Robert Blalack, who won an Oscar in 1978 for his groundbreaking visual effects work on the original Star Wars, has died at the age of 73. Blalack was one of the co-founders of Industrial Light & Magic, the visual effects studio created by George Lucas in 1975, which went on to revolutionize visual storytelling across film, TV, and commercials.
Blalack lost his battle with cancer at his home in Paris last Wednesday according to his wife, Caroline Charron-Blalack, and The Hollywood Reporter. He is also survived by his son, Paul.
Blalack, born in Panama in 1948, attended high school in London. He then went on to study literature and theater at Pomona College in Clairmont, California, and shortly thereafter earned his MFA in film studies from CalArts. After working on the 1974 Oscar-winning documentary, Hearts and Minds, Blalack met John Dykstra, who was then hired by George Lucas to oversee the visual effects of his next film, a fantasy space epic called Star Wars.
Blalack and Dykstra were then among the co-founders of ILM with Lucas, and they were also among the five men who shared the Oscar for Best Visual Effects for their inventive work on Star Wars (alongside John Stears, Richard Edlund, and Grant McCune).
Of the early days co-founding ILM while working on Star Wars at the same time, Blalack said during an ILM reunion in 2017, “We discovered that building ILM from scratch during production was like jumping out of a plane and stitching up the parachute during free fall.” Regardless of how they may have stitched together the parachute, it held.
ILM has now been an industry leader in visual effects for nearly five decades, and Blalack’s innovative work also helped create the visuals for films like Airplane!, The Blues Brothers, Cat People, and Robocop. Blalack continued working in film, theme parks, and commercials for the next several decades, and he won an Emmy for Special Visual Effects for his work on 1983’s The Day After, which was the most-watched TV movie in history at the time.