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PHOTOS: A visit to legendary visual effects house Industrial Light & Magic at Lucasfilm’s campus in San Francisco

in Events, Movies, Movies & TV, Press Events

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As regular visitors to Inside the Magic will already be aware, I had the incredible opportunity to visit Skywalker Ranch and Lucasfilm’s headquarters in San Francisco over this past weekend for the “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” global press junket.

On the second day of the event, after the press conference with the film’s cast and crew wrapped up, members of the media were given the option to take a guided tour of the offices of Lucasfilm’s visual effects arm Industrial Light and Magic. Of course, as a certified movie geek, a child of the 80s, and an owner of a huge coffee table book about the company, I had to check it out.

No videography was allowed on the tour, so I’ll have to relate my visit to you through the photos I took.

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Lucasfilm’s campus is located in San Francisco’s idyllic Presidio district, just a stone’s throw from the Golden Gate Bridge. The Presidio is also home to the Walt Disney Family Museum, which unlike Lucasfilm is open to the general public. Either or both are well worth visiting if you ever happen to get the chance.

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A lovely stream runs through the campus. I could almost imagine Lucasfilm’s employees sitting outside during their breaks on lovely days like this one was.

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As a whole, the complex is called the Letterman Digital Arts Center, named after the Letterman Army Hospital, which it replaced. (The Letterman Army Hospital, in turn, was named after Major Jonathan Letterman, MD in 1911. Thanks, Wikipedia!)

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The complex is made up of four main buildings: A,B, C, and D. I believe this is a photo of Building D.

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All around Lucasfilm’s campus are statues of pioneers in the art of filmmaking whom George Lucas admired. This is Eadweard Muybridge, who essentially invented the moving image by taking multiple still photographs of a horse running and copying them onto a rotating device called a zoopraxiscope, a precursor to the more familiar zoetrope.

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You know who this guy is. A life-size statue of everyone’s favorite Muppet Jedi Master greets visitors outside Lucasfilm’s main lobby.

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Apparently Lucasfilm has a speaker series where influential members of the entertainment industry come to give pep talks to the staff. You’ll probably recognize some familiar faces up on that board.

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Once we stepped inside Industrial Light and Magic’s offices we started seeing some iconic props and models from the many internationally-famous movies ILM has contributed to. This Tyrannosaurus rex was build as a reference for the much-larger animatronic (and its CGI counterpart) in the original “Jurassic Park”.

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This is an optical printer, which was used to make composite shots in movies before digital wizardry pushed in-camera effects aside.

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Models of a TIE Fighter cockpit and pilot. They look kind of like the toys I have hanging in my living room, but these are probably worth a lot more.

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The Spinosaurus, from “Jurassic Park III”.

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ILM’s “magician” logo carved into wood.

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This, as “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” fans will instantly identify, is Judge Doom’s body after it gets flattened by the steamroller during the climax of Robert Zemeckis’s 1988 masterpiece. Doom has to hang out by the bathrooms. I guess it beats The Dip.

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“Not just any ‘toon!”

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This is a computerized puppet used in animating the dinosaurs of “Jurassic Park”. Before stop-motion animators fully got the hang of CGI, they used these as an intermediary between the two processes. You’d move the puppet and the dinosaur would move in the computer accordingly. That middle-ground step has long since been eliminated.

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Photographs of every ILM team that won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. The face that pops up the most frequently in these photos belongs to Dennis Muren, who has won more Oscars than any other living person.

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The huge ship from “Galaxy Quest”, captained by the villainous Sarris in the brilliant 1999 adventure-comedy. I wish I had taken this photo with another person in the shot for scale, because the ship is really big. It’s hanging at the top of a stairwell. That matte painting behind it is probably six feet wide. Behind it is the heroes’ ship, the NSEA Protector.

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More “Jurassic”, this time a dino foot from the 1997 sequel “The Lost World”.

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Another big spaceship. This one’s from the 1998 survival drama “Deep Impact”. The second image is a larger-scale model of just the forward section of the shuttle, for closer, more detailed shots.

