Light & Magic Review (2022)

A then and now of George Lucas’ famed Industrial Light & Magic.

Light & Magic Review (1)

byTara Bennett

Posted July 27, 2022, 6:24 p.m.

Light & Magic premieres on Disney+ on July 27, 2022.

If you grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s and loved movies, that was a magical time for film magazines. Starlog, Cinefantastique, Fangoria, and Cinefex, just to name a few, specialized in revealing the below-the-line creative people who brought the spectacle to life. And for those interested in the making of the movies, like me, they were a virtual master class in technique and innovation. Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan was smack in the middle of that creative whirlwind, working with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg as a screenwriter on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. And it’s his ground level perspective that provides the necessary insider’s point of view in telling how Lucas’ special effects company, Industrial Light & Magic, came to be in the new six-part Disney+ docuseries, Light & Magic. Like those magazines of old, the series goes deep, especially with the original Star Wars trilogy, in regards to how ILM became synonymous with creating modern special effects and visual effects. As a series, it works best when it focuses on the incredible talent who launched the company and have since become legends in their field. Where it stumbles is in its pacing, frontloading episodes with a micro focus on Star Wars and then in the later episodes, rushing through 30 years of VFX innovation to end on what feels like a very sanitized, underwhelming corporate sizzle reel.

The first episode, “Gang of Outsiders,” starts with archival footage of Lucas explaining why he had to start a visual effects company for Star Wars: there weren't any existing shops that could handle the depth and breadth of shots that he envisioned. John Dykstra was recommended by special effects legend Douglas Trumbull (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) to supervise the start of Industrial Light & Magic. Lucasfilm producer Gary Kurtz and Dykstra set out to headhunt the best talent they could find. They collected a group of young artists and tech geeks with varied backgrounds, including now legends Richard Edlund, Joe Johnston, Phil Tippett, and Dennis Muren. Within a hot warehouse in Van Nuys, Calif., they were given a $1 million budget to literally invent new hardware and techniques to bring Lucas’ vision of Star Wars to life. Documented with a wealth of incredible archival film from those days and interspersed with talking-head interviews with the players today, Kasdan captures a palpable sense of history and perspective with everyone looking back at essentially their younger selves enthusiastically throwing themselves into the job. And there’s also the necessary guideposts of understanding exactly what wasn’t possible at the time, and how the people in the trenches of ILM bypassed existing roadblocks to use every technique at their disposal to solve the problems.

Throughout the first four episodes of Light & Magic, Kasdan breaks up the granular stories of the individual challenges in making the original Star Wars trilogy effects by giving key creatives from ILM’s early years breakout personal biographies that allow us to get to know these people outside of their jobs. They’re contextualized via a treasure trove of personal photos and delightful 8mm movies they made as kids building into more mature projects from college. These intimate asides are some of the strongest elements of the whole series. Getting to see what first inspired them to pursue their passions and how they made their early creative marks warms up the technical focus of what they were doing back in the day. And Kasdan makes space for the players to share their personal assessments with the benefit of almost five decades of hindsight. For instance, Tippett is incredibly unguarded about sharing his early compulsion to lose himself in the painstaking work of stop-motion animation to deflect his depression. Only now has he come to understand that was undiagnosed bipolar disorder, which is brave to share. Those kinds of stories add so much context and grounding reality to the spectacular feats they achieved in the VFX field.

(Video) Why Every Star Wars Fan NEEDS to Watch Light & Magic

By the third episode, though, the series starts to get overburdened by the hyper focus on the work done on the original Star Wars films, which by far get the majority of the docuseries’ storytelling real estate. Yes, ILM was literally founded to facilitate Lucas’ ambition in regards to those movies, but there’s also a whole host of BTS and special featurettes made for each one that document in detail how everything was made. And if you love those films, there’s a good chance there’s plenty that will be familiar in this series as already covered in other docs, books, and Blu-ray extras. By this point in the overall story of ILM as an entity, it should be deeper into the work done on other films. But that doesn’t happen until the fourth episode as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist, and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan are finally given some time.

