Legend has it that the very first special effect was discovered completely by accident at the end of the 19th century. While French filmmaker Georges Méliès was shooting a street scene, his camera jammed for a few seconds before resuming its operation. Upon reviewing the footage, Méliès saw that since the street traffic had kept moving during the camera jam, the result on screen was the remarkable transformation of a man into a woman, and a bus into a hearse. Movie special effects were born. Recognizing the tremendous potential of these "camera tricks", Méliès never ceased to experiment with them and develop inventive techniques to bring the impossible to the silver screen.
Lucas' vision for Star Wars included a large array of visuals that had never been attempted before, forcing the small group of wizards at ILM not only to refine existing special effects techniques, but also to create new ones. Starting with tricks taken right out of Méliès' repertoire, ILM perfected traditional tools like model construction, photography using matte paintings and blue screens, and optical compositing, and then went on to invent and develop brand new techniques such as motion control cameras (where the camera movements are controlled by a computer). Once work on Star Wars was completed, everybody expected ILM to be dissolved, joining in oblivion the "camera tricks" workshops of the past. But the unexpected success of Star Wars allowed Lucas to start work on The Empire Strikes Back, which, in turn, ensured the survival of the group of movie magicians who had made it all possible. In order to have his film editing and special effects facilities closer together, Industrial Light & Magic was relocated to San Rafael, in Northern California. That was in 1978.
Since then, ILM has thrived. Far from being disbanded, the ever-growing team has continued to push the envelope and pioneer new ways to bring effects no one dared imagine within the reach of filmmakers. Even before completing the Star Wars Trilogy, ILM was handed other projects: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, among others. Consistently breaking new ground, ILM has led the digital revolution that brought computer imaging into feature films. From the famous "morphing" effect in Willow to the revolutionary, lifelike dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the creative minds gathered in the San Rafael installations have never ceased to up the ante. To date, the company's innovative work has garnered 14 Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects and 14 Technical Achievement Awards. With Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, ILM went full circle and returned to the world that gave it birth, in a galaxy far, far away. And once again, the movie wizards broke through the barriers of conventional wisdom by creating the first completely computer-generated main characters, and by perfecting digital effects traditionally very difficult to master, such as cloth simulation, terrain generation (earth, grass, and so on).