It was May 25, 1977 when the world of cinema was changed forever by the release of a bold new experiment in filmmaking and special effects: Star Wars. In order to realize his vision of a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas created Industrial Light and Magic, a visual effects company that was tasked with inventing new technologies and techniques for film.
Peg Hunter started at the company in 1983 during the post-production of Return of the Jedi.
Educated at the California Institute of the Arts, Hunter was brought in to the optical line-up team during a time when there were no other women present. She remembers, “What I kept hearing was that it was an all-guy department and they wanted to keep it that way.”
In those days, putting together different visual elements of a shot required compositing, or physically splicing together the different pieces of the image. This required thorough knowledge of optics, the physics of light, along with technical experience with the machinery and film cameras needed to create the effect. It was a job that required proficiency in both art and science.
Hunter was responsible for creating the detailed instructions for how to combine spaceship models, matte paintings, explosions, and blue screen footage of actors into the single image seen in the film. The elements had to be precisely lined up to be re-printed, within a few thousandths of an inch. Hunter did this work on films like Jedi, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Back to the Future, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Hunter wasn’t the only woman in optical for long, though even with other women around, the atmosphere was still very “macho.” But she also says the department was “very supportive on a lot of levels,” and she continued with her career at ILM until 2012, working as a digital effects artist on the Star Wars prequel trilogy and several Harry Potter films. After becoming a lighting technical director, she moved to WETA Digital, where she worked on the Hobbit trilogy. She returned to ILM in 2016.
Written by Mary Ratliff