‘Light & Magic’: a review.
‘I think I found my people’ is something John Knoll says in the upcoming documentary Light & Magic. He is one of the many interviewees in the doco, and here the now executive creative director and senior visual effects supervisor at ILM recounts his earliest memories of being hired at the George Lucas company and working with many other like-minded skilled effects artists and craftspeople.
Indeed, this new documentary series on ILM, made by Lawrence Kasdan, is mostly about the people at ILM, especially at its beginnings. We hear a lot from George Lucas, of course, but then there’s also significant (and I mean significant) discourse with people such as John Dykstra, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston, Phil Tippett and Joe Johnston.
Which might at first sound like this is a documentary about Star Wars. Well, in some ways, it is, and you get to see some of the best on-set and behind the scenes footage you’ll ever see that shows off how ILM helped make the Original Trilogy.
I was particularly taken with the bluescreen model photography, matte elements and stop-motion and creature behind the scenes footage from Star Wars and other films. These parts are also in the ‘crispest’ format I’ve ever seen them in, too. You almost ‘feel’ like you are there on set. I mean it.
But, back to the people. Those I mentioned above were of course formative in the formation of ILM. Many others are interviewed, and one really neat thing about the doco is that a fair amount of time is often spent getting the back stories on these ILMers (where they grew up, where they went to college and how they found themselves at ILM).
That makes Light & Magic feel more about the people, than just about the company itself. It really works to give the episodes even more gravitas.
Now, if you already know a lot about Star Wars and a lot about ILM, then some of the stories related in the documentary will undoubtably seem familiar. The origins of ILM’s enhanced CG involvement on Jurassic Park (and Phil Tippett’s reduced stop-motion involvement) come to mind, for example. But the way the development is told here is equally as compelling as anywhere else.
Also, a VFX purist (am I one of those?) might argue that, towards the end, Light & Magic skips over a large swathe of ILM history that exists between the huge leaps forward in Jurassic Park and the advent of ILM’s StageCraft virtual production innovations first delivered on The Mandalorian.
I, for one, could easily stomach a second series that might showcase these intervening years. However, it’s also clear that the the heart of the doco is about the earliest beginnings of ILM and the jumpstart to all of its innovations over the years.
In that way, Light & Magic is stellar. Just stellar.
Light & Magic is streaming from July 27 on Disney+.
Get bonus and early VFX content via a befores & afters Patreon membership