Behind the Creative Curtain at ILM

MSA Animation & Film Students Get a Rare Guided Tour at Industrial Light & Magic

MSA Digital Arts and Cinematic Arts students wandered the offices of Industrial Light and Magic last Friday in a rare guided tour arranged by teacher Howard Gersh. Despite a city-wide power outage, more than 40 students were able to speak with lead designers and get an up close look at some of the intricate props and creations used in iconic blockbuster films (think Star Wars, Transformers, etc). Chance meetings with major innovators, like ILM Chief Creative Officer and Photoshop co-creator John Knoll (pictured in red below), were celebrity sightings, leaving many star struck, with a few calls like “You’re my hero” from the group.
Students began the day with ILM’s Lead Animator Shawn Kelly, also an NHS alumnus, Lead Research and Development Engineer Rachel Rose, and Director of Publicity and Communications Greg Grusby. After a general overview of how the iconic company brings animation to life and the secrets of proprietary animation program, students peppered the trio with questions and took full advantage of meeting the people who had landed “dream jobs.” Students didn’t seem to mind missing out on screenings of animation techniques due to a city-wide power outage, and instead asked a flurry of questions on things like how to get work, favorite film projects speakers worked on and technical curiosity about software and the skills needed to be successful,

Students have a chance meeting with ILM Chief Creative Officer and Photoshop co-creator John Knoll

“I attribute my success to having a mentor and a laser focus on my goal—working on animation all day every day,” said Kelly, stressing the importance of finding a good mentor. As an intern, Kelly worked with animation director Wayne Gilbert, who later became his mentor. He learned as much as possible and worked his way up from there, with credits today on 23 feature films including War of the Worlds, Star Wars, Transformers and Rango (he says Star Wars & Rango were his favorites).

Communications Director Grusby said success also depends on a willingness to experiment, take risks and work together to develop ideas. “ILM is a really exciting place to be. The work we do is a team sport. We have some of the best artists and engineers you can find anywhere and everyone is open to feedback and that allows us to develop better art and technology,” he said.

The ILM office halls are like a museum of original props, like this model of a Star Wars fighter.

So how does a multibillion dollar film company handle major set backs? “We are delivering a film in two weeks and then the power goes out and we have 500 people who can’t work. We immediately started shifting project to our Vancouver studio the second the power went out (thank to their power generators). There is never a time when we are closed,” Grusby says.

In the end, students left full of ideas and inspiration, motivated to try new techniques and hopeful to return in the future.

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