Outstanding Effect Shots, part 21 of 24

Welcome to the Single-Minded Movie Blog advent calendar. Between the 1st and the 24th of December every day will bring you a short post about a classic or not so classic shot from the golden era of visual effects.

The TIE fighters attack aka. SB-19
- in Return of the Jedi (1983)

The incredible work done by Industrial Light & Magic for the third Star Wars film is quite possibly the high-point of the photochemical era. The team laboriously assembled roughly 900 shots for the film. Dennis Muren, Richard Edlund, and Ken Ralston supervised the effort, with Ralston handling the bulk of the space battle work.

This particular shot occurs during the early moments of the final battle.

According to ILM visual effects editor Bill Kimberlin it was the largest effect shot ever done at the time. Referred to as SB-19, the shot included 63 spaceships, countless other elements, and was comprised of 170 pieces of film.

Each ship had to be shot on a blue screen stage, with a carefully programmed camera move, and each ship had its own set of mattes to isolate it and insert it into the shot. On top of that the exact timing of the flow of ships had to be calculated, so the proper mattes could be created whenever a ship was obscured by another element.

Months and months of work went into this one shot, hundreds and hundreds of man hours were spent, and as I mentioned earlier, this was just one shot among 900.

There's only one word for this kind of effect shot, and you know it by now: Magic.

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