“I strive to make it easier to innovate — to create a supportive environment for groundbreaking creativity and excellence in production,” explains Janet Lewin, SVP and general manager of Industrial Light & Magic.
Formerly vice president of Visual Effects at Lucasfilm, Lewin has spent a combined 26-years at the two companies. She currently oversees the visual effects and StageCraft business at Lucasfilm as well as ILM’s five studios, focusing primarily on operations and production. Lewin is an experienced executive and producer with numerous credits to her name, most recently serving as a producer on both seasons of Lucasfilm’s ground-breaking hit series, The Mandalorian for Disney+.
A graduate of Boston University with a degree in PR and Mass Communications, Lewin explains, “I always knew I wanted to work in film and entertainment.” She recalls being mesmerized by the visual effects work she saw in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, “I remember watching it and I just couldn’t understand how T-1000 walked through the bars in the psychiatric hospital. I was so taken by what I had seen that I watched all the behind the scenes and that’s where I learned about ILM, Dennis Muren and what his team had created.”
In 1994, she was hired as a temporary assistant in ILM’s purchasing department. “The job consisted mostly of filing purchase orders,” she recalls. “But it was my first real exposure to filmmaking and visual effects at the same time. All the brilliant people and incredible projects at ILM hit the sweet spot for my interest in production, innovation, and the business of filmmaking.”
Lewin spent the next two decades of her career at ILM working her way up the ranks to ultimately become Global Head of Production in 2010. In 2013, she moved to Lucasfilm to oversee Visual Effects for the newly rebooted Production studio, at the same time serving as the overall visual effects producer on all of the new Star Wars films, collaborating with directors such as JJ Abrams, Rian Johnson, Gareth Edwards, and Ron Howard over the next seven years. “It was a fantastic opportunity for me to partner directly with filmmakers and gain studio-side knowledge and empathy for that side of the coin,” she mentions.
That experience, combined with her vast tenure at ILM, positioned her well to take on this new adventure as GM at ILM, partnering with ILM Chief Creative Officer, Rob Bredow, to run the global organization. “I’m mostly excited about the incredible talent we have at ILM, the innovative StageCraft technology, our entree into episodic work with our amazing television division, ILM TV, and the diverse content on the horizon – not only from Lucasfilm, but from all of our clients. We are in a unique position to push the boundaries of what’s possible in real-time visual effects, immersive entertainment, and animated features, while we continue to innovate and grow our capabilities with regard to our traditional effects work.”
On her collaboration with Bredow, Lewin says, “We work just like a visual effects producer and supervisor but on a much larger scale. I focus more on how to execute the business and shows successfully while Rob’s focus is more on innovation and technology. We have a similar aptitude for driving projects and passion for the business that overlap in both areas, so combined with our different experiences and styles, that makes for a great partnership.”
“So often ILM is on the bleeding edge in terms of developing technologies that go on to change how stories can be told — and never has that been more true than with StageCraft,” explains Lewin. Originally developed with inspiration from Jon Favreau for The Mandalorian, ILM StageCraft is a suite of virtual production tools that encompass all aspects of production from design, scouting, and previsualization in the virtual art department to principal photography on ILM’s StageCraft LED volumes. The system proved to be a gamechanger on season one of The Mandalorian and since have been used on feature films, music videos and commercials.
ILM isn’t resting on its laurels, the team took everything they learned on season one and combined that with 45-years of filmmaking and visual effects experience and reengineered StageCraft from the ground up for season two of the series. “We identified all of the shortcomings in the system and areas where we needed more flexibility and enhanced functionality, designing StageCraft 2.0 with filmmaking and production needs at its core.” notes Lewin.
Lewin credits many of her role models and mentors, including Lynwen Brennan, General Manager, Lucasfilm, for setting great examples. “I’ve kept an eagle eye on the way Lynwen leads, how inclusive she is and how unflappable. She is always approachable and makes people feel welcome… a real creative problem-solver and I admire that.”
With a Player-Coach leadership style, Lewin explains, “I like to be part of solving problems, being in the trenches and supporting my teams so they can do their best. I don’t communicate a broad vision and then expect everyone to just figure it out.” Lewin continues adding, “I’ve grown into someone who tries to be curious as a leader, really engage with stakeholders and I try to inspire the people who are going to be the ones to make the change.” She makes clear, “I do have a strong point of view but I want to also be open, and allow the best idea to get elevated.”
Lewin, who feels strongly about bringing on a diverse workforce and creating an inclusive environment, is also a part of Lucasfilm and ILM’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging team, helping executive initiatives both internally and externally. “The work we are doing through our employee resource groups is providing more connection points to different people within different communities. It really benefits the work we do – to have a welcoming and inclusive environment for diverse storytellers, production, creatives, and executives – it makes us bring our ‘A’ game because we all feel seen and recognized as individuals.” Lewin adds, “We care for each other and want to make sure everyone is thriving.”
One thing is clear, with Lewin and Bredow at the helm, we’re sure to see great things from the company for many years to come.