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Light & Magic Review – New Disney+ Docuseries Highlights Lucasfilm F.X. pioneers

It’s taken them 47 years, but Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) has finally had its story told, thanks to a new six-part series that arrives on Disney+ next week—created by George Lucas in 1975, in Van Nuys, California out of necessity to help bring Star Wars to the big screen in 1977. ILM, currently in San Francisco, pioneered special visual effects and animation as the virtual production division of Lucasfilm. Director Lawrence Kasdan, who has been part of the company’s most significant success creatively in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, serves as executive producer with Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Justin Wilkes, Kathleen Kennedy and Michelle Rejwan.

There is a voice-over from the man himself, “Visual effects create the magic that makes people want to go to the movies”, narrates George Lucas, as sequences from some of the studio’s biggest hits, including Raiders of the Lost Ark (1980), Iron Man (2008), Willow (1988), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Terminator2: Judgment Day, and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Among those interviewed, we hear from Howard, Kennedy, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Deborah Chow, and Jon Favreau.

Among the series’ highlights is the original footage from the 1977 Star Wars film with various behind-the-scenes footage of the crew shooting with miniatures of the Millennium Falcon, X-Wings and TIE fighters.

The series also scratches the surface of animation studio Pixar’s creation, which Disney acquired from Lucasfilm and George Lucas in 2006 for $7.4 billion. Disney also acquired ILM as part of its deal to purchase Lucasfilm from Lucas in 2012 for $4.05 billion.

Most of the time, it’s easy not to give a second thought to the hard work that goes into creating the VFX side of films; most of it is seamless, and not noticing is a testament to its quality. This series showcases the hard work that goes into creating the kind of sequences that bring movies to life and shows us that the use of technology doesn’t necessarily make things easier. As well as the studio’s success, the documentary shows some of its failures and difficulties.

You get a real insight into the filmmaking process as ILM attempt to translate Lucas’ ideas onto the big screen. There are so many behind-the-scenes details that I didn’t expect to see, with the filmmakers being given “unparalleled access” to create the most detailed documentary possible.

Often these series can become a little too wordy, but with six one-hour (ish) episodes, this feels like the complete story told without dwelling on anything for too long.

From start to finish, seeing the technology evolve is captivating, especially to see how far things have come. What is particularly interesting is that much of what was used in the past is still done today.

It isn’t just the technology that is the focus of the series; once they have watched, viewers will feel as if they know George Lucas on another level. It is clear how much of a family has been formed with ILM and how close they are today. They truly did create something unique and seeing them all talk about it with passion is as heartwarming as it is entertaining.

Light & Magic arrives on Disney+ July 27th

Matt Jones

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