Light & Magic

Published August 13, 2022

Marketing artwork for the TV show Light & Magic, showing George Lucas and team examining artwork closely

I didn’t know a six-part documentary charting the beginnings and growth of Industrial Light & Magic was in the works so when the show arrived on Disney+ last month, it was a pleasant surprise. I love a glimpse behind the scenes at how the magic is made in the film industry, and watching creative and brilliant people do what they do just fills me with inspiration and joy. So, as it turns out, this show was absolutely made for me.

The six episodes of Light & Magic chronicle the inaugural output of the fledgling effects studio, how they grew and adapted with changing technologies, the massive effect they had on bringing groundbreaking new ideas to the table, and ultimately how they continue to forge a path as the biggest name in Hollywood’s effects industry.

Through personal interviews and never-before-seen footage, director Lawrence Kasdan pulls back the curtain on ILM’s most iconic effects, while delving into the fascinating backstories of the artists and innovators who created them.

There’s so much wonderful detail in this show that I can’t do it justice in one post, I’m going to have to rewatch and revisit each episode in more detail. But what I can highlight are some initial thoughts, starting with what a rethink I’ve had to have over George Lucas. I knew that Star Wars was a big deal in terms of changing what was possible in Hollywood and inspiring so many people ever since, but I really don’t think I knew just how innovative and earth-shaking it really was at the time. Nothing had been done before so George had to bring together a rag-tag bunch of geniuses and put them to work.

Since then, I only really knew of George as the guy that kept tinkering on his precious Star Wars and wouldn’t let it go to the dismay of many fans. The incredible access and insight that this documentary series has absolutely explains why he is that way, why he had to wait so long to do the prequels and why his personality means he’s just never happy with the output… which only serves to drive the industry forward time and again.

Marketing artwork for the TV show Light & Magic, showing a team working on giant screens and technology

So many other names and faces pop up as well - the adorable Phil Tippett, who of everyone probably had to deal the most with his creative art being made obsolete, John Dykstra who was the life and soul of the first movie but then not invited back, and John Knoll who took the company into a new era of technology, whilst helping to make Photoshop at the same time.

These people are all brilliant (not enough women to start with, but the documentary does highlight the best ones who seem to keep everyone else under control!) it really made me feel inspired. After watching only the first episode, I wanted to make a stop motion film and learn how to draw. It seems to me that being able to draw is such an amazing skill. Someone like George Lucas can say ‘I want this and this and this’ but it’s the Ralph McQuarrie’s of this world who really make the icons come to life.

As I say, there’s going to be more to come on this because it was an incredible six-part show packed full of amazing people and fascinating detail. I learnt a lot about a subject I didn’t know I cared that much about and all I want to do is know more. And make a film. And learn to draw. And basically be George Lucas.

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