing work, and I truly miss their old days of models, stop-motion animation and miniatures. Most of the time, I find myself admiring their old effects for their creativity and realness as opposed to today’s CGI. Real work, sweat and determination created those awesome AT-AT walkers, and built up the surface of the Death Star with random model battleship pieces and paint, and made Nazi’s heads explode! Effects technicians have it easy in this day and age. All they need to do is it in front of computer screens. Sure, 3D modelling is hard work, I have friends who are animation majors. I know the hard work, but there’s nothing being truly BUILT anymore.

ILM. Still doing top-notch work after all of these years.


I agree about the lack of model building these days. It was always a real treat to watch behind-the-scenes special features or looking at pictures in books detailing the construction of the Millenium Falcon or the Enterprise.

Its not as interesting watching someone “build” something on the computer in my opinion.

#2 & 4

Agreed. Models always look so much better. I’ve still yet to see a CG vehicle (or person for that matter) that has the same feeling of weight and depth and motion that a real-world model gives you.

And there are still a few old-school hold outs. The film “Moon” comes to mind.

Sweet, ill be watching.


The new Enterprise came close to duplicating the model feel. But not quite. Most notably with the scale.

I think the biggest contrast comes between the original “Star Wars” trilogy and the prequels. The ships in the original all had neat shadows on them due to the incredible detailing on the models while in the prequels, the cg ships just didn’t have the same nuances and “feel”. There was a lot of detail in the prequel ships, but it just wasn’t the same. I think the problem with cgi is sometimes things look to perfect.

And yes, “Moon” is a great film. A true sci-fi film. A lot of directors can learn a thing or two from that movie.

that should be “…sometimes things look too perfect.”



Yeah, ILM did a great job in Star Trek ’09… just as they’ve always done! But you’re right. The ships in it were a major step towards matching the detail of models… yet there was still something… missing.

I think maybe within five to ten years we won’t be able to tell the difference. But for now they really need to work on the motion of things. It still seems to me like I’m watching a very expensive cartoon with a lot of movies today.

One possible way to make motion more realistic would be to add flaws in the animation. The human brain doesn’t always take visual information in a perfect manner, that is not everything looks crystal clear when we see things in motion. There are blurs, details are lost in between frames and so on.

Maybe someone needs to invent a de-perfecting program for ILM. ;)

ILM: Because sets are for suckers

I wonder if Leslie Iwerks is a daughter or granddaughter of the legendary disney artist/technical expert Ub Iwerks who designed so many innovations while at disney like the multiplane camera etc–?

Happy Russia, the people you call “Effects technicians”, who “have it easy in this day and age” are in good part the exact same people who used to build those practical models in first place. They switched disciplines but still work just as hard to make those beautiful digital models you see in the movies. They brought their talent and are using it on the digital models. So, they do not just sit in front of screens and the computer does the work for them. They are working really hard to make things work digitally…


They already do that. They often do things to degrade an image in particular ways; there is software for that. You’d better study some recent issues of Cinefex to get up to date.

@2 “I don’t understand why people never get that ILM did have a part in creating the special effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Apogee Inc., the company that did the effects, was a subsidiary of ILM at the time; its teams were made up of effects technicians originally from Industrial Light & Magic.”

Really? You don’t understand? I thought it was pretty obvious: they have different names. People assume things with different names are in fact different things. ILM’s name does not appear on STTMP’s credits, so a pretty rational assumption is made that ILM were not involved. Hope I’ve cleared that up for you.

“Real work, sweat and determination created those awesome AT-AT walkers”
As opposed to the fake work, sweat and determination that goes into the process today.

2. Happy Russia you just proved your point wrong, TECHNICALLY apogee is not ILM. Insurrection was done by Blue Sky Studios and even if BSS was part of ILM it would not be ILM. On a side note Insurrection was the first Star Trek film which used complete digital models for the ships.

Its pretty black and white. Technically if ILM only contributed to the FX it does not mean that that its an ILM film. Star Trek 2009 was totally in the hands of ILM, as was TWOK and the five others they did. The four films which did not use ILM were either in house or some other small FX company. Regardless of whatever small amount ILM might have contributed, its either all done by ILM or its not. Star Trek The Motion Picture is NOT an ILM film!!

Blah blah blah.

If they wanted to really impress an audience, they’d launch a starship and film it in battle.


I would say that unless the company is in the credits as “ILM,” they weren’t involved.


Yeah, I should really study. I wouldn’t want to get grounded. ;)

Well, anyway, the special effects guys may do a little image degrading here and there, but as Marty McFly once said, “The shark still looks fake.”

#2 – Apogee was *never* a subsdiary of ILM. They took over ILM’s workshop in LA after “Star Wars” came out and the personnel disbanded(ILM was reformed and moved north to Marin County). Those personnel that stayed behind may have worked on TMP, but they were either freelance or official employees of Apogee. A lot of ILM Star Wars alumni made “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Battlestar Galactica”, but (again) these were not ILM productions.

