Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A long time ago in a Galaxy far, far away...

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, in the year 1977, Star Wars was released and the movie industry was changed forever.  George Lucas revolutionized the visual effects industry with the foundation of his own company, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM).  Lucas founded ILM in 1975 when the production of Star Wars began.  He wanted “Star Wars to include visual effects that had never been seen on film before” (1).  The technology that Lucas needed had not been invented yet, so he took it upon himself to gather a group of college students, artists, and engineers to create the computer graphics he needed.  Lucas appointed John Dykstra to head up the company.  Together they used “extremely detailed miniatures, animation and a pioneering system of computer-controlled motion photography to create these special effects” (2).  Over the next 30 years, Lucas and ILM continued to develop this technology which resulted in two trilogies of the ongoing Star Wars saga.  Both trilogies revolutionized special effects in film.

In the first trilogy, Lucas used his newly invented special effects to portray scenes like speeder bike chases and Star Destroyer explosions.  Lucas’s Star Wars won the Academy Award for Visual Effects; the next two movies in the first trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, won the Special Achievement award from the Academy, also for Visual Effects (3).  The second trilogy took special effects to another level, yet again.  The first film of the second trilogy, The Phantom Menace, created spaceships, aliens, and robots almost completely out of computer animation.  This movie included “the first walking, talking, computer graphic film star,” Jar Jar Binks (3).  Jar Jar Binks was created through performance capture; an actor stood in for Jar Jar’s scenes, but the actor himself is disguised by layers of digital imagery. 

Creativity is the invention of new and revolutionary ideas.  Smith and Ward support this in their writing Cognition and the Creation of Ideas.  They state, “creative ideas are ones that are novel and potentially of value” (4).  If you are to compare Lucas and his creative ideas, he fits these criteria well.  His invention of computer graphic technology was no doubt novel as these special effects had never been seen in film before.  This technology is also undoubtedly of great value; ILM has now produced the special effects for nearly 300 movies.  This company has received 15 Best Visual Effects Oscars as well as 24 Scientific and Technical Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (5).  Lucas’s creative contribution also supports Smith and Ward’s statement that a domain-specific view would be favored for a conceptual structure of creativity (4).  Lucas needed to have the film industry background as well as knowledge about computers and animation.  Without this background knowledge Lucas would not have had the means to consider the invention of, let alone successfully create, such technology.

George Lucas had an imagination that was ahead of the film industries technological capabilities.  He refused to let this hold him back and tackled this problem head on.  Lucas created the technology that would allow him to bring his universe to life.  Once he accomplished this he continued to let his creativity flow; he continued to develop his technology by computer generating characters and cities. 

(4) Smith, S.M. & Ward, T.B. (2012). Cognition and the creation of ideas. In K.J. Holvak &         R.G.Morrison (Eds.), Oxford handbook of thinking and reasoning. New York: Oxford University Press. p456, 458.
(5)  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars#Original_trilogy_2


  1. I LOVE Star Wars, and so this post was such a great insight into the creativity and ingenuity of George Lucas. The fact that his movies were continually recognized by the cream-of-the-crop Academy is a testimony to just how influential Lucas has been. And 39 Academy Awards??? (I think I calculated that right) - That is so incredible.

  2. I found this very interesting especially all the talk about special effects in the original Star Wars movies. What I think is especially weird, funny, and maybe creative is that there is now a huge shift away from special effects. I don't know if you've seen the movie Interstellar, but Christopher Nolan made the decision to shoot with no green screens at all. He said that in the long run special effects just don't hold up and he'd rather shoot organically. I think that's rather neat. Obviously some things were added in that movie but almost all the space ship scenes were shot with stars or space projected in the background!

  3. Nowadays it has become popular to dislike the prequel trilogy, because they leaned so heavily on CGI effects rather than practical effects. But it's interesting to read that Lucas was a major pioneer in the field. For the several decades now, movies have relied on using computer animation to help convey images that cannot be created with conventional props, and these movies all owe their thanks in part to Lucas. Not only was George ahead of his time in terms of his story telling and cinematography, he was also ahead of the capabilities of technology in the film industry. He is a great example of a creative mind.


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