LIGHT & MAGIC is a six-part series that tells the story of Industrial Light & Magic, the special effects company George Lucas founded to make Star Wars. 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.
When George Lucas sets out to make Star Wars, he finds there is no special effects company in Hollywood capable of bringing to life his ambitious vision of “dogfighting in space.” George enlists camera expert John Dykstra to set up shop in a dusty warehouse in Van Nuys and begin assembling an unlikely team of artists, builders, and dreamers. In hundred-degree heat, they design ships, make models, and build a revolutionary camera system from scratch. But when George visits after shooting the film, he finds ILM woefully behind schedule. The team rallies to finish on time, and Star Wars is released to worldwide success. But George remains curiously unsatisfied with the results.
For the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, George moves ILM north to a new facility. Facing massive expectations, the team has more and bigger problems to solve. George, frustrated by traditional filmmaking techniques, sets out to modernize the industry, hiring computer scientist Ed Catmull to start a computer division.
By the dawn of the 1980s blockbuster, ILM is at the top of their game. Collaborations with directors like Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis lead to the astonishing effects in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist, E.T., Back to the Future, and more. Meanwhile, the computer division’s Pixar Image Computer inspires newcomer John Knoll to create Photoshop.
As the industry enters the digital age, computer graphics artists from around the world flock to ILM. The team produces celebrated effects in The Abyss and Terminator 2. Some traditional artists successfully transition to the new tools, but many struggle to adapt.
The creation of digital dinosaurs for Jurassic Park proves a watershed moment for the industry, despite leaving stop-motion wizard Phil Tippett feeling “extinct.” With new digital tools, George Lucas returns to the Star Wars saga with the prequels, while also pushing for industry-wide advancements in digital cameras and projectors.
The innovations continue into the 21st century, as a new generation of filmmakers jump at the chance to work with ILM. On Iron Man, CG skeptic Jon Favreau becomes a convert when he finds he can no longer tell the difference between practical and digital. George’s ultimate vision finally comes to fruition with The Volume, a revolutionary system of digital production. At the end of the series, collaborators past and present celebrate ILM’s unique mixture of art and technology, while honoring the heart and soul of the people who made it all possible.
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