When it comes to visual effects, there are few companies that stand out like Industrial Light & Magic.
Known for creating worlds such as Star Wars, Terminator 2 and the Indiana Jones franchise, ILM has brought sights and sounds to the screen that no one else could have achieved. Now, in Light & Magic, filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan invites viewers to look behind the curtain of the famed visual effects company. Featuring interviews with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and many more, Light & Magic explores the origins of ILM and how it inspired some of the most legendary filmmakers in Hollywood.
Beginning in the 1970s, Light & Magic opens the vault on the development of one of Hollywood’s greatest special effects houses. Developed by George Lucas, Industrial Light and Magic has made a name for itself as the premiere creators of whimsy on the big screen for almost 5 decades now. With the opportunity to explore the Wonderful World of Lucas in-depth, Kasdan speaks about the special effects factory with joyful reflection. While we have seen numerous documentaries before about the creation of Star Wars that highlight the magic of creation, Light & Magic instead expands the story to focus on the creation of the business itself. With each creature and feature, Light & Magic emphasizes the incredible work going on behind the scenes of the iconic company. (Incidentally, Kasdan worked closely with Lucas on a number of occasions, including writing the Star Wars films.) Conversations about vision, hiring and the wizards that work behind the scenes lead the way as the company grows into something special.
However, that is not to say that Light & Magic is unwilling to give up its secrets. From the Galaxy Far Far Away to Indiana Jones and Poltergeist to Jurassic Park, each episode is a treasure trove of information on how these young men and women changed the way that we consume the film experience. As an audience member, we simply watch the film and accept what’s before our eyes. But the team at ILM has worked hundreds of hours to make that happen. (Incidentally, if there’s a criticism of the series, it may be that we don’t get to see the process unravel in real time, in the same way that Jackson’s acclaimed Get Back did for the Beatles.)
Light & Magic even shows the evolution of the age of digital effects and the ripple effect that it had throughout the industry. Rivalries develop as technology threatens the way things have been done. Those who would spent their days tirelessly working on molds felt as though they were being left behind in the digital age. (“I feel extinct,” says one creator flatly.) However, the passing of the torch was not only necessary but inevitable and filmmakers must decide whether or not they trust the new tech. For example, at one point, there’s a fascinating conversation with director Jon Favreau regarding his work on Iron Man. Still unsure about the nature of digital effects, Favreau himself is fooled by the blur between practical and digital in such a way that he became a believer in what could be achieved.
Even so, one of the best parts of the series is its emphasis on the people themselves. Light & Magic is a celebration of the mad scientists that created Death Star trenches, imploding houses and dinosaurs and brought them to life on screen. However, what’s most interesting about them is that many of them had no experience in the film industry. Instead, these were simply people who are interested in helping out and using their creative sensibilities that made them want to do the impossible.
They were mad scientists, allowed to mix potions freely in a lab.
Multiple times throughout the series we are reminded of what fun this band of rebels were having behind the scenes. Working roughly 18-hour days and spending much of their lives in these non-air-conditioned warehouses, the creative environment required them to trust one another as they worked together. The work was hard and intense at times, but this series focuses on the relationships that were built. In fact, this is what makes gives their work its magic. The passion of these men and women extended beyond clay models and camera work.
For them, it was a chance to create wonder.
In Light & Magic, one gets the sense that each staff member genuinely believed that they’re doing something remarkable. To many, what began as a hobby has become a calling. In fact, as effects become more common widespread, one of the greatest concerns is that people now take for granted the work that they do. Whereas people were once in awe at seeing the Millennium Falcon fly into a squadron of Tie Fighters in 1977, this sort of visual treat has become more commonplace.
Though they’re not giving up.
If anything, Light & Magic ends on a note that suggests that they’re continuing to strive towards the impossible. At a time where CGI wizardry has taken over, there is a genuine desire amongst this crew to continue to bring audiences into a place of wonder.
While the methods may have changed, but the vision remains the same.
Light & Magic is available on Disney+ on Wednesday, July 27th, 2022.