ILM Employees and ‘Star Wars’ Filmmakers Talk Upcoming Disney+ Series, ‘Light & Magic’
The series will chronicle the history of Industrial Light & Magic and was directed by Lawrence Kasdan.
Day two of Star Wars Celebration continued on Friday at the Anaheim Convention Center as fans staggered into the big hall for the ‘Light & Magic’ presentation to hear more about the upcoming Disney+ documentary series that will take viewers behind the scenes at Industrial Light & Magic.
On hand virtually was the documentary’s director Lawrence Kasdan, who also wrote ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘Return of the Jedi.’ Kasdan was supposed to appear in person but tested positive for COVID just before the event. However, taking the stage were ‘Star Wars’ filmmakers Ron Howard (‘Solo’), and Joe Johnston (‘A New Hope’), as well ILM veterans Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, and Rose Duignan, and the GM of Lucasfilm Lynwen Brennan.
The new series, which was directed by Kasdan, will explore the history of Industrial Light & Magic or ILM, and their impact on the history of cinema. Kasdan began by saying, “I’ve known ILM for 40 years I but didn’t know how it happened. It’s the greatest effects house in the world.”
“What I did know was ILM is a house of geniuses and somehow George Lucas had the vision to bring these people together," Kasdan continued. "He was somehow, with John Dykstra, able to bring these people together and create a place that has been unmatched in these 45-50 years. At first, nobody knew exactly how it was going to work and there was a lot of improvising that lead to a lot of communication. When someone needed help, they would go to someone else and they always would try to help. It’s been that kind of environment where geniuses help geniuses.”
Director Ron Howard is an executive producer on ‘Light & Magic’ and has quite the history with George Lucas, which goes all the way back to ‘American Graffiti.’ Howard spoke about the first time he saw ‘Star Wars.’ “It was mind-blowing,” he said. “I saw it opening weekend, and I left the theater and said to my wife, do you want to see it again? So, we saw it twice on opening day.” The director also talked about how Lucas explained to him on the set of ‘Graffiti’ that he wanted to apply what Stanley Kubrick did in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ on a ‘Flash Gordon’ type serial, which of course became ‘Star Wars.’
Joe Johnston, who began his career as a Visual Effects artist on the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy and has since gone on to direct movies like ‘The Rocketeer’ and ‘Captain America: The First Avenger,’ discussed how he came to work with Lucas. “I was working as an industrial designer when I saw this add on the wall that they were looking for painters on a space movie,” explained Johnston. “When I found out what this job was, I realized that I could design things that look great but don’t need to work. I felt like a fish out of water until I realized I was part of this family like everyone else.”
“I wish Larry would had sent me a list of the questions he was going to ask,” Johnston joked about his interview for the documentary. “He asked me things that I had forgotten about, and it brought back those memories. What a fantastic achievement he’s made with this series. It really tells the story of ILM.”
“Larry did a fantastic job,” Lucasfilm’s Lynwen Brennan said of the project. “But the series is really about the people. We have an amazing team, and I have the greatest job in the world. The thing that unites us is that ‘we can do anything’ spirit. There is no hoarding of the secrets, everyone works together and there is always a sense that anything is possible. I’m really standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Visual Effects supervisor Phil Tippett said of watching the completed documentary, “I binge watched the thing and Larry did a fantastic job. It made me wistful for that time. It’s very meaningful and he did a great job.” Tippett also discussed some of his early character designs and that he would give them strange names like “Calamari Man,” who eventually became Admiral Ackbar. "I had no idea who Admiral Ackbar was," he said. 'We were just coming up with stupid names!"
ILM’s Rose Duignan told a funny story about being confused regarding who was going to interview her for the documentary. “I was told someone named Larry was going to interview me. I asked him how I knew him, and he said, ‘I wrote ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’ Oh, that’s how I know you, you're Lawrence Kasdan!”
Duignan also told an amusing story of ILM’s early days and how ILM founder John Dykstra would amuse himself by using a crane to drop refrigerators into a hot tub. One day, George Lucas and several 20th Century Fox executives pulled up in a limo and once they saw what was going on, turned around and left. They never even got out of the limo.
Visual Effects artist Dennis Muren talked about his experience working with George Lucas on the first ‘Star Wars.’ “We wanted to please him,” Muren said. “I could look at those things and imagine them in motion. There's nothing like being given great stuff. I knew how to bring those together in front of the camera. The last four or five months, it all kind of came together. To have it be a success was unbelievable."
Howard not only directed ‘Solo’ but his daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, has directed episodes of both ‘The Mandalorian’ and ‘The Book of Boba Fett,’ and he talked about how ‘Star Wars’ has become a Howard Family business. “Bryce has been working on ‘Mandalorian’ and that makes me a proud dad. The breakthroughs keep coming and its always about ideas first. It all goes back to George saying, here’s what is in my head so how do we do it?” The crowd then began shouting ‘Solo 2,’ to which Howard replied, “I’m not in charge of that.”
Finally, Kasdan discussed his hopes for the upcoming documentary series. “Not only did I want to tell the story of this group, but there was a secret desire I had for this show, as I was making it, I was inspired about creativity and my desire was to make this for my grandchildren. I think that is at the heart of this thing. I want people to know that problems can be overcome, and people will support them in that. If they get that out of this I will be happy.”
The ‘Light & Magic’ documentary series will premiere on Disney+ in July.