Love Movies? Learn to Code Python and You Might Work For ILM

One of the great things about learning to code Python is that you’ll you be in demand. In fact, most large companies use Python in some form or another. So after you graduate from our 20-week coding bootcamp (starting February 21), you’ll be able to start looking for a job as a junior programmer. And while you might have to work your way up to the exact company you want to work for, there’s a good chance that you can find a job in your favorite industry. After all, Python is used for finance, web applications, hospital record keeping, and in just about every industry...including the film industry.

If you can take a look at the title of this blog and know what ILM is, then you’re probably a film fan. Of course, we’re talking about Industrial Light & Magic, the special effects company that has created some of the most iconic shots in movie history. So before we tell you how learning to code Python could get you work at ILM, let's take a look at the history of this incredible company.

It All Began With Star Wars

It might be hard to believe, but special effects-laden movies weren’t always the norm. In fact, when George Lucas got the go-ahead for Star Wars he was surprised to learn that 20th Century Fox’s special effects department had been shut down. He tried to hire an outside company, but they were busy on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. So what does a visionary do in this situation? Start his own special effects shop!

It can’t be denied that a large part of Star Wars’ success was due to the special effects. But even though it paved the way for television shows like Battlestar Galactica and the first Star Trek movie, there still weren’t filmmakers banging at ILM’s door and paying them for special effects work. So they laid off most of the employee and basically shut down. It wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back came along that they opened up again, only to cool off right after the film's release. (In fact, once Empire was pre-released in 70mm, everybody went on vacation. Then Lucas called up ILM from the road and said “I want another establishing space shot at the end before the movie is released on 35mm.” Yep, he’s always been changing them.)


Most people who know a bit about computer animation believe that the first computer graphics in a movie were seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. While that was certainly ILM creating those shots of the Genesis Project, it was actually six years too late to be the first. The first computer animation was seen in the 1976 movie Furtureworld, the sequel to the much more popular Westworld. By doing so, ILM became the first special effects company to fully embrace this new technology. In fact, ILM does have the honor of being the first company to create a CG character, a stained glass knight from 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes.

Things Really Pick Up

ILM was at the forefront of computer animation and kept up with both practical and computer animated effects. They worked on some of the most amazing special effects movies of the ‘80s and ‘90, including Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Ghostbusters, and all three Indiana Jones films. Most fantasy or science fictions movies at the time had approximately 30 special effects shots...

And Then Came The Phantom Menace

We know, we know, some of you groaned when we brought that up. But Phantom Menace was incredibly important because of the number of special effects shots that it needed. Put that on hold for one second...

Think about a movie like Terminator 2. Sure, there were shots with the T-1000 sliding through the jail bars or pouring into the helicopter, but most of the rest were accomplished practically. The droplets of liquid metal coalescing? Mercury and a hairdryer. The question-mark-shaped T-1000 blown apart by the grenade launcher? Full-size puppetry. Car chases were rear-projected. So while there were many special effects, few were CG.

Then come The Phantom Menace. There were over 1,900 special effects used on that film, most of them computer generated. From Wikipedia: “The work was so extensive that three visual effects supervisors divided the workload among themselves—John Knoll supervised the on-set production and the podrace and space battle sequences, Dennis Muren supervised the underwater sequence and the ground battle, and Scott Squires, alongside teams assigned for miniature effects and character animation, worked on the lightsaber effects.” With that much work, how do you keep track of it?

Here Comes Python

When things started ramping up for The Phantom Menace, it became obvious that everything had to start talking to each other a lot more. With so many different types of computers running so many types of software —  OSX, Windows, Linux, Solaris, IRIX, Compaq Tru64, plus the in-house written programs that no one outside of ILM is allowed to know about — it can be difficult to juggle all of these so that everyone who needs access has access. With nearly a thousand employees working on these platforms every day, it became obvious that the old Unix system had to be replaced if production wasn’t going to bottleneck.

Enter Python (and the crowd cheers!). At the time, Python was about five years old but was recognized as a power language that was easy to code in. So ILM decided that Python was the way to go. It turned out to be a good decision for them, because they were also able to incorporate it into some of the special effects pipeline as well. Since Python can help C and C++ talk to other types of hardware and software (such as renderers), some of the finished special effects you see in most movies today have been through Python. Even though more languages have come along, ILM continues to rely on Python with five more Star Wars films come and gone!

So, does any of this make you want to learn to code Python even more? You might not be an actor, you might not write, but hey, maybe you love Star Wars and want to work for Disney? If so, join our coding school when our classes start February 21!

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