Light & Magic ILM documentary series

Bloop

Sr Member
Something I noticed is that the series used the original film versions for the footage of all the Star Wars films, not the 4K versions that are available on Disney+. It obviously makes sense to use the GOUT versions, as they were referring to the original effects (which have been altered in subsequent versions). But even the prequels looked like they were the theatrical releases, not the re-edited and badly color graded versions that made their way to blu-ray and streaming. Still, Kasden could've just gone the easy route and used the current versions instead, so I'm glad they used the originals.

I can't help but wonder if this will generate interest in seeing high quality remasters of the original theatrical releases.
 

Malibu139

Sr Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
Watched and loved it.
I know John Dykstra went on to be successful for many years almost to current , but did it go into detail on why he didn’t get an invite up to San Fransisco for ESB? There was obvious tension and frustration over the early slow pace, but he invented dykstraflex that made it all possible.

Also I remember knowing all these guys names from Jurassic Park when I was older and into behind the scenes stuff: Dennis Muren, Phil Tippet, Stan Winston, etc. Until then this group was a vague “they” to me . As in I wonder how “they” did that effect or “they” made it look so real. This was a great look back at that awesome group of people.
 

Sluis Van Shipyards

Legendary Member
I'm guessing Lucas might have another angle on the Dykstra thing, but my guess is that Lucas felt like he was out of his depth running the whole dept. It might have been due to how long they spent on equipment vs getting shots done. IDK. Yeah he delivered in the end, but it was a bit too scary for Lucas to trust him to pull another movie, which has to do more, through again.
 

ZeroSum

Sr Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
Watched and loved it.
I know John Dykstra went on to be successful for many years almost to current , but did it go into detail on why he didn’t get an invite up to San Fransisco for ESB? There was obvious tension and frustration over the early slow pace, but he invented dykstraflex that made it all possible.

Bad blood. My guess is it's related to this (from Wikipedia):

After Star Wars, Dykstra began working on Battlestar Galactica for Universal Studios. Supervising the special effects for the three-hour pilot episode (which was also released theatrically), Dykstra formed his own effects company called Apogee, Inc. which included several ILM employees who had worked on Star Wars. Dykstra was also given a Producer credit for the pilot of the television series. As Universal then opted to make Galactica into a weekly series, many of Dykstra's effects shots were recycled and used repeatedly throughout the show's single season run.

After Galactica aired, Lucas and 20th Century Fox began legal proceedings against Universal claiming that they had plagiarised Star Wars, a matter not helped by the similar effects and design styles (artist Ralph McQuarrie had also contributed to Galactica). Lucas was also reportedly unhappy about Dykstra using the equipment (that had been developed and paid for from the Star Wars budget) on a production that was essentially a competitor. When Lucas relocated ILM to San Francisco from Van Nuys to commence work on The Empire Strikes Back, several members of the Apogee team (including Richard Edlund and Dennis Muren) would return to ILM but Dykstra was not invited to join them. He continued to work under his Apogee brand name and subsequently went to work on the effects for Avalanche Express and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (on which he was reunited with Douglas Trumbull).
 

Kylash

Master Member
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Yeah, this show made it seem like Lucas was fine with the BSG stuff because he didn’t have work for them for a year or so anyway, but I can see why they would gloss over the details.
 

PoopaPapaPalps

Master Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
I just caught this online and though I thoroughly enjoyed it, I have to admit that the later three episodes weren't as interesting to me as the first three. Lucas is a genius for pushing digital innovations and technologies that have democratized movie-making for everyone, it's nearly an even field in terms of access to equipment and software, and the nature of effects is forever changed (better or worse)...

...But talking about people working on the computer and showing photos of people on their desktops is boring as all hell. As great as digital effects are and what they're capable of, they're so ubiquitous now and almost all of the same quality across the board, there's still a magic uncaptured by a piece of painted styrene that's lit well. Seeing people involved in making these things and practicing their craft is so much more engaging narratively. It also cracks me up that the later theme of the series was "Now it's back to being about stories," as if that statement isn't a tragedy in of itself.
 
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Psab keel

Legendary Member
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I had to scoff at that part. If the incredible effects and innovations were ultimately serving an interesting story, I'd be more inclined to take that statement seriously. I appreciate the work a digital effects artist puts into the modern movies and shows, but they are so commonplace that it's not special in the same way that effects were in the days of analog. They literally had to invent machines to be able to accomplish a shot. Now it's all achievable.

Like I said before, my take away was gratitude to have been born in that small window when special and visual effects were truly special and not super common like they are today. The insane genius behind the origins of ILM will never be replicated. Both with Lucas assembling just the right people, at just the right time, and just the right movie to use those necessary tools to make it.... we will never see another event quite like it.
 

joberg

Master Member
I had to scoff at that part. If the incredible effects and innovations were ultimately serving an interesting story, I'd be more inclined to take that statement seriously. I appreciate the work a digital effects artist puts into the modern movies and shows, but they are so commonplace that it's not special in the same way that effects were in the days of analog. They literally had to invent machines to be able to accomplish a shot. Now it's all achievable.

