Our expert's notesA high-speed Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) "Empireflex" camera designed for the production of Irvin Kershner's Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The "Empireflex" was the first reflex VistaVision camera ever built and was dubbed "one of ILM's pride and joys" by Cinefex magazine in 1980. The camera's name references both the film for which it was built, and the reflex viewing system incorporated into the unit. After Star Wars: A New Hope, ILM sought to upgrade its equipment and manufactured some of the first new VistaVision cameras since the film format's hey day during the 1950s. VistaVision, which is traditional 35mm turned on its side to create a larger image area, was originally conceived by Paramount as a response to television. ILM utilized it as the format of choice due to the need for a larger image area in photochemical effects work, where pieces of film were frequently copied several times. Two Empireflex cameras were built for the production: the sound-speed camera, capable of running at up to 36 frames per second (fps), and the high-speed camera, capable of running at variable speeds, including single frame for stop-motion work, sound-speed (24fps), and high-speed (72fps) photography, which was employed for sequences involving model miniatures. In addition to the reflex viewing system, the Empireflex cameras had bodies custom-made by Sam Zolltheis in ILM's model shop. Carbon-fiber cloth was used to create a light-proof enclosure that was also lightweight. They were among the lightest VistaVision cameras ever made and continued to be used on ILM productions for more than 20 years. This high-speed Empireflex camera utilizes a high-speed movement made specifically by Mitchell, and perfected for this camera by ILM's Jim Beaumonte. It also features a modified Arriflex 400' magazine with a handwritten "High Speed Empire" label, as well as an integral motor in the base of the body. The camera's mirror and shutter are gear-driven. The ground-glass viewing device is capable of accepting a pin-registered film clip to line up matte shots in the camera. The back of the camera features digital displays to show the frame rate and footage count. Also included are an original ILM lens; a Nikon still-camera lens modified to give another stop down; a clip-on rubber matte box; and the original ILM camera control box, designed and built in-house to run the camera and perform a variety of special duties. While the camera itself is functional, having been well maintained and looked after over the years, this unit is currently non-operational. The movement turns freely with the inching knob, and all internal components are mobile. The body exhibits wear from age and use with a cut-out at the front of the viewing tube where a video tap was once installed but which is now closed with a cover plate. Dimensions (camera): 19" x 15.5" x 10.5" (48 cm x 39 cm x 27 cm); (control box): 15.5" x 18" x 6.5" (39 cm x 46 cm x 17 cm) The Empireflex cameras are some of the most recognizable cameras in visual-effects history; photographs of the cameras in action can be seen extensively in Cinefex and American Cinematographer magazines from the 1980s and 1990s. The camera is also the recipient of a prestigious award - Richard Edlund and ILM won an Academy Scientific and Technical Award in 1982 for the development of the Empire Motion Picture Camera System. Edlund led the design of the camera, along with Gene Whiteman, Mark West and Jim Beaumonte. The cameras were responsible for capturing some of the most memorable shots in effects history and remained the backbone of ILM's camera department until it stopped shooting on film.
Included with the camera are copies of ILM documents relating to its history, and a set of 38 printed photographs showing Empireflex cameras in use on films such as The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, the Back to the Future trilogy, the Indiana Jones trilogy, Ghostbusters 2, and more. Also included is a letter of provenance from Richard Edlund. ILM built one sound-speed Empireflex camera, which now in the collection of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The high-speed Empireflex camera offered here is likely the only one that will ever be publicly available. Dimensions (camera): 19" x 15.5" x 10.5" (48 cm x 39 cm x 27 cm); (control box): 15.5" x 18" x 6.5" (39 cm x 46 cm x 17 cm) Contains electronic components; see notice in the Buyer's Guide. Special shipping required; see notice in the Buyer's Guide.