The outer space dogfights and exploding Death Star from the original "Star Wars" may have been set in a galaxy far, far away but one need not look that far for where those images were created.
In an industrial building on Valjean Avenue in Van Nuys a motley band of cameramen, model makers, animators, artists, students, engineers and even a nuclear physicist came together to create not only the stunning visuals for a classic American film celebrating its 30th anniversary this month but they also launched the most famous of visual effects companies and in the process reinvigorated a stagnant segment of the entertainment industry.
Industrial Light & Magic is closely identified with the northern California backyard of its founder George Lucas yet its roots are in the San Fernando Valley. While Lucas directed the live action portions of "Star Wars" in Tunisia and London, a warehouse near the Van Nuys Airport became the birthplace of the Millennium Falcon, the X-wing fighter and that deadliest of Imperial weapons, the Death Star.
"We went out and harvested a whole batch of technologies from other arts and sciences and brought them to bear in the motion picture industry and it was a watershed for lots of people," said John Dykstra, the effects supervisor. "The success of the film generated a huge desire for that kind of product."
The advances in visual effects started by "Star Wars" and ILM cannot be overstated, said Larry Ross, a life-long fan of the film.
"It was such a huge leap forward, not just for the popularity of the genre but literally the possibility of what could be done with film," said Ross, owner of Blast from the Past, a collectables and movie memorabilia store in Burbank.
The first home of ILM can best be described as part film studio, part laboratory, part fraternity house and all oven especially during the summer months when the temperature determined the work schedule. First cameraman Richard Edlund recalled that in 1975 he walked into a building containing only a card table with a telephone.
Over the next two years, the space would house a model shop, machine shop, electronic shop, animation department, editing room, the shooting stage with the 40-foot long track for a camera, and a screening room that may or may not have had a piano used to provide the score for screening dailies.
Inhabiting this space was a crew of about 100, both men and women, in their late teens to late 20s, many with award-winning careers ahead of them but at that moment spending their days and nights charting unknown visual effects waters all on the dime of 20th Century Fox.