Like I said before, my take away was gratitude to have been born in that small window when special and visual effects were truly special and not super common like they are today. The insane genius behind the origins of ILM will never be replicated. Both with Lucas assembling just the right people, at just the right time, and just the right movie to use those necessary tools to make it.... we will never see another event quite like it.
I know that this topic could be discussed at length...ILM and its various artists were influenced by 2001 and the great team of model builders and designers working on building the models for Kubrick's epic movie.

These, apart from Trumbull, Pederson, Cantwell et Co. (you should see the whole crew on IMDBo_O) weren't well known because most of the crew was already working for Shepperton and Boreham Wood . Lucas didn't want to use the wire effects that, usually, U.K. special effect crew were specialized/known for in the industry. These kind of practical effects didn't jive with Lucas's imagination and the dynamic results he wanted to see on screen.

He had to create ILM...as we've seen in the documentary; no special effect house/studio were able to fulfill Lucas's demands and vision.
Blue screen was not new (1930); what was new was the Dykstra Flex and its ability to make passes after passes repeated with a high precision level.
To pull practical effects; you have to use your imagination and come up with reliable tricks to make it work!
And to discover, after developing your shot the next day, that it didn't work made for a slower process in terms of how much could be used and how much had to be re-shot and re-thought. :(
 

HMSwolfe

Master Member
I just caught this online and though I thoroughly enjoyed it, I have to admit that the later three episodes weren't as interesting to me as the first three. Lucas is a genius for pushing digital innovations and technologies that have democratized movie-making for everyone, it's nearly an even field in terms of access to equipment and software, and the nature of effects is forever changed (better or worse)...

...But talking about people working on the computer and showing photos of people on their desktops is boring as all hell. As great as digital effects are and what they're capable of, they're so ubiquitous now and almost all of the same quality across the board, there's still a magic uncaptured by a piece of painted styrene that's lit well. Seeing people involved in making these things and practicing their craft is so much more engaging narratively. It also cracks me up that the later theme of the series was "Now it's back to being about stories," as if that statement isn't a tragedy in of itself.
That’s a shame about the later episodes—I’ve only caught the first three so far. I’m not someone who virulently opposes digital effects—they’re just a tool in a tool box. What I do oppose is overusing them, not putting the effort into them to make them look good, or using them to cut corners instead of making the best film possible. I suppose a good analogy for us prop makers here would be 3D printing. It can be a valuable tool, not the devil some old-schoolers make it out to be—but that doesn’t mean that it can or should be used for everything, nor should we be fine with visible print lines and other shoddy, unfinished efforts. But yes, unless they’re actually going in-depth about research behind the digital effect, attempts at doing a certain effect practically before moving to digital, or something else, it’s not nearly as interesting to watch people at a computer.
 

Psab keel

Legendary Member
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Thankfully his input was minimal. I too have become pretty weary of him as a director.

I'm fine with digital effects. You should use the best tool for the job, whether it's practical or digital. I'm more concerned with the writing above all else. The most incredible effects you've ever seen make no difference if the story sucks.
 

Treadwell

Legendary Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
Bad blood. My guess is it's related to this (from Wikipedia):
Naw. If so, he would have had to have the same bad blood for the half dozen or so guys from the shop who also worked on BSG who he recruited for the move north. The doc even says the gig was a good way to keep the team from scattering to the four winds before they could get geared up for the sequel. Lucas knew Dykstra didn't create BSG, Lucas' beef came a little later after seeing the show, and was against its producers.
 

PoopaPapaPalps

Master Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
Bad blood. My guess is it's related to this (from Wikipedia):

It's also noted in the show, and I think much closer to the truth of the matter, was that even though Dykstra was really good at wrangling the talent and building all this custom machinery to make the visuals work, he wasn't a "company man." He couldn't organize or keep a steady schedule and it wasn't until others were brought in to straighten the loose and free-flowing, hippy work ethic of the shop into shape. By his and his contemporaries' own admission, Dykstra was also volatile at the time and often got into rows with Lucas when confronted. One, you can't have a figure like that heading your new company especially in an industry as fickle as the arts. Two, that's just tiresome to be around. It's no wonder Lucas didn't want to go through that a second time.
 

PoopaPapaPalps

Master Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
That’s a shame about the later episodes—I’ve only caught the first three so far. I’m not someone who virulently opposes digital effects—they’re just a tool in a tool box. What I do oppose is overusing them, not putting the effort into them to make them look good, or using them to cut corners instead of making the best film possible. I suppose a good analogy for us prop makers here would be 3D printing. It can be a valuable tool, not the devil some old-schoolers make it out to be—but that doesn’t mean that it can or should be used for everything, nor should we be fine with visible print lines and other shoddy, unfinished efforts. But yes, unless they’re actually going in-depth about research behind the digital effect, attempts at doing a certain effect practically before moving to digital, or something else, it’s not nearly as interesting to watch people at a computer.

I agree on it being a tool, but at this point, I understand why there's a harder bend towards doing things practically as much as possible. The doc does its best to explain the processes and history of where the tech originated and its involvement with the company but, again, I just didn't find it as engaging or interesting as the earlier material presented. I understand it's an integral part of ILM's history, but the shine of it isn't as bright. One of the guys later in episode 5 or 6 was talking about spending four months trying to figure the run-cycle animation of the T-Rex for Jurassic Park, and his solution after weeks of trial and error was just to slow down the run speed after the data had all been input by 20%...

