By Josh Reilly B. and Julie Catherine
The modern film industry continues to be shaped and dictated by incredibly popular franchises like Star Wars, Marvel, Jurassic Park, DC, and more. All of these utilize, to varying degrees, special effects to create their respective fictional worlds. The characters, story, and worlds are what viewers tend to focus on, which is exactly what the creators strive for. This immersion and providing a dose of escapism is at the heart of film and television, and although making of documentaries have existed for some time, audiences have rarely been given an in depth and complete at the behind the scenes processes.
Now, that has changed as director Lawrence Kasdan gives viewers a peak behind the curtain at Industrial Light & Magic with his documentary Light & Magic, which releases today on Disney+. Kasdan is arguably the perfect person to helm such a project as he has been deeply involved with the Star Wars franchise in particular. He wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, and over the course pf 40+ years has worked directly with ILM and seen his stories become visualized on screen. This makes for an interesting documentary series in which the documentarian (Kasdan) is interviewing his friends and co-workers.
The documentary highlights the pioneering work of ILM, the company that was founded by George Lucas in 1975. That the Star Wars franchise has been arguably the front runner in the visual effects space for over 40 years isn’t a secret, but this is the most in-depth look at the behind the scenes processes of how new techniques were created and implemented. Under Kasdan’s direction, watching archive footage of now iconic sequences, like the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, proves to be so insightful that it’ll likely enhance subsequent viewings of these movies. Light & Magic doesn’t merely give a few new behind the scenes insights here and there; this documentary series adds a whole new layer to appreciating some of the most iconic films ever made.
Interestingly however, the heart of this docuseries isn’t VFX. Rather, the people who work at ILM take center stage. In opting to focus on the human side of things, Kasdan tells a beautiful and emotional story of a found family that, for the past 45+ years, has come together to create new stories and, most importantly, are there for each other through thick and thin. Importantly, this is what makes Light & Magic distinct from other similar documentaries peeking behind the curtain of big movies, such as The Director and the Jedi for Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Relatively speaking, Light & Magic switches gears in favor of a primary focus on the artists themselves, rather than the products they produced.
Visual effects artist Phil Tippet plays a relatively large role in these six episodes, as he was one of the individuals in the core group responsible for the making of the original trilogy of Star Wars. Tippet, who The HoloFiles had the opportunity to interview in a round table (which will be out later this week), is incredibly candid and brave as he speaks about mental health struggles throughout his life. In a modern world where there’s an unprecedented mental health crisis, such bravery and openness mean a lot and are very powerful, making Tippet’s comments all the more meaningful. The California native notes that his work has been his saving grace, crediting his career for saving his life, a statement which goes to show Tippet‘s bravery and the power of the film industry, visual effects, and (more broadly) passion for one’s work. One can’t help but deduce, just as the documentary says, that the tight knit group of people at ILM, many of whom describe each other as family, played a large role in supporting Tippet through these hard times, which really brings home the personal theme that permeates the six outings.
It’s a testament to the strength of Kasdan’s documentary series that there really aren’t any flaws to speak. Film-lovers and Star Wars are likely to enjoy this series the most, with it being less catered toward casual film-goers largely disinterested in behind the scenes technicalities.
Ultimately, Light & Magic is a must watch for film fans, not only because of the inspiration inducing look at the making of movies like Star Wars, but because of the incredibly touching human side of it all. On the other side of every VFX shot is a human being who puts their heart and soul into their work, and who deserve immense praise.