The thirs in a trilogy of books about ILM, The Art Of Innovation was perhaps a tougher job to do than the other volumes. While the previous books — The Art Of Special Effects covers ’75-’85, Into The Digital Realm covers ’86-’96 — captured how the state of ILM’s art came on in leaps and bounds while covering films swathed in a nostalgic glow of our childhoods, Pamela Glintenkamp’s book covers the facility’s output over the past 16 years and is more about how a digital toolset has been refined on a mixed bag of modern flicks. You may not feel the same way about Chronicles Of Narnia as you do about E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but this is still gripping, indispensable stuff.
Covering films from Caspar (ILM’s first lead digital character) to Rango (ILM’s first completely animated feature), Glintenkamp’s MO is oral histories of movies where visual effects get above-the-title billing (the Star Wars prequels, Pirates Of The Caribbean, the Transformers trilogy, Avatar) and films where effects are bit-players lurking in the background (ILM were asked to play down their contribution to Saving Private Ryan to maintain its in-camera reputation). You will become intimate with such tech terms as fluid sim, matchmoving and — hooray! — subsurface scattering, but there is a lot of talk about character and craft as well. From the stop-motion jerkiness put into the CG Martians in Mars Attacks! to animators modelling Transformer Jetfire on Rocky’s Burgess Meredith, it gets under the skin of the creative process as well as the rendering process.
Within the film-by-film analysis, there are some industry insights (Dennis Muren talks about how ILM still have to compete for Steven Spielberg gigs), backstage gossip (ILM got caught up in the legal wrangling over Galaxy Quest’s ribbing of Star Trek), some in-jokes (because the space battle in Sith had everything but the kitchen sink in it, the effects team put one in) and some fun anecdotes (when J. J. Abrams asked George Lucas for advice when starting Star Trek, Lucas responded: “Put lightsabers in it”).
The book kickstarts with enthusiastic (if over-written) forewords from Jon Favreau (ILM add “the grist of imagination to the mill of innovation”) and Gore Verbinski (directors feed ILM “the elixir of problem-solving”), and dotted around are essays by key ILMers (Muren, John Knoll) plus lovely, inspirational stories from staffers about how they got their jobs. Yet perhaps best of all are the 400 finished film shots, often huge reproductions of some
of blockbuster cinema’s most iconic images. Great for any coffee table, wire-frame or otherwise.
Reviewed by Ian Freer