The docuseries also leans softly on the creative rifts that occurred, especially when Dykstra was not asked to join ILM’s move to Marin in Northern California. To Kasdan’s credit, Dykstra and others address it on camera, which is important because it effectively changed the entire org chart of ILM and forced friends and colleagues to make some really tough personal choices. And it set off further cracks in the tight team which are documented in the fourth hour, with Johnston and Edlund deciding to go their own ways, opening up space for the ascent of Dennis Muren, John Knoll, and then the eventual digital shift of the entire company. There’s certainly no need for a scorched-earth approach to the major exits but there’s a noted absence in self reflection with regards to what those major flexion points did to the overall company culture. Perhaps that’s because Lucas’ own frustrations with the slow development of tech in his own words is rather binary and without emotion.

The doc makes it clear that the chasm between what he sees in his head and what it took to make that happen was thwarted for decades by the slow evolution of what would become digital VFX. And when it finally met his intentions, he was all about looking forward instead of honoring the prior work of those in the ILM trenches. That’s likely why there’s no mention at all by any of the old guard of ILM about how they felt when large chunks of their work was essentially erased with replacement visual effects in the Star Wars Special Editions. Some candor on those more controversial decisions would have helped with the overall context of ILM shifting from physical to digital effects. And that insight could have easily been provided by outside industry VFX experts, film historians, or even other directors influenced by the work of ILM. But all of the talking heads in the series are current Lucasfilm employees, former ILM staff, or directors who have used ILM. It doesn’t broaden the impact of the company outside of its own footprint.

Overall, it needed better planning on how to unfold the whole story of ILM, or just two more hours.

Episodes 5 and 6 then suffer from the series shifting from a deep dive approach to ILM projects to just a skimming of the company’s work for 30 years. The Star Wars prequels, which Lucas had ostensibly been working towards as the fulfillment of his dream for entirely digital VFX, are remarkably zipped through quickly. And then outside of James Cameron’s The Abyss and T2, and Spieberg’s Jurassic Park, no other films get the micro treatment. Even the movies in the opening title animation like Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, and the MCU entries are reduced to mere visual cameos.

In the last minutes, The Mandalorian and ILM’s invention of the Volume system are crammed into the piece and that basically reminds you that the series forgot to continue to chart the innovations of ILM. With six hours and 50 years to cover, maybe the series would have better served the company’s legacy regarding how much they’ve impacted cinema if it frontloaded Star Wars in the first two hours and then each hour after covered a single decade and the films within that really moved ILM forward creatively and technologically. While there are some appreciated inclusions of new era creatives like Doug Chiang and Ellen Poon, they feel a bit shoehorned into the narrative, missing the context of ILM’s bigger picture focus which was done more organically in the first few hours. As it stands, the last two hours feel overly crowded with a lack of focus in its storytelling – and a very corporate sizzle reel ending that feels like a PR piece rather than the docuseries it started out as.

The Verdict

Light & Magic starts strong with a very compelling account of how George Lucas built Industrial Light & Magic from scratch on the backs of some incredible talent who have through their work changed cinema forever. It works best when it documents those early days and challenges in the words of the participants then and now, which gives the series a strong sense of scope and history. For those who have long read behind-the-scenes books or watched extra features, not a lot of the ILM subject matter will seem new. For younger viewers who didn’t grow up with the films largely focused on in the series, Light & Magic will be a lot more eye-opening and impactful. But most will be disappointed in how quickly the series tries to condense and wrap up three decades of seminal ILM work. Overall, it needed better planning on how to unfold the whole story of ILM, or just two more hours.

Light & Magic Review (3)

(Video) You NEED to see Light & Magic and here's why! | Order 42 Review

7

Good

Filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan does a deep docu-dive on the formation and early years of George Lucas’ visual effects house, Industrial Light & Magic, that starts strong but gets overly corporate by the end.

