A reluctant dwarf must play a critical role in protecting a special baby from an evil queen.

Director: Ron Howard
ILM Visual Effects Supervisor: Dennis Muren, Mike McAlister
ILM Animation Director: Phil Tippett
ILM Visual Effects Art Director: Dave Carson
ILM Visual Effects Producer: Janet Healy
ILM Studios: San Francisco

Case Study


Release Date: May 20, 1988

George Lucas wanted ILM to do something different for this film than what had traditionally been done for onscreen transformations. With that in mind, ILM’s John Knoll applied a technique that he read about in a Siggraph paper for blending still images to the moving images they would shoot for Willow. The result was the first, groundbreaking digital morphs that changed one character into another without the need for cutaways. The most detailed morph turned a rat into a crow, the crow into a goat, the goat into an ostrich, the ostrich into a roaring tiger, and the tiger into an old sorceress.

Ron Howard’s Willow utilized virtually every trick in the ILM arsenal: miniatures, matte paintings, oversize sets, bluescreen, go-motion, rear projection, animatronics, and even in-camera compositing. In order to achieve the film’s crowning sequence where the bewitched sorceress, Fin Raziel, is restored from possum to human form, ILM’s creature shop constructed animatronic goat, ostrich, turtle, and tiger figures to give the transformation a base in reality.

CG supervisor Doug Smythe developed a digital image-processing program called Morf, which would allow seamless blending between elements in a single continuous shot. The software and its underlying technique would play an important role in numerous ILM films to come. In 1992, Smythe was honored with a Technical Achievement Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for advancing technology with the Morf application. It would be nearly two years before any ILM competitor could duplicate the technique.