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Elliott’s bicycle from “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”. This re-creation was actually crafted for the 2002 20th-anniversary special edition.

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Hulk smash box-office records!

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A few models from 1999’s “The Mummy”.

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Model of Davy Jones from “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”. That’s our excellent tour guide’s hand at the bottom right.

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Models of Robert Patrick’s liquid-metal T-1000 character from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”.

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Another piece from “Jurassic Park”: the movie’s overturned jeep from after the T. rex attack.

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I think everyone’s familiar with these two friends.

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Eddie Valiant’s ‘toon revolver and bullets from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” These were used as props during production and then painted over with animation in post.

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Hey, whaddya know? It’s the U-Wing Starfighter from next week’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (full review coming soon).

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And there’s our old buddy Roger himself.

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Yoda. Y-O-D-A Yoda. Yo-yo-yo-yo-Yoda.

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Another bike from “E.T.”, with “Men in Black”‘s Tommy Lee Jones looking scared in the background.

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“Meesa have a little bitty accidenty!”

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Another pharaoh from “The Mummy”.

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This is the hook that Dustin Hoffman wore as Captain Hook in… what was the name of that movie again?

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The more traditional carbonite look.

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This is the blue fairy from Steven Spielberg’s underrated collaboration with Stanley Kubrick, “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence”.

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“The Rocketeer” model and reference puppet.

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Optimus Prime model from Michael Bay’s “Transformers”.

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Another Davy Jones, still not the Monkee.

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Props and an award from “The Lone Ranger”.

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A model from James Cameron’s VFX wowfest “The Abyss”.

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A statuette commemorating ILM’s 40th anniversary.

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“Rango”.

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Seven-foot-tall model of Count Olaf’s house from the 2004 version of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” starring Jim Carrey.

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This is the pedestrian bridge that connects two of the buildings at Lucasfilm. I feel like whenever a celebrity or talk show host visits the company they show them in this hallway.

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The hallway bridge is lined with props and models, and you can see the Golden Gate bridge from the many north-facing windows.

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A look at the south side of the hallway.

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A DeLorean model from “Back to the Future Part II”.

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“I am the last one.”

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This is a scale model of the very top of one of the enormous towers of the Golden Gate Bridge from Ang Lee’s “Hulk”. Actual Golden Gate Bridge in the background for comparison.

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“Even the word raptor means ‘bird of prey’.”

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I cannot for the life of me remember what this is from. I want to say Joe Dante’s “Explorers”. I feel kind of ashamed that I’m not sure, actually. If you happen to know, please berate me in the comments below. I deserve it.

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“Curious George”.

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“Batteries Not Included”.

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“Innerspace”.

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This was probably my favorite room of the tour, because it had a bunch of stuff from “Ghostbusters 2”. I know it’s not the best movie, but it reminds me of when I was nine. Pictured is Vigo.

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A Slimer model and a Slimer puppet.

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“It’s the Scoleri Brothers!”

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Another E.T.

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A display shelf full of awards and trophies, including George Lucas’s head made out of Legos.

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And the holy grail of this exhibit, the Holy Grail.

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“The Scorpion King”.

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Two animal models from the original “Jumanji”. I can’t believe I have to say “the original ‘Jumanji'” because they’re remaking “Jumanji”. I’m getting old.

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And finally, I can’t think of a better place to end the tour of Industrial Light and Magic than with this matte painting that served as the final shot of “Die Hard 2: Die Harder”.

As you might guess, I had a truly wonderful time visiting Lucasfilm and Skywalker Ranch. And, all joking aside, it really was a dream come true.

2 Comments

  1. Aaron Bregel

    The lobby of the Letterman Digital Arts Center, just beyond the Yoda statue, is open to the public during normal business hours. You can go in and see many movie props and posters and take all the pictures you like. When I was there in September there was a life size Boba Fett and Darth Vader, replica lightsabers for Yoda, Darth Sidious, and Luke Skywalker, Han Solo blaster, and other things like Emmy awards.

    1. Mike Celestino

      Yes, you’re correct. That lobby is still open to the public during regular business hours and they still have both of those life-size statues. Very cool!

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