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FAQs

Light & Magic Review? ›

Enlightening, educational and inspiring in equal measure, Light & Magic is everything film fans could want. With reams of unseen footage, industry insider knowledge and slices of sheer ingenuity, this is something everyone should watch at least once. July 18, 2022 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Does George Lucas still own Industrial Light and Magic? ›

ILM originated in Van Nuys, California, then later moved to San Rafael in 1978, and since 2005 it has been based at the Letterman Digital Arts Center in the Presidio of San Francisco. In 2012, The Walt Disney Company acquired ILM as part of its purchase of Lucasfilm.
...
Industrial Light & Magic.
TypeDivision
FoundersGeorge Lucas John Dykstra
9 more rows

Who owned Industrial Light and Magic? ›

Note: It was announced on October 30, 2012 that Lucasfilm, Ltd. including LucasArts, Industrial Light & Magic, and Skywalker Sound, would be purchased by Disney from George Lucas for $4.05B in cash and stock.

What does Industrial Light and Magic do? ›

The company serves the motion picture, television, streaming, commercial production, and attraction industries. ILM has created visual effects for over 350 feature films. With so many technical and creative innovations, ILM has been a constant force propelling the evolution of visual effects.

Can you visit Industrial Light and Magic? ›

Do you offer tours of Lucasfilm and ILM? Lucasfilm's campuses are working production facilities and therefore we do not offer public tours.

Did ILM work on Harry Potter? ›

ILM has also created the effects for over 300 other films, including the Jurassic Park series, the Back to the Future trilogy, the Harry Potter films, the Indiana Jones franchise, the Star Trek films, the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, many films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the animated film Rango, the ...

What computers do ILM use? ›

ILM is comfortable with multiple platforms. Its 1,400 employees use a variety of operating systems. The art department has Macs, with the rotoscopers and painters transitioning to OS X. Hendrickson sees OS X as a possible player.

What software does Industrial Light and Magic use? ›

ILM created stunning visual effects using Autodesk visual effects software, including Autodesk Maya and the Autodesk Inferno software that is part of ILM's proprietary SABRE high-speed compositing system. "Every year the quantity and quality of visual effects-driven movies rises.

How much is ILM worth? ›

Industrial Light and Magic: $1 billion

Since the 1980s, ILM has consistently been the largest and most successful provider of visual effects to the global film industry, despite challenges from the likes of Weta Digital and Framestore.

What does George Lucas own? ›

He founded Lucasfilm, his production company, in 1971 and built his fortune through his movies and their merchandise. The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will open in Los Angeles in 2021 and is entirely funded by Lucas and his wife, Mellody Hobson.

How many Academy Awards has ILM won? ›

ILM has received 16 Best Visual Effects Oscars and 40 additional nominations. It has also received 24 Scientific and Technical Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 2012, Disney bought ILM's parent company, Lucasfilm, and acquired ILM in the process.

How do I get a job at ILM? ›

Here, we bring you the highlights, and reveal how to create a well-rounded and varied portfolio that's specifically geared towards the requirements of ILM.
...
  1. Learn 3D. ...
  2. Simplify your art. ...
  3. Learn about colour and light. ...
  4. Learn about camera lenses. ...
  5. Start at the bottom. ...
  6. Don't submit fan art.
Mar 3, 2020

Does George Lucas still own Skywalker Sound? ›

Skywalker Sound remains based at the Ranch, for which Lucasfilm pays a rental fee to George Lucas, who remains the property's owner. Although Lucas maintains his offices there, he does not reside at the Ranch. Lucasfilm Games was located at the ranch during the early company years.

Can you take a tour of Skywalker Ranch? ›

Can you visit Skywalker Ranch? Public tours are not available for Skywalker Ranch. You have to be invited to the grounds in order to view them. You can visit the Yoda Fountain in the Presidio in San Francisco.

