Light & Magic

“Movies are Special effects,” says George Lucas.

Here’s the story of ILM (Industrial Light & Magic).

The story of Industrial Light & Magic — how some wicked smart & clever hippies in California created the future of movies.

It’s got a who’s who of movie-making (Lucas, Spielberg, Ron Howard et al).

It’s currently #5 in my List of Best ‘Making of Movies” Documentaries (I rank 12 docs in that one).


Trailer for “Light & Magic”

Watch “Light & Magic”

Watch “Light & Magic” on Disney+ at

You can also access it as part of the Hulu/ESPN+/Disney+ bundle.


  • My Rating: 8.7/100
  • IMDB Rating: 98/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Ratings: 91/100 (Users); 100/100 (Critics)

Review of “Light & Magic”

If you had to watch just one documentary on special effects, “Light and Magic” the 6-part docuseries) is it.

It explores the saga of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), established in 1975.

You’ll see the tech behind the making of Star Wars (probably the movie that gets the most air time) and also blockbusters such as E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park and Ironman.

S1 E1: Gang of Outsiders

Picture this: It’s 1975, and George Lucas has a problem.

He’s got this wild idea for a space movie called “The Star Wars,” but there’s no one in Hollywood who can bring his vision to life.

So, he assembles a ragtag team of artists and dreamers, sets them up in a warehouse in Van Nuys, and tells them to get to work.

They’ve got some nifty new gadgets, like a motion-control camera system, but progress is slower than a Tauntaun on Hoth.

Still, with a little help from some new recruits, they manage to pull it off just in time for the premiere. And the rest, as they say, is history.

S1 E2: On the Bucking Bronco

Before he was the mastermind behind Star Wars, George Lucas was just a kid who wanted to race cars.

But when a near-fatal wreck put the brakes on that dream, he turned to filmmaking instead.

He poured his own cash into the special effects for his ambitious space opera, but things were moving at a glacial pace.

Thankfully, some key new hires helped ILM kick things into hyperdrive and finish the film on time.

Star Wars opened to intergalactic acclaim, but George? He was still kind of “meh” about the whole thing.

S1 E3: Just Think About It

After Star Wars blew up big time, ILM packed their bags and headed north to a shiny new facility.

But not everyone got an invite to the party. As they started work on The Empire Strikes Back, the team faced some serious hurdles.

George, ever the tinkerer, decided to start a new division to drag filmmaking kicking and screaming into the future.

When Empire finally hit screens, ILM took on some outside gigs for the first time, setting the stage for a mind-blowing run of blockbusters.

S1 E4: I Think I Found My People

Spielberg comes knocking, and suddenly ILM is cranking out eye-popping effects for Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., and a bunch of other mega-hits.

Meanwhile, the computer geeks in the back room score their first big digital breakthrough.

As the ’80s roll in and the blockbuster era explodes, ILM crews start duking it out for bragging rights and sweet, sweet awards.

But when George makes a big business move, ILM has to think fast and rebuild on the fly.

S1 E5: Morfing

ILM dives headfirst into the digital age, and their souped-up computer division gets its first real test with Willow.

A fresh batch of rebels joins the crew, itching to push computer graphics to the limit.

James Cameron gives them a shot with The Abyss and Terminator 2, but not everyone’s thrilled about the shift to digital.

Some folks struggle to keep up with the times. And then Spielberg shows up with his toughest challenge yet.

S1 E6: No More Pretending You’re Dinosaurs

Stop-motion master Phil Tippett feels like a fossil when CGI steals the spotlight in Jurassic Park.

The game-changing moment inspires George Lucas to dust off his plans for a Star Wars prequel trilogy and crank the tech up to 11.

As digital filmmaking keeps evolving, ILM’s high-tech Volume stage shows that the rebel spirit that started it all is still alive and kicking.

My favorite parts:

  • Killer to see early footage of Darth Vader swiping his lightsaber versus Obi-Wan Kenobi in the studios in England.
  • The Millennium Falcon’s design was inspired by a designer seeing 2 plates stacked on top of each other in the kitchen.
  • Ron Howard says that George Lucas told him that he only got 25% of what was in his head for Star Wars onto the screen.
  • Ron Howard and his wife saw Star Wars opening night at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Afterwards, he asked her if she wanted to see it again. And they got back in line (2 hour wait) and watched it again.
  • They develop the “Pixar Image Computer” for computer graphics — a $120,000 piece of hardware. But the team’s real breakthrough was their spin-off of a paint software program that turns into Photoshop.
  • George Lucas sells the Pixar technology to Steve Jobs for $56 million.

A few potential omissions from Light & Magic:

It looks like the docuseries might have left a couple of things out (ping me if I’m wrong!):

  • Dan O’Bannon, known for his work on Alien and Return of the Living Dead, was reportedly involved in creating the computer-generated images for the computer screens in the original Star Wars, but his contribution appears to not be mentioned in the first two episodes of the documentary.
  • Joe Viskocil, a pyrotechnics expert reportedly worked on the explosions in the original Star Wars, including the Death Star explosion, but does not appear to be mentioned in the doc. According to a comment, he was even trimmed out of a couple of shots.
  • The doc does not seem to mention that director Tobe Hooper was the sole director of Poltergeist, despite rumors that Steven Spielberg ghostdirected the film.

Thanks to Zaki Hasan for first pointing this out.

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac, Daily Doc