We are so used to computer-generated imagery (CGI) in movies that it's hard to fathom that Star Wars (1977) had none at all ...at least until the "special edition" was produced later. Still, that movie set us on the road to modern moviemaking, as George Lucas founded Industrial Light & Magic to create special effects for his later movies. That company debuted CGI in the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and the same year TRON featured an entire sequence made with CGI, animated one frame at a time.
Yet Jurassic Park stands out historically because it was the first time computer-generated graphics, and even characters, shared the screen with human actors, drawing the audience into the illusion that the dinosaurs’ world was real. Even back then, upon seeing the initial digital test shots, George Lucas was stunned: He’s often quoted as saying “it was like one of those moments in history, like the invention of the light bulb or the first telephone call … A major gap had been crossed and things were never going to be the same.”
Since then, computer graphics researchers have been working to constantly improve the realism of visual effects and have achieved great success, scholarly, commercial and artistic. Today, nearly every film contains computer-generated imagery: Explosions, tsunamis and even the wholesale destruction of cities are simulated, virtual characters replace human actors and detailed 3D models and green-screen backgrounds have replaced traditional sets.
Read about the great strides in CGI technology and filmmaking that came after the breakthrough of Jurassic Park at Smithsonian.