At Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, I had the pleasure to attend both the Star Wars Celebration panel for “Light & Magic” as well as the “Light & Magic” press junket.
Behind the Scenes of Light and Magic with ILM's Legends
The panel, moderated by ABC’s Chris Connelly, featured director Lawrence Kasdan and executive producer Ron Howard, joined by VFX titans Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Joe Johnston, Rose Duignan, and Lynwen Brennan.
The press junket, moderated by Screenrant's Ash Crossan, featured executive producer Ron Howard, joined by VFX titans Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Joe Johnston, Rose Duignan, and Lynwen Brennan.
Both discussed the exciting, new 6-part documentary series produced by Imagine Documentaries that showcases Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and we heard some of the illuminating behind-the-scenes secrets for the new series as well as what happens when the cameras stop rolling.
Behind the Scenes of Light and Magic on Disney +
What made Lawrence Kasdan want to tell the story of ILM?
“I've been around these movies for a long time. I've known some of these people in that time, but I never in 40 years really understood how it happens. What I did know is that ILM is a house of geniuses, and somehow George Lucas had the vision to bring these people together,” Kasdan said
Joe Johnston on his working relationship with Ralph McQuarrie
“Ralph and I recognized right away that we were two different kinds of artists. Ralph was an illustrator first and a designer second; and I was a designer first, and I knew I was never going to be able to render an image the way Ralph does, did, because he's, I think he's one of the greatest illustrators who ever worked in this or any other business,” Johnston said.
“But we recognize that we had this relationship that could feed off of each other. So Ralph always let me have the final word on what the design was…He would sometimes take my drawings, my designs, and sketch them up and send them back and I would change them. You know, it was a really symbiotic relationship where we would just sort of feed off each other…Just great organic trading of ideas.”
Characters get the funniest names in the craziest ways
During the panel, Phil Tibbett shared how Admiral Ackbar got his name.
Tippett described how George Lucas would stop in to inspect the creature designs at the end of the week. During one of those visits, Lucas spotted a fish-like creature and asked, “What's this?” Tippett replied, “Well that's a calamari man.” To which Lucas responded, “Okay, that's Admiral Ackbar.”
In the press junket, Tippett shared a similar story for another character's naming process—how the laughing Kowakian monkey-lizard came to be named Salacious R. Crumb.
“We went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch,” Tippett recalled. “My tennis shoes had become undone, and I bent over and I was trying to tie them and kept saying, ‘My salacious! My shoolaces! My shoelaces' We told George and that turned into Salacious R. Crumb.”
The Iconic Millennium Falcon Design
Ever wonder where the iconic Millennium Falcon design came from? Well, in part, it was through dirty dishes in Joe Johnston's sink.
Johnston was given the task to redesign Han Solo's ship after the studio decided the original one was too similar to the one in Space 1999. Time was of the essence and Johnston was feeling the clock ticking.
“I was feeling a little bit of pressure, and I went home and was sitting there at two in the morning…and I'm looking in the kitchen, and there was a stack of dishes that seemed to have always been there,” recalled Johnston. “And I was thinking, if you took a plate here and put another exactly like it on top, that's sort of like a flying saucer. But if you put engines in the back, that implies it's going to go that way and if you put a cockpit in front, well that gives it a nose.”
He drew up several drawings based on this dirty sink inspiration, and one ultimately evolved into the Millenium Falcon we all recognize today.
E.T. Turns 40 and Dennis Muren Shares Stories of Working on the Film
“You know, for ILM it was this small little show, a couple other big shows were going on, we were literally in the corner of the big warehouse we were in, without much space. Everything was done on a small scale, we made miniature trees for the forest when the ship is landing and the bikes are landing and all,” Muren recalled.
“Normally we’d make trees 3 or 4 feet high, had to make them like half the height and they still had to look real. So we had a lot of constraints on that end. But the spirit of the movie came through when Steven [Spielberg] was directing it, and I was on the set. So it was just fun. And serious, but very fun and magical. And I think that carried through to us working on it with these constraints to be able to do it and we'd try to keep the spirit of fun and adventure.”
“As opposed to too much fear and dread so that even during these kinds of scaring landing sequences there was a little bit of, ‘Am I going to be able to land right? Oh, I corrected the bike or something like that?' We made a couple of small E.T.s also for it that were kind of—one of them was looking out over the valley—you see E.T. in the foreground. It's kind of that his point of view has all been done inside, a little matte painting and things so it was I don't know, about 40 or 50 little shots like that.
“But what a surprise, it became a huge film. I remember seeing it at a cast and crew screening and coming out, I’d seen an early version of it at Steven’s house without sound, just temporary music. And I didn't get it at all, because you could hear the mechanical parts of the mechanical E.T. moving… then I thought, ‘Oh I hope this is going to work.' Then when I saw the screening of it, I came out thinking, ‘There's no one that will not love this movie'.”
“And my mother saw it just afterward, and she said, ‘This guy could shoot the phonebook…give him anything and he’ll make an emotional positive movie out of it,' and so true.”
Why George Lucas Created Star Wars
Rose Duignan reminded everyone who Star Wars was created for and what it has and will always be about.
“If you read anything about Star Wars and the whole legacy, [George Lucas] wrote all of this for 12-year-olds. That was his target because he wanted to teach people about selfishness versus selflessness,” said Duignan.
Later during the press conference, Duignan added that George Lucas made A New Hope, “to teach people about the difference between good and evil. And he made this film so that children could realize that there's a force greater than them.”
On the Effects of 3D Printing
“For a lot of the stuff now, if you're doing practical stuff, you can 3D print out negative molds.
“Like, we're doing a bunch of stop-motion stuff for “The Mandalorian,” printing out the 3D articulated skeletons…lifelike figurines where you don't have to actually do like Harrison Ford face and try and like figure out how it all went together, and it just like, ‘BAM!' I mean it just goes up the chain like that.”
“So it's really significant and becoming even more so. And let me just add to that, Phil said earlier support even for concept, you can do concept art in 2d, 2d on a computer screen or whatever, but then just take it the next step and print it out as a concept. But he learned so much more from being able to hold it up and look at it in a different light and everything. Really valuable.”
About “Light & Magic” on Disney+
Granted unparalleled access, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan takes viewers on an adventure behind the curtains of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the special visual effects, animation, and virtual production division of Lucasfilm.
Learn what inspired some of the most legendary filmmakers in Hollywood history, and follow their stories from their earliest personal films to bring George Lucas’ vision to life.
The series is directed by Lawrence Kasdan, and the executive producers are Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Justin Wilkes, Lawrence Kasdan, Kathleen Kennedy, and Michelle Rejwan.
All episodes of “Light & Magic” premiere on July 27, exclusively on Disney+.