Published Jan 1, 2007 8:00 AM

20. Unreal Life

What: Computer-generated imagery (CGI)

Who: Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), San Francisco, Calif.

Impact: "The question is not how CGI has impacted animation, but how it has impacted entertainment," says Fred Raimondi, visual effects supervisor at Venice, Calif.-based special effects studio Digital Domain, of the advent of computer-generated imagery, the digitally based 3-D graphics application that hypnotizes teenaged boys and simulates everything from swishing party dresses to roaring factory fires to the Creation. In 1995, the first completely computer-generated feature film, Pixar's Toy Story, was a box-office smash. Since then, a steady stream of studio-produced CGI media blockbusters have rewritten the rules of movie, TV and video game animation, and transformed storytelling in live action as well. Analysts estimate the average amount spent on visual effects for a feature film has rocketed from $5 million in 2000 to more than $40 million today.

Eureka moment: Though it was used as early as the early '80s — notably, in Lucasfilm's The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Paramount's Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) — neither filmmakers nor audiences were smitten with CGI until witnessing ILM's photorealistic effects in the 1989 feature, The Abyss (20th Century Fox).

— Randi Schmelzer