The San Francisco Chronicle has a great article on the design and execution of the famous Imperial Walker assault sequence from The Empire Strikes Back. The last two paragraphs of the piece are the best where Joe Johnston is quoted:
Learning from their mistakes
Johnston says he doesn’t think the “Star Wars” original trilogy effects crew should be remembered as a well-oiled machine or a crack team with a clear road to success. They were something less than that, and also more.
“I firmly believe that the key to the success of ILM lay in the fact that we often had no idea how to solve a particular problem,” Johnston says. “On every film, in almost every sequence we had to brainstorm, invent and build solutions to new challenges. We made a lot of mistakes and shot a ton of film that no one will ever see, but we ultimately put images on the screen that helped make the trilogy a new milestone in cinema. And what better way to learn than from your mistakes?”
After graduating from the Cinema program at San Francisco State University in 1992 I went straight to work for ILM. I was just twenty-two years old. I had never really worked at a real company before and the mindset described by Johnston truly is a deep part of the DNA of that place. I don't know if it was George Lucas who instilled that kind of "can do" attitude or if was the founding members of the team that worked at the facility.
Since leaving ILM in 1999, I've worked at various companies on multiple projects, ran my own visual effects company and taught as a professor at VCU. I know now that my experience working at ILM formed a large part of who I am today. It was the best education I could ever have hoped for and has helped shape my overall outlook and decision making process in multiple ways. I don't think I knew it at the time, as I didn't have much to compare it to, but that kind of optimistic problem solving and the willingness to say "yes", to "figure it out", is extrememly rare.
Often the people I work with now joke that I must be from another planet when I suggest we endeavor to fix something that is clearly broken. They don't always see a way clear to affect change or to solve a vexing problem. Too often people seem willing to accept mediocrity, that some mountains are just too high to climb. While some tasks can indeed be intimidating, they can always be navigated or overcome. All you have to do is roll up your sleeves, get in there and start working the problem.
My time at ILM fundamentally changed me. I've seen what success looks like. It looks like hard work, mistakes, creativity, teamwork and perseverance.
Click on the image below to read the article. It's a great history and pretty inspiring.