Learning From Mistakes

A great article in the The San Francisco Chronicle explores the design and execution of the famous Imperial Walker assault sequence from The Empire Strikes Back. I wanted to highlight the last two paragraphs of the piece quoting Joe Johnston:

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 twenty-two years old. I'd never worked at a creative company before and the mindset described by Johnston is a deep part of the DNA of Lucasfilm and ILM. Perhaps is was George Lucas himself who instilled that "can do" attitude or may be it was the founding members of the ILM team. Either way, being immersed in such a culture changes you. 

Since leaving ILM in 1999, I've worked at multiple visual effects companies on various projects, ran my own small visual effects studio and taught as a professor at VCU. Working at ILM 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.

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, exploration, lots of mistakes, creativity, teamwork and perseverance. 

Click on the image below to read the article. It's a great history and pretty inspiring. 



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