Industrial Light and Magic’s Senior VP on How the VFX House is Changing the Filmmaking Game

Disney+’s new six-part series “Light & Magic” takes audiences inside the magic and history of Industrial Light & Magic, starting with George Lucas’ vision for “Star Wars” and covering how their innovative StageCraft suite of virtual production changed the game in filmmaking.

Speaking with Variety, Janet Lewin, Senior VP of Lucasfilm Visual Effects and General Manager of ILM, fondly recalls the first time she saw “Star Wars.” “I was 7 years old and was completely blown away. I literally thought there were galaxies like that, far, far away,” she remembers.

Years later, Lewin worked as visual effects producer on “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith,” and oversaw all aspects of the visual effects and animation business for Lucasfilm and ILM.

In documenting the rise of ILM, the series follows the pioneers and VFX trailblazers behind the magic such as Phil Tippett and Dennis Muren.

Tippet is a legend of the VFX world. His contributions over five decades include creating the Millennium Falcon’s holochess board, the AT-AT Walkers as seen in “The Empire Strikes Back” and the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park.” Muren too, is a master of the craft, a seven-time Oscar winner who worked on the speeder bike shots in “The Return of the Jedi” and the mine car chase in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”

Lewin says the series director Lawrence Kasdan (“The Empire Strikes Back”) shows how these geniuses made an impact on filmmaking. “It’s humbling to see that and to see their stories.”

The artists and ILM’s history as the first major special effects house are the characters in this story. When asked what it was like to be approached by Kasdan to recall the company’s past and share their experiences, Tippett says despite the countless interviews he has given, this was different. “This was definitive. Larry kept digging and digging and jogged our memories.”

In addition to showing the VFX magic, the series also shows how ILM’s cutting-edge StageCraft LED wall technology has evolved. The concept for an LED wall had been talked about for several years, but it wasn’t until Disney+ launched “The Mandalorian” that the world got to see its game-changing technology and capabilities for the first time. The LED wall that surrounds the actors with realistic scenes was used for roughly half the scenes in “The Mandalorian” and propelled virtual production to the forefront of the industry.

Not only did it reduce carbon emissions, but the technology also allowed crews to go back in time or into the future and travel anywhere on a project without ever leaving the studio. And during the pandemic, virtual production helped many shows start back up with the world on lockdown.

Lewin says she hopes the series shows not just the success stories, but that it will inspire more people to enter the field. “There’s a lot of growth in the field of VFX.” She says, “We continue to innovate every single day using Stagecraft, but I think that the real magic is the artists. If you’re passionate about the art of visual storytelling, I would encourage you to give it a try with visual effects.”

Asked why they’ve all been with the company for decades, their answers are all similar. “We’re like family,” TIppet says.