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Exactly How Did ILM Take Over “the Empire” State Building in NYC?

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Exactly How Did ILM Take Over "the Empire" State Building in NYC?
Exactly How Did ILM Take Over “the Empire” State Building in NYC?

Exactly How Did ILM Take Over “the Empire” State Building in NYC? Move over, King Kong. Last night, it was Star Wars’ turn to take over the world-famous skyscraper.

With all that happens in New York City, it can be hard to impress residents of the Big Apple. (I should know — I’m a native.) But last night, passersby in Midtown might’ve been surprised by what they saw if they looked up: X-wingsTIE fighters, and more from the Star Wars galaxy, all traveling across the Empire State Building.

As part of Lucasfilm’s month-long “Imperial March” consumer products campaign, and starting the “March to May the 4th,” the iconic New York skyscraper hosted a dynamic light show, which saw classic Star Wars moments and new visual effects featured on the 1930 building’s beautiful Art Deco facade. The 5-minute sequence was created by Industrial Light & Magic, Lucasfilm’s visual effects house; for all of ILM’s legendary work, this was a project like no other.

Exactly How Did ILM Take Over “the Empire” State Building in NYC?

“The need to think about it differently is that there are many unique things that need to be taken into account to make sure that what gets put on this facade will actually translate correctly and will work correctly, visually and as part of the overall story,” Khatsho Orfali, ILM visual effects supervisor, tells StarWars.com about a week before the event. “What may look good as a composition and a scene that plays out in a movie theater or on a regular TV screen may not necessarily directly translate in the same way, to work well, once projected onto the facade of a building. It’s a very unique canvas.”

Orfali led the effort on the light show, which took four months total to complete. This included working with Lucasfilm Video Production, particularly senior editor Jeff Pickett, in developing a framework for the experience and then selecting scenes to showcase. The most critical piece, however, was deciding where ILM might create new VFX shots to take advantage of the huge vertical “screen,” as it were.

“We came up with ideas and created concept art for what would look the best, have the most impact, and know that the fans are going to love seeing,” he says. “Once we got selects from those frames, we went into shot production and got to where we’re at today.” Once the show was complete, ILM collaborated with creative agency SUPERBIEN, who adapted the imagery to filter through 46 projectors and display properly. Skywalker Sound, Lucasfilm’s sound design and mixing firm, handled the audio.

Though Orfali — who has worked on similar initiatives, including Star Tours and Hyperspace Lounge on the Disney Wish — couldn’t give the light show a run through on the actual building, his own hi-res displays were more than adequate. “Because of my experience with special venue projects, I’ve got tool sets that I rely on to help me visualize media in such a way that will allow me to see, as close as possible, what the end result will be without actually being there in person.” Still, on Monday, Orfali and his team did visit the Empire State Building for a final test — using non-Star Wars imagery to keep their work a secret.

The finished dynamic light show, projected near the top of the Empire State Building, opens as we make the jump to lightspeed and John Williams’ immortal “Imperial March” kicks in. We reach the lava world of Mustafar, and the skyscraper itself turns Sith red (throughout, decorative lights change to reflect the on-building action), and the journey takes us to more Star Wars worlds and locales, where we’re treated to classic moments from across the saga.

Exactly How Did ILM Take Over "the Empire" State Building in NYC?
Exactly How Did ILM Take Over “the Empire” State Building in NYC?

But it’s the original VFX shots created just for the experience that truly shine. These include, among others, X-wings flying upward on the surface of the Empire State Building, its rivets acting as the Death Star trench; an up-close encounter with a probe droid, which ominously scans New York; Han Solo’s carbonite slab rising to cover the facade completely; and an X-wing staring down a Star Destroyer, before we hit lightspeed once more and arrive at a newly-designed, three-tier Imperial hangar. “I could say a different thing that I love about each of them,” says Orfali. “Han in carbonite, just to see it that massive on the building, people will get to really enjoy it.”

The light show is a fast and fun tribute to the saga, another example of ILM’s unending inventiveness, and a personal highlight for Orfali, who has been with the company since 1995.

“I’m very lucky to have been part of this overall team. I love working on anything that’s Star Wars. It’s been in my life since I was very, very young,” he says. “It’s so exciting.”

Exactly How Did ILM Take Over "the Empire" State Building in NYC?

Exactly How Did ILM Take Over “the Empire” State Building in NYC?

Greg Gatelyhttp://TheFUNaticsBlog.com
Greg "The Blue Hair" Blogger. If you are traveling around the Central Florida area you wont miss his Blue Head walking around, probably taking images. Co-Owner, Photographer, Podcaster, All Around Nice Guy, and curator of the most fantastical Disney Blog. You can listen to Greg on The Live Podcast show every week, along with seeing him live on Funatics Diary with Sam's Disney Diary. Once an Audio Engineer and Tour Manager with bands like Felix Cavaliere's Rascals, Collin Raye, Dispatch, just to name a few. Having retired from touring Greg spends all his time bringing the World of Disney to you. With over 3000 Articles written, and countless Images taken, Greg still enjoys living this amazing lifestyle. Thank You for reading!

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