In my past visits to the cinema, I’ve been staying for a few minutes to let the credits roll. There are many interesting aspects of watching the hundreds of people that work for a big budget company. More than that, you find out that companies that you thought were competitors actually collaborate in many of these films. This is the case of Industrial Light & Magic, the subdivision of Lucasfilm that became the secret weapon for almost every single big budget film.
Yes, they do the special effects for Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but they also did the special effects for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Universal), Black Panther (Marvel Studios), Ready Player One (Warner Bros.), A Wrinkle In Time (Disney), A Quiet Place (Paramount) and Avengers: Infinity War (Marvel Studios). This are just some of the movies they’ve worked on this year. Industrial Light and Magic has worked for all of the major studios in Hollywood.
Why do these companies go straight to ILM for their CGI and special effects needs? The answer is simple: they are the pioneers in the industry and they still are the best at getting the job done. But as movies rely more and more on special effects and CGI, the company has struggled in keeping up with the demand and delivering the stunning visuals that every movie wants.
During the release of Black Panther, EnGadget made a point in explaining why some CGI models look so bad, even though these are big budget, highly anticipated movies. This is the results of overworked artists in underpayed conditions. Many of these effects, models, and computer-made scenes require 10 hour work days (or more). As the amount of CGI models and visual effects needed for each film, artists just need to cut the corners in some places in order to deliver the results. So yes, the visuals from Planet Of The Apes look stunning, but mostly every single person mentioned a thing or two about the last fight scene between Black Panther and Killmonger (which, in my opinion, doesn’t look as terrible as EnGadget tries to point out).
For the release of “Avengers: Infinity War”, we don’t see the problems arising from Black Panther, even though some effects still look weird. There’s a balance between visuals and background imagery that blends well, while making Thanos a real villain in the movie. It shows that ILM can handle visual effects given the budget and the time to develop.
Should ILM keep focusing on other projects from other studios, or just keep their hands on productions from The Walt Disney Company? The question isn’t as easy to answer, because these employed artists are under a payroll, which means there’s inevitably some free time to spare in between each movie where they can do some client work. Unless they could use that time to dedicate even more resources to the special effects and CGI models instead of cutting corners from these big budget films. Many film critics and fans consider that no film has ever improved the CGI artistry that movies like Avatar (2009) and Life Of Pi (2012) achieved for their stories.
Everyday we want better graphics, improved visuals, and eye-popping imagery, but the reality is that these effects don’t happen by themselves; it requires an army of tech savvy artists for a simple object in the background to look great. Is it a problem of Hollywood relying too much on special effects? Most of the time. Still, it is more a problem about Hollywood not giving CGI artists the respect they deserve, taking into account how much work they have in their hands. The studios are relying on an outsider company, ILM, in order to develop most of the visual effects. If they could start developing in-house solutions, CGI artists will have more opportunities in the industry and competition will help a healthier management of visual effects.
Industrial Light & Magic will still be the most important visual effects company in the world. Studios should be aware of its importance and how it could change the landscape if they keep relying on the sole company able to handle the work.