The Letterman Digital Arts Center, on the green and lush grounds of San Francisco's Presidio, looks like just one more office complex among the Bay Area's many high-tech companies -- until you notice the statue of Yoda atop the fountain out front. In late October, Cinematical and other websites and newspapers were invited to the Letterman Center to get a glimpse into the making of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End thanks to one of the center's tenants, Industrial Light and Magic -- the special effects powerhouse created by George Lucas for the Star Wars films that's come to dominate the field with their excellence in the pursuit of movie making wonder. In the gallery below, you'll find the Disney-provided photos from that day giving you a glimpse of the special material we were shown about Pirates III -- as well as Cinematical's own snapshots of the wonderful, weird and bizarre souvenirs of special effects triumphs from the past that line the walls of the center.
As for the special effects secrets behind Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End? ILM graciously provided us time with the movie magicians behind Pirates III -- including Oscar-winning Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll, who supervised the shoot; Visual Effects Art Director Aaron McBride (pictured above) who designed some of Davy Jones's more memorable crewmen for this film; and CG Supervisor Joakim Arnesson, who oversaw the film's climactic maelstrom sequence. Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll presented footage demonstrating the complexity of ILM's work on the film, whether environments (like the Tortuga Bay pirate cove) or characters (like Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and his crew) or the combination of live-action with massive effects sequences, like the maelstrom battle at the finale -- which involved one of the biggest blue-screen shoots Knoll's ever seen, incorporating real water and wind effects on full-size sets. both Knoll and Pirates director Gore Verbinski are fans of incorporating real-world objects into effects shots -- a technique demonstrated by the before-and after shots shown where, in one case, a crew rams a prow on wheels out from the shore to get a real splash of sea water as it hits the surf -- seawater that's then draped around a computer-generated ship's bow for the final shot. Knoll also showed stuntmen knocked to and fro by 300,000 bouncing bright blue playset balls dropped onto on the pirate ship set -- and then the finished shot from the film that became, where the balls are replaced by the clattering crabs the gigantic sorceress Calypso dissolves into. The crabs are an illusion, but the bumps and bruises are real -- and, as Knoll points out, the shot's better for it.