...I don't know about you, but that isn't nearly as interesting as the early crew figuring that to get a shot for the trench run in ANH, they needed to be going 20 mph, so they jerry-rigged their one camera to one of their trucks and drove past the Death Star section to get it, or Ken Ralston talking about using wads of chewing gum and his sneakers to fill out the distant ships in the background shots of the Imperial and Rebel fleets because no one was gonna make out what they were (and he had a deadline), and to see if he could get away with it.

One tangent that spawned from this that presented an interesting, if disheartening, tidbit that once all the digital framework was in place, work on the Prequels became more manufactured where editing was more or less just factory-assembling disparate pieces together, regardless of focal length, lighting, and performance. Under Lucas' "direction," he'd take one element of one take and compile that onto another just because someone's hand didn't move the way he wanted or something. He'd literally construct a moment rather than capturing it, even at the behest of others that he should reconsider. That wasn't even some of the dumber things done, and I'd hate to ask to know more.
 

HMSwolfe

Master Member
I agree on it being a tool, but at this point, I understand why there's a harder bend towards doing things practically as much as possible. The doc does its best to explain the processes and history of where the tech originated and its involvement with the company but, again, I just didn't find it as engaging or interesting as the earlier material presented. I understand it's an integral part of ILM's history, but the shine of it isn't as bright. One of the guys later in episode 5 or 6 was talking about spending four months trying to figure the run-cycle animation of the T-Rex for Jurassic Park, and his solution after weeks of trial and error was just to slow down the run speed after the data had all been input by 20%...

...I don't know about you, but that isn't nearly as interesting as the early crew figuring that to get a shot for the trench run in ANH, they needed to be going 20 mph, so they jerry-rigged their one camera to one of their trucks and drove past the Death Star section to get it, or Ken Ralston talking about using wads of chewing gum and his sneakers to fill out the distant ships in the background shots of the Imperial and Rebel fleets because no one was gonna make out what they were (and he had a deadline), and to see if he could get away with it.

One tangent that spawned from this that presented an interesting, if disheartening, tidbit that once all the digital framework was in place, work on the Prequels became more manufactured where editing was more or less just factory-assembling disparate pieces together, regardless of focal length, lighting, and performance. Under Lucas' "direction," he'd take one element of one take and compile that onto another just because someone's hand didn't move the way he wanted or something. He'd literally construct a moment rather than capturing it, even at the behest of others that he should reconsider. That wasn't even some of the dumber things done, and I'd hate to ask to know more.
I feel that. I work in video production, so in the first few episode when George was talking about “simplifying things” and “digitizing the industry”, especially the editing process, I was totally on board. And it really is probably thanks in large part to him how much the film industry has adapted. But even though I know the drawbacks that come with shooting on real film, even though I know the dangers that come with using blanks or other pyrotechnics, or the time-consuming process to shoot something using miniatures, I can’t help but feel a sense of wonder when those things do get used (safely and correctly). When they were talking about developing the Dykstra-flex and the process for shooting miniatures, I was thinking about ILM building a miniature version of it out of a garage for the practical shots of the Mandalorian. That’s where I think the future of visual/special effects is—not CGI, but more accessible technology to allow for more practical work.
 

Psab keel

Legendary Member
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I'd like to see a hybrid of the two technologies. I think there's a place for both and it's clear that the actors tend to give better performances when they have something tangible to see and interact with. Despite my distaste for the Disney SW material, the technical side of it is pretty cool when you see the actors being able to do their job more effectively, and it was also interesting to see George finally being happy with these ideas being brought into reality after decades of envisioning them in his mind.

The stage they showed for the Disney + shows was like a super advanced rear or front projection screen. Better fidelity to reality than the tech of the past, of course, but conceptually similar. I'd long suspected that George's true legacy was far beyond Star Wars and more the innovations he helped pioneer to advance film as an artform. The irony is that so much of what he did to change the medium is still treated as an afterthought by things like the film academy. The guy literally changed the culture with his work, and speculative fiction, horror, and the like are treated as pariahs in the world of film because their subject matter is considered childish.

If I ever got to turn my novel into a film, I'd likely use practical effects wherever I could because I would want it to feel like the kind of movies I grew up watching. There is something really special about seeing the ILM team working on these shots back in the late 70's and early 80's and having to just do whatever they deemed necessary to get a shot accomplished. There's this sort of homemade quality to it that can never be replicated.

I'm so glad I had the childhood I had and to live in that era, to be amazed and inspired to do what I'm doing.
 

Riceball

Master Member
This. 100%. I have a feeling this is how Lucas has always felt, too.
I'd disagree. George l;ikes the tech behind filmmaking, but I don't think that he's wedded to any one particular type of tech over another. If the prequels suggest anything, I could see George wanting to do a film that's completely 100% photo-reaal 3D animated like Avatar but with no live actors at any point (maybe just for mocap) and if he can get away with it, AI generated voices too.
 

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