The filmmaker and Lucasfilm legend talks to ILM.com to reflect on what drew him to tell the story of the hit Disney+ series, “Light & Magic”.
Screenwriter and director Lawrence Kasdan.
How did you get involved with Light & Magic?
Several years ago my wife and I made a short documentary about a little diner that we used to eat at all the time that suddenly closed. In making that documentary with her, and cutting it with terrific people, it made me realize how much I liked the documentary format. I had never done that. We set out to meet some documentary people and I met Justin Wilkes at Imagine Entertainment. He asked me what I was interested in doing and I suggested a history of visual effects, because even though I had been around visual effects throughout my career, it occurred to me that I didn’t know much about them. The second thing that interested me were the people of Industrial Light & Magic that I had been working around for over forty years. So we both agreed that that would be a great story to tell: the history of visual effects, and the personal stories of these people. What drove these people, what was their life like, what made them want to stay at ILM as long as they did? Everyone loved the idea, so we went to work.
Lawrence Kasdan, center, on the set of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
What was your vision for the documentary?
From my very first film until today, I’ve always considered myself a humanist filmmaker. I’m interested in what happens between people, and why people make certain decisions in their lives. What chance is involved? What fate? What luck? So from the very beginning of this I was interested in learning what brought these people to this work. What were the relationships that they made when they arrived? Why did they continue to work there much longer than they expected, some for nearly half a century? What has all that meant to these amazing advancements in technology? It’s about people, and their gifts, and out of those gifts came technological advancements that boggle the mind.
Dennis Muren, left, and Phil Tippett, right, review images with Joe Johnston.
Why did you think this story should be told?
Because it’s great to see artists at work. The commitment of great craftsmen. I love to see people that have mastered a skill, and try to make it better, and don’t settle. I think it’s great to see expertise and this pure devotion to discipline, and that is always a good story to see. Dennis Muren, left, and Phil Tippett, right, review images with Joe Johnston.
John Dykstra and a fleet of miniature TIE, X-wing, and Y-wing starfighters.
How did you approach the research, and what resources did you use?
We had a fabulous team that Imagine Documentaries put together, some internal to the company, and some that were freelancers. They really knew their stuff, so it was a great luxury for me as a director. There were so many things that I wanted to ask during interviews, but the input from this incredible group of producers and writers and editors stimulated me all of the time to go in different directions during interviews.
ILM’s Paul Huston and Larry Tan on the set of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
For those that have yet to watch it, can you tell readers what the timeline of the series is?
Over the six hours we see the very birth of ILM, what happened as it came together during the production of Star Wars: A New Hope, and then off of the success of that film, how it was launched into a nearly fifty-year enterprise. We mainly follow it chronologically, but we do jump around a bit to serve the story. Part of the kick for me was that we had such a trove of archival footage, so these people might be talking about something from forty or fifty years ago, and we had stills from that moment in their career. It was incredible to be able to cut from one to the other across time, to hear them talking about a problem, and then see footage of them finding a solution. A huge part of ILM’s legacy is finding solutions to problems.
Peter Kuran, Rose Duignan, and George Lucas review effects shots for Star Wars: A New Hope.
How did you select the filmmakers that were featured in the documentary?
They are all giants, and they have all used ILM in the most expressive and innovative ways. They put pressure on themselves and then turned to ILM and said, “can you do this? Can you create something for me that I have never seen before?” ILM would always say yes. And sometimes it might be a struggle, and sometimes it might be a long process, and sometimes it might be an instantaneous solution where one of these genius people that work there would say, “I know what we could do”. These are major filmmakers that have contributed to the zeitgeist. Jim Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Bob Zemeckis, J.J. Abrams, and at the heart of it, of course, is George Lucas.
Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams on the set of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
What was the most interesting thing you learned throughout the process of creating Light & Magic?
I think I learned what goes into creating something new, working with people you respect and depend on, and how this personal relationship then impacts the professional work. There is something beautiful about the generosity of the people that work at ILM, and through that generosity they are able to discover new frontiers and break new grounds that no one has ever been able to do.
All episodes of Light & Magic are streaming now on Disney+.
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