#19 – You’re just prejudiced against CG. If you didn’t know that the Enterprise in ST09 was CG, you’d think it was a model. Period. The Narada and Kelvin are just as solid as anything built in ILM’s modelshop, which still exists and is now called Kerner Optical.

More ILM facts:

*Pixar* was the “Computer Graphics” division of ILM in the early 80’s. Their first big project: The Genesis Device simulation in Star Trek II. Their first CG character in a film? The “stained-glass knight” in “Young Sherlock Holmes”.

ILM & Trek: a recipe for success.

1979 – TMP, not ILM, considered a box office disappointment (in relation to budget and hype) by Paramount, who ordered Harve Bennett to use Paramounts TELEVISION division to shoot the sequel.

1982 – TWOK – ILM – box office hit, considered by many the best TREK film ever.

1984 – TSFS – ILM – box office hit, regarded by critics and fans as decent.

1986 – TVH – ILM – huge box office, critic and public hit.

1989 – TFF – no ILM – disaster. Considered by many the worst of the TREK films.

1991 – TUC – ILM – box office gold, return to grace.

1994 – GEN – ILM – mixed reviews, but does good box office.

1996 – FC – ILM – good reviews, considered the best TNG film.

1998 – INS – no ILM – disappointment with TV quality FX.

2002 – NEM – no ILM – box office failure. Disliked by many fans.

2009 – ST – ILM is back and TREK is gold again.


Yeah, you’re right. I don’t like today’s CG extravaganzas that much. I loved the technology in the early 90’s when it was used in a few scenes—Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, and so on—but now it’s everywhere on the screen. And it’s hard to really appreciate something when it’s all over the place. Take air for instance. :)

And, no, I can tell the difference between CG and a model. It’s fairly easy. For instance, real-world models don’t tend to move like cartoon characters. There’s a certain degree of weight and motion that computers have yet to match. But they are getting closer….

Simon is 100% right. Apogee was never part of ILM but was instead founded by John Dykstra after the first Star Wars film in which he did groundbreaking effects. Let’s not forget that George Lucas sued Dykstra / Universal when he went on to found Apogee and work on Battlestar Galactica. Star Trek: The Motion Picture actually had three groups that worked on effects shots. (Four if you count the Director’s Edition DVD But that’s another story). The first was Robert Abel & Associates who were fired after production began, although certain of their shots made it into the film. Douglass Trumbull of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame was brought in along with Dykstra.

Here’s a cool interview with Dykstra:

Andrew Probert who worked on TMP for both RA&A and Trumball sheds some insight on his work on the film:

i so love when people nitpick, and especially when their nitpicks are not factually true

#25- Yes. And Trumbull’s shop (Future General) shot the E, spacedock, office complex, and V’ger exteriors- in 65mm, while Apogee shot the Klingon ships and V’ger interiors, beaming effects, and other stuff I don’t remember right now- in Vistavision.
I loved what those guys did, and wished they could have done TWOK.
I never liked the “ILM look” of that, and other, Trek films- until ST09, that is.
And ironically, now it’s Trumbull’s look they’re emulating!
(All factually true, BTW;)

#27 – “The ILM Look” established the look of TREK VFX from “The Wrath of Khan” to the series “Enterprise”.

Nearly all the ships were built there were used in the series (Miranda, Oberth, Excelsior, Merchantman, freighter) but visual effects like the warp-stretch with flash, photon torpedo animation, starfields, planets, explosions, etc.

TMP wasn’t without its flaws: notice the flickering edges of the Klingon ships when they cross the cloud, or the travel pod in certain shots, or the support arm as it leaves drydock. Not to mention the sparse starfields which normally add depth to space shots. The Enterprise kind of drifts in it’s encounter with V’Ger: in other shot the perspective (camera) is moving: the ship does not…it does not *manuever* like it did in the Mutara Nebula: ILM’s motion control was second to none. The only thing superior I find about TMP’s photography of the ship is the lighting. ILM did not light the ship the same way due to time & budget constraints. Bluescreen is a lot cheaper and easier when you have a tight budget, which all the TREK films had, except TMP and ST09.

28- Agreed. And note: Trumbull & Dykstra were under tremendous pressure to get the fx delivered, resulting in HUGE matte fissures in many shots. Paramount didn’t care.
ILM matte-sprayed the E so that their blue screen wouldn’t reflect. Trumbull used time-consuming front light/back light matting and reflections were of little concern.
Trumbull was/is THE master when it comes to lighting.

#29 – Even flattening the paint job didn’t always work: there was still blue-spill on some shots resulting in transparencies: the shot of the Enterprise in front of the Genesis Planet at the end of ST:II is a good example. Probably the worst lit shot of the ship is the pass-by at the end of the main titles in ST:III. The ship is literally overlit, with light spilling off the model into space. They made up for it though with the final shot of ST:IV of the Enterprise coming out of Spacedock and jumping to warp speed (one shot broken up into 2, the complete shot is at the end of the credits). Absolutely beautiful lighting and motion control photography.

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