Inside Industrial Light & Magic: A Day on a ‘Battleship’

By  · Published on August 31st, 2012

“Is it okay if I take a picture of that?”

Visiting Industrial Light & Magic isn’t just another assignment. Even a seasoned movie blogger knows that much. This job takes you all kinds of interesting places – sets in the middle of the Bayou, the snow covered mountains of Utah, even the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. But a trip to San Francisco, home of LucasFilm and ILM, that’s something special. It doesn’t matter so much that my first trip to the house that George built (before he went crazy) was in honor of Battleship, a movie-sized adaptation of a classic board game. What matter is that I got to stand next to the original Vigo the Carpathian painting from Ghostbusters 2.

Of course, there was also a bit of learning about visual effects from some of the brightest minds in the business, all in celebration of Universal’s big watery explosion known as Battleship.

Say what you will about the film itself – and we have, a number of times – there’s no denying that ILM has created some jaw-dropping visual effects. Countless man-hours and football field sized rooms of computing power are needed to create the seamless meshing of human and alien worlds, all floating in, covered with and surviving on the foundation of life on Earth: dihydrogen monoxide, most commonly known as water.

Somewhere in the middle of the day, after a few hours of geek gawking and an introduction to one of the Battleship Blu-ray release’s ILM-centered special features, we found ourselves in a room with ILM Compositing Supervisor Marshall Krasser, who explained that one of the alien battleships seen in the movie could consist of up to 6.5 million polygons. That each of the ships were color-coded so that the audience could tell them apart, given the names of Beatles by the production team. That one simulation, the sinking of the John Paul Jones – arguably one of the film’s most impressive shots – took 1 year and 3 months and about 90 people to pull off.

It was a massive project.

As you’ll see below in our exclusive featurette, featuring interviews with VFX Supervisors Grady Cofer and Pablo Herman, Animation Supervisor Glen McIntosh and CG Supervisor Willi Geiger, ILM’s greatest challenges with Battleship all centered around the water. And what they’ve learned on this project will undoubtedly aid them in future projects, not the least of which include Guillermo del Toro’s massive robot v. alien film Pacific Rim. Watch and enjoy.

Battleship is on Blu-ray and DVD now.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)