Deals expected to be worth in the tens of millions

Continuing its dominance of the special effects biz, Industrial Light & Magic has been tapped as the lead f/x studio for both Universal’s actioner “The Hulk” and Warner Bros.’ sequel “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed, since specific shot counts on both pics have yet to be determined, but the deals are expected to be worth in the tens of millions of dollars.

For $100 million f/x-heavy pics on the scale of a “Hulk” or a “Potter,” demanding north of 400 shots, it’s not unusual for f/x to represent 20% or more of a pic’s production budget.

The new contracts join an already strong lineup of high-profile pics skedded for release in 2002 for which San Francisco-based ILM is creating computer-generated visuals, including “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones,” “Men in Black 2,” “Minority Report,” “The Time Machine,” the “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” re-release, “K-19″ and “Signs.” This year, ILM’s work was seen in “Pearl Harbor,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Jurassic Park 3″ and “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” among others.

Oscar-winning f/x vet Dennis Muren will oversee the visuals on “The Hulk” for ILM. Ang Lee is helming the pic. Muren’s credits include “Jurassic Park,” “Casper,” “The Abyss” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

While it isn’t unusual for f/x facilities to win contracts for pics that are skedded to go into production only several months later, ILM has been granted an unusually long amount of time on which to create the computer-generated elements necessary for “The Hulk” — pic isn’t due to hit theaters until spring 2003.

Tests in the can

ILM already had spent millions creating test footage for “Hulk” when Jonathan Hensleigh was still attached to helm the pic for Universal.

“Universal has planned a pretty good prep period to hone in on how to do things,” said ILM prexy Jim Morris. “It provides us enough fertile ground to create something very different that pushes the genre. Dennis has an interesting taste level and an unusual take on things. Given the comic book nature of the show and his photographic background, it seemed like a right match. He likes the broad sweep of fantasy, but he roots it in a photo-realistic tradition.”

ILM nabbed “Chamber of Secrets” — the sequel to “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” which bows next month — from Sony Pictures Imageworks, which served as the lead U.S. house on the first pic. The sequel hits screens late next year.

Many believe Imageworks, the second largest f/x studio after ILM, may have been too busy with “Spider-Man,” “Stuart Little 2,” “Tuxedo” and “I Spy” to tackle the second “Potter” pic, whose new production demands would have overlapped with the crew still finishing up visuals for the first film.

Jim Mitchell (“Jurassic Park III”) and Bill George (“Planet of the Apes”) will serve as the visual f/x supervisors on “Chamber of Secrets” for ILM.

The largest effects studio in the biz, ILM employs 1,300 special effects artists.

Staying lean

“Ideally, we don’t want to be much larger than we are,” Morris said. ILM was forced to lay off 48 staffers earlier this year due to overstaffing. “We’re trying to be a little careful about that and not have too many shows ballooning up.”

Of its staffers, about 300 are working on more than 1,000 f/x shots for George Lucas’ “Star Wars: Episode II,” led by “Episode I” supervisors Muren and John Knoll, along with newcomers Pablo Hellman and “Pearl Harbor’s” Ben Snow. Pic, which bows next summer, is nearly half-finished.

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