Industrial light and magic were basically “pet houses” in the 70s
Industrial Light & Magic employees have created otherworldly stories like star warsThe Raiders of the Lost Ark, and AND The Extra-Terrestrial. But in real life, they looked a lot more like characters from Meatballs, animal house, and Caddyshack.
This is revealed in Light & Magic, the filmmaker’s new docu-series Laurent Kasdan, which tells the turbulent story of a landmark visual effects company known to anyone who’s seen a big-budget movie over the past half-century. The group of innovators that founded it forever changed the art of filmmaking, creating whole new ways to make the impossible real. Unfortunately, the same savagery that made them so bold nearly caused the implosion of star wars when they were just starting out.
In the six-episode series debuting this week on Disney+, men (and it was mostly men back then) work hard and play hard in ways that would give any modern HR rep a coronary. . In reality, George Lucas, who set up the company to create visuals for his space opera that no one else could imagine, was hospitalized during post-production of star wars due to stress-induced chest pain.
“It was like a frat house,” Lucas says in the doc. Four-time Oscar-winning effects supervisor Ken Ralston in other words: “George used to say, give them enough pizza and beer and they’ll do anything.”
Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Raidersand Return of the Jedi before launching his own career as a director, was on the periphery of the birth of Industrial Light & Magic, watching from the sidelines as the company brought to life the things he and Lucas wrote on the page. He did Light & Magic to better understand the people who brought his stories to life. His series doesn’t pass judgment on their antics, but rather celebrates them. The doc also doesn’t suggest anyone was harmed in the process, except for the animator who broke his arm decades later while imitating a leaping dinosaur during a group exercise for Jurassic Park.
On the contrary, this freewheeling mindset is what caused Industrial Light & Magic to cast aside tradition. “It was absolutely fundamental,” says Kasdan vanity lounge in a new interview. “That original group, those people who are now my age, they were crazy and fun. Those people came out of the 60s, and that spirit that you’re talking about would be very foreign to a company today.
The feeling of camaraderie united them when the work became particularly difficult, the problems more difficult to solve, the hours longer and longer and the pressure mounted. “They must have had a huge passion for the job,” says Kasdan. “They came together and created this body that could do things the world had never seen before. And I think that comes with a sense of play.”
Among their countless innovations, Industrial Light & Magic has built new camera systems to create dogfights in deep space. They generated the illusion of gargantuan spaceships and space stations using tiny models. They designed an entire universe of aliens, vehicles, and worlds that felt both real and fantastical. The work they did in the mid-1970s changed everything in an industry that was still hanging models from strings or struggling to render Stanley Kubrick’s realism. 2001: A Space Odysseythere seem faster and more exciting.
Innovative on star wars was so all-consuming that the personal lives of these mostly 20-somethings could only be lived on the fringes of work. At some point in the post-production of star wars, one acquired a military-grade shipping container and turned it into a makeshift hot tub in the parking lot. It was large enough to seat two people comfortably, although a vintage photo in Light & Magic shows him uncomfortable with eight.