What software does Lucasfilm Animation use? ›

and Lucasfilm Animation are using Autodesk, Inc.'s (Nasdaq: ADSK) Autodesk Maya software to create the upcoming television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, just as they did to create the feature-length animated film that is now in theaters. These are the first animated Star Wars projects from Lucasfilm.

Did ILM create Photoshop? ›

Photoshop was created by ILM Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll and his brother Thomas as a summer project. It was used on The Abyss. The Knoll brothers sold the program to Adobe shortly before the film's release.

Does ILM do marvel? ›

As the Visual Effects Supervisor for ILM, Jeff White supervised the creation of 700 shots that encompassed a wide variety of sequences. During production, he collaborated on-set with production VFX supervisor Janek Sirrs to oversee plate photography for ILM shots.

Was Pixar a part of ILM? ›

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) is a motion picture visual effects company that was founded in 1975 by George Lucas. The studio is now based in the Presidio of San Francisco. Pixar originated out of the computer graphics department established at ILM in the late 1970's.

Who started ILM? ›

The groundbreaking visual effects creations of Industrial Light & Magic have redefined the limits of our imagination for more than 40 years. Founded in 1975 by George Lucas, ILM has created some of the most memorable visual effects in history.

What does ILM stand for? ›

ILM (The Institute of Leadership & Management) are at the cutting edge of leadership and management training. They have courses that range from Level 2 to Level 7, and each award can be achieved with an Award, Certificate, or Diploma, depending on how many credits are gained at each level.

Does George Lucas regret selling Star Wars? ›

In the years since the sale, Lucas has heavily implied that he regrets selling Star Wars off. It is well known that he had ideas for multiple other movies, but that he never made them.

What is full form of ILM? ›

Information lifecycle management (ILM) refers to strategies for administering storage systems on computing devices. ILM is the practice of applying certain policies to effective information management.

Who is richer George Lucas or Steven Spielberg? ›

See the full list and their net worths below: George Lucas, $5.4 billion. Steven Spielberg, $3.7 billion. Oprah Winfrey, $2.8 billion.

How is George Lucas so rich? ›

Due mainly to the global box-office success of American Graffiti, Lucas was a multimillionaire (net worth about $4 million, or around $20 million adjusted for inflation today) before cameras rolled on his blockbuster sci-fi landmark.

How much money did Disney pay George Lucas? ›

Since the value of Disney stock has significantly risen since 2012 and assuming that George Lucas kept all of his shares, what he owns today would be worth something just shy of $8 billion dollars—making the deal actually closer to $10 billion dollars.

Did ILM work on Jurassic Park? ›

Jurassic Park is the first major film to use this commercial 3-D animation package. The film also pioneered work in the field of film input scanning. Although ILM created fewer than 60 shots of the fully CG dinosaurs they remain a huge part of what makes the film so memorable.

Does George Lucas still own Skywalker Sound? ›

Skywalker Sound remains based at the Ranch, for which Lucasfilm pays a rental fee to George Lucas, who remains the property's owner. Although Lucas maintains his offices there, he does not reside at the Ranch. Lucasfilm Games was located at the ranch during the early company years.

Who purchased special effects computer group at Lucasfilm? ›

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - “Star Wars” was the force behind Walt Disney's $4 billion purchase of producer George Lucas's Lucasfilm entertainment holdings.

Is Skywalker Sound owned by Disney? ›

In 2012, The Walt Disney Company acquired Skywalker Sound as part of its purchase of Lucasfilm.

Videos

1. Light & Magic: Part Four "I Think I Found My People" Review
(Live Action Star Wars)
2. Must-Watch für STAR WARS-Fans: Doku-Serie LIGHT & MAGIC
(Filmgorillas)
3. Light & Magic: Part One "Gang of Outsiders" Review
(Live Action Star Wars)
4. Light And Magic - Documentary On The Company That Changed Movies Forever Drops Trailer
(John Campea)
5. Enjoy Samantha P.'s review of Light & Magic
(KIDS FIRST!)
6. Light & Magic | Official Trailer | Disney+ Singapore
(Disney Plus Singapore)

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